A war against time, humidity, and temperature

Acts on Action !

For many years I am reading posts in musical instrument forums, regarding two main questions which most of bouzouki lovers have:
-What is the average life span for an expensive instrument, as a bouzouki?
-What can I do to extend the durability and lifespan of my cusotm bouzouki?

Here are few advises I have collected during the last 10 years, by reading  luthiers' posts,  and by gaining some knowledge through personal experimentation

At first, by welcoming your new custom-made bouzouki home,  be sure to fill up your "quiver" with the necessary weapons against climatic conditions and time.

1. Mark and photograph the initial action immediately after receiving your instrument  (height between the strings and the neck/ fretboard).

Use a hard sheet of paper or fold in half a regular paper and mark with a pen the distance between your strings and the neck (action) .
I usually mark the action at the 2nd, 12th and 17th-18th  fret.
Be sure to check any divergence of the initial action periodically. If you notice substantial variation of the action, inform your luthier immediately

2. Have your instrument tuned. 

Don't storage and leave your instrument de-tuned or higher than the normal frequency, tuned. The difference from the forces applied by the strings on the neck can cause unwanted results on the action and pliability of your musical instrument.
Use always a tuner before storing your musical instrument and be sure that the strings are tuned at the right frequency.
Use always strings with the gauge recommended by the luthier. Don't experiment with different thickness of strings on your musical instrument before informing and asking your luthier.

If you will store your instrument for long period of times be sure to de-tune the strings one or two tones lower than normal.

4. The digital hygrometer (humidity/temperature reader) is a must.

Perhaps one of the most important accessories when you posses a custom string instruments.

It is very useful to control the relative humidity in the room where your instrument is being kept. Expensive classic instruments are kept in airtight cases with fully integrated hygrometer.
The most suitable relative humidity for a bouzouki instrument accordingly to an article by the famous luthier Xristo Spourdalaki in Klika (http://www.klika.gr) is from 47% to 57%.

But this factor is a bit more complicated than just what it appears to be simply your obligation for a daily check of the readings  on your digital hygrometer. The relative humidity requires the consideration of another very important factor . Temperature!  

The blog follower Chris on an earlier post had pointed out : 

Humidity, is (as you say) one of the most important parameter for the life of the instrument. But, temperature as well. The instrument absorbs and discards moisture (neck changes position and extra forces apply to the instrument), from and to the environment, depending not only on the relative humidity, but on the combination of relative humidity and temperature. 

The amount of humidity that will be absorbed or discharged, depends also on the % of moisture the luthier kept to the wood during the construction of the instrument. Usually, this is up to 12%, for Greece. So, the range 45-55 % is fully adequate. 

If, for any reason, you order an instrument with high initial moisture (for example 12 or 14 % if you live in a place with high relative humidity and high temperature), you may find out that your instrument will probably suffer at 45 % humidity, combined with 15-20 C temperature! Ok, the example is a bit extreme. For the 99% of situations, the 45-55 range is ok!I just wanted to point out the relationship between relative humidity and temperature. "

5. The first week's experimentation /observation (personal approach)

With a simple test (observation) define if your environment ( home) where you are planing to store your new bouzouki instrument has a higher or lower relative humidity than the initial relative humidity State which the woods of the bouzouki's neck, carry.

At first let us remind you that changes of the relative humidity, can effect the bouzouki's action and play-ability as shows at the drawing bellow. 

With higher levels of relative humidity the neck of your bouzouki neck tends to expand  , where with lower levels of relative humidity your bouzouki neck tends to shrink.

Remember the advice we gave  on #2 of this post:

"Use always a tuner before storing your musical instrument and be sure that the strings are tuned at the right frequency."

The next day (and for a total of  5-7 consecutive days) after taking your musical instrument out of its bouzouki case, measure with your digital tuner, all of the strings' tone. Repeat this for the next 5 days, preferably at the same time of the day 

If you find the tone of all the strings to be slightly higher than normal, then that means that the levels of relative humidity in your storage room is slightly higher than the neck's relative humidity levels.
As a result, your bouzouki  has absorbed a small amount of water vapor from the surrounding air , and the neck has been expanded. This event has as a result a higher tension on the strings, which gives you a higher tuning. 

Conversely, a lower reading on strings tuning, means that  the levels of relative humidity in your storage room is slightly lower than the neck's relative humidity levels.
As a result, your bouzouki  has extracted a small amount of water vapor to the surrounding air , and the neck has been shrunken. This event has as a result a lower tension on the strings, which gives you a lower tuning. 

Even though this observation-test by itself doesn't give  any important and solid information, having a small idea regarding  the initial state which your bouzouki woods constructed and received, may play an important role on long term decisions.    

Here are some practical methods to protect your instrument during elevated values of dryness or humidity:

During elevated values of dryness, where the relative humidity is < 35-40%

1.Tune your instrument one tone lower, since the forces from the strings to the neck are increasing, and the neck's length tends to shrink.

2.Wet a small tower, wring it well, and place it close to the neck without touching it, to increase the moisture of the air.


3.Purchase a humidifier

During elevated values of humidity where the relative humidity is > 65-70% 

1.Turn on the fan or the air condition, to circulate the air inside the room.

2.Place small cotton pouches full of rice or silicon small bags (silica gel) close to the neck inside the case to eliminate the moisture.


3.Purchase a de-humidifier

6. Give life to your strings

Finally, before storing your instrument (every time after you play) swipe the strings with a soft cotton cloth and pass a thin layer of string cleaner and conditioner.
The conditioner with prevent the strings from getting traces of rust, and loose quickly their sharp and vibrant sound.


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