Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How to manage your gear in cold weather

This is a picture I took on my phone yesterday on the way to work. An elderly man in a mechanics suit driving a pink scooter through a slushy road. Don't treat your gear like this.

This is a special Christmas post dedicated to handling guitar gear in cold weather. This might not apply to you in TX, CA, Costa Rica, or anywhere that calls a diet mt. dew "Coke." But for the cold states, it's a must. Here are the problems we have to deal with:

1) Wood and nitro finishes. Materials contract when they're cold and expand when they're hot. Guitars and their finishes can handle getting extremely cold and extremely hot as long as it's a slow temperature change. The problem comes when the temperature changes too quickly. That's when things crack, split, explode, and generally hinder the guitar's ability to make music. A lot of people like to baby their gear and I hear the phrase, "I don't let my gear sleep anywhere I wouldn't." In a sense, I agree with that and whenever possible I go that rout. However, not all of us can turn down gigs because our gear will get cold. There are times gear will ride in an unheated trailer through negative temps and we have to deal. They key is to help slow the temperature changes. Guitar cases have a great way of slowly warming up and colling down on the inside - as long as the case stays shut. If your guitar is cold leave it in a warm space closed for as long as you can. The longer the better but I'd say an hour at a minimum, two if you can help it, and "until you need it next" if there's no urgency. After the first hour or two crack the case open, fan it a few times, and close it again. This will help slowly mix the warmer air in. Solid body guitars are less effected by the cold but if they have nitro finish, the finish can crack. For semi-hallow or acoustic guitar, warming the case is a must or the thin wood can crack.

NOTE: If you have an ovation or another brand of guitar that uses a plastic back... you're screwed. The plastic expands and contracts at a different rate than the wood and the face will crack if the guitar gets too hot or cold.

2) Condensation. Objects that are warmer than the surrounding air will pull moisture out of the air and make condensation. Guitars are fine in their case so amps are the worry here. Road cases are idea and will solve the problem, if that's not an option go for the vinyl or plastic covers you can get for amps. This won't be a problem if the amp is in a trailer or in a car, but if it's exposed to the outside air - like in the bed of a truck - it can be a problem. Your bigger problem is probably thieves though.

3) Cold speakers. If you're waiting for your guitars to warm up, this won't be a problem but it should be noted that using cold speakers is a bad idea. There are a lot of small sliding parts that reply on friction and other fabric parts that reply in stretching. Using these parts frozen is a bad idea. Speakers should warm up quickly though.

My biggest tip - If you're just driving yourself around, warm up the car before you load it! And don't load until you're about to leave. That way whatever's in your car won't have a chance to cool down. Stuff in your trunk will get cold but depending on the case it can take a while for stuff to cool down. I put my amp in the drunk in a road case and after a 25 min drive it's barely colder inside than out.

Keep warm! Merry Christmas eve.

1 comment:

Karl said...

Nice post! And one that I haven't seen anywhere else. I used to have a 'beach' acoustic that I just kept in my trunk, and then wondered why it kept developing new cracks. ;)

Merry Christmas to you, too, brother!