I’ve written in this space before about the joys of playing outside, sitting on a porch on a warm summer evening, softly playing a tune. Or hanging with friends around a campfire in the woods or on a beach, playing a Buffet tune or two. So I’m not saying you should avoid playing outside – far from it. I think changing your regular playing environment can be downright inspirational. I experienced that myself a few years ago at a friend’s cabin next to a stream up in the Poconos when we played music outside for two long and wonderful evenings.
If you have a “beater” guitar that you don’t care a whole about and isn’t worth much you certainly shouldn’t be afraid to expose it to the outdoor world. But I’m thinking of your prized #1 instrument, the one you saved up for and might even think of as your “guitar of a lifetime.” If you want to play that one outdoors here are a few basic guidelines.
First and foremost, never, ever leave your guitar in a locked car or trunk for any length of time, even if it’s in its case (which of course it should be). The extreme heat inside parked cars in the summer is well documented and should be avoided to the point that you must think long and hard about bringing it at all if it’s likely the guitar will have to remain in the car. If you do find yourself in this situation, give the guitar an hour or so to acclimate inside its closed case when you bring it back inside, especially if you’re going into a space that is air conditioned. This is really the reverse of the process you’d use in the winter when the guitar must go from a cold environment to a warm one. Wood needs a chance to expand and contract slowly. Otherwise, finish cracks or worse can and usually will happen.
Another bad thing – and I’m talking from personal experience now – is to leave a guitar on a stand in direct sunlight inside a house, now matter how comfortable or “normal” the temperature may be inside. This is slightly more subtle but just as damaging over the long term and is particularly harmful to guitars with dark bodies such as rosewood, which will absorb the heat very easily. Some years ago I had a very nice Martin HD-28 that I’d used for gigging with a few bands over the years and I was very careful to avoid hitting it on things like microphone stands or have it fall over on stage (man, I hate when I see that happen!). But at home I kept it in a stand near a big bay window, the idea being I could easily grab it and play when inspiration struck. That didn’t happen a whole lot, sad to say, but the guitar sat there all one summer and in the fall I noticed in horror that the top seam was opening up! I picked up the guitar and even though it was probably in the low 60s outside, the rosewood back that was facing the window was actually quite warm to the touch. Lesson learned. The hard way.
These days we do have available some very nice guitars made partially or in total of laminates or man-made materials that are supposed to be impervious to all but the most extreme weather situations. I’m particularly fond of the Taylor GS Mini, which has high pressure laminate sides and back and a wood top. Those guitars play and sound amazingly good and I’m pretty sure you could paddle a canoe with one without ill effects. Not really, but you get what I mean. One of my students bought a quite expensive travel guitar made of graphite, which he uses on his large sailboat. It is advertised in boating magazines for just that purpose and while it doesn’t sound quite as good as the GS Mini I’m sure it can take just about anything Mother Nature throws at it.
All I’m saying here is – use your head! Guitars made of wood are made to withstand a fair amount of variation in temperature and humidity but not in the extreme. Play your guitar outside to your heart’s content. It feels good and may inspire some very good music. Just don’t let it bake. And it’s probably a good idea to keep it in its case inside no matter how much you want to see it and appreciate the beauty of an acoustic guitar.
Enjoy the summer; it will be gone before we know it. Just remember that your guitar has no interest whatsoever in getting a nice tan!
Peace & good music,