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Thread: From humid to dryer?

  1. #1
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    Default From humid to dryer?

    Hello, I donīt know if this is the right Place to post this question. But on the other hand where would so be?
    If I buy an ukulele from South east Asia, probably made in a humidity of about 65 - 70%. Could I somehow adopt it to North European or American/Canadian Winters over a period of time ( a few yeas) where the humidity is a more normal 50% over the year with maybe Winters of 30% and summers with 70% air humidity?
    Or is it condemned to crack into pieces?

    Kind regards
    Last edited by Henning; 07-18-2017 at 04:14 AM. Reason: Headline should be drier and nothing else

  2. #2

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    You should not buy a ukulele made at 70% humitly. There are no factories in Asia or anywhere else that do not control humitity to around 45%. To not do so would quickly be business ending. That said I have been asked to repair instuments that were made in too high humidity. They were made in the USA by small time builders who for whatever reason didn't take the care necessary to contol humidity. I''m not talking about anyone on this forum. So if you are looking at a botique builder in Asia who does not take measures to contol humidity as Jim Cramer says "dont buy, don't buy"
    Last edited by Michael Smith; 07-18-2017 at 04:37 AM.
    Michael Smith
    Goat Rock Ukulele
    www.goatrockukulele.com

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Smith View Post
    That said I have been asked to repair instuments that were made in too high humidity. They were made in the USA by small time builders who for whatever reason didn't take the care necessary to contol humidity.
    Thanks, I suppose it would necessiate some precautions to repair such instruments. Do you treat them as if they were built in 50% humidity or how did you do that?

  4. #4
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    Not to hijack this thread, but, (to paraphrase) you say a big shift in humidity from factory to end user can cause cracks. Is it also really bad for a uke to see daily big swings in humidity? And how much of a swing becomes problematic? My room goes from 40% to 75% throughout the day! I'm concerned for my solid spruce top!

  5. #5

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    Humidity changes will kill just about every instrument ever made at some point. If this happens in a week or 400 years depends on how well the owner/owners contol and or limit these changes. I believe every owner of a valuable wooden musical instrument should keep their instrument in a fiberglass or abs case with a couple Boveda 49% humidity packets. Take it out to play then put it back when they are done. Not all humdity control products are the same. The Boveda packets contain certain salts that release moisture with humidity goes below 45% and suck up moisture when humidity goes above.
    Michael Smith
    Goat Rock Ukulele
    www.goatrockukulele.com

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Smith View Post
    Humidity changes will kill just about every instrument ever made at some point. If this happens in a week or 400 years depends on how well the owner/owners contol and or limit these changes. I believe every owner of a valuable wooden musical instrument should keep their instrument in a fiberglass or abs case with a couple Boveda 49% humidity packets. Take it out to play then put it back when they are done. Not all humdity control products are the same. The Boveda packets contain certain salts that release moisture with humidity goes below 45% and suck up moisture when humidity goes above.
    This is why I have no desire to buy more expensive ukuleles than what I have (my most expensive one is an Outdoor Ukulele tenor, for reference - no worries about it cracking!). I live in a desert. We get wild swings in humidity at least once a month or so, and I don't currently have the means to even buy hard cases for the ones that would benefit from humidity control.
    "...how strange to see that I don't want to be the person that I want to be." - Amanda Palmer, In My Mind (NSFW)

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Twibbly View Post
    We get wild swings in humidity at least once a month or so, and I don't currently have the means to even buy hard cases for the ones that would benefit from humidity control.
    Now if those are solid tops, why donīt you? (!)

    Well, Iīm sorry.

  8. #8
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    Iīd say a string instrument that canīt withstand 30% humidity up to maybe 80% of humidity. at least during shorter moments, for playing, rehearsal, an evening in a concert hall etc., isnīt of very much use.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Henning View Post
    Iīd say a string instrument that canīt withstand 30% humidity up to maybe 80% of humidity. at least during shorter moments, for playing, rehearsal, an evening in a concert hall etc., isnīt of very much use.
    I agree Henning. Couldn't have said it better. Perhaps the instrument needs to be transported in a perfectly perfect humid environmentally controlled case and then brought out of its perfect environment into a performance hall that has perfectly matching humidity where it is played and then put back into its perfect case.

    But you have to understand, ukuleles cracking, exploding, racking, warping, twisting and basically coming unglued and flying apart is the ultimate nightmare of people who build these things. Thus the obsession with humidity. Wood gonna do what wood gonna do. This isn't always controllable and that is what keeps us up at night. The ultimate unspoken truth is that all delicate acoustic wooden instruments are ephemeral, living objects and just like the people who play them, they are ultimately going to die. I call it a terminal case of dynamic deformation over time. Sort of like growing old. Something has got to give eventually.

    Luthier nightmare: 3:30 am Pacific Time Zone: Phone rings: "Hello (groggily)..... Are you Rick?... Mmmmm.... what?.... I'm calling from Oslo and I have an ukulele that has cracked in half and has you name on the label! What are you going to do about it?. I want my money back!.... (wake up in a cold sweat screaming silently).
    Last edited by sequoia; 07-22-2017 at 07:23 PM.

  10. #10
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    Let me give some insight here into building in tropical humidity. First, this is not meant to contradict Michael (what a font of knowledge!) or any other posters here who look down on this sort of thing. But their analysis is a bit incomplete. They assume the basic techniques of building are universal. Unfortunately so do some new builders in these tropical environments. But building techniques that work when an instrument doesn't travel are problematic when shipping instruments out of high humidity areas. That’s what isn’t understood; that’s what causes the problems.

    So first, look at where the typical construction falls short when building in high humidity and shipping to a lower environment. You have to look at the instrument piece by piece. The most problematic area by far is the hardwood back. A hardwood top is not much better. Sides can split but their movement is not as restricted, so damage is relatively rare. Necks just need to be made of slow dried stable timber. The most straightforward examples of how to build are in places like Veracruz and Northern South America. Various instruments there have bodies that are simply made out of a hollowed solid block. The soundboards aren’t hardwood but softwood, allowing much greater flexibility. Not only are the thicker body elements more resistant to warping, but glue joints are cut down as well (another topic).

    We have always built in Central America. Our first shop, one we built in for almost a decade, was not only not controlled for humidity, the roof leaked as well. During the rainy season, we had to often be at 100% humidity. Having designed our way around that sort of environment with solid wood furniture exports, we felt that with the narrow stock needed for Ukuleles there was no cause for concern. The first prototypes showed us our mistake as a couple of Soprano prototype backs cracked during their first winter. We had overlooked how the thinner material of an Ukulele back would be more susceptible to splitting than what we had been using for furniture. Okay, it was 20% with the central heat, but if we could do that, so could someone else.

    We didn’t want to try to market the hollowed out solid wood body; there’s nothing wrong with it, but in spite of being a very refined technique in good hands, it has the flavor of something crude up north. So we wanted to build in a more traditional “European” style and hit on a way to do that.

    Rene LaCote was perhaps the premier builder of Romantic Era Guitars, and favoured a Cypress lining on his backs. He did it for a “sweeter sound”, but of course it solves the problem of the weakest point of tropical construction in European style. It does affect both the depth of resonance and the sound, but the sound quality was not inferior, just different. Some Spanish guitars are still built this way; our builder was very familiar with the construction and enthusiastic about it. It took no time at all to adjust the other parts of the body to the parameters of the stiffer, almost Australian style back.

    We ended up using different wood for side material: solid, stiff and slightly thicker than normal. Of course good “bendability” was extremely important as well once you go that route. We used carbon fiber reinforced necks. Soundboards needed a curve to allow for movement (a bit on the backs as well). We used German Spruce soundboards in the beginning, but in the end, just to be on the safe side, went to an extremely stable soundboard: Alaskan Yellow Cedar. It not only moved less (better intonation) but we ended up with a sound that paired better with our stiff bodies than we had had with German Spruce.

    That construction served us for years: instruments went to all sorts of climates and never gave us a problem. So the point in all this is that once, instruments were built in their environment for players in that environment. Now that builders are shipping all over the world, it doesn’t rule out certain building conditions; it just means you need to do a bit of engineering. That’s all the “golden 45%” rule tries to do. It just tries to hit a “median” humidity so an instrument can travel through a certain (though still limited) range of environments. A 45% building environment, for example, won't cause immediate problems for a customer in a place like here in Louisiana, but with our 70-80% typical humidity range, it's less than ideal.

    I’ve always thought that one great feature of Ukulele design is portability. And that means it should be able to withstand an even greater range of humidity than other stringed instruments. But you don’t necessarily have to control your building environment to do that. Our construction, for example, was one solution that allowed for even greater portability than standard design. Just think about your instrument; think about your environment; think about your woods; don’t rely on traditional formulae; find your own.

    P.S: We are working with a new shop now as our previous builder has retired. It is causing some adjustments and taking time to reset some parameters. This fellow has taken the modern approach and has a humidity controlled shop. Re-adjusting some of the design technique to the new environment (the kind y’all are used to) has been a surprisingly long process. Almost done now, but sometimes I kind of wish for the old days of the wild tropics.
    Last edited by southcoastukes; 07-29-2017 at 09:08 AM.
    Dirk Wormhoudt



    website: http://www.southcoastukes.com

    email: sales@southcoastukes.com

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