Sometimes you have to take a gig on a freezing cold day and you may be wondering what issues this can present you with, other than having to bear the miserable weather.
Unfortunately, the temperature can have some devastating effects on your beloved instrument.
Guitar damage caused by cold has everything to do with the rapid change in temperature the wood your guitar is made of needs to undergo. This includes ruining the finish of your guitar as the wood contracts and expands, and warping of joints that can put your guitar out of tune – or worse!
So while playing in the cold isn’t inherently bad there are some big things to avoid if you have to brave the elements with your electric or acoustic guitar.
How Cold Is Too Cold to Play a Guitar?
There’s no hard and fast rule for when it’s too cold to play guitar. The ideal temperature for your guitar to be in is somewhere between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. But a guitar that is used to the cold will play fine in temperatures far lower.
The two major concerns that come with plating in cold weather are; what will the cold do to my guitar and, will playing guitar in the cold affect, or even damage my fingers?
If it’s your guitar you’re worried about then the temperature itself isn’t what you need to worry about, if you’re comfortable enough to not freeze then you’re all good to play.
However – Rapid changes in temperature is what you need to be careful of.
If you’re taking your guitar from the warmth of your home, putting it in its case, and taking it outside for a gig then you need to be careful! If you were to immediately pull out your guitar when you get outside there’s a chance the sudden drop in temperature could wreak havoc on your guitar.
A slow gradual change in temperatures is what you want. This stops the wood from warping as it tries to settle into the new colder environment.
The main issue your fingers will face when playing outside is that they’ll likely be pretty stiff, at least when you first start to get them moving around the frets.
This can make playing difficult as your fingers won’t be able to keep up with your muscle memory. The stiffness will make playing anything that requires a bit of movement more of a hassle than you remember. But if you give your fingers time to loosen up this problem should improve!
Can Playing Guitar in the Cold Damage Your Fingers?
Playing guitar with cold fingers will cause you all sorts of issues when playing but won’t do any permanent damage to anyone but the ears of your audience!
Playing guitar with cold fingers is not recommended. When your fingers are cold your muscles can stiffen up and make playing difficult. The main damage you’ll be doing is by straining your fingers to do something they’re not ready for.
If you’re going to play in the cold make sure you take some time before your fingers touch the guitar to get them warm. Warm fingers are more limber and flexible, two things that are essential for playing the guitar.
Is Playing an Acoustic Guitar in the Cold Worse Than Electric?
Yes, an acoustic guitar will suffer more in the cold than an electric guitar. This is due to the way these different guitars are constructed.
When a guitar is brought into the cold it is subjected to an unexpected change in temperature. Remember It’s not the cold itself that will damage your guitar its the sudden change in temperature that does the damage.
The reason acoustic guitars are more susceptible to damage is that most acoustic guitars are made from multiple pieces of wood glued together and temperature changes can damage the glue joints. Electric guitars on the other hand are mostly made of a solid piece of wood with the only gluing done at the neck.
What Can Happen to an Acoustic Guitar in the Cold?
When an acoustic guitar is exposed to the cold it can result in splits in the wood of the body and neck of the guitar. As mentioned before this is because of how much glue is used to keep an acoustic guitar together,
When temperature changes occur the wood can either shrink (when it’s cold) or expand (when it’s hot). When the wood shirks or expands this puts pressure on the glue holding the guitar together.
If this glue warps enough then the wood around the glue will start to split, leading to cracks or even the different pieces of wood separating; leaving your guitar in multiple pieces.
The spot where guitars tend to get damaged the most in the cold is the neck. This is because the neck is where most joints are on the guitar and the warping of the wood in this area can quickly put enough pressure on these joints to do some damage.
The first thing you will notice is that your guitar will go out of tune. This is because the joints around the neck are stretching or shrinking putting pressure on the strings, pulling on them, and putting your guitar out of tune.
The quicker you move a guitar from a warm or room temperature environment and out into the cold; the faster you’ll do damage to the neck. This can leave you with a neck that is out of line. People have reported leaving their guitar in the cold and the neck being pulled forward the next time they go to play it.
This is nearly unfixable, and an attempt to repair would be costly as you’d probably need a whole new neck installed. So don’t leave your acoustic guitar in a cold place for long or move it between warm and cold places without giving it time to adjust to the new environment.
What Can Happen to An Electric Guitar in the Cold?
When it comes to electric guitars and the cold they are more resistant to damage than acoustics but there are still some risks.
The most common damage to electric guitars, when played in the cold, is an effect on the finish of the body called ‘crazing’.
Crazing is what happens when the wood of the body of the guitar contracts with the cold and then expands when brought back into a warm place. The finish on top of the wood will expand and contract at a different rate than the wood it sits on.
This results in the finish cracking along the grain of the wood. Usually, it will look like a series of small lines running over the guitar’s finish. It won’t affect the sound of your guitar but it will make it looks very beaten and vintage after some time.
So unless that’s the look you’re going for don’t move your electric guitar from cold to hot to quickly!
Carbon Fiber Guitars – Unaffected by Cold Temperatures
If you regularly have to move your guitar form warm to cold places in a short time, then it’s worth having a look at carbon fiber guitars.
Since they are not made from wood, the carbon fiber and plastic composites they are made from do not expand and relax with temperature changes. They also don’t have glue joints, so there are no weak points that can crack like with traditional wood guitars.
So carbon fiber guitars are ideal for playing in the cold, and there are new models appearing on the market regularly. The downside is that most models are in the $2000-3000 range, however there is now a model on the market for under $1000 with a carbon fiber top, composite back & sides, and built-in electronic effects with a transducer.