Can Guitars Get Cold? (Risks, Safe Temps, and Storage Tips)

Keeping your guitar out of environmental extremes is vital to protecting and preserving its quality. But when it comes to temperature, how cold is too cold for your instrument?

If properly protected, guitars can handle quite cold temperatures without sustaining any damage. Some factors are more important than cold temperature, however. Low humidity, excess moisture and drastic temperature swings can do more damage to your guitar’s finish and components than low temperature alone.

Let’s see how cold weather could affect your guitar, as well as how you can store and transport it to protect it from damage when the temperature drops.

What Temperature is TOO Cold for Guitars?


The ideal temperature to store your guitar is 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (21-24 degrees Celsius).

But “ideal” isn’t always reality. So how cold could a guitar get without sustaining damage?

A guitar will most likely be fine for moderate time periods in cold temperatures above the freezing point (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 degrees Celsius). Once temperatures drop below that, things get a little dicey. But in truth, there are other factors that are much more damaging to your guitar than cold temperatures alone.

Let me explain:

What Happens to Guitars that Get Cold? (The Risks)

The first factor is moisture. If you read our previous article on why guitars shouldn’t get wet, then you know moisture can cause all sorts of trouble. If any excess moisture is on or in your guitar and the temperature drops below the freezing point, that water will freeze. Frozen water expands, and this can cause your guitar to crack or split.

The second factor is relative humidity. Cold temperatures by themselves aren’t that impactful, but they typically bring dry air. Just like high humidity can damage your guitar, so can overly dry air.

In dry conditions, the wood of your guitar will contract and become brittle. This is especially noticeable at the joints and the fretboard. 

Speaking of the fretboard, as the wood shrinks, the frets will actually appear to move closer together. This has the effect of changing your guitar’s sound at each fret, which completely throws it out of tune and ruins the tone. 

The third factor concerns drastic temperature swings. While a guitar may emerge unscathed from very hot or very cold conditions, it’s when it undergoes severe, rapid changes in temperature that bad things can happen. 

Have you ever seen a coffee pot crack when washed in cold water immediately after being emptied of hot coffee? Extreme temperature changes put a lot of stress on most materials, causing them to expand and shrink rapidly. 

The same is true with your guitar. If it was previously in a warm environment and is suddenly exposed to very cold temperatures, the wood will shrink rapidly and is at higher risk of damage. 

Acoustic guitars are more prone to damage from cold temperatures, excess moisture and dry air because the wood layers used to make them are thinner, and there’s more surface area exposed to the elements. 

While hollow and semi-hollow body electric guitars are a bit more resistant than acoustic guitars, they won’t handle cold stress as well as solid-body electric guitars. That being said, the electric components in all electric guitars are also cold-sensitive, and care should be taken to avoid exposing them to the above factors as well. 

3 Tips for Storing a Guitar in Cold Weather


1. Regulate the Humidity

Cold air is dry air…and dry air is no good for your guitar!

Ensure that the room where you’re keeping your guitar is within the ideal humidity range (40-50%). You may need to invest in a humidifier to best protect your guitar and keep the wood from shrinking and cracking. 

2. Store It in a Case

Keeping your guitar in a case can provide an extra layer of insulation from cold, dry air. Hard cases that are lined with a plush velvet material can help your guitar stay warm and cozy, even as the temperature drops. 

3. Avoid Temperature Swings

Ideally, you want to keep your guitar stored in that 70-75 degree, 40-50% humidity range. But if that’s not possible for whatever reason, at least store your guitar where you can keep temperature and humidity consistent. 

Even if they aren’t ideal conditions, consistent temperature and humidity is better for your guitar than if it’s allowed to constantly fluctuate in and out of that ideal range. That puts more stress on the wood as it expands and contracts and can cause more damage in a shorter period of time. 

Can You Leave a Guitar in a Cold Car?

It’s ok to leave your guitar in a cold car if it’s properly protected, ideally in a hard case with a small humidifier. Again, it’s not necessarily the temperature that does the most damage, but other factors like moisture, temperature swings and relative humidity. 

As long as you take precautions to protect your guitar, it should be just fine.

How Long Can a Guitar Stay in a Cold Car?

If protected, a guitar can stay in a cold car for an extended period of time (at least several hours, probably even a full day) without experiencing any damage. But the longer you leave it in there, the more important having a guitar case humidifier is and the more cautious you need to be when moving it inside.

If your guitar has been in a cold car for a significant period of time, make sure you let it acclimate slowly to a warmer temperature. This may mean letting it sit in its case in a garage or basement (both of which tend to be slightly colder than the rest of a house) before bringing it out to play. 

This should give your guitar enough time to warm up slowly before use, avoiding the damage that can come with drastic temperature swings. 

3 Tips for Transporting a Guitar in Cold Weather

1. Keep It in a Hard Case

Gig bags are better than nothing, but hard cases are better at regulating temperature. They are also lined with velvet, which helps keep your guitar insulated. Hard cases also offer superior protection from the rigors of travel, where things have a tendency to get damaged as they’re being transported.

2. Use a Guitar Case Humidifier

If you’re transporting your guitar for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to invest in a guitar case humidifier. These micro humidifiers fit right inside the case with your guitar and help maintain the ideal 40-50% humidity level to best protect your instrument.  

Guitar Case Humidifier Examples

3. Give Your Guitar Time to Acclimate

Once your guitar arrives at its final destination, resist the urge to take it out of its case immediately and start playing. Instead, allow it to sit in its case for a couple hours. This gives your guitar time to slowly warm up. Drastic temperature changes are very harsh on the wood of your guitar, causing it to shrink or expand rapidly.

The longer your guitar has been exposed to cold conditions during transport, the longer it will need to acclimate in its case before playing. 

3 Tips for Playing a Guitar in the Cold

1. Give Your Guitar Time to Acclimate

We’re using the same technique just discussed above, but this time, rather than letting your guitar slowly warm up, give it time to slowly cool down to the conditions in which you’ll be playing. This will prevent your guitar from shrinking rapidly, as the cold air will make it contract and could cause cracks to form in the wood.

2. Don’t Let It Get Wet

Cold air may be dry air, but cold weather is also synonymous with various forms of precipitation, like rain, sleet and snow. If you’re playing outside in cold weather, take extra care to prevent your guitar from getting wet. 

Any form of moisture can damage your guitar, but when the weather is cold enough for that moisture to freeze, it will expand. If that moisture has worked its way into the wood layers or joints of your guitar, it may cause those to expand and separate as well. 

3. Don’t Expose It to a Heat Source

If you’re playing a gig in cold weather and you have the luxury of having heat sources (like a fire pit or gas heater) nearby to warm you up, make sure you don’t let your instrument get too close. 

First, these heat sources can initiate that drastic temperature swing we’re trying to avoid, causing your guitar to expand rapidly. 

But also…they’re really hot! Directly exposing your guitar to an extreme heat source can cause it to warp, can burn the finish off of it, or even damage the strings or electronics. Additionally, it will make your guitar hot to the touch. This is especially true of any metal components.

Some guitarists may claim their strings are on fire when they’re shredding a fast solo, but having your strings actually on fire is definitely not what they’re referring to!

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