Water, delicate wood and electronics do not mix. With that being said, what happens if your guitar gets wet?
Guitars exposed to water (or even just high humidity) can be irreparably damaged. Water can make the wood body and fretboard swell, ruining the guitar’s tone. It can cause glued joints to expand and separate. It will also damage the electronics of an electric guitar, and could even make it dangerous to play!
Since acoustic and electric guitars are built differently, let’s take a look at how water can affect both types.
Can Electric Guitars Get Wet?
What Happens When Electric Guitars Get Wet
Solid body electric guitars (the most common) are much more resistant to water intrusion and damage than semi-hollow or hollow body electric guitars. That being said, all electric guitars can be damaged by exposure to water.
When an electric guitar gets wet, water can soak into the wood body and fretboard, causing them to swell. This can alter the guitar’s tone, making it sound flat and dull (this is more pronounced with semi-hollow and hollow body guitars, which rely on those cutouts to achieve a specific sound).
The fretboard is secured to the guitar neck with a strong adhesive. In fact, all of a guitar’s joints are held together with glue. When water causes these joints to swell, the glue securing them can strain under the increased force, which results in the joints separating. If this happens, it will be difficult to secure them again since the wood has probably warped.
Even a guitar body sealed with a durable gloss coat can still be affected by water. If not wiped off quickly, water can leave spots on the wood finish. While this may not impact playability, it will ruin your guitar’s appearance.
Most concerning of all, however, is water’s effect on the electronics inside your guitar. All the internal components that make an electric guitar different from an acoustic are very sensitive to moisture. If water intrudes under your pickups or under a floating bridge (if your guitar has one), it can cause them to stop working.
Remember that time you dropped your phone in a pool, lake–or maybe the toilet–and it shut down? Without working electronics, an electric guitar is just as useless. I don’t think a big enough bag of rice exists to dry out your ax.
Is It Dangerous to Play a Wet Electric Guitar?
We all should know electronics and water do not go together. In many situations, exposing a plugged in electronic device to water can be very dangerous, potentially causing serious injury or death.
The same can be true of electric guitars…but only in certain cases. When unplugged, a wet electric guitar poses no risks. While the electronics might be ruined, they’re not currently active.
However, if it’s plugged into a live amplifier, this is another matter. In this situation, your guitar has a live current running through it. Water is a great conductor of electricity, and with your instrument slung over your neck, the current’s quickest path to the ground is you.
Plugging in a wet guitar and turning your amp on could potentially cause serious injury through electrocution. If your guitar is wet (or you think it may be), you should not plug it in and attempt to play it until it’s been thoroughly dried out.
Will Rain Ruin an Electric Guitar?
Your guitar doesn’t have to be submerged in water for it to get damaged…rain can do the job just as easily. Rain can intrude inside the guitar body and soak into the joints holding it all together.
If you’re practicing or playing a gig outside and it starts to rain, it’s time to gather your equipment and head inside. Not only will rain damage your guitar, amp and any other equipment you have outside, but if everything is plugged in you now run the risk of getting shocked.
Keep those expensive electronic components far away from water in any form.
Will High Humidity Ruin an Electric Guitar?
Prolonged exposure to a high humidity environment can negatively affect your electric guitar as well.
But how high does the humidity have to be, and how long do you have to leave your guitar in it for bad things to happen? In this case, the second part of that question depends on the first.
High humidity can be defined as 80-90% or above. In this environment, an electric guitar would likely need to be exposed consistently for several weeks before anything happens. This could include warping, swelling, separating joints, and corrosion of metal components like the bridge, pickups and strings.
Even a moderately humid environment (60-70%) can cause damage, though it would take much longer (several months of consistent exposure) for your guitar to experience the same effects.
Can Acoustic Guitars Get Wet?
What Happens When Acoustic Guitars Get Wet
Given that they have a hollow body that’s heavily relied on to produce sound, acoustic guitars are much more sensitive to the effects of moisture than electric guitars.
When acoustic guitars are exposed to water, the wood body can swell significantly. Acoustic guitars are generally made of thinner layers of wood compared to electric guitars, so water can be absorbed much easier. An acoustic guitar exposed to water will sound muffled and dull.
This may reverse itself as the guitar dries out, but it’s highly probable the guitar will never again sound like it did before getting wet.
Similar to electric guitars, acoustics will also suffer damage and separation at the joints. The glue holding down the fretboard and attaching the neck to the body may weaken and detach. This typically isn’t fixable, as the water may have also caused the wood to warp.
Will Rain Ruin an Acoustic Guitar?
Just like an electric guitar, it’s a bad idea to play an acoustic in the rain. While you won’t have to worry about the risk of shocking yourself, exposing your acoustic guitar to water by any means can do significant damage.
Will High Humidity Ruin an Acoustic Guitar?
High humidity can have a devastating effect on your acoustic guitar. Humid conditions will allow the guitar body to absorb moisture. The more water the wood absorbs, the more dull and muted it will sound, and the harder it will be to dry it completely.
Humidity can also cause the glued joints to separate, and can damage the appearance of the guitar’s wood finish. Even if you’re able to dry your guitar and fix the joints, the stains and spots left behind by moisture are there to stay.
The higher the humidity, the quicker these effects can take place. In 80-90% humidity, it may only take a couple of weeks for the conditions to ruin your acoustic guitar. In moderate humidity (60-70%) it may take a few months. But even so, you want to minimize your guitar’s exposure to humid conditions to increase its lifespan.
Should You Take an Acoustic Guitar to the Beach?
It seems to be a common theme in movies and shows: people are trying to enjoy their time on the beach, but then someone shows up with their acoustic guitar to serenade an unwilling audience with a terrible rendition of Wonderwall.
While we can all agree we don’t want to be that person, there are other good reasons to leave your guitar at home on your next beach trip.
For one, there’s the fact that water is everywhere near the beach. While you obviously won’t go swimming with your guitar, it’s likely to get wet in a number of other ways, especially from other people walking by, their soaked swimsuits dripping all over the place.
The air will also be full of moisture, which if it’s allowed time to infiltrate the wood body of your guitar, will lead to many of the same negative effects we discussed earlier.
There’s also the sand. Sand is very abrasive. With the wind acting as a sandblaster, your guitar’s finish can get worn down.
And if your beach is by the ocean rather than a lake, water won’t be the only thing in the air. There’s also plenty of salt. Salt can dry out the wood of your guitar, which is just as detrimental to a guitar as when water causes it to swell. As the wood dries out, it can begin to crack and split.
Salt also has the tendency to leave an abrasive residue over everything, which if not removed, will continue to dry out your guitar over time. And you can’t really wash it off with water, because you know how bad water is for your guitar!
5 Tips for Protecting Your Guitar in Wet Conditions
1. Keep It in a Case
If you’re concerned your guitar might get wet, keep it in a case whenever you’re not using it. A gig bag would be better than nothing, but the material is often porous. A hard case would be a much better choice.
A good case will protect your guitar not just against water, but also against high humidity and it can even help to protect your guitar during cold temperatures.
2. Use Silica Gel Packets or Bamboo Charcoal Bags
You know those little packets you find inside shoe boxes or electronic equipment that say “Do Not Eat” on them? Those are filled with silica gel.
Silica gel is moisture absorbent and keeps clothing or delicate equipment dry. Throw a couple of those in your guitar case to help keep your guitar dry. You can also use bamboo charcoal bags for a more eco-friendly option.
These packets don’t last forever, so be sure to change them out every few months.
3. Wipe It Down ASAP
If your guitar does get wet, wipe it down right away with an absorbent cloth or towel. You want to get the water off immediately before it can soak into the wood or work its way into the electronic components of your electric guitar.
You may need to remove some of your guitar’s components (such as the strings, bridge or pickups) to ensure no moisture is left underneath these areas.
4. Use a Blow Dryer
If you’re having trouble getting moisture out of your acoustic, semi-hollow or hollow body electric guitar, you could use a blow dryer…but make sure not to use high heat! Heat can damage the wood finish of your guitar and its appearance. Use the blow dryer on low to move the water around so it will evaporate quicker or so you can reach it with a cloth or towel.
Taylor Guitars also recommends using a blow dryer on the interior of your guitar case if you live in an area with high humidity. This will help any moisture caught within the case to evaporate.
5. Use a Room Dehumidifier
If you deal with high humidity for a good portion of the year, it may be wise to invest in a room dehumidifier…especially if you own multiple guitars. This will ensure your guitars are kept at the proper humidity all year. I’m sure you’ll reap the benefits of a dehumidifier as well, so it’s a worthwhile investment!