Wood, Temperature, Pitch, and Musical Instruments
I was in a argument with some friends about whether the temperature has
a APPRECIABLE effect on wood for example leaving my guitar in the below freezing
trunk of our car over night. My understanding is that temperature effects wood
minutely and that it has a effect on humidity which in turn has a greater effect
but I do not think the temperature has a great effect on dry wood. I hope my
question makes sense and would love to here what you think.
Having once ruined a guitar by exposing it to varying temperatures, I speak from
first hand experience. Interestingly, what failed were the glue joints. I suspect
this is not simply from the cold, but rather from the different rates of expansion
and contraction of the different woods. even though the movement is likely small, I
expect the force to be significant. Perhaps another response can address the actual
rates of change for different woods.
As you pointed out, humidity has an effect on instruments. The cold or heat can affect
the absorbed moisture in ways you might not like. Some parts of instruments are
designed to be under stress, some are not. Greatly cooling or heating an instrument
would alter these stresses and possibly do damage.
Having said that, I would venture that violins, violas, etc. are in more danger than
an acoustic guitar and the acoustic is in more danger than a solid electric.
Best solution? Find a heated garage.
Unfortunately, I think you lose. Temperature changes the acoustical properties not only
of the wood in an instrument but also the tension on the strings. The effect is
particularly large on instruments like the harp. Not only are the strings affected but
also the frame itself. Yes humidity plays a part, but temperature can quickly "untune"
a perfectly well tuned instrument.
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Update: June 2012