Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Ukulele are wonderfully simple instruments. In fact, that’s one reason why they’re more popular than ever. They are so simple in fact that many don’t know about moisture maintenance and how important it is. I’ve heard it many times before. Testimonies of people purchasing ukulele here in Hawaii, only to find their precious instruments cracked and splitting a month after getting home. Oh no! This is due to a lack of moisture maintenance, or maintaining the proper humidity around your ukulele.
As someone who plays the ukulele you should already know that your ukulele is made of wood.
“Wait... what? Ukulele are made out of wood?!?”
Okay, I know, so basic. I did start by saying the ukulele was a simple, right? Haha! But follow me on this, its gonna make sense when we get into the topic. So yes, ukulele are made of wood, so now lets go down the rabbit hole. This is gonna get weird!
Just because your tone-wood is cut, dried, shaped, sanded, glued, and made into a ukulele, it still thinks its a tree. Yes, your wood is ‘zombified’! The wood is technically dead, but it is still moving. Get it. Zombie-wood?
So just like a tree, the wood in your ukulele will continue to try to acclimate to it’s surroundings. And if your surrounding area isn’t suitable for your ukulele, then destruction is inevitable.
“Why will my ukulele fall apart?” Great question! It all comes down to humidity. For example, if the air around your ukulele is too dry, it will eventually dry out the wood causing it to shrink. When this happens, the wood in your ukulele will crack.
And this humidity issue goes both ways. If the surrounding area is too humid, the wood on your ukulele will absorb the moisture making it expand. The wood will start warping, taking on new angles and shapes. Either way, having too little or too much humidity can hurt your ukulele. These negative effects can take months but I have seen things happen in days!
“So What can I do to protect my ukulele from the humidity?”
Well, get a humidifier!
What the heck is a ukulele humidifier?
Ukulele humidifiers are small moisture-filled containers that fit inside your ukulele case or hung on the ukulele itself (while in it’s case). It works by gradually releasing moisture into the environment as needed. It does this without over-humidifying the environment. A consistent humidity level between 40 and 50 percent is ideal.
In Hawaii, the birthplace of ukulele, many builders construct their ukulele in humidity controlled rooms. They lower the humidity using dehumidifiers and air conditioners in order to maintain a room humidity of 50%, though Hawaii’s normal humidity vacillates between 55-80%. This helps decrease the chances of cracking when the ukulele is sent to places that are too dry.
Some ukulele humidifiers protect your instrument from over-humidification too – that’s a win-win! Particularly if you live in an area where humidity tends to rise and fall as the weather changes. Denver Colorado has the lowest humidity in the United States, as low as 12%! If you send a ukulele made in Hawaii to Denver it could crack in day! 70% down to 12%. Yikes!
Does my ukulele need one?
Probably! All the best ukuleles are made with wood, which is composed of cells that react to atmospheric changes. Especially if your ukulele is made using solid woods and not laminate.
Sure when a ukulele splits, or the top ”bows” it can be easily seen. But like terminates eating in the walls of a house, humidity can also cause damage that’s hard to see. It can manifest as problems such as fret buzz, bad intonation, or high (or too low) action height. These can pretty much make the ukulele unplayable so it’s pretty serious. It’s also very expensive to fix and repair these issues. So it’s the humidifiers job to keep the ukulele environment at the right level of humidity so those changes, and the damage they can cause, don’t happen.
If your room is at the right humidity, you can store your ukulele out of it’s humidified case. Hang it on the wall, display it on a stand. It’s all good! Nothing is going to happen to the instrument. Now when you take it from that room to somewhere else... well, now you need to keep your ukulele humidified. Every time you take your ukulele on the road, going from a cool house to a hot car or vice-versa, you want keep the humidity level around your ukulele consistent. Or else... CRAAAAACK!
Your climate can help you decide if you need a ukulele humidifier or not. If you live in a warm, humid environment and you don’t use a ton of air conditioning inside your home, your instrument should be fine. If you purchased your ukulele from a local luthier then your ukulele should be fine, just watch out for the seasons! As the temperatures drop, so does moisture. So like chaining up your tires when there’s heavy snow, you need to humidify your ukulele during winter months. If you live in a hot, dry region, then you might need to use a ukulele humidifier year-round to keep your instrument from drying out.
When using a ukulele humidifier you must use it in a case. This way it can regulate the humidity in a small contained area. If using a room humidifier, theres no need to worry about keeping it in a case since the room will be humidity controlled. Below are some humidifier recommendations!
The Oasis OH-18 ukulele humidifier protects your instrument from the inside out. I really like the fact that it goes right inside your uke and stays put even when you’re traveling. If you forget to fill it up and it runs out, no worries, you can just fill it up again. It’s so user friendly!
When it’s time to refill your Oasis humidifier you will notice the ‘humigel’ beads making a sound. This is because they are drying out. Just add water and the beads will swell back up with moisture, and your ready to go. These beads don’t last forever so they recommend you change them out every year. You can purchase these refill packs here. The drying out and shrinking of the humigel beads also affects the tube. The tube also shrinks, crunches up, and starts bending. This is another sign that your humidifier needs more water.
We love the father and son duo (the Hepple’s) from Oasis! It’s always great to see them at the Winter NAMM every year. Mahalo for letting use your vacuum for our booth!
Geniani Mist Humidifier
The Geniani Top Fill Cool Mist Humidifier is a great choice to humidify your ukulele. This way you don’t have to keep your ukulele in a humidified case. You can display it for all to see (or just you...especially if you own a work of art). It is also quite affordable at around $45. It runs silent and boast a large water capacity at 4 liters! If you have multiple instruments, this is the humidifier for you. You can also use in any room of the house. Check it out here and see it’s full list of features!
Last but not least........BOVEDA!
I have a confession to make... please don’t judge me. I am a connoisseur of the finer things. I collect whiskey, mid century furniture, and pipes and cigars. If you know anything about pipes and cigars, you know you need to humidify your tobacco leaf. With cigars, optimally they should be kept at 69-72% humidity. Yeah, that precise! This is where Boveda Humidipaks save the day. Boveda Humidipaks use a patented, all natural salt solution to precisely protect cigars, musical instruments, and food. They are able to keep your items at precise humidity levels... like at exactly 68%.
For guitars and ukulele, they have packets in the 30-50% range. Boveda Humidipaks also control humidity both ways. They can either lower humidity or raise it. Which takes the guessing out of the everything. Just throw a 49% packet in your ukulele case and you’re good! You will need to change them over time. The packet will get hard when you need to change it out. If your regulating humidity is already near 50% you may never have to change it out. If humidity is really low you may have to change it out every month. Get them here!
I love these things!
So are humidifiers important? Well, yeah!
Now if you have a laminated ukulele humidity maintenance is not as necessary. This is actually a reason you should consider a laminated ukulele. They are not only affordable, with construction quality now matching solid body ukulele, but they are practically humidity proof. But if you want a solid body ukulele, or already own one, getting a humidifier is the cheapest insurance for your instrument! The last thing I want for your ukulele is for it to crack or warp beyond repair. So I hope this post helped you out.
And if at night you hear a rattling sound coming from your ukulele case... RUN!!!
Keep jamming and aloha!