Instruments and Crazy Climates
By T. Perry Bowers
Minnesota has a climate of extremes. Summer days are in the 100s (Fahrenheit). In the winter it’s -20s (or -30s or lower with wind chill). It wreaks havoc on your drums, guitars and voice.
If you live in a crazy climate like me, you need to know how to protect your instruments from the elements. I‘ve learned a few tricks over the years of loading in and out of gigs in the dead of winter:
This is a catch twenty-two! I know how great it is to leave your guitar on a stand in your living room or practice space. It makes it easier to grab it and just play. But you’ll sacrifice the longevity of your guitar for the convenience of immediate playability. Below freezing temperatures suck the moisture out of the body and neck of your guitars, whether they are acoustic or electric. The first thing you’ll notice is the guitar is hard to tune and it won’t stay in tune. Eventually, the finish will start to crack. The frets will start popping out of the fret board and the neck may even warp. To protect your guitar from extreme temperature fluctuations you should keep it in a case at all times. It will play and stay in tune much better. Keeping a small humidifier in the case with your guitar will also help it retain moisture. It will play better and last significantly longer. I recommend the clay kind in a small plastic container.
When you’re loading a gig in winter, check if the temperature on stage is going to fluctuate while you’re setting up, waiting for your set and playing. Some venues have the door right next to the stage. If that’s the case keep your guitars in their cases until your set. If the temperature on stage seems fairly stable, you can put your guitars on stands and let them acclimate to their new atmosphere. They will be affected, the extent will depend on how long your journey to the venue was. If you can you should warm up your car before you even load in your gear. Every little bit helps!
Tune your guitar as soon as you get to the venue and again right before you go on stage. Even when your guitar is in its case for a while, it’s good to keep it in tune. (Guitars remember the position of being in tune!) Don’t let anyone tell you to loosen your strings when you store your guitar!
Drums are similarly affected by extreme weather. Most drum sets are made of wood. They react to temperature variations by expanding and contracting. In extremely harsh conditions drumheads can come unseated from the shells. It’s unlikely you’re going to put your drums away in cases every time you play but try to keep them somewhere without crazy weather patterns. I’d recommend buying a humidifier for the room where you keep them. It will help them stay in tune, keep their edges and reduce the possibility they will warp. Drums last much longer in a controlled environment.
When you gig, set your drums up as soon as possible and let them acclimate to the new temperature. Set them up, let them settle and tune them up right before you go on. The same goes for recording sessions. I tell drummers they can bring their drums to my studio the night before and unpack them if they want. The drums will absorb the different amount of moisture in the drum room. When the drummer comes in the morning, it will be easier to tune the drums because they will already be adjusted to the room.
Never leave your kit (or your guitars for that matter) in your car overnight in extreme weather, hot or cold. It’s a disaster for instruments. Cracking and warping is guaranteed if you do this often.
Harsh weather affects the voice too. You need to take care of your voice just as you take care of your body. Dress warmly in the cold. Drink lots of fluids. Herbal teas are great. (Lemon and water is my favorite before a gig or recording session). If you’re a singer, your voice is your instrument and you need to teat it like one. Let it acclimate to new environments before belting it out. Severe cold dries out your voice and irritates it, but after an hour or so of being in a humidified indoor environment, you should be fine. I used to have a portable humidifier that emitted a light mist I would breathe in. But I found drinking liquids and staying hydrated from the inside is a much more powerful method. You need to start drinking liquids two-to-three hours before your gig or recording session. The liquids need enough time to settle into your body. Once you’re dehydrated, it takes another couple hours to rehydrate again.
Stay healthy, rest well and eat well. If your body is strong, your voice will be strong too.