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To Humidify, or not to Humidify??

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  • #67992
    bay-lee
    Participant

    Hi All,
    So lately I have been getting rather confused about something, so I decided it was high time I asked some other harpists about it, and see what they said. I have always been told (by my teacher, and in reading) that you should always keep your harp out of humidity and moisture, because it is extremely bad for your harp and can cause cracks, if the moisture gets to bad. One article I read even suggested using a De-humidifier in the music room, to prevent too much humidity. So with that said, I was all set on trying to keep the humidity and moisture away from my harp to protect it, when I recently read two articles that said that constant moisture was in fact good for the harp, and that I should purchase a humidifier to run the whole time, to keep it at a constant level.
    So, are you supposed to keep humidity and moisture away from your harp by using a de-humidifier, or are you supposed to keep moisture in the room using a humidifier??
    I would appreciate any advice anyone may have,
    Signed,
    A very confused harpist

    #67993
    Angela Biggs
    Member

    Hi Bay,
    It’s my understanding that you want to store your harp at a constant humidity. I live in the Northeast, so for me that means a dehumidifier in the spring/summer/fall and a humidifier in the winter. (Actually, the room has a propane space heater with a water reservoir, so I just keep the reservoir full of distilled water.) I strive to keep my harp at 50% humidity; though that’s not always 100% possible, even with climate control equipment, I figure keeping it close is better than letting it go entirely untended.

    #67994
    bay-lee
    Participant

    Angela,
    Thanks so much for getting back to me. It was starting to get pretty confusing, because everything that I was being told, or had read was really starting to contradict one another. And since I am fairly new to all this, I didn’t know what I should do. So anyway, now it makes much more sense what everyone was saying, both about using a humidifier and not using one.
    Thanks,
    Bay

    #67995
    Tacye
    Participant

    I advocate getting a hygrometer to measure the relative humidity in the air – and record max/min so you know what is going on overnight. If you live somewhere dry you may want to humidify sometimes (in wither with the heat on is one time it gets dry in my flat). If you live somewhere wet you may want to dehumidify sometimes. But there is no point guessing when a cheap gadget will tell you what humidity you have to work with.

    #67996
    Sherri Matthew
    Participant

    Hi Bay (and Angela and Tacye),
    We have a woodstove downstairs. My harp is upstairs, along with a hygrometer. We have a large humidifier in the same room with the woodstove and it goes through about two gallons daily in the winter. I live in Vermont and the humidity can drop pretty low in the winter. There’s another small humidifier in the same room with my harp and like Angela says, I try to keep it in the middle somewhere, around 50% or so. I found it’s happy even at 60%. Beyond that – hot, humid summers where it gets to around 75% or so, then I have to run the air conditioner.

    #67997
    bay-lee
    Participant

    Thank you all for getting back to me. Your advice has been really appreciated. I think that now I have a good idea as to the “harp happy” humidity level, as well as when to be running both the dehumidifier and the humidifier. (And I found out about the hygrometer, which I think I shall be getting very soon:)
    Thanks again,
    Bay

    #67998
    Steve Moss
    Participant

    Bay,
    Angela’s response is correct, constant conditions are the best. Neither dryness nor humidity are bad for your instrument by themselves, but rapid and significant changes in humidity can be dangerous. Humidity causes the wooden fibers to swell; dryness causes them to shrink. Wood is flexible and can stand to swell and shrink some, but if the change happens too rapidly, the fibers can break, and that is what causes the cracking. Strive to keep humidity changes as minimal as you can, and your harp should do fine.
    Steve Moss
    Moss Harp Service

    #67999
    Sylvia
    Participant

    If you play outdoor events, the harp will be in a variety of humidities and temps. I have two harps, an LH 15 (1971) and an Aoyama Etude (1989), and both have withstood years and years of indoor-outdoor changes. Of course you have to do whatever makes you feel comfortable with your harp, but it seems to me that people get a bit overly worried about the whole thing.

    #68000
    Angela Biggs
    Member

    Well, on the other hand Sylvia, it’s one thing to expose your harp to fluctuating conditions; it’s another to *keep* it in those conditions. Although, if you’re moving your harp to all-day gigs every day or even several times a week, maintaining a constant humidity in the room where it stays while you sleep might not make much difference. And you’re right that the instruments are made to be used, which hopefully means moving them to places where people can hear them!

    #68001
    Sylvia
    Participant

    They have been kept in fluctuating conditions all their lives. I use the AC when it gets up to 86 in here. I like to keep the windows up as much as possible. Sometimes it’s humid, and sometimes it’s not. In the winter, I get pretty cold before I turn on the heat. To me 73 is cold. The harp bodies get the same conditions I do. I can see you cringe from here, but I really never thought about keeping harps in a temp-humidity controlled place because the weather here changes a lot, and I like low electric bills…so does the environment. I’m just explaining my experience because so many people agonize over the temp-humidity thing.

    #68002
    Tacye
    Participant

    Out of curiosity, Sylvia, do you know any harps which have needed repairs because of the humidity, or lack thereof, they have been exposed to? I do (and such damage is specifically not covered by my insurance) which makes me want to take some easy precutions, when it isn’t too inconvenient. Bowls of water on the heater don’t add to my electric bills. Actually keeping the heating off in winter can be good for the harps as it is the heating which lowers the relative humidity.

    On the other hand my harps exist to be played and I can’t think that I have ever not done something I wanted to because of concerns about the instrument. I have a fair accumulation of dents, veneer cracks and the like and let the sun fall on my pedal harp through the window which is also non-ideal.

    I guess my philisophy is that it is better to know what the issues may be and make an informed decision.

    #68003
    Sylvia
    Participant

    It’s like all the harp things…everyone needs to do whatever suits their situation. I’ve sort of gone with the flow.. I don’t know anyone else’s harps, just mine.

    #68004
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Extreme dryness for several months at a time(New England winters) does the most damage to anything made of wood. As soon as the furnace goes on in the fall, the relative humidity indoors can drop to 5%. The damage will show up at the end of the winter. High humidity during the summer won’t do as much damage as a long spell of dryness in the winter. So as soon as the furnace is turned on, turn on the humidifier as well, and keep it running until the furnace is turned off in the spring.

    Temperature fluctuations, within reason, are much less important to the wellbeing of a harp than long term fluctuations in relative humidity. In practical terms, this means that keeping the relative humidity between 40% and 60% year round, regardless of the temperature, is the most important thing you can do. Even if you move your harp all the time for gigs, if you bring it back to a 40% to 60% environment between jobs, that will be enough to keep damage from happening. By contrast, if you don’t humidify at all during the dry winter months, or not enough, by the end of the winter the wood will have shrunk and problems can then start to happen. Glue joints can open up, the baseboard(the board the column is sitting on) can slip down, cracks can appear in the soundboard, the finish can craze, and on gilded harps the gesso can start to loosen or crack. There are two things you can do to keep your harp healthy. Keep a humidifier on during the dry months, and keep the temperature in the harp room as low as you can stand it, because that will raise the relative humidity.

    A piano technician friend of mine used to go up to Mt. Desert Island in Maine every spring to tune the pianos in the Rockefeller summer homes before they arrived. The homes were unheated all winter. Bill said that the pianos barely had to be touched and that he never found any damage due to the cold temperatures. So cold by itself, unless the temperature drops to the 20’s or lower, won’t damage objects made of wood.

    #68005
    rosey-brumm
    Participant

    Well what a great response thanks for all the info it took years for me to work this out..
    Hi Bay,
    It is tricky and experience will help you feel more confident.
    Now after experience I go with the “keep the humidity as stable as possible” and I do not allow under 45% nor over 55% and prefer 50%. I think a good hygrometer is worth it. Decide room or harp one for the use inside an instrument if you are measuring the room may not be as accurate.
    Temperature on the cool side (consistent cold has always worked well for me without low humidity) and watch the night time falls. I even cover harps in my harpery which is kept in my ideal range and Harps out in the house with synthetic cheap bed comforters, quick on and off.
    I primarily need to de-humidify. For me my air conditioner can do a lot to keep my humidity up and has a dry cycle to reduce moisture, but I have a de-hum machines for the long rains and hot days afterwards and our region’s weather in Canberra Aust has changed with humidity climbing and dry hot summers gone. I have noticed that the high level of trees we have now very close to the house and gardens has added humidity.

    I receive definite rewards for the care; the harps sound better whether gut or nylon, they stay in tune longer and sound better at 19 c and the folk gut do not break as frequently, more sensitive than pedal weight gut also being sensitive instruments if one is to sell them there has to be responsibility to the next buyer.

    I have found the tuning pins will start to show what the wood is doing when you are turning them, they may get very tight quite quickly. However the damage we are all concerned about can be subtle, internal, includes the sound board and structural tension, diminishes the sound quality and life time of the harp.
    Steve would know this………….. before I could work out how important this issue was, I saw more response to changes in solid wooden harps either square or flat 5 panel stave, and the finish mattered also compared to the round back with veneer beams Lever harps such as Camac Salvi L & H and how all the concert harps are made before painting or finishing. I take the same care with all the varying types. This might explain the different experiences folks have.

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