Do you hydrate your mandolin?

Okay, I’ll try out a little mando-geek posting…

I pulled my mandolin out of the case yesterday for the first time in over a month. Usually I keep a little humidifier in the mandolin, but that had long since dried up. So I was nervous about how it was going to play. But amazingly, it sounded and played great.

Do others (particularly in CO) hydrate their mandolins? My mando (a Collings) was born in TX and lived for awhile in North Carolina, so I always figured it needed lots of moisture here in Colorado.

Am I wasting my time with the hydration/humidifier? Or causing more damage? Curious to hear other’s thoughts…

My mando and my mandols were born a few feet from you and i have never hydrated them. They both seem to be fine.

oooo Collins…drool drool

I’ve never hydrated my mandolin, but I do try to keep a humidifier running in the house during the winter. Not sure how much actually gets to my music room, into the case, directly to the mandolin. I’ve seen no problems with my instruments here in NC.

I suppose I should just let it settle into the dryness of Colorado and never worry about this.

But here’s another question: I’ve been leaving my mando out of its case (and actually playing it for a change) and I’ve noticed that the top is dropping a little bit - presumably due to the lack of my intense hydration. (for whatever that was worth)

Is it a waste of time for me to put my little humidifer in the f-holes but leave the instrument out of the case? I always assumed I had to put it in a closed case to really change the humidity level. I’m still sort of guessing that’s true. :rolleyes

as you know, I’m no expert in the ways of instruments…but here’s my thought:

perhaps due to your intense hydration, the sudden lack of any moisture at all has taken a slight affect on the mando.

perhaps you can wean the mando off its humidty addicition with some methadone or other similar intrument helping drug. :lol

(yes, I’m a dork who seeks only to entertain himself. :geek)

I have a San Juan mandolin made by Bobby Wintringham. I live in Colorado (where it’s ussually pretty dry) but sometimes visit my family in Ohio (where it’s not so dry at times) & of course I take my mandolin, so I asked him about hydrating & the effects of traveling from a dry climate to a humid, & he said don’t worry about it. So I don’t. I even took it to Lima Peru in the summer (where it’s pretty humid) & had no problems.

However, I do notice that my mando sounds different as the humidity changes, with it sounding the best around 40%.

I am not a musician, but a lover of wood. I am a sales representative for a major cabinet manufacturer. Our number one service call is related to improper humidity in the home. Wood is kiln dried to 6 - 8% moisture content. This keeps the wood very stable. In order to maintain 6-8% moisture content in the wood the surrounding relative humidity must be in the neighborhood of 45 - 60 %.
Wood is porous and will react to it’s surrounding conditions. If you have no humidity system in your home, run the furnace/wood burning stove 5 months out of the year, your home is going to be down in the 30’s and your instrument is going to be 4.6 - 4.8, very dry, wood contracted.
On the other end, if you live in a river bottom, leave the garage door up all the time, and the windows down, you are going to have excessive humidity and your instrument will go up to as high as 12-15 % and the material will expand.
Solid woods respond quicker and move more than veneers.

It doesn’t really matter too much about which state you live in, it matters more about what is going on inside the home where the instrument is stored.

Hope this helps a little.


If the top on your mandolin is sinking you should definetely humidify your environment or at the very least always return it to the case. A large sponge inside a zip-loc bag with holes in it is a good idea. A Martin dealer recomended a friend put his new guitar first in a plastic trash bag with the humidifier and then into the case for the first month or two. As a general rule good musical instruments are not made from kiln dried wood, but stock which has been seasoning for many years in the luthiers shop. San Juan mandolins are made in Ouray, just over the hill from Telluride, and his wood is already acclimated to the dryness. Give yours time to season before stopping or slowing your hydrating is my two cents. I have many vintage and new instruments in my house, and have luckily hydronic heat, but when I recently took home a new high end mandolin from the SF bay area to Tahoe the top split a couple days later. Change in tempurature can also be an issue with a new instrument. Besides the wood cracking it can also cause lacquer to check. Camping? A heater at night and your sleeping bag during the day to store your precious.

i have both a solid wood morgan monroe mando (cheap but what a great playing instrument) also a mahogany gallagher guitar in addition to keyboards, strats, and various and sundry other acoustic and electronic instruments. i live in the adk mountains of extreme upstate ny…about as close to quebec you can get w/out speakng french… we heat w/ wood, which draws the moisture out of everything around. i keep a humidifier in both cases…and check them regularly… we also keep a small humidifier going in the house all during heating season. my “in case” humidifiers need to be recharged at least once a week. they actually go dry. w/ the money invested…its a small price to pay… an old fashioned film vial w/ a bunch of holes punched in it along w/ a piece of dampened sponge costs about nothing is is cheap insurance. i do know many pickers around here who ignore humidity and have warped and cracked instruments to show for it…enough prostelitizing…hope all is well and keep on picking

I live in Denver and occasionally see the humidity drop to concerning lvl’s. I have a room full of mando, guitars and dulcimers (all accoustic). The rule of thumb I follow has been to keep my lvl’s between 40-60% humidity. I have a cheepo humidity gauge in that room and an inexpensive room humidifier there. If it dips - I turn it on. I don’t normally have to worry about it in the summer it seems - winters are more of a concern.

Waiting until you have instrument damage is too late. You know the saying about an ounce of prevention…

I heard the saying once that a chopped up raw potato in your case will get you from Nashville to Aspen…

Travel safe all. I heard a few years ago of Colorado patrol pulling over a car cause of something hanging from the mirror. And they searched!

How about borrowing/renting a beater mando or something from a music shop. that we you MIL could hear the music. My 10 yo has a spare one here I bet he’d lend here in DOlores in exchange for it’s return.


So sweet miki! Hope you all have splendid memories of the trip for a long while.


Sam Bush uses these nifty Dampit humidifier thingys.

just soak them in water, squeeze out the excess and stick them in the f-hole.

I hydrate my Collings guitar which seems to need it. You’re right, you have to be careful not to over do it so I squeeze out all excess moisture out before inserting the humidifier in the sound hole. My BRW mandolin on the other hand does fine without humidifying; I’m not sure why. I make a point to keep the instruments on the second floor because apparently moisture in a house rises. Basements are supposed to be the worst place to keep them.

I keep a humidity gauge where I store my guitars (in the basement no less). Whenever it dips below 40, I sometimes turn on a cheapo room humidifier. I don’t recall ever doing it in the summer. In the winter, I turn it on a fair amount. I try to keep the levels between 40-60%. I’m not anal about it by any means.

A while back, some friends of mine that play where discussing instruments that had developed cracks. Our sample size was small (40ish as I remember). There where 3-4 instruments that had developed cracks. They had all been babied (faithfully humidified) and then developed cracks during a small window of time when they had not been cared for as they where acustomed.

Of the 40 or so instruments, probably 30 had sporadic humidifing - or none at all. Many of these instruments where old (20-50 years). Our hypothesis over a few beers was that having your instrument endure temperature and humidity swings early in it’s life toughens it up. Faithful care of on instrument increases the odds of it staying crack free - but the moment the environment becomes less than ideal, it stands a greater chance to fail (compared to one of our toughened up instruments).

I’ve posted this on another board and had luthiers chime in that this isn’t based in fact and makes no sense. I’ve also had others reply that they had noticed the same thing. /shrug.

I doubt I’ll ever change my habits with instrument care. Some of my mando’s have finish checking from trips to Telluride and other camp trips (hot and cold swings) - but nothing structual. Hell, my '58 Gibson A40 has lived in Texas for years, then spent 20 years in Breckinridge - now with me in Denver. It has never been well cared for and is totally sound.

Now, none of my instruments are worth more than $2k - so I’m not going to be devistated if a crack does appear. I may have different slant on it if I owned a pre-war martin d28. :slight_smile:

Over the last 40 years, I’ve been in the habit of:

A) Never leaving my instruments out in the open, after I’m done playing
(I put them back in their case at the end of the session)
B) Wiping the strings down after each session
C) Not allowing my instruments out in weather that was a major
shift from the environment of my home.

I don’t however, keep humidifiers in my cases, or in my home, other than A/C in the hot summer season.

So far, lo these many years, I’ve never had a neck warp, or anything come unglued, or strings pop from sitting. I guess I’m doin SOMETHING right. I dunno.

-Plectrum Squeezer