~ How does humidity impact my instrument?

Many of you have called, written, or emailed to ask about the effects of humidity on the hammer dulcimer. We’ve generated several answers to this question and finally decided to go to the dulcimer guru himself, Sam Rizzetta. Sam was nice enough to email us his thoughts on humidity and its effects on the hammer dulcimer and gave us permission to publish it for you.

Sam writes:

Dulcimers are somewhat forgiving regarding humidity levels. And, of course, it depends a bit on the individual instrument. Generally, wooden instruments are happiest near the humidity levels in which they were constructed. But any environment that would be OK for violins or guitars, which are more delicate, would be more than adequate for dulcimers. Ideal humidity for dulcimers might be in the range of 30% to 55%. Winter season with heating systems running may lower humidity below this range. If humidity falls very low, i.e.., dry, some woods may split, crack, or warp; tuning pins might loosen. Keep the dulcimer in a cool area away from heaters, hot air vents, sunny windows, etc. Humidify the air if necessary. Humid environments are somewhat less troublesome but can cause swelling and warping and buckling of tops and backs. Humidity changes of any sort may cause some tuning changes. The worst aspect of extremely damp situations, such as playing outdoors in late night dampness or humid, rainy weather or leaving your dulcimer in a basement, is that moisture condensation may lead to corrosion of critical metal parts like tuning pins and strings. Replacing these is labor intensive. Dampness will also damage some finishes. The bottom line is that dulcimers are moderately tolerant of a wide range of humidity levels. If people are comfortable, so are the dulcimers.
Sam Rizzetta

Thanks, Sam, for sharing your knowledge on the dulcimer and how humidity affects the dulcimer. I would like to add that varying humidity levels affect the tuning of Hammer Dulcimers more than any other factor. I’ve learned that humidity also varies dramatically more than most of us realize. Do yourself a favor and maintain a consistant level, whether high or low, as much as possible. Afer all, we all prefer to play than tune and a well-tuned dulcimer sounds so much sweeter.

Posted in: Ask Russell