From the October 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
Several years ago, Carolyn Sills of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company got a phone call from a guitar owner in great distress. A pair of antlers had fallen off of a wall and onto his F Model, goring the back of the instrument. “I couldn’t help but say, ‘Well, in order to properly conduct the repair, we’ll have to know what animal previously owned the antlers,’” Sills says, laughing.
Around the same time, Martin Keith, a luthier and repair guru based in Woodstock, New York, fixed a Ribbecke guitar that had sprung apart at the lower bout, the result of having been in extended contact with a radiant floor heater. But that’s not the worst he’s seen in terms of damage. Keith says, “The most egregious situations I’ve encountered have typically been people bringing me guitars without cases, walking through freezing rain with the instruments barely covered by garbage bags.”
Had these instruments been carefully tended to, they would have avoided those hideous injuries. And with even just a little thought into how you store and display your guitars—whether short- or long-term, on a limited budget or with an expansive one—you can keep them in optimal shape, primed and ready to receive your ideas when inspiration strikes.
Generally speaking, the safest way to store a guitar is in its case—ideally, a good-quality hardshell, as opposed to a gig bag or ill-fitting chipboard case. As obvious as this might seem, if you have multiple guitars, don’t stack them one on top of another in their cases. Instead, store them vertically, side-by-side, positioned in such a way that they won’t be prone to topple over like dominoes. A product like String Swing’s CC29 Folding Hardwood Guitar Case Rack (from $59.99 MAP) is an excellent solution for storing guitar cases upright, with or without instruments inside. If you’d like to store your guitars horizontally, use a heavy-duty shelving unit, and, of course, make sure that the weight of the instruments in their cases does not exceed the maximum recommended weight of the shelves. (Figure about 12–15 pounds for each guitar and case.)
Don’t be lulled into the false sense of confidence that your guitars in cases are impervious to damage. They might be protected from hazards like wayward antlers but are susceptible to the undesirable influence of string tension. Richard Hoover, the founding luthier of Santa Cruz Guitars, explains, “As the action rises [due to string tension], the change in your instrument’s geometry decreases the guitar’s resistance to the string pull and in turn increases the forward movement of the neck. Here the strings are pulling the bridge from a steeper angle, causing it to rotate and belly the top behind it. This bulge in the top will raise the strings even higher, which will further accelerate the now well-established—and possibly fatal—distortion of the whole instrument.”
As a preventive measure, if you’re storing a guitar in its case for a short period of time, like a few weeks or months, loosen all of its strings by anywhere between a half step and a whole step. But for extended durations, consider going slacker, with just enough string tension to hold the nut, saddle, and bridge pins (or the floating bridge on an archtop) in place. Hoover says, “When storing a detuned guitar with a single-acting rod for a long time, it is advisable to put the truss rod in a neutral position, which will make adjustment after retuning a sure thing.”
It’s also important to consider climate control. Store your cases away from external walls, attics, and heat sources, and be mindful of relative humidity. Some cases, like select models by Ameritage, come with built-in humidifiers and hygrometers. Another way to keep tabs on the humidity level inside your guitar’s case is with D’Addario’s Humiditrak ($49.99), which has a Bluetooth sensor for connecting to a free smartphone app with push notifications. A soundhole humidifier like a Kyser Lifeguard ($14.99) is also a good option for humidifying a guitar inside its case, but be sure to check on the instrument frequently. Just as excessive dryness can wreck a guitar, so can an overabundance of moisture. In extreme cases, humidified guitars gone unwatched can grow black mold inside, and even sustain structural damage. Richard Johnston, co-founder of Gryphon Stringed Instruments, in Palo Alto, California says, “There’s one example [guitar historian and dealer] Walter Carter sent around of a really clean mid-’30s D-18 with a soundhole humidifier that gradually leaked over a long period of time. The water went right through the back of the guitar, destroying the finish and the stain—and probably resulting in a devaluation in excess of $20,000.”
If treating each of your guitars individually seems like too much of a hassle, consider humidifying the area in which all your instruments are stored using a room humidifier, or even an easily improvised solution like placing your guitars in their cases in a closet with a bowl of water on the floor. If your home already has an HVAC system and you have a collection of expensive guitars, adding a whole-house humidifier is a practical option. Paul Heumiller, the owner of Dream Guitars, in Weaverville, North Carolina, says, “It’s less expensive than you think—I’ve seen it done for around $1,000 plus labor—and it’s the most reliable approach. It’s also hassle-free and healthy, as you can get an evaporative steam–style humidifier that eliminates the risk of mold.”
On the Floor
Floor stands are an obvious choice for storing and displaying guitars, as they’re relatively affordable and can be arranged flexibly within a room, studio, or house. Stands come in a variety of different designs, from A-frame to tubular to tripod to multi-stands and guitar racks.
A good-quality A-frame stand is relatively affordable—at press time, for instance, Amazon listed a two-pack of Top Stage Pro Universals for $18.95. Aside from affordability, an advantage of this design type is that it’s compact and foldable, easily stored for travel. On the other hand, the typical A-frame is nonadjustable, and a guitar can fall out if the stand is bumped. But a specialized A-frame, like On-Stage’s Professional Flip It ($25.95), incorporates a height-adjustable neck support with a top yoke that will hold an instrument securely in place.
Tripod stands are generally the best option for securely displaying and storing guitars. There are plenty of inexpensive options, such as On Stage’s XCG4, available in a three-pack on Amazon for $29.95. Premium models, like Ultimate Support’s GS1000 ($39.99) or Hercules Stands’ GS414B ($49.99), with their self-closing neck yokes, will give you both peace of mind and easy access to your guitars. “Our favorites [at Gryphon] are the Hamilton hangers, which have been around forever.” Johnston says. “The guitar is hanging in the stand [suspended from its neck] and the weight is aimed at the center of the stand’s three legs, rather than moving out. Sometimes I do a test where I’ll put a guitar in a Hamilton stand on the floor and just bat it about. It’s amazing—those things can hop around like a spider and the guitar is still hanging on the stand.”
However you choose to store your guitar—whether in its case or on display—it’s important to do so in a climate-controlled environment. That’s because too much heat and humidity can wreak havoc on a wooden instrument, distorting its top, back, and sides, and adversely affecting its tone and playability, while excessive dryness causes issues like undesirably low action, fret ends protruding from the fingerboard, and cracks in the finish the wood.
If metal stands don’t suit your space in terms of aesthetics, perhaps wooden stands will. This is the most expensive—and perhaps the most visually appealing—route to go. The Woodstock, New York–based company Take a Stand offers elegant, sculptural stands made from cherry, walnut, curly maple, and other solid hardwoods, customizable with inlay and binding options, from $450 each.
For storing all of your guitars in one convenient place on the floor, look into a multiple-guitar stand or rack. Like single-instrument stands, there are some good and economical options out there. Gator’s Frameworks, for instance, is a tripod stand that is available as a double ($19.99) or triple model ($29.99). While a bit more expensive, Hercules offers double and triple versions of its GS414B stand for $79.99 and $99.99, respectively.
If space is at a premium, a guitar rack offers the benefit of having a small footprint. A unit like Hercules’ GS523B ($79.99) or GS525B ($99.99) will securely hold three or five guitars, respectively. The drawback to racks is that they tend to be side-loading, which is a less interesting way to display your instruments.
Whatever type of stand or rack you’re considering, be sure to confirm that its contact points are safe for your instrument’s finish—especially when it comes to nitrocellulose lacquer. “I have seen cheap stands bubble the nitro finish on a guitar neck or body,” warns Heumiller. Even if a stand’s padded surfaces are known to be safe, for extra security you could make soft cotton covers for these areas. And, keep in mind that regardless of the surfaces’ composition, it’s best to remove a guitar regularly from a brand-new stand. “When a [synthetic] material is new, the plasticizer that the manufacturer has put into it to keep it from turning hard and cracking is a solvent, and that solvent can potentially be harmful to lacquer,” Johnston says.
On the Wall
As handy as they are, floor stands might not be the best option for those who have pets or small children at home. If you’ve ever struggled to remove the miscellaneous items that a toddler has deposited into your archtop guitar via its f-holes, as I have with a 1960s Gibson L-50 that serves as a beater, then you know what I mean.
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A simple wall hanger, like a String Swing Guitar Keeper (from $11.99) is a cost-effective option for keeping your cherished guitar safe from small hands and paws—but easily within your reach. String Swing also makes a five-guitar version ($99.99), with pivoting hangers and adjustable spacing. A hanger is not only convenient but an attractive solution. “Guitars make beautiful wall art,” Heumiller says. “I have them hanging in most rooms in my cabin.”
The mounting of a wall hanger is straightforward but can be tricky if you’re not the handy sort. It must be attached securely into a stud behind drywall, or with plastic toggles in drywall, or using the appropriate masonry screws for brick or concrete walls. If you’ve never hung heavy pictures, mounted cabinets, or successfully completed a similar project, it’s probably best to outsource this work to someone who knows what they’re doing. “A person who doesn’t understand how a molly bolt [plastic toggle] expands on the other side of drywall might drill too big of a hole, such that the bolt fails to expand, or such that it expands in the hole, rather than on the other side as it should,” Johnston says. “You don’t want your first installation of a drywall mount to be for your D-45—and have it come crashing down.”
If you have the space—and the dough—a cabinet/display case for guitars is a handsome and highly protective option. American Music Furniture custom builds solid wooden cabinetry with tempered glass doors—the kind of furniture used to house expensive guitars in boutique shops—to suit your needs, with prices starting at $1,850 for a single-guitar wall-hanging cabinet and ranging to $12,500 and up for a freestanding enclosure that can accommodate 20 instruments. These high-end offerings come with a range of specialized features, like humidity controls, LED lighting, and storage drawers. Companies like Acoustic Remedy offer climate-controlled single display cases, also from solid hardwoods, from $875.
If conventional options for storing and displaying guitars don’t quite suit your needs, then get creative. You might, for instance, not have thousands to spare for a custom cabinet, but you can make one yourself—without necessarily having any woodworking experience. Heumiller explains, “Luthier Bryan Galloup showed me a clever approach to this. The entertainment centers we all had in the 1980s are no longer in fashion, so they are readily available for free—if you’re willing to move them. You can simply add some seals around the doors and install simple humidity systems and dividers. This is a great, inexpensive option, and it’s reusing something that might otherwise wind up in a landfill.”
If you’ve got prized guitars and security is a concern, then a safe could be a smart choice. Look on a site like Craigslist, and you might be able to score a good deal on used, heavy-gauge-steel rifle safe that can fit several or even half a dozen guitars in their cases, guarding them both from burglars and fire. And if you don’t want anyone—including house guests or even your family members—to know about your guitars, you might even entertain the idea of making slight modifications to your house. “I’ve talked to a couple of people who have gone to the trouble of building fake walls in closets, and storing their guitars inside those walls,” Johnston says.
Of course, if you store your guitars in a safe, behind a fake wall, or even in their cases, there’s a significant drawback to think about—one that almost defeats the purpose of having those instruments. “I think you’re really limiting the amount of time you will actually play your guitars if it takes you ten minutes to get one out and in tune,” Johnston says. “Whereas if your guitars are out and ready, you can just sit down, work through a couple songs, and have some fun in those ten minutes.”