Jimi Hendrix used to reportedly have his guitar around his neck all the time. Tom Morrello used to practice for 8 hours a day. Slash could play awesome solos even when drunk out of his mind. Your guitar is a great bringer of joy for you (and hopefully others) but when its not in your hand what do you do with it?
I have been playing guitar since I was 15 (now in my mid 30s) and have owned a few guitars, of varying quality over the years. Ive had lots of other guitarists ask me about the best way to store their guitars, in particular new players and ones that have been playing a while and upgraded their guitars. Below is my humble advice on what to consider when keeping your guitar anywhere other than around your neck....
Why Considering Guitar Storage is Important
Basically it helps the guitar keep its value and continue to sound good. Damage to the guitar can affect its sound from damage to the body, neck and fret board, pick-ups and jack. Damage can be caused by a range of things from knocks and bangs to the environment the guitar is stored in.
Short Term Guitar Storage - Convenience
When I say short term storage what I mean is what to do with a guitar you play regularly when you are not playing it. So you want somewhere safe to put with where it can be easily picked up for play but won’t get damaged in between sessions. It is advisable not to leave your guitar leaning up against a wall or furniture. This is the most likely way a guitar can become damaged.
If you are using your guitar regularly I would recommend either a:
A stand keeps the guitar upright using a foot and back support while a hanger uses a horseshoe shape, sometimes with additional supports at the front, and the weight of the guitar holds it is position. A rack if you have multiple guitar although you could also hang multiple guitars along a wall (more below). You can also store your guitar in a case which does provide better protection however you sacrifice some convenience.
Below are some options on how best to store your guitar short term (if played regularly).
This is very convenient and ideal for regular use as it protects from falling over and keeps your guitar close to hand whenever you want to pick up your guitar and play (just like yesterday). The guitar is also on display which can not only add a nice feature to the room and an occasional talking point but I find it encourages more playing more regularly. The stand is also ideal for use while taking a break in practice, during rehearsals or during a recording session.
There is a range of different types of stands for different guitars e.g. electric, acoustic, bass, etc... many are multi-purpose but its worth checking that it will suit your guitar before buying. Prices can vary but most fall into the £10-£40 mark and I would recommend buying one based on the value of your guitar. Most guitar stands are of a decent quality bit it may be something to consider with higher end instruments. A higher quality stand is more reliable and less likely to be unstable. You don't want to put an expensive guitar in a cheap stand.
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Like stands wall hangers are also a very convenient way to store your guitar where it is easily accessible for regular use. I also think this is one of the best ways to store your guitar aesthetically as they can look great on the wall in your house or apartment. The other advantage of keeping your guitar on the wall is that it keeps it off the floor. Even in a stand a guitar can get knocked over. This is particularly worth considering if you have small kids or pets that can get a bit boisterous (mine do) and could knock over a guitar in a stand. Hangers are also a good option if floor space is limited.
It does require some drilling to fit but is very straight forwards. Things to consider would be:
- Make sure you are drilling into a sturdy wall (brick or similar)
- If drilling into an internal wall it may be plasterboard so make sure to drill into timber stud or joist
- Avoid outside walls these can experience more extreme temperature and humidity which can be bad for the guitar (more on this later)
- Avoid hanging above or near radiators, boilers or heaters for the same reason
Same as with the guitar stand the standard ones are normally absolutely fine however I would recommend getting a higher quality hanger if you have a more expensive guitar. Some cheaper hangers have lower quality rubber that I find can affect the finish of the guitar over time.
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Storing Multiple Guitars - Racks, Multi-Guitar Stands, and other options
There are a few different options here. You can use a rack to store all your guitars lined up. A good option which keeps them safe, as they are more study than a single stand, while still allowing easy access to your guitars. They can take up a little more space, equivalent to a small chest-of-drawers.
There are also multi guitar stands such as rotating stands that can hold 3 guitars on a carousel basis. Alternatively you can install multiple hangers along a wall or in the same room which is a great cost effective option (and looks great).
Cabinets are also great options, if you are looking to invest a little more money and can take a bit more room. For this reason cabinets are less common but are often glass fronted so can display the guitar and can keep the humidity and temperature at a more consistent level. A Cabinet probably isn't necessary for the average guitar storage solution however if you have an expensive axe you want on display with high protection you can't go far wrong with one of these.
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Long Term Guitar Storage - Protection
I would consider that if you are looking to store your guitar for longer than 12 months then you would need to consider different things than if you are looking for somewhere to keep your guitar between playing sessions. The best solutions for long term storage of any guitar is in a hard case. It is also worth being aware of humidity and temperature as these are the most likely causes of damage in long term storage.
Loosen String Tension
Loosening string tension is not essential but a good idea for long term storage. The ideal scenario is to keep the strings on as no string tension can lead to the neck bowing as the strings work as a counter tension to the truss rod. The best bet is to loosen them down a bit. One to two steps should be fine. It is not a good idea to regularly play with the tension however so I would only recommend this for long term storage.
After knocks and bangs humidity (and temperature) is the biggest cause of guitar damage. Most of this happens in long term storage and is particularly important to keep an eye on this. Your guitar is an organic object so humidity can also affect your guitar in short term storage however as you will be using it more regularly you are more likely to notice damp or humidity around it. This may not be the case with more long term storage situations so I would pay particular attention to this.
I would be wary of storing your guitar under 45% humidity, as this can cause:
- Body or neck to crack
- Damage the finish of the guitar
- Warp the fretboard making it uneven
- Cause the action to become too low making the strings buzz against the frets when played
Equally storing your guitar over 80-90% humidity for a few weeks or even 60-70% over several months can cause damage to your guitar.
- When the wood cells get wet the cell walls become softer and more likely to warp or break under pressure. It can negatively affect the guitars structural strength meaning something like string tension can warp the neck when the wood is damp.
- The cells being wet can also cause swelling causing the glue in the joints to loosen or fail
- The action can become too high and so awkward to play
- In some cases internal wiring and pickups can be affected by rusting
The ideal storage humidity is 45-55% (not too different to humans). If you are unsure of the humidity where you keep your guitar then a simple digital humidifier can help. You can also get humidifiers specifically for your guitar case. If you are looking to buy a guitar and want to check for humidity damage a simple trick can be to look at the guitar from the side. If the head is higher or lower than the body of the guitar then it as likely warped from humidity damage.
The ideal temperature should be around 18-24 °C or 65-75 °F. It is also important to avoid swings of temperature which, much like humidity, can cause warping and affect string tension. In particular with nylon strings. Although humidity can cause more damage temperature swings are more likely and can happen without thinking about it for example taking your guitar out of a warm house and putting in a cold van to transport it or vice versa. Like humidity temperature can also affect glued areas of the guitar such as the connection between the body and neck and where the frets are attached to the fretboard.
Ideal storage would be in the center of a building and away from outside walls. This is particularly important in places that get varied weather conditions. For this reason I would avoid storing in a conservatory or in direct sunlight. I would also recommend to keep away from boilers, radiators, heaters and fridges and avoid keeping your instrument in a vehicle overnight or for long periods of time.
Cases - Hard-shell
Hard guitar cases are the safest way to store your guitar. Mostly made from wood or ABS plastic with a Tolex covering, often with textile lining inside to protect the finish of the guitar.
They protect it from knocks and dust while also being good at minimalising changes in temperature and humidity. This can be made extra effective with a case humidifier. They are less convenient then other forms of storage but this is definitely the best for protecting your guitar. I would also strongly recommend always using a hard case when transporting your guitar, they are essential if it is going in a van or plane hold where it can get knocked around or damaged by other equipment. There are five varieties to chose from so be sure to get the best one to suite your model. If you are unsure then check the specifics when buying as most will make it clear what guitar their case is best for. If still in doubts see the seller or manufacturer notes. Your guitar should fit pretty snug inside the case and not rattle around if shaken.
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Cases - Soft-shell (Gig Bags)
Soft Cases or Gig Bags are mainly designed for transporting your guitar by hand but can also provide good protection for your guitar. Some can come with back straps like a backpack which for me is much better than carrying by hand. They are ideal for if you travel around regularly with your guitar as it is lighter than a hard shell case. They protect from sun and dust while providing padding should it get knocked with some insulation from temperature and humidity. While they don’t provide as much protection as a hard case they are much lighter and still provide decent protection. I would still recommend a hard case for long term storage but a soft case is a good alternative.
I hope you found this useful. Rock on!
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