Documenting the curious world of the hurdy-gurdy.

Humidity and the hurdy-gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy discussion groups often focus on the issues of the impact of humidity on the hurdy-gurdy and how this can be ameliorated.  Here are some of the key points that have arisen in these discussions:

  • As the hurdy-gurdy is a precision instrument, made from wood, the relative humidity can impact the instrument.  As the humidity changes, so does the water content of the wood itself, causing the instrument to expand or shrink.  This can cause keys to stick, tangents to come loose or, in extreme cases, seams to come unstuck or the wood to crack.  It is therefore worth being aware of.
  • The relative humidity is a measure of how much water can be held within the air.  It is a function of temperature and pressure.  If the temperature or pressure changes, the air will lose water (as condensation) or absorb more water (by drying things out).  This will impact the water content of the wood of the hurdy-gurdy and cause expansion or contraction.  Traveling to high altitudes or flying can cause significant changes in relative humidity because of the pressure changes.
  • An ideal relative humidity for the hurdy-gurdy and other wooden instruments is around 55%.  Sudden changes in relative humidity should be avoided. [See under “atmosphere” here].
  • The relative humidity can be measured with a device called a hygrometer.  You can buy devices for musical instruments, such as this.
  • Avoid storing your hurdy-gurdy near sources of heat - such as radiators in your house, or by placing them on floors with under-floor heating.
  • Use a device such as a DAMPITOasis or  Planet Waves humidifierwithin your instrument, or its case, to maintain humidity.  Take care that whatever you use does not leak water onto the wood though.
  • Humidity is a big issue for all players of stringed instruments.  You can find many articles online that discuss solutions for controlling the humidity of your instrument.  Here are some good ones:
  • Burgess violins
  • How to protect your violin from low humidity