Keeping your Kinnard uke properly humidified is a key aspect of taking good care of your instrument. We all know how important it is to keep your uke from getting too hot or too cold, but it is also important to keep it from drying out due to low humidity conditions. Wood is hydroscopic meaning it takes in and gives off water vapor. Much like a sponge, it can hold moisture and it can give up moisture depending on the relative humidity of the air around it.
Relative humidity or RH is defined as: The amount of water vapor in the air, expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount that the air could hold at a given temperature. This means that regardless if the air temperature is hot or cold, your uke can still dry out.
While you can have conditions were the relative humidity is too high, it is much more common to incur damage to your instrument when the relative humidity (RH) is too low and draws out the moisture from your uke. As the wood drys out it shrinks and can put stress on glue joints, bracing and the top and back plates. This could lead to the top sinking, binding joints coming apart, loose braces and cracks to develop in the top, back or sides- no bueno….
Your Kinnard Uke was built with dry, seasoned wood and glued up and assembled at roughly 50% relative humidity (RH). Right around 50% would then be considered the optimum RH level to store your Kinnard when not playing it.
So what is the best way to insure that your Kinnard Uke is not damaged due to low humidity conditions? Simple- keep your instrument in the case with the lid closed when not playing it. While it is nice to have your uke out where you can display it or keep it close by for playing, it is much easier to maintain the correct RH level in the close confines of your uke case as opposed to a large open room.
You can purchase a small humidifier for your case online or at your local music store. You can also make a simple one by cutting holes in a plastic sandwich bag, placing a damp sponge inside the bag and then sealing it up. Place it in the case under the neck and it should keep the RH at the level it needs to be. Just make sure the sponge is completely wrung out and no water is allowed to pool or drip out. When you take your uke out to play, check the sponge and if it has dried out, re-charge it by getting it fully dampened and then put it back in the bag- again making sure that all the water is completely wrung out.
If you do decide to keep your uke out in an open room, monitor the area using a hygrometer or RH meter as shown above. If the relative humidity drops too low you should use a whole room humidifier to maintain the RH at around 50%. These can found on-line or even in the baby section of department stores.
Living in the mountains or high deserts are geographic areas known for their low humidity conditions. However, the change in seasons can also have a dramatic effect on the relative humidity of the surrounding air, regardless of where you live. Winter is a time to be very aware of humidity levels as colder air holds less moisture than warmer air. In addition, when you heat the inside of your house the air drys out rapidly and the humidity level will fall quickly.
Keeping your uke from getting too cold or keeping it out of direct sunlight where it can get too hot is pretty easy to do. Keeping it from the damaging effects of low humidity is also easy to do by keeping it in its case when not being played. If you do decide to keep it out, monitor the humidity levels and use a humidifier as needed. This will keep the RH at around 50% and not only will your uke appreciate it, your nose will too!
By taking these simple steps, your Kinnard uke will stay healthy and happy and provide you with years of playing enjoyment.
Cold Weather Care
As we head into the Winter season it's very important to take precautions with your Kinnard ukulele. The rule of thumb is that if you are in conditions that make you uncomfortable, chances are your uke will be "uncomfortable" too. That includes being too cold.
Cold temperatures in and of themselves are not necessarily bad for your fine instrument within reason. However, where damage can occur is when you take a cold instrument into a warm environment and don't allow it time to properly acclimate to the warmer temperature.
Wooden instruments, like most things, expand when warm and contract when cold. The problem is that the wood typically expands and contracts at a different rate than the finish. This means that if your cold uke is exposed too quickly to a warm environment the wood may warm up at a different rate than the polymer or nitro finish used to protect the instrument. If this expansion rate differential between the wood and the finish becomes too great, cracks can develop in the finish.
While these finish cracks are not "structural", they can be "unsightly" and can affect the look and value of your uke. The good news is that the likelihood of developing finish cracks can be minimized by taking some basic precautions in cold weather conditions.
1. Don't leave your instrument in your car if possible. When traveling in cold conditions have it with you inside the cab rather than in the trunk where it could be subjected to cold temperatures. If you do have to leave it in your car try to insulate it by wrapping it in blankets or a sleeping bag- again, the rule of thumb is if you are in conditions that make you uncomfortable, chances are your uke is too.
2. When your uke has been exposed to low temperatures allow it time to warm up slowly to room temperature. Feel the case with your hand. If it feels cold to the touch do not open the case. Allow time for the case to warm up. Allow extra time for the insides to warm up before the case is opened and the uke allowed to be exposed to the warmer air. This is key- give it time to come up to room temperature SLOWLY so the wood and finish have time to acclimate together.
This also goes when you receive a uke that has been shipped to you. Feel the outside of the box. Allow it to come up to room temperatures and then reach in the box and feel the case. If it's cold leave it in the box. Allow plenty of time for the box contents to reach room temperature even if that means leaving it unopened over night. Once the case doesn't feel cold take it out and let it sit out until you're satisfied that it's had time to come up to temperature slowly. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Bottom line is, "Don't let your uke get too cold". If it does, follow these simple precautions and you will minimize the chances of your Kinnard being damaged by developing unsightly finish cracks.
Breaking In A New Instrument
You buy a new pair of high end hiking boots and get them home. You excitedly take them out of the box, hold them up and just gaze at how nice they look all shiny and new. You put them on and they feel nice, look nice and smell nice…. but chances are you wouldn’t immediately take them out on a 100 mile hike. Why? Because they’re not “broken in”. While you can immediately see and feel the quality, you know that it’s not what they are now, but what they will be in the near future when they break in, that will validate the reason you spent the money on this level of quality .
Your new Kinnard is a lot like new hiking boots in that it too needs to be broken in before it reaches its full potential. When a ukulele is built it is made up of a series of components. These parts are primarily made of woods of different species, sizes, grain patterns, and degrees of stiffness. It’s the sum of these parts that, when assembled and joined together, becomes a musical instrument- a compilation of pieces that work together to create sound.
When you receive a newly built ukelele it has little, if any, playing time on it so it’s important to realize that what you hear initially is a uke that is not broken in. As it is played it gets “broken in”, and its tonal characteristics evolve and change. It’s very much akin to opening a nice bottle of wine- it tastes good right after you open it but if you give it a chance to “breathe” the flavor blossoms, smooths out and tastes even better!
As your new Kinnard gets played in, all those vibrating parts start to meld into one cohesive unit and the components begin to find their equilibrium, or homeostasis. Like the wine, the sound begins to blossom and grow and in doing so, the tone gets fuller, the volume louder, the sustain lengthens, and the resonance deepens. In other words, it starts breaking in to become the instrument it was meant to be.
So, if you receive a new instrument and perhaps it doesn’t sound or feel exactly like the one you may have played that convinced you to commission a new instrument, don’t panic. Wood combinations and even individual sets of the same wood can sound different, but the underlying voicing that is part of the instrument's DNA, will reveal itself if you give it time to develop. And the only way you can find out what it truly has to offer is to “play the heck” out of it.
I have had the pleasure of playing every KinnardUkes instrument that has been built and the difference in sonic characteristics just in the first 24 hours after being strung up is amazing…. Play your new instrument every day and chances are good that after a week it will sound better than when you first played it and after a month it will be even better. The lesson here is, like that bottle of fine wine, give your new instrument the time to “breathe” and develop all it has to offer.
So put on your new hiking boots, open up a nice bottle of wine and get out your new Kinnard! It’s time to do some “breakin in”.