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Care for your MüB.

The most important thing to any fine instrument, up there with how well it's been built, is how well it's taken care of. It should be a fairly straightforward process. Instead, it's pretty clouded by misconceptions. Let's clear the air.

Cleaning your bass is the easy part: use a good product made for the instrument you own. Finished wood and unfinished wood require different products. With lacquered/coated wood what you are actually cleaning is the finish - nowadays mostly a chemical product. The purpose of cleaning this kind of surface is to wipe off sweat, dust, smudges, fingerprints, lipstick marks, beer spills, Hello Kitty stickers and such.

Unfinished wood, instead, needs to be nourished too. A maple fretboard is usually lacquered, so the above process applies. Otherwise, chances are that the fretboard wood is fully exposed. Take the habit of waxing it or oiling it every time you change strings. If you are a  J. Jameson worshiper, please set a date on your calendar. How often really depends on how humid or dry your environment is and how much your fingers sweat. Probably every few months is a good starting point.

Which leads us to the next and way more important topic: humidity.

Misconception #1, 2, 3, ... : "My country is very humid/very dry".

It doesn't really matter what the climate out there is. Your bass doesn't know whether he (or she) is in Scotland or the Death Valley.  'Climate' is the environment in the room where the instrument spends most of the time - a.k.a. Relative Humidity (RH).

Without getting too technical, it is widely accepted that, wood is ready to be used in instrument building when its moisture content is between 6% and 9%. Throughout the building process moisture from glue is allowed to dissipate and wood is kept at ideal RH. Which is one of the reasons why fine instruments require time to be built.

 

Then the instrument travels to you and settles into your environment. That is, your RH.

 

RH is greatly affected by us. When we turn on the heater in winter, we artificially change the humidity level, lowering RH. Wood must balance its moisture level to the RH of its environment, so it will absorb or release moisture until a balance is reached. How quickly and how far is the crux of the matter.

 

Very high and low humidity are both bad for wood. It seem though as if low humidity were topping the list of often recurring problems. Why? Maybe because the scenario described above is more likely to happen than us purposely turning our room into a rain forest. (But we'll talk about high humidity too).

When humidity quickly nosedives, fret ends sprout out (more on this later), wood starts cracking, exposed fretboard flexes and twists trying to free itself from the glue as it shrinks. This will continue until the wood has found an equilibrium. In the process the neck might starts twisting under the concerted action of wood shrinking and string pull. You don't want any of that to happen.

To prevent damages to your instrument due to low humidity you need: 1. A humidifier. 2. A hygrometer. The latter tells you what the relative humidity level is (which is more valuable than what The Weather Channel says about your area). The former makes sure the humidity in your room stays at the right level. Which should be about 45% give or take.

Humidifier and hydrometer. You need them. Go get them.

 

Keeping the instrument away from the heater is also a very good idea.

Understanding RH makes helps us deal with high humidity as well. Anything above 60% is not good, especially if such a level is kept for months. Above 80% you are in danger zone. The wood will swell, bend, twist, glued areas can come loose. Nothing pretty there.

 

Keeping the bass inside its case with silica gel bags helps. Replace the humidifier with a de-humidifier. It's all about keeping your RH in the 40-50% range.

D'Addario sells a patented product that promises to keep humidity in your instrument case at optimal level, releasing or trapping humidity as it moves below or above the ideal 45% level. Check it out here.

Hopefully, reading this has clarified the true nature of humidity-related problems. At the very least we hope it has conveyed a sense of urgency. There's so much literature on the internet: read as much as you can, know your enemy and act. 

 

Remember, once you take charge of your bass its destiny is in your hands.

Thank you for reading.

ps: Fret Sprout.

Sharp fret ends sprouting from the fretboard is a clear sign that your RH is too low. By now you know how to fix it. Still, lets' dig a bit deeper. For one, this is very common and nearly unavoidable if you let your RH go hi-wire. No matter how well you instrument was built, no matter how much you paid for it, here's the bottom line: wood shrinks, metal does not. Keep your RH in check and there will be no fret sprout. Ever. It's really this simple.

 

Some suggest that, clipping the tang when fretting eliminates the problem. While this technique does reduce the issue somewhat, the fret itself can still sprout. To completely avoid that, one would have to round-over the fret ends together with the board edges so much so that one might end up with a worse problem - outer strings slipping off the board when playing hard/playing legato/bending and such. Besides, fret sprouting is a sign that something much worse is happening to your fretboard. It's a useful warning sign, if you wish. So, again: keep your RH in check.

If fret sprout happen, here's a fix: Take the proper tool and file the sharp edges till you don't feel them anymore. Done. Really. Any repair shop can do this in minutes.

The added benefit is that is permanent. Next time your RH drops the fret edges will not sprout anymore.

 

Lastly, if you're wondering what the proper tool for this looks like, have someone experienced do the job for you.

Hope this helps. Happy playing.

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