A guitar is never truly complete without strings. While it's obvious that an unstrung guitar cannot be played properly, a more nuanced question is in relation to storing guitars without strings.
Can I store my guitar safely without strings? Guitars can be safely stored with or without strings as long as they are kept safe and dry. However, string tension pulls guitar necks forward, and many guitars are designed to account for these forces. If strings are removed, the neck may pull back, negatively affecting the action and intonation.
In this article, we'll discuss the main concerns of storing guitars (and stringed instruments in general) without strings, the basic physics behind them, and the methods usually employed to cope with the potential issues that may ensue from storing guitars without strings.
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Can I Store My Guitar Safely Without Strings?
Certain situations might compel you to store your guitar without strings. The guitar could have just been fixed, or the old string may have been removed due to rust concerns.
A guitar may be left without strings for considerable amounts of time. Depending on the player's practice and playing habits, restringing may or may not be a top priority.
Let's consider what happens when a guitar is unstrung.
Strings help keep the neck in place and from leaning or rotating backward due to the tension they render while the guitar is in its resting position.
Guitars are generally designed so that the neck provides a certain counter tension to the strings. When the guitar is strung, the tension of the strings and counter tension of the neck keep the neck in place.
The strings act to pull the neck forward, so the guitar must provide a counterforce to maintain equilibrium.
The neck is a highly sensitive part of the guitar (probably the most sensitive after the strings themselves). The slightest mismanagement could cause it to break, dislocate or loosen up. This is no small matter, as the smallest change in the calibration of the neck could ruin the guitar's intonation and scale.
Guitar necks often have a built-in truss rod that encompasses the fretboard's length. The counter tension added by the rod prevents the strings from drawing the neck forward.
It's easy to see the apparent importance of the strings in maintaining the integrity of the guitar's construction.
Nevertheless, the wood utilized for most necks is typically strong enough to account for these forces and to counteract them, so the potential side effects of leaving a guitar unstrung may not be readily noticeable or may even be close to none in many cases.
So, technically, it isn't advisable to store a guitar without strings due to the role strings play in maintaining neck equilibrium. However, the strength of construction of most guitars is likely to maintain its form or, at the most, only allow for a slight bending of the neck over time without strings.
Notwithstanding, if you're unsure about what course of action to take, we'll be outlining some tips that can be of use in these circumstances.
Storing A Guitar Without Strings
Though it's advisable to store a guitar with strings, here are a few tips to help store a guitar safely without strings:
- Loosen the truss rod
- Use a proper guitar case
- Use a guitar stand/rack
- Be aware of changes in temperature and humidity
Loosen The Truss Rod
Another way to tackle this is by loosening the truss rod. This tip is placed second for a reason, as handling the rod can get trickier, and you may risk damaging the neck upon readjusting. Although the odds of that happening are still low, tuning the strings is much less taxing on the guitar's integrity.
The truss rod is usually a steel bar that runs inside the neck to provide backward tension and stabilize the forward bow.
Most modern guitars have a nut or bolt on a visible part of the guitar, while others are located in more uncomfortable areas like the neck's heel, visible through the soundhole (such is the case of most acoustic guitars.) They usually require an Allen wrench or a spanner wrench for adjustments.
To loosen the rod, turn the nut or bolt counter-clockwise. Thirty degrees should be more than enough. Upon readjusting, you should be careful not to tighten it excessively. You may opt for using a feeler gauge after setting up the strings for better results.
Use A Proper Guitar Case
A guitar bag is useful for avoiding environmental hazards, but it won't provide the guitar with ergonomic support to stop it from bending. Sturdy tailor-made guitar cases, in most instances, are devised to allow the guitar to rest in any position without risk of affecting the neck's inclination with respect to the body.
With a case, you will not experience the usual setbacks of leaving the guitar resting on its back, which will cause the head's weight to slowly bend the neck and cause a backward bow.
Additionally, opting for a hard case will provide improved protection from physical trauma from outside the case.
Use A Guitar Stand Or Rack
Guitar stands are very practical for storage. However, it's also recommended to use a gig bag or strap to protect the guitar from the environment. Most stands have neck support to bear their weight in order to avoid bowing.
A rack is also handy when you have multiple guitars to store. Nonetheless, be mindful that the rack should provide enough space for each guitar so they don't collide or accidentally hit each other.
Be Aware Of Changes In Temperature & Humidity
In spite of the tips described above, it's much more important to pay attention to the humidity and temperature conditions when looking to store a guitar for the long term, as these will create a greater impact on the instrument's lifespan.
For the most part, you shouldn't notice a discernible difference in the neck's bow whenever the guitar's materials have not been compromised by excess moisture or heat, and, provided that the build is of decent quality, the instrument should remain sturdy enough to withstand the lack of strings.
Consider Putting On Loose Strings
It's a valid alternative to an unstring guitar. If you are not ready to put on new strings for your guitar, you can use old strings and attach them, albeit loose enough for easy removal.
As a matter of fact, even if the guitar has strings attached, it's likewise advisable to lower its tune a notch so that the neck doesn't bend forward. This is not strictly necessary, and it's highly unlikely that this effect might be seen after weeks of storage, although a noticeable difference can be felt in a year's time.