Updated on 5/18/16 from an article originally published on 11/10/15.
If you own a musical instrument, you know how expensive they can be. Despite the cost, instruments can last more than a lifetime if well maintained, and proper storage can be an essential part of keeping your instrument in good shape.
There are a number of reasons that you may need to store an instrument. For example, you may want to set aside an instrument that you plan to pass on to your children . Another reason to look into instrument storage is if you’re a member of a band.
For people who live in a small home and are in a band, keeping guitars, amps, and drums in your home may not be feasible. The good news is that self-storage facilities can provide a way to keep your instruments safe and easily accessible.
Whatever your reason to need to store an instrument, it’s important that you store it in the right location and in the correct manner. A few easy tips can help you know how and where to store musical instruments safely.
Preparing an Instrument for Storage
When you decide to put an instrument in storage, it’s usually not enough to just put it in its case and forget about it. You may need to do more work if you’re intending on storing an instrument for an extended period of time. Wherever you stow it, you should be sure that your instrument is in a location that people will not trip over it, and that it is not liable to fall over or have things fall onto it.
Even if your instrument is in a hard case, it can still potentially sustain damage if something falls on it with enough force. If you’re storing an instrument that you regularly use for short periods of time, you can probably get by with a soft case that’s easy for travelling.
However, if you’re storing an instrument for a long period of time, a hard case is a good idea. It will help to keep the instrument from sustaining physical damage, protect it from UV lights, and help limit any potential environmental damage as well as keep insects out.
Many instrument cases are lined in plush velvet, which is designed to provide a bit of cushioning and keep the instruments from being scratched. However, this lining can damage an instrument over an extended period of time. Placing a layer of acid-free tissue between the lining and an instrument can prevent this damage. For larger instruments, clean cotton bed sheets can be used.
Woodwind and String Instrument Storage
- Any instruments that can be broken into sections should be separated to prevent pressure on the joints.
- Placing tissue paper between the pads of woodwind instruments, such as flutes and saxophones, can help to keep pads from becoming sticky.
- Instruments should be cleaned before being stored with a clean cloth and a vacuum to remove dust.
- When cleaning any instrument, be sure to use the right tools for the job and avoid household cleaners, which can be incredibly damaging. Special cleaning cloths are sold at music stores.
- Be sure to release the tension on strings before storing stringed instruments for long periods of time. Doing so will help prevent the strings from snapping or the neck from warping.
Drums and Piano Storage
- Loosening drum skins is a good idea because it will help keep them from stretching.
- Pianos do not need to have strings loosened because they are designed to handle tons of pressure.
- Piano legs, pedals, and the piano bench should be wrapped in heavy padding to protect them.
- It’s always a good idea to cover pianos and drums with a tarp or a sheet to protect them from dust.
- Baby grand pianos should be moved on their sides.
How To Store Musical Instruments
Whatever space you choose for musical instrument storage, you should keep instruments off the floor if possible because the greatest fluctuations of temperature frequently take place there. Increases and drops in temperature can cause expansions and contractions that are potentially harmful to instruments. It is recommended that even pianos be kept off of the floor using casters or wooden pallets.
Arranging for shelving may be helpful because it allows you to store your instruments on flat surfaces and off the ground. If you have several guitars or stringed instruments, you can set up a wall space from which to hang your instruments. Leaning an instrument against the wall, such as a guitar or a tuba, invites the possibility that the instrument will fall over.
Instruments should be kept out of drafts and doorways, and the best place to keep them is the middle of the room where they will be farthest from temperature changes. For additional protection, wrap instrument cases in plastic bags or tarps.
Maintaining Your Instruments
If you’ve properly prepared your instrument for storage, you should have little to worry about in terms of damage for the short term. However, it’s a good idea to inspect instruments from time to time, especially if you’re not able to keep them somewhere with temperature and climate control.
In particular, wood instruments or instruments with wood panels that are not in cases should be regularly checked for insect damage, which will normally show up in the form of wormholes. This is something that should be addressed immediately and is normally best handled by professionals who can keep the problem from worsening.
When looking at an instrument that has been in storage for a while, you’ll want to check for things like discoloration of the surface, corrosion, mold, and cracked joints. Deformation of the instrument may also be a sign of damage. If you notice these issues, it is a good idea to take the instrument to a professional as soon as possible. Most of these problems will only get worse and more expensive to fix over time.
If you have a very valuable instrument or set of instruments, you may also want to consider insuring them. While your instrument should be safe from most normal dangers, things like natural disasters can still result in ruined instruments.
Should you opt for insurance, take pictures of each item you are storing and maintain a listing of the value of all stored items. This will ensure that any damaged items are accounted for, making the claim process much faster and easier.
Storing an Instrument for Travel
Along with keeping an instrument in a safe place when you are not using it, it’s also important to ensure that your instrument is secure when travelling with it. For most smaller musical instruments, you can simply purchase a hard case. While this will protect your instrument from knocks and jolts when moving it around, be sure to get a case that fits your instrument exactly.
You should also be sure to get a sturdy and durable hard case; if you can push the case and it gives, pick another case. While a good hard case can provide a solid level of protection, you should keep in mind that even if your instrument is in a hard case, it still may be damaged if it’s getting knocked around inside.
With larger instruments, you may want to consider getting a soft case for travel. Soft cases are sometimes called gig bags, and they are made of materials like polyester and nylon that provide some padding. Many of these types of soft travel bags also have straps and storage compartments. Whatever type you get, be sure that the bag is waterproof.
When traveling with instruments, HomeFarmStudios.com recommends that instruments are kept in a secure place and stowed so that they will not move around. Instruments that fall, are jostled, or have another instrument fall onto them may get damaged.
Where to Store a Musical Instrument
When you have a smaller instrument, like a flute or clarinet, you will likely be able to keep it in your home. However, many larger instruments, like drum sets, guitars, and tubas, may not fit into your home, especially if you live in an apartment or a smaller house.
If you are pressed for space, you may want to use a self-storage facility for your musical instrument storage. The advantage of self-storage facilities is that you have the option to choose a climate controlled space, and most will allow you 24-hour access to your property.
Self-storage may be a good idea if you intend to store an instrument for a long period of time. Even if you have plenty of space in your home, if your house is not kept at the right temperature or if your home is too humid or too dry, your instrument can be damaged.
According to Oxford University, “It is not a good idea to keep delicate objects like musical instruments up in attics or down in cellars, the one being hot in the summer and cold in the winter, the other likely to suffer from high humidity levels.”
Musical instruments of all types do well in temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit and at humidity levels ranging between 40 and 60 percent.
Temperature and humidity really matter when storing an instrument. Bob Taylor, writing for PREMIERGuitar, says, “Probably 70 percent of the repairs performed in our service center could have been avoided if the guitar had not been exposed to humidity extremes.” In some cases, damage can be severe enough that it’s more expensive to repair an instrument than to replace it.
Since you don’t have to worry about keeping a storage space at a comfortable temperature for members of a household, you can set the climate to be one that is perfect for your instruments. Many storage facilities either have or will allow you to use humidifiers and dehumidifiers to ensure that both the temperature and the level of moisture in the air are optimal for what you are storing.
Musical instruments are an investment, so it’s important that they’re cared for even if you’re not going to be using them for a while. By ensuring that they are stored properly and in the right conditions, you’ll be able to avoid costly repairs and get a lifetime of enjoyment out of them.