Boveda Musical Instrument Humidification – Review
My family’s music store is based in the wonderfully dry desert of Las Vegas. Here, musical instruments made from wood are under constant assault. So we are always looking for ways to protect our inventory but also for products to help customers take care of their most treasured musical instrument! I became interested in the Boveda musical instrument humidification products several years ago and have learned quite a lot! However, I really wanted to do a long term test on just how good they are so that we knew whether or not we could rely on them in our shop and for our customers!
Wood instrument humidification is not unique to the desert of Las Vegas, and I can argue it is actually a bigger problem in areas with greater humidity fluctuations – because at least in Las Vegas, we always know that the humidity level is too low for our instruments! However, in many areas of the world, you actually have humidity ranges that go up and down constantly (so weird to us desert dwellers). This fluctuation can be equally dangerous for your wooden musical instrument.
See, wood instruments, when not being played on, like stability. They need to have that comfy range that is right for them. Most instrument makers will tell you that this is around the 45-55% range. So how can you protect your instrument to the best of your ability? The Boveda musical instrument humidifiers seem like a rather ingenious system that is easy to use, precise in its offering and exceptional in its value. The question that we get from customers is: “are they any good for my clarinet or oboe?”. So I decided to find out for you… read on!
How & What to Test
Its one thing to just sell a product from a company that tells you what their product will do. Its another thing to actually put them to the test. Our customers trust us. So if we are going to recommend something to them, we want to do so knowing whether it is worth them purchasing for themselves.
So to test out just how well these packs work, I decided to take it to the limit. I used the most expensive wooden instrument in our store at the time, a brand new Selmer Paris Privilege Low C Bass Clarinet. These instruments are considered the finest bass clarinet on the market and have a LOT of Grenadilla wood in them. On top of that, they have a massive amount of key work and mechanism on them that is easily thrown out of adjustment if the wood shifts due to drying.
Over the years, we have found certain ways to slow the humidity loss of wood while instruments sit on the shelves with the dry desert air all around them. The most effective has actually been putting each joint/piece of wood in an individual plastic bag while it is in the case. This, in theory, allows escaping humidity to stay closer to the wood and thus slow down the loss of it from the instrument.
This alone does not 100% prevent it. So we will usually combine this with some sort of humidity source inside the case. Up until a few years ago, we only used a water based humidifier like a Humistat model 1. This requires that we manually refill the humidifier as the water evaporates away. This system has been very effective for us when combined with the plastic bags on the joints, but requires a LOT of maintenance where every 2-4 weeks, we are refilling the humidifier in every single wood clarinet and oboe in our store.
For this test, I took each of the joints of the Selmer bass clarinet and placed them in a bag big enough to fully encase each joint individually. Inside the bag with the joint was placed a new Boveda 49% RH (relative humidity), 70 gram pack. The packs were dated 4/25/22. The bass clarinet case was then zipped up and placed in a bag, before being placed on a storage shelf to sit. This case sat undisturbed for 8 months. No one opened it, or checked on it, but simply let it sit in storage and wait.
In December 2022, after 8 months, it was checked and play tested by a true professional player. He confirmed that the instrument was in perfectly functional condition with no key binding. The instrument was then swabbed out, wiped down and placed back in the bags with the SAME humidification packs – they were not replaced.
Since they were still good, I decided to extend the test to the one year range. On 4/21/23, I took the bass clarinet out to finish test and check the results. Yes, it was 4 days shy of a year, but I have a vacation scheduled during that 1 year time so I decided to complete the test at 4 days shy of the year.
Understanding the Results
Before we get to the results, you have to understand how these packs work.
Boveda uses a special salt water based solution inside of a special membrane wrapped inside of a unique paper. The membrane and the paper wrapping are designed to allow moisture both in our out of the pack. So if the relative humidity around the pack is too high, it will absorb moisture and if it is too low, it will release moisture in a clean, purified water vapor.
Eventually, the pack will dry out after it has released all of its moisture. They become hard & crystalized feeling. When they still have moisture, they feel like a gel is inside the pack.
They can also have too much moisture. In this scenario, the only way to know is to weigh the pack. The 49% RH, 70 gram pack will function until it passes above that 70 gram weight. For most players, this is not something to be concerned with in our opinion as the general idea is to release humidity in to your case. However, if you are in a VERY humid environment, weighing the pack is important.
It is also important because that is how we will measure or weigh our results!
First off, we were blown away at these results. At a year, neither the pack stored in the bag with the lower joint or the upper joint had dried out. NOTE – this is because they were closed inside of the plastic bag with the clarinet joint. This is important to note because you will not use it like this so do NOT expect to get this same result over a year – more on that at the end.
New Boveda 49% RH
Results Weight: 63.2 grams
This is a brand new Boveda 49% RH, 70 gram pack. Brand new, it weighs 63.2 grams (remember, 70 gram is only if it has reached its max absorbency). This was opened from its sealed plastic on 4/21/23 as written in the lower corner. This pack serves as our frame of reference.
1 year old Boveda 49% RH
Results Weight: 59.9 grams
This pack was stored for 1 year with the upper joint. Not only is it not dried out and still very supple feeling, it has only lost about 5% of its weight! All of the keywork on the upper joint was working without any issues.
1 year old Boveda 49% RH
Results Weight: 47.2 grams
This pack was stored for 1 year with the lower joint. This joint is significantly longer and larger with more complex keywork than the lower joint. So it had a lot more wood to protect. In all, it lost 25% of its weight shedding 16 grams of moisture (compared to a current model new pack). All of the keywork was functional without binding.
The fact that the lower joint pack lost more than the upper joint confirms that there is a correlation to size and the amount of moisture released overall. Still, this pack was not crystalized at all, though you could feel that it was much thinner than the upper joint pack. It was near the end of its life based on our experience, but it still made it a year! Furthermore, the fact that all of the keywork made it to this year point without any binding or issues is astounding! In our shop in Vegas, we know that this is an otherwise impossible feat to expect with any other storage option that is left unchanged for a year.
Your Results WILL Vary!!
As stated above, these were used inside of a large plastic bag and kept that way for extended periods of time. You will not have 1 year long results that look like this because you will not use the Boveda packs in this way. However, we can tell you that these packs work and so you have to learn how to use them. Boveda does a great job with their literature when you purchase a retail product, so make sure you READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!!!
Most customers will get 2-4 months per pack if used properly. There are many variables including how well your case seals as well as how much humidity your case stores in its own materials. You can opt to “season” your case quickly with a higher rated 72% pack, but you should do that without your instrument in the case – which is not always convenient. More information on that process at the bottom of this review.
Boveda Fabric Pouch
For retail customers, Boveda does recommend the use of their fabric pouches to hold the Boveda packs. These pouches serve a few purposes, but primarily are based more around protection. While we have never experienced one of the Boveda humidification packs breaking or tearing, we have heard that it can happen in some occurrences. You then have salt water based gel inside your case and on your instrument, possibly causing irreparable damage. So the Boveda fabric pouch will help add that extra layer of protection. They make 2 versions of this pouch, one that can hold one pack and another that can hold two packs.
The pouch also, according to Boveda, will increase the efficiency of the humidification packs. We have not tested this ourselves, but Boveda has been able to produce a data sheet to back this claim up. Finally, the pouch will also provide a microfiber surface that is softer against your instrument and thus unlikely to scratch.
Overall, I will recommend that customers observe and follow the Boveda recommended usage for their system, but we have had great success without the pouch as well.
Where can I buy them?
Well at your favorite music store, Kessler & Sons Music of course!! You can find those all right here:
What about the 72% Packs or the 49% HA packs?
While Boveda makes many different packs, the standard 49% RH pack is our recommended model for use with an actively played on instrument. The other popular packs are the 72% and the 49% HA packs. They both have unique uses as follows:
- 72% RH, 60 Gram Pack – This is used for Case Seasoning. New cases, or cases that have not been humidified, tend to absorb moisture quickly themselves. So they tend to deplete the 49% packs rather quickly leading customers to think that the packs are ineffective. So if you have a new case you can use a 72% pack without an instrument inside to get the case a shock of humidity to absorb quickly. The 72% pack will attempt to maintain 72% humidity but as a result of the empty, dry case, it will release its humidity quickly. After it is seasoned, you can get rid of the 72% pack entirely, replacing it with the 49% pack and the instrument. This will create stability for both the instrument and the humidification pack.
- 49% High Absorbency (HA) – These packs attempt to perform the same function as the standard 49% but will absorb excess moisture quicker than the standard pack. We find that this is more ideal for manufacturers / warehouse scenarios that store instruments but also have a relatively higher humidity rate than 49% the majority of the time. For customers in active use of their musical instrument, we tend to stay wit the standard 49% pack as it will still absorb excess humidity as well as release.