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Thread: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

  1. #1

    Default Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    A couple weeks ago, I noticed my Northfield Calhoun has some warping in the top. One spot on the base side of the sound hole has developed a shallow crack. And it's hard to see in the photo, but there's a very slight dip to the base side of the top as well.

    This is basically my first instrument, I'm using this to learn on, so I didn't know much about maintenance and care. I've had it just over a year now, play daily. It's not old and doesn't sit around unused for any period of time. I read around about similar issues, and I'm getting the idea this could be due to inadequate humidity. I had been keeping the mando out on a floor stand because I like to just pick it up and play throughout the day. And I live in a little old house in the South. Temperature and humidity swings in here can be a little extreme. So now it's in the case full time with a proper case humidifier.

    I just don't know how concerned I should be this could get worse or cause further damage. Should I take this to a luthier and get it checked out? For now it is perfectly playable. Action is good, no buzzing or other issues. I sometimes see suggestions that this kind of warping can be from excessive string tension, but I've been using the strings it came with. Medium gauge, nothing crazy. And it's not an old bowl back. It's a newer instrument. Should I only use light strings on it, though?

    Any advice or guidance would be appreciated. I've grown fond it, and I really don't want to neglect a serious issue that could render it unplayable.

    Thanks!Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    I would contact Northfield. At a year old I would expect they would either replace, repair or something to that effect.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    Definitely contact Northfield.....warranty replacement. Accept nothing else.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    Yes, contact Northfield. From what I’ve seen of them here on the Cafe they seem like good peeps who will take care of you and the mandolin. I’ve only played a couple of Calhouns, but they were good instruments that compared pretty favorably with an awesome Flatiron 1N I let get away in a downsize move a few years ago…
    Chuck

  5. #5

    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    Thanks. I'll reach out to them and try to get some repairs done.

    Does anyone know if this is likely to be caused by anything I did or didn't do? I mentioned it wasn't in a humidity-controlled environment. Would that have done this much damage so quickly? I'd hate to repeat the same mistake later.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    I doubt living in the south would have caused that, but I am no expert. Living up north and have it sitting next to a heat source would be another issue.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    Well, living in the south causes all sorts of other damage, so naturally I assume it ruins instruments too.

  8. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    Top separations along grain lines can often be caused by dryness. Wood cells shrink when they lose moisture, and pull apart.

    Having said that, I concur with the advice to contact the manufacturer. If it's new and you have a warranty, they should respond to the damage you show.
    Allen Hopkins
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  9. #9
    Registered User Ed McGarrigle's Avatar
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    I’m not sure, but I thought my Calhoun came with light gauge strings. Anyway, that’s what I use now and it’s plenty loud with great tone. So I’d suggest getting the Northfield light gauge strings. Easier on the finger tips too

  10. #10
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    I've been avoiding posting here because all I can see are internet photos displayed on a monitor, but it looks like there might be a fracture across the grain of the top right at the edge of the sound hole. If there is such a fracture it can only be caused by a couple of things and dryness or weather changes are not among those things. A very small chance exists that it is the result of a defect in the wood, but by far the most likely cause is an impact to the top.
    In order to know if there actually is a cross grain fracture I'd have to examine the instrument in hand, but if (once again) there is, and it can be determined that there was an impact, the manufacturer probably will not cover it (nor should they have to).

    If (again) there is not, in fact, a cross grain fracture, then this post is of no consequence whatsoever and would have been best not posted.

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  12. #11

    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    I can say there's been no impact damage at all. It's been living on a stand that secured with a strap and only comes off when I practice. Looking closely now, there might be a similar crack on the opposite side of the sound hole under the pick guard piece. It's hard to tell. In any event, it's not been hit by anything.

    It can get quite dry in the room where it's stored sometimes, but it's also pretty humid others. I had in my head that humidity was an enemy here, and it came packed with about 4 descant packs. But reading up on it lately, it seems it's almost safer to err on the side of more humid than dry. I've had a cheap little beginner Ibanez in the same room right next to it, and that thing is just fine.

    Ed, it looks like you're absolutely right. The Calhoun's do come with light. That's just me not being experiences enough to know. I hadn't changed them out yet, so it's had the light gauge this whole time. Which I suppose makes sense for a flattop oval. It hasn't been under a tremendous strain.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    John, that’s the crack the OP mentioned, but it’s between what looks like a grain separation and the edge of the oval, so (again, thinking mechanics) that exact location would be especially vulnerable to bending from any cause, and if the top is indeed warping that exact place could be an official stress concentrator, that is, close to breaking. As a dumb amateur, I’d also think a sound hole with a tapered edge should be more delicate than the more usual shape. Could even be that decorative rosettes are a form of cross-banding evolved to strengthen the area.
    Beats thinking about what I should be thinking about tonight.

  14. #13
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    It can get quite dry in the room where it's stored sometimes, but it's also pretty humid others. I had in my head that humidity was an enemy here, and it came packed with about 4 descant packs. But reading up on it lately, it seems it's almost safer to err on the side of more humid than dry. I've had a cheap little beginner Ibanez in the same room right next to it, and that thing is just fine.
    Lack of humidity is the bigger enemy and you can't compare how a laminated inexpensive instrument will react next to a solid wood instrument. They really are two different animals. Beyond that the Cafe membership won't be the final arbiter in this matter it will be the manufacturer and their determination of the care including the humidification of the instrument. You probably would have been better served going directly to them first.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Oct-25-2021 at 8:09am.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  16. #14

    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    You should at least, be monitoring the RH in the room where you keep it. I suspect that living in the south, air-conditioning may come in to play. The better quality of the instrument, meaning everything is built on the edge to give the best sound, the more important monitoring becomes. Cheap instruments are over built and will live through anything.
    Richard Hutchings

  17. #15

    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    Thanks, folks! I contact Northfield and they got back to me right away about fixing the damage under warranty.

    Lesson learned, I suppose.

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  19. #16
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    Which is great of Northfield, because many warranties don't cover "improper use or storage," which can be interpreted to include letting an instrument dry out.

    Warranties are basically set up to protect you against defects in manufacture, not damage incurred by usage. Too-low humidity is closer to the latter than the former.

    That said, the makers we admire are those who err on the side of keeping their customers happy, rather than taking a super-strict interpretation of what a warranty covers. Hope Northfield's in that category; let us know what happens.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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  21. #17
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Warped top. How worried should I be about this?

    True and once one has admitted to possibly drying the instrument out on a public forum it will be really nice of them if they do the repair. There was some really questionable advice at the start of this thread.

    By the way, keep in mind that it's a whole lot easier to maintain the correct humidity levels inside a case than it is inside a house. Depending on where you live there can be real problems. We'll get a dozen people jumping in and saying they don't have a problem keeping their instruments out but that doesn't matter. I'm sure some folks have humidity controlled homes but most do not. What matters is where you live, how you heat and cool your house, what the relative humidity is and even the instrument itself. I have a Taylor I bought back in the 80's that is so temperamental when it comes to humidity that it's crazy and right next to it is a Martin that doesn't seem to care one way or the other. Individual instruments can have their own humidification needs. Musical instruments aren't the only industry that is concerned with humidity and if you don't want to buy the uber precise big old expensive Hygrometer then at least buy a few of the $5.00 digital ones sold on Amazon and put it in the case or in the room or whatever. If those little units are good enough for some guys Cuban cigars they will be good enough for you. You may never have a problem with an instrument drying out and then again maybe it just hasn't bit you yet. I'd never had any issues like that until I did.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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