Guitar Maintenance – Basic Guide and Tips

Introduction to Guitar Maintenance

The easiest and the most economical way to ensure your expensive guitar, is working like a well-oiled machine, is to regularly clean and properly maintain it. Routine cleaning will help combat the oils, grime, sweat and moisture due to humidity, that can wreak havoc on the playability, with the added advantage of having an instrument that feels and looks as good as new. The key is to follow these tips to understand the impact that taking simple precautions while maintaining, cleaning and storing can have on the instrument.

Benefits of Maintaining the guitar.

Better Sound

It is important that the back, sides, and top are polished with either proper guitar polish or furniture polish. This is because of the quality of the wood itself influences how music travels throughout the entire instrument. It’s not just the strings that control the music, but the overall build of the guitar as well. So, making sure that a guitar is well maintained as that helps in improving the overall sound of the instruments.

Increase in Longevity

Periodically cleaning the neck of the guitar with a dry rag can help remove dirt and oils, that may have built up throughout its lifetime. Keeping your guitar clean actively lengthens the life of your guitar, which means you’ll be able to use it for a long time. You can also avoid needless expenses from repairing or purchasing a new guitar.

Easier to Play

Maintaining your guitar regularly enables your guitar to retain its tension; this allows the action to reduce the string height, which is the gap between the strings and the fretboard, which affords improved playability.  Maintenance helps to ensure that the instrument is easy to play and produces the right tone.

It is possible to take care of your instrument on your own, and in this article, we are going to explain exactly how.

Cleaning your Guitar

Wiping your guitar with a warm and wet cloth 

A wet cloth will remove most of the dust that has settled on your guitar. While some websites recommend using a chemical-based cleaner for your guitar, we wouldn’t recommend it as it can damage & swell or shrink the wood. The chemicals in detergent also damage your guitar’s finish. Twist the cloth out thoroughly before you wipe your instrument with it. You shouldn’t see any water or cleaner on the surface of your guitar as you clean it. It would be best to clean your guitar after you finish playing it. Keeping a soft piece of cloth, such as a microfiber shammy, in your guitar case can help you go the extra mile to maintain your guitar.

Use a Gas Duster

You can buy a Gas Duster at most supply stores. It is primarily a can of compressed air that is typically used to clean out sophisticated machinery. It also works well for cleaning between the strings and the fretboard of the guitar. You should utilize compressed air before you wipe your guitar with a cleaner or a damp cloth to get rid of the dirt on the surface of the instrument. This should reduce the effort you will put in with other cleaning supplies.

Using an old toothbrush to clean your frets and bridge.

If you have played the guitar for a while, you should have noticed that your fretboard gains a layer of dust upon its surface. This layer of sand is a mixture of perspiration from your fingers and dust in the atmosphere. Luckily, this dust is easy to clean. The corrosion and discoloration of the fretboards act as a clear indicator of the critical condition your guitar is in.

When a toothbrush is no longer fit to clean your teeth, you can use it to reach the hard to get to places such as the grooves in your fretboard to wipe out the dust that collects on the sides of the frets. Much of the build up is dead skin cells, sweat & dust, so it makes sense to focus on the frets of the chords; you utilize the most often.

This method is usually used only when you have unstrung the guitar. You should apply lemon oil or orange oil to the fretboard. This prevents the fretboard from drying out too much and keeps it feeling moist. However, make sure not to drench any of the electronics parts of the guitar, or the wooden parts of the fretboards as you should prefer avoiding too much damage.

Use Guitar Polish

If you decide that you want to Polish the body of your guitar after cleaning it, you need to use a polish specifically designed for your style & type of guitar. For a Poly-finished guitar, dab guitar polish onto a soft cloth and wipe down. Use the hard part to buff out the polish. For a Matte -finished guitars, use only a dry rag.

This step can, at times be more expensive as the polish can be somewhat of a chore to find. It is essential to understand that regular polish can ruin the finish of your classy-looking guitar. Dab the polish on a rag first, & then wipe down your guitar in a circular motion. Do not attempt to spray the polish directly on your guitar.

Also, remember to switch the rags between the one used to wipe the grime off the guitar & the rag with the Polish to avoid making a bigger mess.

To clean the Metal parts of the Guitar

Sweat, as we mentioned before, can be your biggest rival, when it comes to maintenance of Guitar because the acids and salts present in our sweat accelerate the corrosion on the metal plating and attract grime that clogs up most moving parts. In extreme cases, a guitar’s bridge and tuning keys can start to rust.

To clean up the Metal parts, you can remove them, scrub them with a toothbrush. After the scrubbing, finish the job by applying WD-40 which will help releases the rusted parts, after this, you can finish by applying a 3 in1 Oil to lubricate all the parts.

To err on the side of caution, remember that products are only metal safe & should not be used on Wooden part of the Guitar. It would also make sense to invest in a corrosion inhibitor for your Guitar case, but we will discuss that in the Storage section of this guide.

Storing your Guitar

Prevent light and air damage

It’s notably essential to keep your instrument free of dirt & grime, while you are storing your guitar. Dirt Particles in the air can not only harm the appearance of the instrument, but it can also modify the sound of the instrument. The dirt can modify the sound by collecting in the instrument by modifying the resonation and intonation of the instrument. Make sure that when you store your guitar, keep it away from direct sunlight to prevent any probability of damage. This also helps in to keep a check on the fading of the finish and the colour of the guitar.

Keep your guitar in its case

The most reliable way to protect your guitar from the elements is to keep it in a hard case or gig bag when you're not playing it. While many Blogs would recommend using a stand or wall hook, they always run a risk of being bumped and damaged. A case can not only protect it from scratches, but it also prevents your guitar from being bared to dust and sunlight, which can destroy the on the finish, colours & sound of the instrument. Always store your guitar case standing up or on their side.

Avoid Moisture & Humidity

The wood used to make your guitar can become warped or brittle depending on the type of environment you live in; this will not only ruin the aesthetic of the instrument but can also drastically reduce the life expectancy of the instrument. In a dry environment, the wood can crack, and it can also cause the area between the bridge & the frets to sink. Relative humidity levels below 45% is considered a dry environment. In humid environments the action to becomes too high, making the guitar difficult to play, you can also expect the wood to start swelling. The relative humidity above 55% can be considered humid. You should consider storing your guitar in an area with a dehumidifier where the relative humidity is somewhere between 45% and 55%.

Tighten the screws

The vibrations of the strings that occur, when you play the instruments shake these screws loose. When the strings break over the bridge at a shallow angle; there’s not much downward pressure to press against the saddles. Over time these can alter the sound of your guitar and your ability to play it. Check for loosened screws before you store your instrument. Have the relevant tools in your case so you can quickly tighten any loose screws whenever necessary.

Preserving your strings

Cleaning your hands

Much of the dirt on the guitar strings come from your hands. You can keep them in their best condition by being certain that your hands are clean before you play your guitar. Before playing, apply a drop of sanitizer and rub your hands together briskly. The sanitizer helps by killing the bacteria that are hiding out in your hands but will also evaporate all the harmful oils which will dull strings. We recommend using this technique after you have washed your hands in soap and water for maximum effect.

Wipe your strings after playing

If you take enough care of your guitar to clean your hands, your strings will still get dirty as you play your guitar. Wiping them down with a dry, soft cloth will keep them in their best condition. Wipe the strings with a dry dish towel or our personal preference, a cotton cloth. These make great polishing cloths as well. Reef those strings - wrap the fabric around the string and go all the way along its length. You should see the dirt on the towel.

Use string cleaner

If you haven’t been cleaning your strings frequently, or if they have grime on them, you can buy a string cleaner and lubricant at your local music shop. Some good commercially available products to clean and maintain your strings are: -

  • Music Nomad MN205
  • GHS Fast-Fret
  • The String Cleaner by Tone Gear
  • Music Nomad MN109
  • Planet Waves XLR8
  • Lizard Spit Fresh-N-Easy

String cleaners aren't essential. If you clean your strings each time you play your instrument, you should be fine. Just be sure never to use a regular all-purpose cleaner on guitar strings.

Replacing the Strings

Replace your strings regularly. Strings can accumulate the grime and the residue over time. The Frequency of you playing the guitar is relative to the need to change your strings. Regardless, it would be best if you were changing them at least once every couple of months. Make sure not to replace all the strings at once as that can cause your instrument to lose the tension, which will result in a bent neck that can kill your instruments sound. Start with the lower pair of strings and then move on to the next.

To conclude

It is vital, regardless of whether you are a budding guitarist or a professional performer to understand the importance of proper maintenance for your instrument. Something as basic as wiping your guitar can help undo weeks of damage to your guitar, which helps in maintaining its Longevity. We would also recommend that you have the guitar properly checked out & cleaned by a professional at least once in 3-4 months and hope that all of the tips & steps above help you understand the inner workings of your instrument better.

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