The art of cleaning your guitar

Updated: Mar 20

If it were not considered politically incorrect in modern society, a guitar could very easily be compared with a woman… Fickle at times, prone to the elements, and easily damaged in careless hands…

It is for this reason that basic maintenance is so vital but sadly not often high on a guitarist’s agenda. A vast portion of you will keep strumming until a buzz at each end of the neck makes itself known (or the pick-up dies). Guitars can greatly benefit from a little TLC every now and then. Having a good local tech or luthier is the obvious solution, but many problems can be solved or prevented entirely without resorting to more costly measures. Having read my bodyweight in articles on this topic here is my take on guitar maintenance.

Humidity is a thing

At the top of the list of things to know is humidity and how it can damage your guitar. If you are fancy enough to have a carbon-fibred-new-school guitar then you can worry less about this. For the rest of you, this is a top tip. Wood is a natural product and susceptible to humidity. Acoustic guitars are especially vulnerable thanks to their relatively thin, delicate construction. A higher humidity level means that there is more moisture in the air. This excess moisture causes the wood to swell, which can result in joins separating at various points of the guitar (the bridge for example can start to lift), and the action becoming noticeably less playable.

At the other end of the trouble-spectrum sits aridity. If the air is too dry you could have problems that are potentially much more serious. When wood suffers from a severe lack of moisture it shrinks, which can result in cracks in the guitar's top or a warped neck.

A tell-tale sign of aridity is the edges of your frets suddenly feeling sharp as they come away from the wood. Alternatively, another check is to put a ruler across the lower bout of your guitar, under the bridge. The guitar's top should bow outwards slightly, leaving small gaps underneath the ruler towards the outside edges. If the guitar is flat or worse, slightly sunken, then you should seek to get it repaired without delay.

There is a whole scientific equation to consider when working out the correct level of humidity in your music room but the easiest way to avoid humidity damage is to store your guitar in its gig bag or hard case between sessions. To further combat the war on humidity you can invest in a humidity controller.

This clever piece of kit sits in the soundhole when the guitar is safely tucked away in its case and will constantly monitor the relative humidity inside the case. If your guitars are at the higher end of the economic scale you can buy yourself a digital hygrometer, a humidifier, and a de-humidifier, and carefully monitor your guitar's environment, adjusting as and when required. If your guitar shows signs of humidity damage seek professional assistance

A clean guitar is a happy guitar

Cleaning your guitar is one of the most basic and most important parts of effective guitar maintenance. From a budget, all-laminate starter guitar with a pretend Rock-Esq name or a luthier-crafted masterpiece, every guitar deserves a regular clean and will feel better to play as a result. Sweat, dead skin, and the natural oils in your skin can all influence your guitar's appearance and performance.

From marks and prints on the body to unpleasant grime deposits on the fretboard, your guitar takes a slight beating during every gig. As part of the ‘stuff’, you carry in your guitar case, keep a clean, dry cloth handy and be sure to give the guitar a good wipe from the stock to the bridge before and after every session.

Depending on how regularly you gig it is recommended that you give your guitar a thorough clean every 4 weeks. It is highly recommended to use only guitar-specific cleaning products to clean your guitar. DO NOT be tempted you use household cleaning is a guitar, not a coffee table…It also goes without saying, but please follow the care instructions as noted on the cleaning Product

Fretboard Therapy

The better conditioners will not only hydrate the wood but also lift dirt and grime whilst polishing the frets. It is recommended that you use a conditioner that has been designed for dark, natural wood fingerboards and does not include silicone in its list of ingredients. Also, be careful not to over-condition Remember, you're adding moisture to the mix but you do not want to aggravate Humidity

Restringing the right way is the only way

I am sure that I do not have to tell a single guitarist that correct string tension and position are key to hitting the right note. My research has left me a little bereft at how many of you get it wrong.

For most steel-strung guitars you'll either have a series of slots to keep the strings secure or a set of bridge pins. These can be pulled out with a small, tong-like tool if they're particularly stuck, but my research leads me to believe that these should pop out easily. The ball ends of your new strings should then be pulled up tightly against the bridge pins, with the string slots facing forwards to ensure a straight string-pull. The pins should be replaced by pressing down firmly with your thumb. Just like the theory of torque don't press too hard, or you'll risk damaging the bridge or the pins themselves when the time comes to remove them again. Once you've threaded the string through the bridge bring the string back and loop under itself twice, with the very end of the string trapped at the back of the bridge. Be careful not to tie anything too tightly - the tension of the string should do most of the work.

With a solid headstock, loop your string through the tuning post. Once through, turn the string halfway around the post (clockwise for the three lower strings, anti-clockwise for the upper strings) until the short end passes under the main length of the string. Once it's gone under, bend it back and over to lock the string in place. This should result in a secure fit that won't slip during play and ensures as straight a string-pull as possible.

For slotted headstocks, you're following the same basic method, except you'll be feeding the strings from front to back before looping the end of the string around. In both cases, the string should wrap around the post at least twice while being tuned to pitch in order to keep the tuning stable and to reduce the risk of breakage.

If your tuning is constantly going out even after days of playing-in the strings, or if you suffer from frequent breakages then there might be another problem with your guitar that may require a Pro to look at

Neck alignment is not a scary concept

Neck relief can intimidate novice and seasoned guitarists alike. There are two main symptoms that indicate a problem with neck relief. The first is significant buzzing between the first and seventh frets, and the second is unusually high action. This would indicate that the neck is too straight or not bowing in the right direction. The is an entire dissertation dedicated to this topic and I will confess that it was a bit yawn-inducing so I am taking the cowards way out and sending you a link on how to master this skill. I will say that from all the stuff I read, every commentator seems confident that this is easily achieved but equally so there is no shame in calling in the Guitar tech

Check your nuts

It is an important area of guitar repair and we recommend that you leave this task to a guitar tech

Keep your lady safe

Whether you're a gigging musician or a bedroom-only guitarist storing your guitar correctly will benefit both your guitar and your wallet.

It is not necessary to rush out and buy a guitar case that will survive with the cockroaches after the apocalypse, but if you can afford it a hard case is preferred over a gig bag. Modern gig bags are much improved from the burlap sacks of yesteryears and nowadays you can find some reasonably priced bags that give exceptional levels of protection along with perks such as waterproofing. Not to mention the fact that they're also considerably lighter to carry, ideal for gigs in places like London where parking is simply not an option.

Don’t be a fool with the wrong tools

If you are someone who believes that the right tool is essential for the job you may have a gander at the below list

•Metal ruler - with detailed inch measurements

•Truss rod adjustment tools


•Guitar cleaner

•Fretboard conditioner

•Fret-cleaning solution

•Cleaning cloths

•String winder/cutter

• High-quality gig bag/hard case

•Nut files (if you must)

•Sandpaper - 80 and 120 grit

•Magnifying glass (to help with minute measurements)

•Manuals – (yes this very often contains the solution you need when you are done trying to guess)

Lastly but most importantly, please be impressed with this blog as it was compiled in its entirety by a Drummer

Below are source links and other useful articles that can further aid your guitar maintenance education

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