Guitar maintenance guide

Last Updated June 2019

Learning to play the guitar can be a life-changing experience. Cradling that first six-string in your hands can open the door to new creative outlets, fresh relationships, unique experiences, and in rare cases, even a new career. That said, guitars are complex instruments that require a lot of attention, and that makes proper maintenance a vital thing for players to learn.

Whether you’re a veteran shredder or are just learning “Smoke on the Water,” this guide will educate you on a variety of tips, cleaning how-tos, and helpful products to keep your instrument in tip-top shape. Not every model is the same, so before we assemble our maintenance toolkit, let’s go over the different types of care for different guitars.

Electric versus acoustic maintenance

Much of the information in this guide will apply to every guitar, but there are distinct differences between electric and acoustic models.

Acoustic guitars, fiddles, mandolins, and ukuleles are open-bodied instruments featuring an assembly of thin and often unfinished wood pieces. They utilize glue to keep the parts together, and this makes the humidity of your music room an important consideration. Low humidity can cause timber to shrink and glue to dry out, which can cause the fretboard — especially those crafted from ebony and rosewood — to shrink, resulting in the metal frets sticking out. Low humidity also increases the risk of cracking or bowing on the thin soundboard that makes up a guitar’s top. This is why humidifiers are common accessories for acoustic players, particularly those who live in dry areas.

Electric guitars and basses generally feature solid bodies with finished or painted wood surfaces. This makes a humidifier less necessary, because the materials are sealed from the elements. In fact, humidifiers can actually do more harm than good in these situations, as excess moisture can cause corrosion to form on the guitar’s pickups, input jack, wiring, or internal electronics.

Regardless of the instrument you have, an excellent way to protect your guitar from drying out is to apply mineral oil to your fretboard every six months or so. The oil will do a far better job moisturizing the wood than humidification will.

Like your car, a guitar requires specific and diligent maintenance. Wondering how to tune up your axe? Our guitar maintenance guide has you covered.

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How to clean your guitar

Guitars have a tendency to accumulate dust, dirt, and grime from our hands. Follow these steps to keep your instrument pretty and harmonious.

  • Remove the strings one at a time by loosening the tuner by hand or with a string winder. Once the string is free from the tuner, pull it out from the bridge, using caution not to scratch the body’s finish as you pull. The process is the same with an acoustic, only you’ll need to remove the bridge peg/pin to fully extricate the string.

  • Wipe off the guitar, now that you have full access to the fretboard. Use a microfiber cloth slightly dampened with water to remove dust and light grime. There are cleaning products on the market for this, but the majority of the time, they’re not necessary. Just don’t get any electronic elements wet.

  • Polish the body, if necessary. Choose an appropriately-colored polish for the body and back of the neck, again being careful to avoid electronics.

  • Oil the fretboard, if necessary. Use mineral, almond, or linseed oil. Let it sit for a few minutes, then remove the excess with paper towels or a cloth.

  • Restring by feeding the string through the bridge, attaching it to the tuner, and tightening. If you have an acoustic, you’ll need to replace the bridge peg to guarantee appropriate tension.

  • Tune with an analog tuner, digital tuner, or if you’re experienced enough, by ear.
     

Keep in mind that there are more involved measures you can take to improve your guitar’s performance, such as adjusting the truss rod to reduce fret buzz, filing the nut to calibrate action, and tweaking the bridge to your preference. These are best left to professionals or experienced players though, as one wrong move can deem your instrument unplayable.

Guitar maintenance shopping list

These products will help you stay in tune and stay on time.

  • A humidifier to turn your music room into an optimized environment for acoustic instrument storage. In general, 40% to 60% is considered the “sweet spot.”

  • A guitar case humidifier maintains instrument health in storage, and they’re typically inexpensive. However, you can make your own with a pill bottle or small tupperware and a slightly damp sponge. Simply drill a few very small holes in the lid, and you’re good to go.

  • Guitar polish to improve and protect your instrument’s finish.

  • An all-in-one string tool with a winder, cutter, and bridge peg puller. This will significantly cut down on the time it takes to change strings.

  • A guitar tuner is the easiest way to eliminate the guesswork and stay in tune with your bandmates.

  • A hard case keeps your guitar safe from physical damage, and also creates an enclosed environment where you can control the humidity. Choose between electric and acoustic versions.

  • Similar to a case, a guitar stand keeps your instrument off the floor and away from damage, but offers less physical protection.
Written by:
  • Andrew
    Andrew
    Writer