Take a few minutes to understand the basics of guitar maintenance. Proper care can ensure years of enjoyment and high resale value.
You may be thinking: "My guitar sits in a case most of the time. I'm the only one who uses it. I don't take it many places. Surely I don't need to be worried about guitar maintenance. Right?"
Think about the construction of your guitar.
- Woods of various types are carefully selected, milled, sanded.
- For acoustic and semi-hollow body electrics these woods are then cut thin, bent and shaped.
- The various pieces are drilled, sliced, and cut with decorative and other patterns.
- The neck is joined to the body and decorative touches are added.
- Everything is painted or stained, then finished with lacquer or polyurethane.
- Strings are added that place anywhere from three to ninety pounds of tension on all these glued, sliced, drilled, bent, shaped parts.
What could possibly go wrong?
- Cracks or discoloration in the finish...
- Cracks in the wood...
- Bending of the neck...
- Separation of the joints or bracing...
- A bridge that rips loose...
- Tuning keys that stop tuning...
The result? Degraded appearance, expensive repairs, or destruction of the instrument. All of which could have been prevented with some common sense and simple guitar maintenance.
Guitar maintenance begins by learning a few things you should never do to or with your guitar. They are...
Never subject you guitar to extreme environmental conditions: heat, cold, very moist or dry air. Protect it from caustic substances (such as cleaning solutions). Also keep it clear of sharp or hard objects that can scratch or dent the instrument (including belt buckles and metal shirt buttons).
A great way to protect your instrument from damage from belts, jeans, buckles, and such is to apply a ScratchPad. The ScratchPad is an easily removable pad that is soft felt on the outside and a patented copolymer called "Sof-Cling" on the inside. The copolymer side appears smooth to the naked eye, but when magnified you can see thousands of mini-suction cups. When placed against a smooth surface, such as your guitar, they grip firmly. For a detailed description, see this Hands On Review.
Never subject your guitar to extreme heat or cold, or very moist or dry conditions, which can damage or destroy your instrument. Heat and moisture, for example, can loosen glue joints to the point where they separate or come apart. Dry or cold air can crack wood or the finish.
Preventative guitar maintenance includes avoiding typical places where extreme conditions can occur, such as: a car trunk; an attic; an unfinished basement; the beach; the cargo area of an airplane or bus; direct sunlight; and near a heating or cooling vent. If you have no choice but to place your guitar in a car trunk or other harsh environment, minimize the time there (minutes, not hours) and always keep it in the case.
As often as possible, try to keep your guitar in friendly environments. An ideal environment for your guitar is somewhere between 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit and 45-55% relative humidity.
Bottom line: Use common sense. Don't subject your guitar to forces, objects, liquids, or environments that would be harmful or uncomfortable to you or your skin.
These simple guitar maintenance tips should be followed every time you touch the instrument.
Keep it clean
Natural oils, dead skin, lotions and soaps... all transfer from you to your instrument. Fine particles in the air from air fresheners, cooking, deodorant, hair spray, etc., also adhere to the surface of the strings and body.
Chemicals used in manufacturing your clothes, your guitar straps, capo's and other items that come in contact with your instrument can damage the finish.
As part of a sound guitar maintenance routine, start by washing your hands before you play or practice. Then, before putting your instrument away, wipe your strings and instrument off with a clean soft cloth.
Use Your Hard Case
The best guitar maintenance is preventative, and the safest place for your guitar is inside a hard case that has been properly fitted to your guitar.
Many guitars come with hard cases that are custom fitted by the manufacturer. You can also purchase additional or replacement cases from reputable manufacturers... but make certain that it fits. It the neck is not properly supported, the head has pressure on it or the instrument can slip and slide inside the case, damage can occur.
Oh, and don't forget to secure the latches.
Know Your Humidity
For proper guitar maintenance, control the temperature and humidity whenever possible.
Purchase a hygrometer/thermometer and keep it in your case. If you afford it, purchase two. Put the second one in the room where you typically store your guitar.
Keep the temperature and humidity at recommended levels. Check your product manual. If you have no product literature, the most common recommendations I've seen are for 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit and 45-55% relative humidity.
If the area is too dry, use a humidifier to raise the moisture level in the room. You can use a guitar humidifier, such as the one made by Dampit, or a room or house humidifier.
If you use a Dampit, or other small humidifier, make sure you wipe any excess water off before inserting it into your instrument's sound hole, or the case. If you use a room or house humidifier, never allow the moist air to blow directly on your guitar. If the area is too wet, use a dehumidifier to lower the moisture level. Never allow a heating or cooling vent to blow directly on your guitar!
To minimize the affect of changes in temperature and humidity levels, keep your guitar in its case. Also, never store it in the direct path of a vent or against an outside wall where temperature and humidity can be significantly different from the rest of the room and can change rapidly.
Anything that moves requires periodic attention. What moves on your guitar? Strings, tuning machines, knobs/dials, and the tremolo-bar on some electric's. You should put two of these on your periodic guitar maintenance list. While you're performing these periodic checks, also give your entire guitar a good cleaning.
Tuning Machine Maintenance
Even if it's open, tuning machine maintenance is very easy. Every three months or so wipe them clean (they can gather dust) with a clean, lint-free cloth. Then apply a small amount of petroleum jelly to the gears. Wipe off any excess, leaving a very thin film of lubricant. If you leave too much lubricant on the gear, dust and dirt will adhere, possibly leading to damage.
This is one guitar maintenance action that pays immediate dividends! You will see and hear a difference as soon as you complete this step.
I don't know the answer. Because... it depends.
Then how can you tell? Here are a few signs that your strings need replacing:
- It's harder to keep your guitar in tune.
- Your guitar sounds dull.
- You see dull spots on the strings where your fingers normally form chords.
- You can't remember the last time you changed them.
- Your instructor give you a hint, like "Man, those strings are dead already!"
Changing strings is not hard to do properly, but changing them improperly can mess up your instrument. Read step by step instructions to change the strings on acoustic, classical and electric guitars on the Change Guitar Strings page.
A string winder and a pair of wire cutters make changing strings much easier. Read about them under Must Have Guitar Accessories.
My grandmother used to say "With enough water and elbow grease, you can clean anything!" I bet she never thought she'd be quoted on a page about guitar maintenance!
Wipe your instrument off every time you use it. Clean every nook and cranny when you change the strings, or more often if you like.
Unless your manufacturer has other recommendations, use only a soft damp cloth to wipe the surface of your guitar. Immediately wipe it clean and dry.
As always, check the manufacturer's web-site or the documentation that came with your instrument. Some recommend a particular wax or cleanser for a thorough cleaning, others do not. If unsure, don't use any chemicals or solutions.
Want to Learn More?
Dan Erlewine has two highly respected books that provide step-by-step instructions for maintaining your guitar and properly setting up (making fine-tuning adjustments) your instrument. Read The Guitar Player Repair Guide by Dan Erlewine to get started. As a bonus, it includes a DVD with instructional material. It will give you an good understanding of acoustics, electrics, electronics, and much more. Then, move on to How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great!: The Electric Guitar Owner's Manual by Dan Erlewine for even more specifics on setting up and caring for your electric guitar.