A little preventative maintenance can help keep your guitar sounding great for years to come. It’s also less work than dealing with a repair that could be avoided.
Acoustic and semi-hollowbody guitars need extra care, especially from temperature and humidity changes. But electric guitars can be very rugged if handled right.
Despite their imposing size and sturdy exterior, guitars are actually delicate and can break easily when mishandled. This is why preventative maintenance is key. It includes keeping your guitar in a case, making sure that the humidity levels where you store it are correct, and cleaning your instrument regularly.
If you have a guitar with a gloss finish, it’s best to use a cleaner specifically made for gloss finishes as general polishes can cause the build-up of harmful residue that will eventually dull your guitar’s appearance. Also, use a different cloth to wipe down the body of your guitar than you do to clean the fretboard, as a single cloth may contain chemicals that could damage one of the guitar’s surfaces.
Make it a habit to wipe down your strings after each time you play. Fingerprints, smudges and other dirt will accumulate over time, especially if you don’t change your strings often enough. There are special string cleaners available that will keep your strings looking like new.
Keep your guitar away from direct sunlight as the light can fade the finish of your guitar over time. Also, prolonged exposure to heat can dry out the wood and lead to cracking. Try to keep your guitar in a cool, dark environment when it’s not in use.
Even if you have a properly setup guitar, it’s good to check that your intonation is still accurate periodically. The most reliable way to do this is by comparing notes played on the open string and the 12th fret, but you can also check intonation using the 3rd and 15th frets.
Another thing to check is that the nut slots are clean and that the truss rod is working correctly. If you hear a “knocking” sound from the bridge saddle, this can indicate that the bridge saddle is positioned too far forward or backward in relation to the neck and needs adjusting.
Finally, it’s a good idea to occasionally use steel wool to remove any grime from your fretboard where you can look on the Iron Age Guitar, but be careful not to touch the frets themselves because they can become damaged. Afterwards, you should condition your fretboard with lemon oil or mineral oil to protect it from future damage.
The guitar is a musical instrument that requires periodic maintenance to keep it in good working order and sounding its best. Changing the strings, setting the truss rod (neck relief), tuning up and cleaning are some of the most important items that you can do to help your guitar last for years to come.
The most common mistake people make with their guitar is not keeping it clean. Many people don’t clean their guitar after each use, especially acoustic guitars that can get covered in sweat and other bodily fluids. This can affect the tone of the guitar and make it feel and play much differently.
Also, it’s important to use only guitar-approved cleaners when wiping your guitar down. Many household cleaners are too abrasive and can damage the finish of your guitar. Always wipe your guitar down with a soft cloth after playing, using a different cloth for the body than for the fretboard. There are a variety of polishes made specifically for guitars that will help you remove the dirt, grime and oils from your guitar.
You should also clean your hardware periodically. For example, the bridge and pup covers can collect dust and other things that may not be obvious when you look at your guitar but will sabotage its performance over time. You can buy metal polishes specifically for guitars that will help you to maintain these components of your guitar.
It’s also a good idea to regularly inspect all the screws on your guitar for looseness. Loose screws can cause a lot of problems with your guitar, from tuning pegs to loose pickups. You can tighten these up with a screwdriver, but be careful not to over-tighten them. Over-tightening can strip the threads.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to regularly inspect your guitar for signs of neck twisting. If your guitar has a neck that is starting to twist, this can lead to all kinds of problems, including fret buzz and high action. You can usually fix this by getting a setup done on your guitar.
Depending on how often you play, you might need to do a full guitar setup once or twice per year. This can include a complete truss rod adjustment, saddle height adjustments, and other small tweaks that will help your guitar to sound its best.
Doing It Right
The best thing you can do for your guitar (and yourself) is to wipe it down after each time you play. This prevents the buildup of accumulated sweat, which in turn impedes both appearance and performance. A damp cloth should be used – preferably something free of lint such as an old 100 percent cotton T-shirt or even a microfiber rag. If you use a commercial cleaner, be sure to read the label so that you don’t damage your instrument. Water-based cleaners usually work better on ebony and other finished woods than solvent-based ones.
Another important part of regular maintenance is checking all the moving parts on your guitar — like the tuning pegs, tremolo-bar and knobs/dials (on electric guitars). These should be inspected for looseness or tightness several times per year. If you don’t, these moving parts may start to loosen and become difficult or impossible to use. Tighten them as needed — but don’t over-tighten them or you may strip the screw.
Inspecting your strings and fretboard should also be a regular part of your maintenance routine. Buildup of sweat, food and even hair can reduce string life, cause unwanted vibrations and interfere with the tone. Frets can become dull as well, reducing the quality of your playing. This is easy to fix by applying a bit of metal polish and then rubbing the area with a soft, clean cloth.
When storing your guitar, keep it in its case if possible to minimize temperature and humidity fluctuations. Hot and humid conditions will cause wood to expand, which can damage or warp your instrument. Cold and dry conditions will do the opposite — the wood will shrink, which can also damage or crack your instrument.
Finally, make sure to regularly check the truss rod bolt on the neck of your acoustic or semi-hollowbody guitar, and tighten it as necessary. This can help prevent the neck from becoming bowed or uneven.
Doing It Wrong
While they may look big, boxy and sturdy, guitars are actually quite delicate. You could damage them if you don’t treat them correctly. Fortunately, you can avoid some of the more common mistakes by taking care of your guitar the right way.
Wipe Down Your Strings
After you’re done playing your guitar, don’t forget to wipe it down with a cloth that’s been dampened with clean water. This will minimize the build-up of harmful chemicals and dirt that can prematurely age your strings. There’s even a special string cleaner that you can buy to help get the job done.
Always Inspect and Tighten Screws
Even if you don’t notice any loose screws, it’s important to check them regularly. The screws on your tuning pegs and other areas around the body can work themselves loose over time. This can lead to a loss of stability and, in some cases, stripped screws. Performing this task a few times a year can prevent this from happening.
Clean Your Fretboard
It’s also a good idea to clean your fretboard every time you change the strings. This will remove grime from the frets, which can impede your ability to play properly. You can use a fretboard cleaning product or simply wipe the board down with a damp cloth.
Don’t Store Your Guitar Close to a Heat Source
If you’re going to store your guitar, make sure it’s in a dark, cool area. Leaving it in direct sunlight can cause your finish to fade, and it can also dry out the wood and promote cracking. If you must store your guitar in direct sunlight, make sure it’s in a case to protect it from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Don’t Skip a Setup
While some guitars can go years without needing a setup, most guitars should be brought in for a setup at least once a year. A proper setup includes an examination of the truss rod, neck relief, action and intonation. This can help prevent the guitar from developing buzzes and other issues that affect its playability and sound. It can also help keep the strings in tune better, which is important for electric guitars with active pickups.