Guitar maintenance is a very important part of ensuring a good performance every time the instrument is used. Guitar care encompasses many details, so let’s get right to it!

Here are some keys points to help you with maintaining and caring for your guitar.

GUITAR MAINTENANCE GUIDE

GUITAR CLEANING

Guitar cleaning is an interesting subject. If you’re like me, I’m excited to play music, and cleaning often becomes an afterthought. Yet, it’s a necessary task. It’s worth the time invested to care for your guitar.

Wiping

At a minimum, good guitar maintenance means cleaning the guitar after each use. Using a lint-free cloth, take the time to wipe down the fretboard, strings and then the body of the instrument after every practice or gig. Wiping removes dirt, oils and grimy dead skin cells that have rubbed off during playing.

Other steps can take a bit more time, but are also very good ways to care for and maintain your guitar.

Polishing

A regular polishing is a great way to keep a guitar looking and feeling great. My suggestion is that you use a guitar polish, and not a furniture polish. You can try this one I found on Best Buy’s website as it’s safe for all types of guitar finishes.

Be careful to spray the polish on the rag and not directly on the guitar. Doing this helps avoid getting the polish on strings, pickups and other metal parts. Another important tip: Do not use the same cloth for the fingerboard as for the rest of the instrument. You don’t want the oils from the polish getting on the fingerboard.

Scrubbing

An old toothbrush can help a lot to care for your guitar. Use it to remove dust and dirt from hard-to-reach areas around the pickups and the bridge. When you change your strings, you can give the frets a good cleaning as well.

Polishing metal

For cleaning the metal components, a good metal cleaning compound is best. These compounds are mildly abrasive, so be very careful to not overuse. Also be careful not to get any on the rest of the instrument. Because it’s abrasive, there is a good chance it will damage the beautiful varnish on the instrument.

Electronics

You’ll need to be careful about using any liquids near the electronics such as your pickup and volume/tone controls. I like to use compressed air to clean around these areas. Seeing that there is no fluid (only air!), there is no worry that it will damage the electronics. It’s a readily-available product, the same one you might already use at home on your computers and other electronics.

ENVIRONMENT

An important area of concern for guitar maintenance is the environment in which the instrument is stored. It’s difficult to mange the guitar’s environment once it’s out of storage and being used. Therefore, good storage conditions offstage and outside the rehearsal room will often give the instrument enough resilience for when it is exposed to less adequate environments. Overall, it’s pretty simple to manage. Here are some details to be aware of.

Extreme Temperatures

Protect the guitar from prolonged exposure to extreme heat and extreme cold. Severe heat and cold can cause the wood to warp, resulting in damage that is very difficult to repair, if it’s at all repairable. In my opinion, cold is the worst of the two as is can cause cracking on the finish of the instrumental well. Heat can be bad too, particularly with hollow-body acoustic guitars as they are more delicate than solid-body electric guitars. As a guide, I have two simple rules. The first, don’t leave the guitar in the car overnight during winter. The second, don’t leave it exposed to direct sun for long periods during the summer.

Sudden Temperature Changes

You’ll want to avoid exposing the guitar to sudden temperature changes as well. The guitar will react to the sudden change in environment. At the very least, the tuning will change, and in certain cases, there may be unfortunate results. My rule of thumb: Always give an extra 5-10 minutes for the instrument to acclimatize to its new surroundings. Ideally, I’ll let it sit 5 minutes inside it’s case, then take it out for 5 minutes fully exposed, then get on to work.

Humidity

This important detail can often be overlooked. Too much or too little humidity can cause great fatigue or damage to any guitar. Where I live, the winters are very dry. To combat the dryness, I try as much as possible to keep my instruments all in one room. I use a humidifier to keep a level of humidity of around 50%. Depending on who you talk to, this may be considered too little or too much. It seems to work well for me overall.

A simple hygrometer will do the trick!

In the summer months, it’s often very humid where I live. Depending on how intense the humidity gets, I may try to use a dehumidifier. Often, however, the air-conditioner takes care of the intense humidity in the air, creating a manageable environment for instruments.

Measuring humidity is a straightforward exercise. I use a hygrometer to do it. You don’t need an expensive unit, something like this should do the job just fine.

If the guitar is often out of it’s main storage room, it’s a great idea to have a portable humidifying device in this case. I’ve tried many over the years, and I was so happy when I discovered this all-in-one product from D’Addario. It humidifies during winter and it dehumidifes as well during the summer months.

PREVENTION

Preventing problems from the beginning is a large part of good guitar maintenance. Here you’ll want to bear in mind a variety of points.

Loose Screws

Check often (every month or so) to ensure all screws are tight. Make a careful tour around the guitar, checking tuning heads, pick guards and strap pins. I usually have a gentle look at the pickups too, to make sure nothing is loose where it shouldn’t be. This little yet important check-up will save a frustrating search for a missing screw later on. In the case of strap pins, you may even save some damage to the guitar. There’s nothing more unwelcome than the guitar falling mysteriously (and embarrassingly) when a screw comes loose on the strap!

Capos

The use and storage of a capo can cause it’s own problems. Ostensibly, they’re harmless guitar accessories. However, be careful of where the capo is being stored when it’s not in use onstage. If there is any place to avoid, it’s on the end of the instrument. All too convenient, it’s actually like adding a hook to the end of the guitar. And when it hooks onto something … well, you don’t want to know the rest of the story. 😉

Capos can cause excessive fret wear. Using an adjustable tension capo can help prolong fret life. Look here for a selection of capos, and choose one that best fits the needs of the guitar, be it electric or acoustic.

Professional Maintenance

Make a trip to your local guitar tech! (Image: www.billcopelandmusicnews.com)

Nothing replaces an experienced guitar technician when caring for your instrument. A good tech is an artisan too, and they really know their stuff. From adjusting truss rods to crowning frets, aligning pickups or cleaning electronics, a guitar technician can take care of it all.

 

During my visit, if any non-urgent issues are discovered, I can discuss a plan for getting things fixed. Any immediate issues can usually be dealt with on the spot during the “check-up”. I have a few instruments, and taking them all in all of the time is simply too costly. Therefore, I take care of my primary instruments more regularly, worrying about the others when my budget allows.

Other Points to Consider for Good Guitar Maintenance

  1. Buy a stand. Prices vary based on your needs, but it’s always money well spent. Best Buy has a large selection to choose from.
  2. Be aware of what you wear. That fancy belt buckle you have might just be wearing a big hole through the back of your instrument!
  3. Organize your cables. Be attentive to where you’re running your cables while in the studio, and especially when onstage. Stepping on a cable at best will cause a stumble. Furthermore, it may damage the input jack on the guitar.

STRING CARE

Changing Strings

Every guitarist has a different opinion on how often strings should be changed. Regardless of your take on the subject, there are a couple of technical points to think about when the strings do need to be changed. First off, do not remove all of the strings at once. Do 2-3 at at a time. This is a good idea because removing all strings at once may cause a sudden drastic change in tension in the instrument. One never knows, but the guitar could react poorly to this change, causing damage.

Wiping Strings

Make sure that you wipe both the top and bottom of your strings after each session. Use an old t-shirt or a micro-fibre cloth. They seem to work best. It’s that simple!

CASES

Solid, semi-rigid, or soft?

This is a big topic, too big for today’s post. It’s really hard to say which kind of case is best. It depends a lot on your needs and preferences. Some swear by hard cases, others prefer the convenience of a lightweight gig bag. I use Mono brand cases, because they seem to offer a great balance between weight, rigidity and portability.

Guitar Maintenance and You

Using these ideas and tips, you can now begin a guitar maintenance routine for your cherished beauty. There are many things to consider. If you’re wondering where to begin, choose the simple procedures and work forward from there. If you need any equipment for your work, Best Buy has a nice selection of everything you’ll need on their Guitars & Accessories page.

Do you have any tips and techniques to share about guitar maintenance? Let us know, knowledge is good!

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For over 20 years, Montreal bassist Clinton Ryder has been on the Canadian music scene. With over 20 album credits, he works with musicians of all genres and generations. In recent years, he’s performed with Jim Byrnes and Petru Guelfucci, and a member of the Félix Stussi’s 5 (featuring trombonist Ray Anderson). He continues to freelance on his instrument of choice while honing his skills in Logic Pro, Sibelius and other interests, including his website www.country-music-hoedown.com.

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