We know that cleaning is probably the least exciting thing when it comes to owning a guitar. However, if you are a smart guitarist who wants your beautiful axe to last you a lifetime, then cleaning it is something that you need to do. There are plenty of reasons why our guitars accumulate dirt and grime. Here are some tips to keep your guitar playing like new for many years to come.
How Does My Guitar Get So Dirty?
If your guitar gets dirty pretty often, you might want to consider how you treat it. If you’re gigging five nights per week under the heat of 100-degree stage lights, you may find that your guitars get beaten up pretty quickly
This sweat and grease can eat away at the lacquer on your guitar. If not taken care of, it can do irreparable damage, especially to the fretboard. Leave it long enough, and it will wear away at your hardware and electrical components. Once rust settles in, it’s too late.
On the other hand, if you are someone who keeps your guitars hung up in a well-ventilated room, you might not have to think about cleaning as often. Of course, even the cleanest rooms collect dust, and even those who wash their hands every five minutes have oils on their fingers.
Regardless, I highly recommend taking these five simple steps into account to keep your guitar clean and save you trouble down the line.
1. WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS!
ALWAYS wash your hands before you pick up your guitar. It never ceases to amaze me how many guitarists pick up their guitars after digging into a greasy bar food — it’s no wonder they have to change their strings every week!
Washing your hands is easily the simplest thing you can do to keep your guitar clean. Plus, you get the added benefit of staying healthy, which is a pretty good deal, right? Wash your hands, get them nice and dry, and play until you can play no more, knowing that your brand new strings don’t hate you for it.
(PS, Genius: That shimmering grease blotch isn’t going to attract many groupies, either.)
2. Utilize Those Expensive Cases
I’ll admit that I’m bad at this one, as I love to display my guitars on the wall in my home studio. However, I always make sure that my home studio is cool, dry, and dust-free. Of course, if you’re someone who leaves your guitars out and about the house without cleaning them, you may notice dust starting to accumulate. Over time, this dust can build up in your instrument’s nooks and crannies and negatively impact the electronics. You’ve probably heard that faint crackling sound from your volume pots before. Don’t worry, your guitar isn’t on its last limb. More often than not, dust is the silent culprit. The best way to mitigate the amount of dust that gets into your guitar is by keeping it in its case.
By the way, you don’t need to go out and spend $200 on a brand new tweed hard case. Get yourself a solid gig bag or two and protect those suckers like they were your children.
3. Strings Sounding Like Rubber Bands? Please Change Them!
Ahh yes, the string-changing routine.
Now, precisely how often you should change your guitar strings is a debate that has been going on since Robert Johnson wrote “Dust My Broom.” Some guitarists change their strings before every session or show, others tend to wait six weeks or so. For serious players who play several hours per day, a string change every two weeks or so should suffice. However, there are no golden rules. Just be cognizant of your strings and how they look/feel every time you pick up your guitar. You’ll know when their time has come.
4. Use the Power of String Resurrection
Just because your strings are getting old doesn’t mean you can’t breathe new life into them.
Ready to practice some black magic?
First, you’ll need to pick up a bottle of Dunlop 65 Ultraglide. Let me be clear — I’m no spokesperson for Dunlop. However, what I can say is that I have successfully used this formula for years and it is top-notch when it comes to making old strings sound new. Simply apply this cleaner to your strings when you notice they are starting to look a bit grimy. The cool thing about this type of cleaner is that it will give your strings a smooth feel as well, killing two birds with one stone.
5. Deep Clean Your Fretboard
No other part of your guitar receives as much of a beating as the fretboard. With an excessive buildup of dust, grime, and sweat, you might be well on your way to permanent fretboard damage. Sweat eventually dries and dehydrates wood. Wood dehydration leads to cracking. To prevent cracking, there are a few steps you can take.
If you have Ebony, Rosewood, or Pau Ferro on your fretboard, there are plenty of products available to keep your fretboard clean. Of course, if you find that the grime build-up requires more than a little wipedown, you might want to consider using steel wool.
CAUTION: Never use heavy steel wool. You know that steel wool that you use to clean the grit off of your BBQ? That is NOT what I’m talking about here. I recommend 0000 steel wool, as it has small fibers that will help get rid of dirt without damaging the wood.
Once you have rid the fretboard of dirt and grime, you can use lemon oil to rehydrate and cleanse the wood. One of my favorite fretboard cleaning products is Dunlop 65 Lemon Oil. It’s super easy to apply and keeps your fretboard looking fresh. Apply it with a dry cloth and make sure to use only a small amount. Too much lemon oil can have a damaging effect.
Unfortunately, maple fretboards don’t fare too well with the majority of fretboard cleaning products, which is why I only recommend using ultra-fine 0000 steel wool and dry cloth.
So Fresh and So Clean
There’s nothing that screams “I don’t care” like a dirty instrument. When your guitar is clean, you’ll look and feel better playing it. Plus, you won’t have to spend a ton of your hard-earned money on new parts every year, as that little bit of periodic maintenance and care will help increase the life of your guitar.
Now go wash your hands!