How to Clean the Guitar
One of the easiest things you can do to prolong the life of your guitar is to simply clean it. Over time, sweat, dirt and your skin’s natural oils tend to build-up on the various parts of the guitar. The areas impacted the most are the strings, fretboard, and the finish.
The build-up of all that dirt and grime can eventually corrode and damage the hardware as well as tarnish the finish on your instrument. Metal components such as saddles and bridges on electric guitars can rust and seize, whereas grime buildup on frets and the fretboard itself can impede playability and deteriorate the playing surface. Regularly cleaning your guitar will keep it in its best condition for years of enjoyment.
What You’ll Need
- A lint-free polish cloth
- Guitar polish/cleaner
- Lemon oil (for rosewood or ebony fretboards)
- String cleaner (optional)
The best time to clean your guitar is when you’re changing the strings. This way, you have unrestricted access to the instrument, including the bridge and the fretboard. In most cases, a damp cloth and a bit of elbow grease are all it takes to remove dirt or grime from your instrument.
Tips for Cleaning Your Guitar:
- Wipe the strings, neck and bridge often with a lint-free cloth.
- Wipe metal parts clean with a soft, dry polishing cloth.
- Clean the body of the instrument with cleaning products made specifically for guitars (available at most guitar stores).
- Do not use anything other than products designed for guitars. Do not use glass cleaner (or anything with ammonia in it), household cleaners, or products containing abrasives, silicon, or waxes.
- Do not expose lacquered finishes to plastics, synthetics or surgical rubber tubings such as that used on many guitar stands and straps. All of these react adversely with lacquer, and can literally melt the finish off your guitar if left for too long.
Keeping Your Guitar Clean
Wash your hands before you play – it’s a simple and effective way of reducing grime on your guitar and getting the most life out of a set of strings.
Wipe your guitar down with a cloth after use.
Store your guitar in its case after use.
Clean the Body
Pictured below is a small selection of popular brand name polishes and cleaners available. Stop by your local music store and pick some up. Use a lint-free cloth designed for guitar polishing or an old cotton t-shirt. You may also find some ultra-soft microfiber cloths that work really well.
- Ernie Ball Instrument Polish with mircofiber cloth
- Music Nomad MN103 Guitar ONE All-in-1 Cleaner, Polish, and Wax, 4 oz.
- Dunlop 6500 System 65 Guitar Maintenance Kit
- Player’s Kit Guitar Polish and Scratch Remover by Eternashine, with Cloth
- Music Nomad MN108 Premium Guitar Care 5-Piece Kit
- Fender Custom Shop 4-Step Guitar Cleaning Kit
- Gibson Gear Vintage Reissue Guitar Restoration Kit
- Kyser Guitar Care Kit
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Spray a small amount of cleaner/polish onto the cloth and wipe the guitar in a circular pattern. Wipe around the pickups, bridge and controls. Most of these cleaners are also safe to use on the backside of the guitar neck, as well as the hardware, but read the label to be sure. If your guitar has a satin finish, find a cleaner specifically for that finish type. If you prefer not to use a commercial product, as previously mentioned, a slightly damp cloth will do the trick.
Another alternative is to use lighter fluid (naphtha) as an effective way to remove grease and fingerprints. It evaporates quickly and is safe to apply to most finishes. Again, steer clear of household or automotive polishes as they may have waxes or silicone in them, which may impregnate and ultimately wreck the finish of your guitar.
Clean the Fretboard
There are plenty of cleaning products available on the market, and as such, multiple methods to clean the fretboard. Some people will use a mild wood cleaner, others may use a lemon or mineral oil, and some may use a specially formulated guitar cleaning product from their local music store. I prefer to steer away from cleaners or excess oil on fretboards, as I find they are rarely needed- although not to say they don’t have their place at times.
The safest methods to clean the instrument do not include any cleaners or detergents. Using a slightly damp cloth with a little elbow grease works quite well, not only on the fretboard but also on the body of the instrument. Glossy finishes buff up exceptionally well by simply huffing a little breathe over the finish and buffing it out with a dry cloth.
If the fretboard on the guitar has grime and dirt accumulating on it, you can use ultrafine-grade steel wool (#0000) to remove the buildup safely. Using the steel wool will also give your fretboard and frets a nice polished look. Always go with the grain, which is most often length-wise with the neck. Be careful not to scratch large fretboard inlays in the process (lighten up the amount of pressure used around these sensitive areas). Some people will use a scraper to clean off the gunk buildup, then follow up with the steel wool, and that works too. Steel wool is messy, so tape off the guitar to protect it from debris and scratching. The pickups, being magnetic, will attract all the loose steel wool fibres, so tape them off well. Also, for safety sake, wear a particulate mask and eye protection as the small steel fibres can get everywhere. Before removing the tape, lightly brush away the remnants with a rag or soft-bristle paintbrush.
The best way to keep your fretboard in good shape is to clean your strings after playing with a cotton cloth or old t-shirt. Doing so will also give your frets (and strings) a much longer lifespan.
Oil the Fretboard (if applicable)
If the guitar has a rosewood fretboard, and it looks dry, you can apply a fretboard oil to bring it back to its lustre. I say “fretboard oil” to steer you in the right direction, which is to the guitar brand names you know and trust. The truth is, there are a lot of products that will do the job, but those made by Planet Waves, Dunlop, or Fender, for example, are sure to be safe for use on your guitar. Oiling the fretboard doesn’t need to be done often- in fact, some people overdo it. It truly depends on the environment you live in (humidity levels) and how often the guitar is played. So, my rule of thumb is- if it looks dry, oil it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Keep in mind that maple fretboards do not require oil. Ebony, on the other hand, may benefit from it periodically, but it is a tight-grained wood and penetration can be minimal. Look for products that are for all wood types to be the most effective.
Apply a small amount of oil to a lint-free cloth or old cotton t-shirt and wipe it evenly across the fretboard so that there are no areas missed.
You’ll notice a little goes a long way. You can allow the oil a few minutes to penetrate the fretboard if it is severely dry. I wouldn’t dowse the fretboard by any means- use a small amount and reapply if needed.
Once applied, take a different cloth (or a dry portion of the oil cloth) and wipe off the excess oil until it is dry to the touch.
Remember that this should not be done too often and only when it appears to be dry. The oils on your fingers will also transfer to the fretboard while playing, so this is not a critical step.
This excerpt has been taken out of the book “How to Setup Your Guitar Like A Pro: An Easy Guide for Beginners“, available everywhere books are sold.