The simplest and most cost-effective way to ensure your guitar is working like a well-oiled machine is by giving it a good ol’ fashioned clean. Regular cleaning will help combat the grease, grime and sweat that can take its toll on playability and sound quality, with the added benefit of owning a guitar that looks good as new. The key is to follow these tips – because there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way.
Every time you play your guitar natural oils – as well as all sorts of grub and grime – are being transferred from your fingertips onto the strings. Over time this can create a grimey, grubby build up of dirt that will eat away at your strings, dramatically decreasing their life expectancy, and can even work it’s way into the pores of your fingerboard.
To put an end to this accumulation of grime, wipe down your strings with a chamois (pronounced ‘shammy’) after every playing session. For the best results pinch a string in between your thumb and index finger, with the cloth in between, and run your hold up and down the length of the string.
Correct technique for cleaning guitar strings
While ongoing maintenance of strings is an important part of cleaning your guitar, the first step to giving your guitar a total clean, from top-to-bottom, is the removal of all of your strings. By removing two or three strings at a time there’s no risk of damaging the neck.
Cleaning your fretboard once or twice a year is the perfect way to keeping it fresh and play-ready. However any more than that and you risk diminishing the natural moisture absorbed from the oils on your fingertips – a sure way to dry out your fingerboard.
A soft, damp cloth – wrung out to the point of no excess water – can be used to remove surface dust and dirt from the fretboard. For a more significant build up of grime, an exceptionally light dusting with some extra light #0000 steel wool will do the trick.
#0000 steel wool will rid your fretboard of significant grime
In order to prevent miniscule steel wool particles from attaching themselves to the magnets in your pickups, it’s important to cover them up when working with steel wool. The careful use of a vacuum is a great way to remove any remaining steel fibres left on the fretboard.
If using steel wool remember to vacuum up the leftover fibres
For a deeper clean – one that targets a dried out fretboard or the finest of cracks – use a fretboard conditioner or oil and a toothbrush. Together they allow you to scrub every spot and crevice without damaging the wood or the frets. Finish by removing any gunk and excess conditioner with a paper towel.
Planet Waves Hydrate Fingerboard Conditioner
During this process it’s important to be wary that not all conditioners or oils are made for every guitar. For instance Planet Waves Hydrate is only for dark fretboards, and not to be used on maple fretboards.
Cleaning your hardware is as much about functionality as it is about looking the part. The salt in sweat can cause corroding in metal and, in turn, attracts the dirt that jams these moving parts – the gravest consequence of which can be rust. That’s important to avoid, while it’s also nice to play a guitar with hardware that looks as good as new.
For metal parts a dry cloth, toothbrush and a mild jewellery or chrome polish, such as 3-in-One oil or WD-40, will suffice. With best results achieved by removing the hardware.
3-In-One Oil & WD-40
It’s important to remember that these agents are only safe on metal, so avoid contact with the fretboard and finish.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: THE FINISH
When cleaning the finish on your guitar it’s essential to watch out for furnishing polishes, and products that contain d-Limonene, alcohol, solvents, or silicone, all of which will degrade the finish over time.
Start off with a dry cloth and some elbow grease. If this doesn’t get the job done, a slightly wet cloth – wrung out to expel excess water – is an easy way to achieve that desired shine.
Use a rag to apply polish to your guitar's finish
Once or twice a year it’s worth applying a specially formulated polish. Ensure that you squeeze the polish onto a rag and not directly onto the guitar’s surface. After which polishing the top, back and neck of your guitar will result in a consistently glistening finish.