How To Maintain A Guitar
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How To Maintain A Guitar, And Save Your Treasured Axe!

You’ve spent good money on your instruments. If you want them to last and keep them working in tip-top condition, it’s a very good idea to know a little about how to maintain a guitar.

How to Maintain a Guitar

Do Guitars Need Maintenance?

The short answer is yes, guitars do need maintenance. Guitars can suffer damage if they are neglected or simply not maintained properly over time.

To do regular guitar maintenance, you don’t need be a specialist, you just need a little bit of direction and good information.

Let’s start with a short list of major factors that take the greatest toll on a guitar’s health:

  • General wear and tear
  • Lack of cleanliness
  • The environment they’re kept in
  • String compression over time

Any one of these conditions on its own is fully capable of destroying an instrument, and your investment.

But when allowed to combine, they’re even more efficient at turning your beautiful, perfectly playable guitars into nothing more than wall hangers.

Even though some of them, such as general wear and string pressure are unavoidable, we can still take some simple actions to minimize the impact of all negative forces, and maximize long term value.

Strat Guitar Divider

How Often Should You Maintain Your Guitar?

Overall, how often a guitar needs maintenance will depend on the amount of use the guitar gets.

Generally speaking, your guitar should get a good cleaning and string change every 3 to 6 months.

If you play the same guitar regularly, you can expect it to need attention sooner than an instrument that’s played relatively infrequently.

Interestingly enough, the more guitars you have, the longer the maintenance terms can be. The trade-off is that you’ll have more guitars to maintain.

But like the saying goes:

“How many guitars do you need?..”

How Can I Tell If My Guitar Needs Maintenance?

Other than the regular string changes and cleanings, and unforeseen accidents, there are a couple signs that your guitar needs maintenance:

  • The guitar isn’t working right
  • The guitar just feels wrong

These signs can be fairly obvious, especially if you play the same guitar all the time.

It’s also important to keep in mind that guitar maintenance is a fairly easy job anyone is capable of doing.

What’s the Difference Between Guitar Maintenance and a Guitar Setup?

As mentioned, guitar maintenance can be done by just about anybody, but a full guitar service or setup involves solving more serious guitar problems – such as fret wear.

Think of it like guitar maintenance on steroids.

it’s very important to realize there are some jobs better left to a pro. The trick is to know when a problem comes up, and you think you can handle it – admit to yourself that you shouldn’t.

Critical Guitar Setup Points

For a detailed look at guitar maintenance that goes along with complete in-depth service, check out this article on guitar setups.

Acoustic Guitar Divider

How Do I Keep My Guitar in Good Condition?

As mentioned, keeping your guitar in good condition is a matter of staying on top of the forces that cause it to develop problems.

The good news is the tools needed are very cost effective, and the maintenance procedures themselves are pretty straight forward.

The Basics of Electric and Acoustic Guitar Care

Guitar care starts with understanding these fundamental maintenance points:

  1. Store the guitar properly
  2. Clean the guitar regularly
  3. Change the strings when needed
  4. Use the right tools for the job

How to Store a Guitar

Storing a guitar properly isn’t rocket science, but there are a few things to keep in mind that will ensure the guitar stays in good shape over time.

Keep the guitar stored in a good quality guitar case. Whether it’s a molded hard shell or nicely padded gig bag, modern guitar cases are excellent at protecting instruments.

Additionally, guitars do not like massive changes in temperature and or humidity. They also don’t like to be stored in these same conditions for extended periods of time.

The effects of too much or not enough humidity can destroy a guitar in no time if the effects are not taken into consideration.

In northern parts of the world, seasonal changes can produce dramatic swings that range from summer’s hot humid days to winter’s long cold and dry, nights.

Compared to an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar has a relatively thin wall construction. Therefor winter is the worst as many acoustic guitars will suffer “winter cracks”.

Regardless of whether the guitar is electric or acoustic, using a humidifier in the winter, and keeping a guitar safe from excessive humidity will help maintain the instrument throughout the year.

How to Clean a Guitar

When it comes to cleaning a guitar, there are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Use scratch-free cleaning materials
  • Use the right cleaner for the job
  • Clean the body, fretboard and hardware

The Guitar Body: use a good detailing solution to easily pick up surface dirt bring the shine back.

Guitar Hardware: use a suitable cleaner such as MusicNomad’s Guitar Polish, which will do just fine.

The Fretboard: since finger junk tends to build up on the playing surface, using a good fretboard conditioner will definitely help maintain it.

I’ll make a point here about cleaning electronics. Since electronics cleaning solutions contain some nasty solvents, it’s best to leave this kind job to your friendly neighborhood guitar tech.

Otherwise you run the risk of seriously damaging you guitars finish.

Gibson Les Paul Classic Plus AAA - Blueberry Burst
Gibson Les Paul Classic Plus AAA – Blueberry Burst

Believe it or not, a good quality paper towel, combined with an appropriate cleaning solution, is the best way to control the dust and dirt that comes off a guitar.

After initial use, it goes right in the garbage along with the potential of creating additional scratches due to it being loaded up with contaminants.

Lastly, make sure you have a reasonably clean and stable surface to work on while doing maintenance on your guitar.

Change Your Guitar Strings

For some players, changing their guitar strings is a nuisance, for others it’s a joy. Either way, a periodic string change is an absolute necessity when it comes to keeping your guitar properly maintained.

As for tools, all you really need for most instruments is a string winder, a guitar tuner and good set of side-cutters.

Rather than diving deep into exactly how to change guitar strings (there are plenty of tutorials on the web for that), let’s just say it’s a very good idea to do so on a regular basis.

Changing Guitar Strings

Unless your tone is based specifically on the dull sound of aged strings, changing them out also refreshes and revitalizes your sound.

Not only do you regain the hi-end transients which are needed for good intonation, removing the strings also gives you unrestricted access to the fretboard for cleaning.

On another note, the type of strings you use will not only be a matter of preference, but a way to extend the life of the instrument itself.

For example, if you have a significant collection of instruments, you may want to choose a coated string that will last longer than an untreated string. This way, the guitars will sound and play consistently after longer times in storage.

Gibson Western Classic Mystic J200.jpg
Gibson Western Classic Mystic J200

Is it Safe to Take All the Guitar Strings Off?

In a word – yes. Unless you need to keep loose hardware in place during a string change, removing all the strings is perfectly fine – and great way to relive excess compression from constant string pressure.

Think of it like this, the pressure of the strings between the headstock to the bridge on a typical guitar is about the same as a full grown person standing on your shoulders.

Temporarily removing this pressure gives the instrument a chance to relax. For a guitar, it’s like going to the chiropractor – “hot spots” of tension and compression get released.

How to Maintain a Guitar Step-By-Step

  1. Gather your cleaning and guitar maintenance materials together
  2. Prepare the work area so that the guitar is stable
  3. Take note of any little issues that may need special attention
  4. Remove the old strings
  5. Address any issues that don’t require the strings
  6. Clean the fretboard
  7. Clean the guitar body, back of the neck and headstock
  8. Restring the guitar
  9. Check for good action and playability – adjust as necessary
  10. Check electronics if equipped
  11. Give the guitar a good final wipe down
  12. Play Away!
Les Paul Divider

Final Thoughts on Guitar Maintenance

In closing, let’s just say a guitar that’s played regularly should be maintained regularly.

Over the years, I’ve personally had to tell too many players that, due to a lack of basic guitar care, their prized possessions were beyond help – and that sucks.

On the whole, guitar maintenance is pretty straight forward and easy to do. But remember, when in doubt, do have a pro check it out.

Follow Steve Blundon:
Steve Blundon is a business owner, published author, former music teacher and active master guitar tech who's been servicing instruments for over thirty years. Visit Author's Page.

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