While your guitar may look delicate, especially those of the acoustic variety, they are surprisingly robust instruments. They can last for decades if they are taken care of properly. And in fact, a quality well-built guitar will actually mature and improve with age. I wish I could say the same for myself! This article focuses on some basic guitar maintenance tips.
Fortunately for guitar players, keeping your treasured instrument in top shape is not that difficult at all. The most important things you can do for the prolonged longevity of your guitar is:
- Keep it clean
- Protect it from extreme environments
- Protect it from physical damage
This article will address each of these three items one at a time. Let’s get started!
Guitar Maintenance – Cleaning Your Guitar
Whether it’s washing and waxing the body of your new car, or cleaning every nook and cranny of your precious road bike with a Q-Tip, you know that nothing instills a pride of ownership like keeping your nice stuff in mint condition. And when you first picked out your guitar, I’m sure that one of the features you fell in love with were the beautiful woods and finishes. To keep your guitar clean and looking brand new, you will only need a small number of items and a few minutes of your time.
First, if you keep your guitar out of a case, such as on a guitar stand or mounted to a wall, it will collect dust. And while dust by itself isn’t too much of a threat to your guitar, dust combined with oil, sweat and dirt from your hands and fingers will slowly turn into grime. The first place that grime will appear on your guitar is on the strings. This is a primary contributor to strings not lasting forever. Check out my article on changing guitar strings for tips on this routine and necessary process.
If you neglect to change your strings (or wash your hands), over time the seemingly innocent grime build-up has the potential to work its way into the fretboard wood as you press the strings down against the frets. Nobody wants that, so once again, changing strings every couple of months will do the trick. Of course, you should wash your hands more frequently than that!
The rest of the smudges on your guitar that result from normal handling with your oily and potentially sweaty hands is pretty easy to clean up using a guitar cleaning solution and a decent micro-fiber cloth. Stay away from using water, and definitely don’t use anything like window cleaner. Instead, trust a company like Dunlop who makes a ton of great guitar products, including this guitar maintenance kit that contains specialized cleaning solutions for your guitar body, the fretboard and the strings. It also comes with a nice micro-fiber towel to protect the beautiful finish without any risk of scratches or abrasions.
Guitar Maintenance – Environmental Exposure
One of the biggest threats to your guitar’s longevity is over-exposure to drastic changes in temperature and/or humidity. Because your guitar is made of mostly natural materials like wood, it is subject to normal expansion and contraction due to variations in temperature and humidity. This can lead to warpage and in a worst-case environment, cracking of wood pieces.
Excessive moisture can also cause some of the metal and plated components to corrode prematurely. And while not physically harmful to your guitar’s life, excessive exposure to direct UV rays from the sun can cause the paint and finish to slowly wear and/or fade away.
Guitars are made by people in normal controlled environments, so that is where they like to remain. Just remember this, if you’re comfortable, then your guitar is comfortable. Would you like to be locked in the trunk of a car all day in the middle of summer? I don’t think so, and neither would your guitar.
And if for whatever reason you do need to expose your guitar to an extreme temperature, such as during a long driving trip in the middle of a cold winter, just remember to let it acclimate slowly back to room temperature. If you keep your guitar in a case while on the road (as you should!), a simple way to let it slowly get back to room temperature is to let it sit inside its case for a while after you’ve brought the case inside.
It’s the same principle as when you bring a fish home from the pet store and they tell you to place the bag the fish came home in inside the tank to allow the water temperatures to slowly reach an equilibrium. In the case of a guitar, the sudden change in temperature could potentially cause the finish to crack because it is trying to expand at a different rate than the underlying wood, and something has to give.
Guitar Maintenance – Physical Damage
If you’re the type of guitar player who loves to jam with friends in a garage, or take your trusty guitar to the beach along with your sweetheart, you should strongly consider purchasing a case or a gig bag to protect your investment. Trust me, your mood will sour immensely when you take your guitar out of your car and it has a nasty scratch, chip or dent in it.
And again, if you do travel with your guitar in a car, store it in the back seat instead of the trunk so that it will see the same controlled environment that you create for yourself. This will also save you from having a pile of musical wood kindling in the event you get rear-ended!
One question I am often asked is what to do with your guitar at home when it’s not being played? There are two schools of thought on this. The first answer is to always store your guitar in a case. Not only will this protect the guitar from any incidental damage from roommates or children, it will also keep any unwanted UV light from impacting your guitar over a long period of time. Going one step further, many people place the case in a closet or under a bed where it will see less dramatic temperature and humidity swings.
While all of these points are technically valid, I am not a fan of this method. Now if you happen to own a vintage Martin acoustic guitar from the 1950’s that is worth a small fortune, then the case solution tucked in a safe place would probably be the only acceptable answer. But for the rest of us, who are playing guitars that we bought for somewhere between a few hundred bucks to even a couple of thousand, I have an entirely different recommendation.
Learn.Love.Guitar. Recommendation: I always tell fellow guitar enthusiasts to store their guitars in plain sight. This could be in a simple guitar stand in your living room, or hanging on a cool guitar wall mount in your bedroom. The point is that if you walk by your beautiful guitar every day, you are going to be reminded/inspired to pick it up and play! If you have to empty out your coat closet and unbuckle your case just to get your hands on your guitar, you’re likely to walk by and say “Ehhh, too much trouble…”.
And based on my article on the top keys to practicing, short frequent bursts of effort are way more effective than infrequent long marathons. So picking up your guitar for 15 minutes every night while you watch Netflix or Hulu will produce surprisingly good results!
I hope this article has shed some useful light on basic guitar maintenance best practices. If you have any other tricks that have worked for you, please share them in the comments below. Thanks!