Authors Note: While most of these remedies are common, a few are a little far out. For the safety of your instrument, please realize that all methods in this article are simply suggestions and not necessarily recommendations, so don’t send me angry emails if you put lighter fluid on your neck accidentally and it get stained!
My best friend recently got a nice new Ibanez RG series for a good price. Both of us were surprised and eager to get it home and do some work on it. It needed to be set up, cleaned, and re-strung. Of course, these are the first things that popped in my mind, and by the time my friend came over I had everything from rags to rubbing alcohol to Dunlop 65 polish out on my desk. Ironically, my friend, a player of only about 7 months, came in with a whole set tools that I, a long time performer, didn’t even think to grab.
I think it’s funny that it took a knowledgeable yet new player to make me remember some of the important aspects in guitar care. And I have a feeling many of you readers forget these little things often too. They’re quite important little aspects, however, and while each of them individually doesn’t have a very huge affect on the playability or sound of the instrument, their effects do all add up, leaving you with an instrument that not only looks nice, but sounds nice as well.
The first major piece of work that is actually overlooked at time is changing strings. Yeah, many people know that strings aren’t eternal, but new players quite often are mistaken and will play on the same set for months. As the oils on your fingers saturates the ridges on the strings, their structural integrity begins to diminish and the tone quality does as well. Within the first few weeks, it’s not a huge difference in playability. After a few months, however, the quality of sound can really be impacted. There is no set time for which to change strings, because everybody plays different amounts. Generally, I change mine every months, while some people wait about three, and some change every two weeks or so. It’s just essential to stay aware of your playing frequency and to change when necessary.
Now that we’re past the obvious, we can start learning some new tricks which can help in the long run. As stated before, the oils on your fingers damage strings. So how can one stop the degenerative process? Cleaning the strings after playing sessions can remove the oil and keep it from sitting on the strings for too long. Simply wiping the strings with a cloth vigorously after playing will clean off the majority of oil. A variety of wipes are made by companies such as Dunlop and Ernie Ball for the purpose of cleaning strings, and often include chemicals to help strengthen and protect strings from further wear.
Next up, the fretboard, which takes just as much punishment as the strings. Oils and dead skin cells can work their way into the wood grain, making it rougher and hindering it’s ability to reverberate sounds. The defense is of course prevention; wiping the fretboard down after playing will help remove most oils. Whenever you change your strings, however, it’s good to give the fretboard a nice treatment. Wiping down vigorously with a cloth and fretboard oil will help remove grunge, while using fine sand paper and wiping with the grain can also work up dirt.
Wood, as an organic compound, has a healthy level of moisture which a player must maintain to keep the natural sound and qualities of the wood. Using a fretboard oil also keeps the wood hydrated, which in turn can not only make the fretboard smoother, but also helps life longevity.
One of the parts of your guitar which can get the absolute dirtiest are the frets. They attract dirt, they tarnish, they get sticky. After removing all your strings, its essential to wipe them. Begin by taping off around the frets; you don’t want to sand down the fretboard. Move fret by fret and use 0000 grit steel wool to polish each fret. The steel wool should work off tarnish and make them shine like never before. After wiping them down, ensure that you use a magnet to pick up the steel wool fibers; if not, they can end up sticking to the pickups.
Many guitars often have stickers on them, either from the production line or previous owners. After peeling off the sticker, there may be residue. The quickest way to remove sticker residue is to use either rubbing alcohol on a cloth, or to use a classic household remedy, lighter fluid. Butane doesn’t harm wood finishes or lacquer (try at your own risk, however).
As one of the most complex systems in your guitar, the pickups often are overlooked. While they aren’t physically handled and don’t get dirty often, they can attract dust, which can actually interfere with the magnetic field if built up over time. The obvious and easiest solution is to use compressed air to blow dust off, but another good solution if they are really dirty is to use q-tips with rubbing alcohol on the heads to clean inside the electronics cavities and around electrical equipment.
So there’s a few tips to help keep your guitar in good shape. With a little care and maintenance, your instrument can stay in almost as good of condition as the day you bought it. Hope you enjoyed the article; feel free to email me with any questions.
By Kevin Heiland