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10 Tips On How To Look After Your Guitar

Article Contributed by Lee Atterton

Guitars get taken for granted sometimes. We automatically put it back in the case and generally forget about it because it’s working fine. But, over time your guitar will start to give you small problems if you don’t take care of it. If you’re a real guitarist who cares about your music. You should be aware of some very simple tips in order to care for your prized possession. Guitars are constructed from the highest quality woods and materials. They’re put together with expertise, precision, and care.

Look after your guitar, and It will last you a lifetime. 

I’m a guitarist of over 25 years and I’m going to share with you my 10 simple tips for guitar care.

1- Clean It

It’s surprising how much difference this actually makes. If you have dust on your strings it will soak up the oils in the wood and hold onto them, making the guitar go out of tune quicker.

Clean the body with a lint-free cloth or swab soaked in cleaner/polish. Make sure to get into all the crevices, around the pickups and dials.

Be careful with polish as it can build up very quickly if you use too much. Polish your guitar regularly to keep it looking great!

Even though cleaning isn’t a science, you still need to use the appropriate cleaning supplies.

There is no doubt your guitar will sound better if you keep it clean. 

Tips

  • Never spray directly onto the guitar. Spray into the cloth. We don’t want chemicals getting trapped in nooks and crannies.
  • Water should not be used! Only specialized oils, sprays, and treatments may be utilized on your guitar surfaces.
  • Pickups require cleaning because they can accumulate a variety of trash. If the pickups are filthy, you’ll end up with a build-up of grime and strings will break.
  • I always wipe my strings after a session. This cleans off the finger oils resulting in longer-lasting strings

2- When To Change Your Strings?

When should you buy new strings? Well, that solely depends on what kind of guitarist you are. 

If you’re a guitar-playing geek who always has their instrument with them and never goes anywhere without it, then you should change the strings every week or at least once a month.

If you’re just starting out and learning to play it’s safe to say that after about 3 months of playing frequently the sound quality of your strings will start to diminish.

I change my guitar strings every three performances and rehearsals as a working musician. This is also determined by the type of strings you use.

Elixir now produces strings that last longer (fact). These are fantastic! I now play at home on occasion, so I change my strings every three months.

When your strings are no longer able to give you their unique sound, they will begin to sound lifeless and dull.

Over time you will be able to recognize this. Sometimes, just by looking at strings, you can tell they need replacing. The build-up of rust is not a good thing for a string.

Changing strings often is a must. It allows you to maintain your guitar and rejuvenate your sound. It keeps things interesting and new.

This also aids beginning guitarists. You’ll want to practice more often if you desire to play a nice-sounding instrument.

Tip: A luthier advised me to pencil between the nut slots whenever I changed my strings. Pencil lead is made up of graphite and serves as a dry lubricant while also providing cleaning within the slots.

3-Never Lean Your Guitar Up Against A Wall!

I’ve seen so many players lean their against a wall! Sometimes for days! 

While many guitarists do not consider it to be an issue, it is in fact one.

By resting your guitar against a wall, you put stress and strain on the neck and strings. This is bound to result in a little neck bend or, much worse, a deformed neck.

Your guitar is made of wood, wood is organic and will bend. 

If your guitar neck is bent, you’re really in for a tough time with your guitar. While you’re not necessarily “done for” it’ll be unusable for sure. 

The most critical concern is that the guitar isn’t being supported. It’s easy for it to tip or fall over, resulting in a neck snap and a costly visit to the luthier.

Tip: Get Yourself A Guitar Stand/Hanger!! Yes, it’s that simple.

4- Fingerboard Care

Another big factor in achieving an amazing guitar tone is the state of your fingerboard.   

They’re easy to get filthy and exhibit signs of age. Although this may appear to be a cool effect, it will not make for a pleasant sound!

A conditioning product, which is tailored to your guitar model, is recommended. The finest conditioners will also aid in the removal of dust and moisture from your fretboard.

Tip: When changing your strings, give your guitar a good wipe down with the conditioner to remove any excess dirt, grime, or oil from your fingers.

Are your frets sharp on the side of your fretboard? They shouldn’t be. Frets that are too sharp can break strings! 

Are there any sharp ditches on top of the frets? If so, they need a ‘Fret Dressing’

Generally, having sharp frets is the main factor in guitarists breaking so many strings.

5- Inspect The Nut

If your nut is making a lot of noise, it’s time to replace it. Strings that are squeaking or breaking are an easy indication that the nut needs to be replaced.

Strings can dig and gouge the nut slot if they are of the unwound type. This causes open strings to buzz, making your guitar sound out of tune. That’s not a good tone!

Nuts are very cheap, but they have a lifespan of years. Keep an eye out for impurities with a thorough inspection.

Any modification to a nut or nut replacement is the job of a specialist unless you’ve been taught by one.

Tip. When changing strings, give the nut a gentle push and wiggle. It shouldn’t move whatsoever. Check for sharp edges. Try cleaning in between the gaps with a paintbrush before adding new strings.

6- What To Know About Temperature Changes

Temperatures inside a normally heated home can fluctuate, causing the guitar to warp.

Don’t leave your guitar in the cold car at night and then bring it inside to play during the day; this is a very bad idea for your guitar’s health.

If you’re not going to be playing your guitar for a week or more, put it in its case and leave it in a cool place. Normal room temperature is fine. 

Never leave your guitar in direct sunlight, either. The heat can warp the neck and body while the light bleaches the color of the wood.

Avoid Humidity and Water

Guitars must be kept in relative humidity and should never be left near a source of heat. If the air is too dry, the guitar’s wood will suck moisture from your body as you play, causing it to change shape. 

7- Why You Should Buy A ‘Hard Case’ For Your Guitar?

This is a question that seems to cause a lot of confusion for beginners – it’s not something you’ll need to worry about straight away, but having a case is one of the most important things you can do to protect your instrument.

At all costs, a good solid hard case should be used to safeguard your instrument.

It’s ideal for keeping your guitar safe at home, on the road as a live guitarist, or while traveling by air or train as a traveling musician. You can also lock them up securely. 

It makes me uneasy about the number of guitarists I’ve seen with an expensive guitar, and a ‘soft case’ to ‘protect’ it.

Tip: Don’t go near the cheap soft cases. Your guitar deserves better.

Tip2: Before traveling by air, release any tension from your strings. Your guitar may be damaged as a result of the pressure and temperature changes in the aircraft.

A broken guitar neck is far more painful than a broken heart! Fact.

8-Using Correct Tools On Your Guitar

Having the right tools for guitar maintenance is a very important factor in guitar repair/maintenance.

You wouldn’t want to try and fix a car without the right equipment, nor would you want to try and build a house without a spirit level.

To prevent damage to your instruments, I recommend always using the correct tool when working on them.

You may chew up screws so they’ll never come out. Slice the guitar finish or the fretboard by using an incorrect file or knife. Using unsuitable instrumentation might leave your instrument permanently marred.

The right tools, rag, spray, and oils are required. Invest some time learning about the best options for your guitar and finish.

In any profession, you need to use the appropriate tools for the job.

It may take time to build up a small collection of handy tools, but they’ll last forever (and so will your guitar).

If you are interested in the easier jobs and taking care of your own guitar, here is a list of handy tools you can get by with:

  • A Guitar Tuner
  • Professional Truss Rod Allen Keys/Hex Keys/Philips Screwdriver
  • A Luthier Metal Ruler (Increments 64ths, 32nds)
  • A String Winder
  • Wire Cutters
  • Nut File Set (Depending on your string size)
  • Microfibre Rags-Lint Free
  • Body Spray Cleaner (Check your guitar’s finish)
  • Contact Cleaner Spray
  • A Soft Toothbrush (Fret Cleaning)
  • Sand Paper (Grit; 220, 400, 600, 1000) 
  • FretBoard Oil/Conditioner
  • A Guitar Manual For Your Guitar Is Very Handy.

9- Visually Investigate.

Years ago I took a maintenance course with a local luthier. 

He taught me the importance of holding the guitar up to eye level and closely investigating it all the way around the body and hardware.

I had a friend of mine with a buzzing E string on his bass. He searched and searched but couldn’t find what the issue was. We all know how irritating this is.

As soon as I got his bass, I visually inspected the body before getting any tools out. After about 3 minutes I found a screw in the scratchplate slightly loose! That was it!!

Another episode was when my old Gibson SG kept breaking strings. This was infuriating to say the least. I was in a band at the time, so I had to take a spare guitar to every show. I took it to a guitar tech and days later he told me the tuning peg was loose!

Luckily he didn’t charge me but imagine paying for those two issues without even having a look yourself.

Tips:

  • Every time you swap your strings, move around all the hardware and give it a little nudge or wiggle.
  • There are numerous aspects to consider when determining whether a guitar sounds wonderful. 
  • Take 5 minutes and have a brief tour around to ensure that everything is in order.
  • Hold a guitar to eye level and slowly turn it 360 degrees. Examine each and every aspect of the guitar’s build.
  • Look at the hardware, starting from the guitar’s base (bridge end). Is the neck properly straight?
  • 10- If In Doubt: Pay A Professional

The most frequent approach to get yourself into a mess is to attempt to fix your guitar on your own. The life of a guitar depends on maintaining the proper action.

If in doubt, give your guitar to a specialist. Their knowledge and skill are bound to outweigh yours. These people don’t charge much and they’re worth their weight in gold.

When I was learning guitar I would take every new instrument to my guitar doctor for setting up. Even the smallest issue can make a difference to your playing.

If you’re like me, and you want to learn more about maintaining your guitar in great condition. Start on an old inexpensive guitar. That’s exactly what I did.

If you are interested in the ins and outs of guitar setup. I’ve written down all the knowledge I’ve learned over two decades in my article How To Set Up a Guitar In 12 Steps

Conclusion

It’s good to teach yourself how to care for your guitar. Take small steps and build up your knowledge through trial and error.  You never know, after a while you maybe could start making a few bucks here and there. 

Good Luck

ABOUT LEE

Lee has been playing guitar for over 25 years. In the 1990s he made a few TV appearances in London and supported and few big bands at festivals. He’s recently sung on radio and worked as a full-time guitarist/singer on a holiday resort. Lee is the founder of Authority Guitar, a site where he wants readers to enjoy every aspect of learning the guitar.

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