Basic Guitar Care

No Hot Cars

Guitars are made of wood and glue. The glue tends to melt in the heat of a guitar, causing all sorts of things to come loose. NEVER leave your guitar in a hot car.

No rain either. I saw a used guitar once that looked like it had been left outside. Rust everywhere.

No Sudden Temperature Changes

If you bring your guitar into a warm house from a cold car, give it time to warm up before opening the case. Abrupt temperature changes can create finish problems, crack seams or worse as the various wood and materials expand at different rates.

No Belt Buckles

Buckle Rash is all to common, and most people don’t like it, so it devalues your guitar. When playing with a strap, turn your belt buckle to the side where it won’t scratch the back of the guitar, or take it off while playing.

Clean and Polish Sparingly

Most people who polish their guitar, over polish their guitar. There are a lot of fancy polishes for guitar. Before choosing one, you really need to know what finish was used on your guitar. It is also wise to avoid any products with silicon, because if your guitar ever does need repair, the silicon gets everywhere and makes re-gluing next to impossible.

– Acoustic Guitars often have a Varnish finish, but most Luthers would be the first to point out that a guitar is not a coffee table, so you should avoid the typical furniture polishes. Consult the manufacturer for their recommendations. Usually, they suggest a soft, lint free dry cloth. For the occasional cleaning, you can use a very mild soap like ivory bar soap and a damp cloth. Be sure to dry it when you’re done. Varnish clouds from water.  Luthiers often use Naphtha to clean and prep most any surface.  Naphtha, is a light weight petroleum distillate that evaporates very quickly and is commonly sold as lighter fluid.

– Electric Guitars, if they are painted, were probably painted with an automotive lacquer, possibly coated with polyurethane, so most automotive products should be safe to use. I use pure carnuba wax with no cleaners and no silicon.

– Fretboards, don’t really need any conditioners.  Taylor guitars suggest boiled linseed oil because it catalizes and becomes hard.  The goal is to use it sparingly, not to marinate the fingerboard.  Even then, they suggest it’s use maybe twice in a guitars life.  WARNING: Get the rags out of the house immediately!  Boiled linseed oil catalization causes the rags to spontaneously burst into flames.  People have lost their homes and businesses to a boiled linseed oil rag.   This volatility has caused many to use bore oil instead.  Others point out that oils do nothing to “hydrate” the wood, and actually prevent future hydration. But the real danger here is that oils don’t evaporate and tend to soften the wood over time, which is a bigger problem then doing nothing to them.

Your strings will last longer if you wash and dry your hands before you play, and wipe down the strings when you’re done. I also wipe the back of the neck and any other spots I’ve sweat on when I put it back in the case.

Stand

You should be very careful how you leave your guitar. If you lean a guitar against a sofa, chair, or amplifier, even for a minute, you could watch it fall to the floor and snap off the head. It happens. A snapped head pretty much ruins the guitar forever. Even with the head glued back on, or the neck replaced, they don’t always sound the same and are next to impossible to sell.

The back of the neck is very smooth, and won’t stay put for long. It’s better to lay it flat on the floor, place it on an actual guitar stand, or back in the case. If you must lean it against something, leaning it against the strings instead of the back of the neck will provide more friction and it might be where you left it when you get back. If it does fall, it might not fall on the back and snap off the head.

Case

For storage and transport, nothing beats a hard shell case. Still, the quality of hard shell cases varies a lot. It’s best to check them out in the store before you buy so you can evaluate it’s padding and construction first hand.

Some people like Gig bags and Soft cases for various reasons. Many complain about the guitar keys getting turned in the case, and it doesn’t provide the same kind of protection as a hard case. Soft cases are best for vibration and scuff protection, but not great for structural protection.

The best option would be a hard shell around a soft, padded case, but short of an Anvil type case with a lot of foam, I haven’t seen much that fits this bill.

Humidity

Solid top acoustic guitars (both steel string acoustics and nylon string acoustics) are sensitive to both humid and dry conditions, so they require a little more care. Taylor guitars has some great articles on humidity and are the definitive source on the subject. www.google.com/search?q=taylor+guitars+humidity In short, if a guitar absorbs too much moisture from the air, it starts to swell, stressing the glue joints. If the wood drys out too much, it pulls tight, also stressing the glue joints, and may crack. Guitars are usually assembled at 50% relative humidity, and it is less stressful for them to remain at or near 50%.  My strategy:

  1. Get two hygrometers. I like the HygroSet II hygrometers. These are small, can be calibrated, and fit nicely in the case near the body where I can see the reading when I open the case.
  2. Put the second hygrometer in the room near the case. Now you can compare the condition inside the case with what’s going on outside the case.
    • If it’s 45% in the case and 70% in the room (dry getting wetter), you’re good.
    • If it’s 45% in the case and 35% in the room (dry getting dryer), put a damp, not wet, sponge in an open plastic bag under the headstock. Humidity will equalize in the case, there is no need to put anything in the guitar or in the sound hole. Many nice guitars have suffered ugly water spots from wet or leaky hydration systems.
    • If it’s 55% in the case and 35% in the room (damp getting dryer), you’re good.
  • If it’s 55% in the case and 70% in the room (damp getting wetter), take the sponge out and put some Silica Gel in the case. Silica Gel is food grade safe, despite the ominous “do not eat” warning typically printed on the bags. I bought a large bag from the floral section of Hobby Lobby and made my own pouches out of coffee filters. They can be recharged in a 250 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, so it’s much cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the disposable options.

It’s a good idea to strive for stable temperature and humidity because fluctuations can take their toll on the glue joints.  Don’t be afraid to play your guitar, but a little extra care and attention will make it play better and last longer.

Join the discussion and tell us your guitar care tips.

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