How To Maintain a Guitar – 7 Simple Tips to a Top Guitar

by Chris

February 25, 2020


Last Updated on April 26, 2024 by Chris

For anyone who’s into playing electric guitar, you’re basically gonna concentrate on picking up your favorite axe and having a good jam! Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to forget about keeping it in good condition; maintaining it to keep it playing nicely for as long as possible.

So let’s have a look at how to maintain a guitar; what are the things we can do to prolong a good working guitar with a great sounding tone.

Guitar maintenance is relatively easy; we just need to remember to do a few things after each session, and a few other things periodically to help keep things sounding nice. You’ll find you can keep your guitar sounding good for much longer if you follow a simple guitar maintenance routine.

Without further ado, here are 7 tips to bear in mind to help keep your guitar sounding fresh!

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How To Maintain a Guitar

Wipe Your Guitar After Each Session

how to maintain a guitar - wipe it down with a cloth

I don’t know about you, but after playing my guitar for a good ol’ while, my hands can get pretty sweaty! So after you’ve done, it’s a good idea to get a dry cloth and give your guitar a wipe down, especially the strings. Dampness in the strings can cause oxidation, which weakens the strings and make them more likely to break. Breaking strings during a burning solo sucks!

So the first thing we need to do when looking at how to maintain a guitar is to wipe or clean our strings with string cleaner, which can help prolong their life, and keep them stronger for longer!

Give the neck and frets a wipe down too; this’ll minimize any build-up of dirt from your fingers and skin from building up around the frets. You can also give the whole thing a rub with a cloth to wipe away any dust and dirt too!

Change Your Guitar Strings

After fitting a fresh set of guitar strings, our guitars sound so fantastic! As the strings get worn though, we don’t really notice the change in tone; very slowly, they can gradually become dull and lifeless sounding.

Even if you regularly clean your guitar strings, they’ll eventually wear out or even break. If they become discolored or feel rough, it’s definitely time to swap out your strings. Do this regularly before they reach that stage, and you’ll have a lovely, bright and fresh-sounding guitar. I like to use Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottoms, which are .010 – .052 gauge strings. If you’re not sure what gauge strings to have, just remember; the lower the numbers, the thinner and easier the strings are to play. A thicker, heavier string may give you a slightly darker tone but are a bit harder to play.

Give It a Good Clean

Wiping your guitar after each time you play will help to maintain your guitar, but now and then it’s also good to give your guitar a more thorough clean than just a wipe down.

When you come to fit a new set of strings, it gives you a good opportunity to clean your pickups, getting into all the nooks and crannies, and removing all the dust and debris from any cracks or crevices. Use a dry cloth and avoid using any fluids that could cause corrosion.

You can also clean the volume/tone pots if they’re making a scratchy sound when you turn them. The first thing to do is to turn the knobs a few times and use the selector switch a few times to work loose any dust that has already gotten in there.

Potentiometers in a left handed Gibson Les Paul Studio

An electrical contact cleaner can help to clear them too; if you have access to the pots on the back of the guitar you can just remove the backplate to give the pots a spray and then repeat turning the knobs and flicking the pickup selector switch. Replace the knobs when finished.

If your guitar doesn’t have access to the back, then you may have to remove the scratchplate/pickguard to get at the pots. Again, give them a spray, and then repeatedly turn the volume/tone knobs and flick the selector switch.

Also, give your fretboard a good clean. If it’s an unfinished fretboard, usually something like ebony or rosewood, use a decent fret polish/oil. Many guitarists like to use lemon oil, including myself; it is an ideal solution for cleaning and conditioning your fretboard. Rub it into the wood and around the frets, which will keep things nice and smooth, and help with playability. Personally, I like to use Dunlop Fretboard 65 Ultimate Lemon Oil.

I’d avoid using polish or oil if it’s a maple fretboard though, as it could stain the wood, and look discolored afterward.

If your fretboard has a finish, then it’s probably best to just give it a wipe with a damp cloth.

Electric Guitar Setup

Hopefully, when you buy a new electric guitar, it should have had a proper professional setup, so that when you first buy it, you should be able to play it without any issues. So what’s a guitar setup?

Basically, a setup fine-tunes your guitar so it functions as well as it can do, making sure everything sounds right, and irons out any inconsistencies so things don’t go wrong. Ask at the store when you buy a new guitar to make sure it’s had one. If it hasn’t, then they should sort one out for you. When looking at how to maintain a guitar, your guitar first needs to be in the best shape it can be, so you can maintain it at that quality!

Now and then, it’s good to get your guitar setup checked out by someone who knows what they’re doing, or again, you can ask at your local guitar store.

Buy a Guitar Case

Left handed Gibson Les Paul Studio in a hard case

How to maintain a guitar? If you haven’t got one already, I recommend you buy a decent guitar case. Storing your guitar in a good quality guitar case, preferably a hard case, will keep dust and debris away from your guitar and stop any of that crud from getting into the pots and switches. If it’s a hard case, you’ll also protect your guitar from any knocks or scrapes.

I must admit, I’m guilty of not doing this; I like to have easy access to my guitars so generally keep them on guitar stands and I have more guitars than I do cases, so it’s not always practical. I do think it’s worth doing though.

Keep Things at Room Temperature

Guitars hate extreme temperatures! High temperatures can cause warping, or even cause glue joints to melt! You don’t want a glued-in neck to move out of place!

If you expose your guitar to temperatures that are too cold, it could affect your guitar finish. Bringing it into a warm room after it has been left in a cold car could crack the finish, so it’s a good idea to leave your guitar in its case for a while when moving it through different temperatures, allowing your guitar to get used to the temperature.

So what’s the ideal guitar temperature? I’d say it’s a good idea to keep your guitars at room temperature; 21°C or 70°F is about right.

What About Guitar Humidity?

Try to keep your guitar at a fairly consistent humidity level. If it’s too humid, your guitar could absorb the moisture, causing the wood to expand and cause the finish to crack. The same can be said if your guitar is kept somewhere too dry. The guitar can contract slightly, and you guessed it, causing the finish to crack as well.

It’s recommended that the best humidity levels for an electric guitar range from around 40-50%. You can measure the humidity levels of your room with a humidity monitor.

If your room is too dry, then you can keep your guitar in a case along with a guitar humidifier.

Guitar Maintenance Summary

So there you have my 7 tips on how to maintain a guitar. Let’s briefly recap:

  • Wipe your guitar after each time you play it.
  • Change your strings regularly. Some change them every few weeks, some before every performance.
  • Thoroughly clean your guitar from time to time.
  • Get your guitar professionally set up.
  • Store your guitar in a good quality guitar case.
  • Try to store your guitar at room temperature, approximately 21°C or 70°F.
  • Keep humidity levels at around 40-60%. You can measure this with a humidity monitor.

What are your tips on how to maintain a guitar? If you have any guitar maintenance tips or tricks, please let us know in the comments below.

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