Guitar Maintenance and Cleaning Guide


A guitar that is properly maintained and cleaned is enhanced in its beauty and playability as well as increases its resale value. Never mind about that rock star image! Preventive maintenance is the key to avoid future problems and an expensive trip to a luthier.

A frequently played guitar requires regular cleaning. But hey, a guitar that sits on its case for a period of time needs maintenance too!

When you hold the guitar, your fingers secrete oil and sweat that attract dirt that sticks to it. It only takes a few days to realize that the frets and the fingerboard have accumulated so much dirt that you can scrape it with your fingernails. Dust can accumulate under the bridge area and under the strings on the headstock. Remember that dirt will eventually damage the guitar’s finish and also corrode the metal parts such as strings and hardware when left unclean.

Here is an example of a guitar that is poorly maintained:

Poorly Maintained guitar : Guitar Maintenance

Poorly Maintained Headstock : Guitar Setup

You can see dents and chips as well as rusty screws that need to be replaced. I will not cover hardware replacement though, but I will show you some tips in cleaning and maintaining your guitar.

So, let’s get started!

The best time to do preventive maintenance is when you change strings. Removing the strings gives you better clearance in cleaning hard-to-reach areas such as the bridge and headstock areas.

Materials List:

There are commercial cleaning kits that I like to use: the Dunlop System 65 Guitar Maintenance Kit
and the Gibson Guitar Care Kit Guitar Cleaning & Care Products). What’s good about them is that you don’t have to worry about messing up with your guitar everytime you clean it. So check them out.

Guitar Maintenance and Cleaning Procedure:

Here are some simple steps that you can do to clean your guitar:

    1. Remove the old strings and wind them to a loop for easy disposal.
      Note: Old and rusty strings can damage the frets and your fingertips too!
Rusty String

Wind the old string to a loop for easy disposal

    1. Don your gloves in order to prevent contamination during the cleaning procedure.
      Tip: I prefer using a pair of surgical gloves because it is cheap and disposable.
    2. Clean the dust off your guitar with an air spray if you have access to an air compressor or an aerosol air duster can. If you don’t have access to an air spray, you can clean the dust off with a very soft bristle brush.
      Note: Cleaning the dust off reduces the chance of scratching the guitar’s finish.
dusting off your guitar : Guitar Maintenance

Blowing the dust off especially on hard to reach areas


    1. Prepare two 100% cotton cloths, one dry and one damp folded into four. Spray one cloth with warm water and wring the water out if necessary so it doesn’t drip.
      Tip: It is easier to remove dirt with a cloth damped with warm water with a little bit of mild detergent.

100% cotton cloths

    1. Wipe the guitar with the damp cloth and follow it up immediately with the dry one. Start from the back of the guitar going to the front of the body then the headstock followed by the neck and lastly, the fingerboard and frets. It is better to start wiping from the less dirty part going to the dirtiest part of the guitar.
      Note: Always use the clean area of the cloth when cleaning different parts of the guitar to avoid contamination.
Wiping your guitar with 100% cotton cloths : Guitar Maintenance

Wipe the guitar with damp cloth followed by a dry cloth

    1. If the fingerboard is bare (no paint or clear coat), check to see if it is dry. A dry fingerboard looks dull and will eventually lead to cracks. If your fingerboard looks dry, treat it with oil. You may use mineral oil or lemon oil, however, I recommend using commercially formulated fingerboard oil. To oil the fingerboard, use a cotton cloth and dip it with the oil of your choice then spread it generously to the fingerboard. Let it sit for about 5 minutes and then wipe off the excess with a dry cotton cloth.
      Note: It is NOT necessary to oil the fingerboard whenever you clean your guitar. Oiling twice a year should be adequate. Oiling the fingerboard is not required for finished (painted or clear coated) fingerboard.
    2. After following the previous steps in maintaining and cleaning your guitar, you have the option of finishing the process by waxing your instrument. Waxing your guitar offers you 3 advantages:
      • Protecting the finish.
      • Giving it a shiny look.
      • Giving it “fast” or slippery feel.

I prefer using a combination of a damp and dry cotton cloth when applying a cream wax. Put a tiny bit of cream wax on the damp cloth and then wipe it on the guitar in a circular motion. Follow it up with the dry cloth using a circular motion. Make sure to wax in sections and not the entire guitar at once. Wax the fingerboard if it has a finish but do not wax it when it is bare.
Tip: you can save on wax by using a damp cloth because it will not absorb it.

Note: Avoid using waxes that have ‘silicone’ content. Look at the package to be sure. Even a small trace of silicone can be detrimental in future guitar repairs especially when it needs refinishing.

Wiping the wax in circular motion

  1. Install a fresh set of string, tune and you’re ready to rock again!

And that’s it, you are good to go!

Guitar before cleaning : Guitar Setup

Guitar after cleaning : Guitar Setup



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