A little bit of Guitar Maintenance now prevents problems later!
Just what is guitar maintenance? The simple answer is that it's the little things that you do to make your guitar work at its best.
Some guitar maintenance is the same for acoustic and electric guitars and some is aimed more at the acoustic guitar.
The A #1 most important suggestion that I can make is to treat your guitar the same as you would treat a child or a beloved family pet. It's that simple.
The same range, maybe even a smaller range, in temperatures that harm a child can harm your guitar. Don't bang your guitar around. Common sense stuff like that.
Let's start with the obvious. When you're not playing your guitar keep it in its case. This helps protect it against temperature and humidity extremes and protects it from accidents.
It's a real bummer to accidently knock your guitar off of its stand and have it crack or get a broken headstock.
KEEP IT CLEAN
Another obvious thing, wash your hands before you start playing. This will make your strings last longer and keep the guitar from getting all grimy. It also slows down the build-up of gunk on the fingerboard.
If you get into the habit of doing this it's just a routine activity and doesn't really feel like "guitar maintenance".
Speaking of fingerboards... After each playing session wipe off the neck, fingerboard, and strings with a soft lint free cloth. Accessories manufacturers like Planet Waves make them. So do instrument makers like Martin.
If you don't want to buy one you can use a piece of an old flanel shirt. Remember to take it out and wash it. Some people keep the same old grungy cloth in their case forever. They're just smearing around the same old dirt.
Once or twice a year you'll want to do a more thorough cleaning. Start by removing the strings from the guitar. Then take an old piece of a T-shirt and put a 2-3 drops of lighter fluid on it.
Rub the fingerboard with the rag until you get all of the crud off. You may have to use your fingernail around the fretwire.
OIL IT UP
Another part of guitar maintenance for the fingerboard is oiling it. This is mainly true of ebony and rosewood. With rosewood once a year is enough. It's a pretty oily wood.
You have to keep a closer eye on ebony. It's more prone to cracking. With ebony, take a close look at the fingerboard every time you change strings. If the wood looks dry or dull break out the oil.
There are accessories companies that market oil just for fingerboards. These are fine to use, but you may already have what you need with your cleaning products. The thing to use is lemon oil. The kind that you use on furniture. Here's how to do it.
Remove the strings from the fingerboard and lay the guitar flat on a table or workbench. Put a few drops of lemon oil on the fret board and spread it evenly.
You want the oil to be on all of the wood of the fingerboard. Let it soak in for about 5 minutes then wipe off the excess. That's it.
On guitars with maple necks and fingerboards you only need to clean the fingerboards. Nearly all maple fingerboards have a protective coating over them.
This isn't really guitar maintenance but it may be of interest while we're talking about maple necks. On finished maple necks, especially on new guitars, the back of the neck can get sticky feeling when you're playin it.
To remove some of that stickiness try this. Take a small piece of fine grit(500-600) sandpaper and lightly, I said lightly, sand the back of the neck until the shine is gone.
NO LOOSE SCREWS
Guitar maintenance includes tightening all of the little screws that are on your guitar. Think about it. Except for very traditional flamenco guitars all guitars have some kind of screw attaching something to it. Even a traditional classical guitar has tuners attached to it with screws.
Take a small screwdriver, usually a Phillips head, and occasionally tighten up all of the screws on your guitar. Most of them are pretty easy to see but there are a few hidden ones.
A commonly overlooked set of screws are the ones that hold the control module in the side of an acoustic-electric guitar. On the Fishman Matrix and similiar types, there are little caps, or covers, over the screws. You can carefully pop the little covers off to tighten them if needed.
Just tighten any loose screws until they're firmly in place. Don't crank down on them as hard as you can. That can damage the wood or plastic that the screw is going into.
Another area to check when doing guitar maintenance is the collar nuts on the face of the headstock. The shaft of the tuner passes through it. You can tighten them with a crescent or open face wrench.
KEEP IT CLEAN PART 2
Guitar maintenance on the body usually involves cleaning it. As a routine guitar maintenance, wipe the guitar body down with your soft cloth at the end of your playing session. You can use a a cleaner/polish on it as needed.
The easiest ones to use are the spray on, wipe off type. Martin makes one that a lot of people like as does Planet Waves. I'm sure that there are other good polishes on the market as well.
Something that I've used on electric guitars is dust remover spray. I've used it clean little crooks and crannies that I couldn't otherwise reach. If you decide to try that, do a test area first to make sure that it doesn't affect the finish.
A HUMIDIFIED GUITAR IS A HAPPY GUITAR
Properly humidifying your guitar is a big part of guitar maintenance in many parts of the world.
Anywhere that has a season that uses much forced heat or is naturally arid would be affected. This applies to electric as well as acoustic guitars even though the effect on acoustic guitars is most obvious.
Simply put, guitars are made of wood and wood expands and cracks based on it's moisture content.
On a solidbody guitar the worse problem that this usually causes is sharp fret ends. The wood will contract but the metal fret wire won't and the ends of the fretwire stick out past the edge of the fingerboard.
The other problem on a solidbody can be a dried out fingerboard as we talked about earlier.
There are potentially more problems with acoustic guitars. This includes steel-string, classical, and archtop guitars.
The amount of care needed depends on how good the quality of the materials used in the guitar are. Guitars that use laminated woods instead of solid woods are usually a little tougher. The laminated woods that are normally used on less expensive guitars means that they can get by with less maintenance.
The thin sheets of solid tonewoods that make up a higher quality guitar respond to changes in humidity and temperature more. The use of better materials usually means a guitar that sounds better and reacts faster than its less expensive cousin but there is a trade-off.
The problems that can be seen in a dry guitar are sharp frets, low action causing fret buzz, the back looks flat, hump in the fretboard where the neck joins the body, and in worse cases cracks in the body.
The buzzing frets and hump in the fretboard are actually caused by the top drying out enough to make the top sink.
The easiest way to prevent these problems is to properly humidify your guitar. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to use a guitar humidifier.
The other common choice for humidity control is a room humidifier. These humidify the entire enviroment, not just the inside of the guitar case.
The big advantage with them is if you have more than 1 guitar to humidify or if you don't play often enough to monitor your guitar's humidity level. Your sinuses will thank you for it too!