Guitar Maintenance, what is it exactly? The dictionary (the one we use, anyways) has several definitions for the word ‘maintenance’. In particular, it is defined as ‘the upkeep of property or equipment’. You need to take care of your guitar.
But what exactly does it mean to perform proper guitar maintenance? And is it something you can do by yourself? It means quite a few things actually, and yes – you can without spending a ton of time or money. Let’s take a brief look at some tips to keep your guitar in the best possible condition.
Stringing things along
Keeping a relatively fresh set of strings on your guitar does a couple of things. First off, it helps to keep dirt and grime from building up on your fretboard (more on this one a little later)
Secondly, it will keep your tone in tip-top shape as strings tend to lose their brightness over time, regardless of how much you may wipe your guitar down after you play.
Yeah, some guitar players may like the thicker and warmer sound from a set of strings that have some playing time on them, but there will come the point where all of the bite and life will end up missing from your sound.
Clean things up
Whether you are playing for your enjoyment in your guitar practice space or dripping sweat all over your ax from playing some intense gigs, maintaining your guitar’s finish by giving your guitar a good wipe down and cleaning is imperative.
I’ve always wanted to smash a guitar over someone’s head. You just can’t do that with a piano – Elton John
That means the whole instrument – body, neck, and headstock. Look at it this way – when you take a bath or shower, you typically wash your entire body, not just part of it, right? The same should go for your guitar!
Most music stores sell cheap guitar cloths (made of either flannel or microfiber) that will take all of the grime and smudges off the finish and keep your guitar looking (and feeling) as it was fresh off the rack.
Also – going back to the ‘dirt and grime on the fretboard’ thing I mentioned earlier, make sure you take the time to clean your fretboard each time you change your guitar strings. You may not notice how much crud can build up in between your frets, but over time it can get pretty bad if you don’t keep it clean. It’s also a good idea to use a good quality fretboard cleaner and conditioner occasionally.
Guitars are (for most models, anyways) constructed almost entirely from wood. Wood is a natural and porous material that can be extremely sensitive to changes in relative humidity.
Acoustic guitar types are more sensitive to humidity than solid body electric types due to the thin wood construction of the body. If an acoustic (especially one with a solid wood top) is left too long in a dry environment, it’s only a matter of time before you get warping and shrinking – even to the point of complete cracks in the top.
That’s not to say that electrics can’t feel the effect. You can tell if an electric guitar is getting too dry when you start to feel the edges of the frets (due to the neck slightly shrinking), or tuning stability and playing action not being consistent.
So what can you do? The easiest way is to use a guitar humidifier in your case or gig bag. There are several types, from simple plastic housings that hold a damp sponge (which will need to be re-dampened every so often) or more advanced solutions such as specially designed packages that allow for the transfer of humidity without much maintenance on your end.
And speaking of cases.
Case in point
It doesn’t matter if your guitar is your very first one, or if it’s a top-of-the-line professional model. Good guitar maintenance is all about taking care of your investment regardless of how much it cost. The best way to do that is to have a top-quality hardshell case.
A good case will protect your guitar from the environment (using a humidifier, remember?) and it’s a great way to keep it safe when you’re not playing. Many cases also have small compartments in them to store the must-have guitar accessories that every guitar player needs to have handy (such as extra strings, picks, a tuner, a capo, etc.).
Gig bags can be decent substitutes, but they typically aren’t as rugged. Some manufacturers make ‘soft’ bags with hard inserts in the top and sides; they may not be as robust as a hardshell case, but they do offer a higher level of protection than a soft cloth bag (which, by the way, is much better than using nothing at all).
Stand by your…guitar?
Guitar maintenance boils down to good old common sense. There are countless horror stories of someone taking a break and leaning their guitar against the wall, amp, the furniture you get the picture, right?
And…………you can probably also picture what happens next.
There’s nothing more sickening than to see your prized guitar slowly go crashing to the floor when you’re several feet away, and no matter how fast you run to try and save it – it’s too late. You may get lucky and just get a few scuffs or scratches, or you may run into some significant damage.
Moral of the story: Guitar stands are cheap. Buy one. Use it.
All the time.
Guitar maintenance means checking your temperature.
Guitars don’t deal well with humidity levels that are too high or low. A common scenario is leaving a guitar in the car without a second thought. Temperatures can reach dangerous levels in a car left in the sun. Yes, this falls into the ‘common sense’ realm again, but you may be surprised how many people neglect their guitars in this regard.
Extreme temperatures are another situation where acoustics may be more prone to damage due to their construction. Too cold certainly isn’t right, as taking one out of a case that’s been left out in the car during winter (and not letting it warm up first) can cause all kinds of wrong things to happen.
Heat is also bad. Real bad. Acoustics are typically held together with glues and adhesives, and if yours is left in a hot car in the middle of summer, then that glue can tend to soften up, leading to even more kinds of wrong things happening.
Look, you wouldn’t leave your kids or your dog in extreme temps, right? Give your guitar the same respect and consideration!
Guitar maintenance in conclusion
Overall, performing maintenance for your guitar is a pretty simple thing to do. The right guitar accessories (such as a case or a guitar stand) can be relatively inexpensive, and a good part of taking the proper care of your instrument will cost you nothing except spending a few minutes of your time.
Sum it up like this – take care of your guitar, and it will take care of you.