Courtesy of Gibson Guitar's Michael Leonard
There are certain ways to clean your favorite guitar, and certain ways definitely not.
Are you doing it right? Or, are you doing it wrong?
Look into it, ask around some of your trusted guitar experts. Below are 20 various tips on cleaning your favorite guitar.
You may hanker for the filthiest tone ever, but a clean guitar is always good. It can even make you play better. General grime, sweat, unwanted moisture and dust can all build up. And that's not good for a guitar.
Tip #1 Remove your strings by loosening them and cutting them around the 12th fret. If you have a guitar with an unmounted bridge and saddle, (arch-top jazz guitars), remove only two or three at a time, to minimize any sudden changes to neck tension at your saddle. Remember, if that bridge and saddle moves in any way, your intonation will become adversely affected.
Tip #2 If you're not going to be changing all of your strings, try and wipe them down with a dry lint-free cloth after every playing session. Keeping them clean will make them last longer.
Tip #3 If cleaning your strings when still on your guitar, loosen them slightly and pinch your cloth around the whole string to banish finger and fret-board grime.
Your 'board doesn't need too much love, possibly only two or three times a year. It’s crucial not to mess too much with the natural moisture the fret-board picks up from oils on your fingers.
For a quick rubdown, (when the strings are off), and use a soft damp-ish cloth... but not “wet”. You do NOT want visible water drops on your 'board. Work your way down the 'board and keep turning that cloth (even a clean old T-shirt will do) so you don't simply transfer dirt from one fret to another.
Tip #4 If your fret-board is really grimy, finish off with a light rub over using extra fine #000 or #0000 steel wool.
Tip #5 If you follow Tip #4, cover your guitar's pickups with another cloth. Even steel wool's tiny particles will be attracted to your pickup magnets. You don't want that. It’s best to cover up your pickups when cleaning with steel wool. Even better, grab some masking tape, (painters tape) and cover the pick-ups prior to using the steel-wool.
Tip #6 Don't needlessly dump that ol' toothbrush in the garbage. Wrap some colored tape on the handle (so everyone knows it's not for yo' mouths) and use it to clean up against the frets. Old soft toothbrushes are good for kitchen and bathroom tight spots, too! I rarely throw old toothbrushes away. Alternatives? An old credit card (I got plenty of them, too!) or a toothpick. Be gentle.
Tip #7 You may see hairline cracks on a dried-out fingerboard. Rub one or two drops of oil (100% pure almond oil) into the fret-board to condition it. Please don't overdo it, and make sure to wipe off excess oil with a soft, dry cloth.
NOTE ABOUT LEMON OILS: The jury remains out on some Lemon Oils – as they are advertised – because many will contain additional ingredients. If you don't use a natural almond oil, go for special guitar oil: no silicon, no wax, and as minimal chemicals as possible. If you own a guitar with an exotic wood; i.e., rosewood or ebony - those fingerboard's should still get a light oiling at least once a year.
Finish Lookin' Fine
You shouldn't need (or use) anything too abrasive on your fave guitar's body and neck. A bit of hard polishing with a dry cloth or, if it's really filthy, a slightly damp but not “wet” cloth will mostly do the trick.
Many Guitars have several coats of a high-quality nitrocellulose lacquer. “Nitro” ages nicely but is also porous. Avoid dripping-wet cloths at all costs.
Tip #8 For a thorough clean, you can try using some of the name brand Guitar Pump Polish or a quality Hi Gloss Polish. These guitar polishes are specially formulated for your Guitar.
Tip #9 Always squirt cleaner onto a rag first, not directly onto the guitar. You'll probably have read this before with all manner of household cleaning products, and for good reason.
Tip #10 Try and keep fret-board and guitar body cloths different. It sounds tough, but it's not. And it will stop you simply transferring dirt from one place to another.
Tip #11 Do not EVER use everyday furniture polish on a guitar. Never, Ever... The oils in most furniture polishes will likely seep into wood and change density and sound. Furniture polish is fine for a wooden table: that's why it's called furniture polish. But you don't care how your wooden table sounds, right?
When it comes to bridges, pickups, tuners and nuts, you shouldn't have to do much. Again, a slightly damp cloth can clean your bridge, but a pipe cleaner or (again) a small, soft toothbrush can be used here for brushing away any major grit and grime.
Tip #12 A dab of glass cleaner (i.e., Windex), on a cloth is good for giving a polish to metal tuners.
Tip #13 Use that old toothbrush again to gently scrub any grime from your bridge. A slightly damp cloth can usually do the trick as well. Especially with Titanium fittings on many of the new 2016 guitar models.
Tip #14 Pickups can get a bit mucky. But NEVER put any moisture near them. A dry, clean cloth is the only advisable way to polish the electric /magnetic pickup covers.
Tip #15 Compressed Air Spray is good for just blowing away initial dust. On anything. It's cheap (well, for air!) and will help your laptop keys and vents clean, too.
Gibson’s Vintage Reissue Restoration Kit, (which includes two polish cloths, a low abrasion Metal Cleaner, Fret-board Conditioner, and Restorative Finish Cream specially formulated to treat and protect older finishes and fret-boards), is an excellent kit for the guitar player who is new to doing their own guitar care.
Tip #16 A quality, soft, small, clean paintbrush (try a camel hair) is also good for a regular dust-away before you clean.
Tip #17 Even if your Guitar is clean, don't leave your guitar exposed to direct sunlight for long periods: it could prematurely damage and crack the finish. Give it a wipe down and, when not in use, put it back in its case.
Tip #18 If you're low on cash and can't even afford new strings, some players recommend boiling strings, sometimes with baking soda or a dash of vinegar. Do not expect a long term fix! They might be gunk-free and more zingy for a while, but boiling causes metal fatigue. They'll soon sound dead, or simply snap. It can't be helped. Just buy some new strings.
Tip #19 I've seen some people recommend boiling strings in water with added ethanol. Don't ever do this on your stove, players. Boiling alcohol can be a serious fire hazard.
Tip #20 Bottom line, do not use any abrasive cleaning products on your guitar, no matter what grime state it's in. Buy specifically guitar-recommended products. Long-term, they will keep your Guitar good for life.