Guitar Cleaning and Maintenance – Beginners Lesson 11
Guitar Care – Humidity
The biggest enemy of wood is humidity, and even though much of an instrument’s surface is protected by a paint finish, the unfinished bits, such as the fingerboard on electric guitars, are not. Humidity is even more of an issue with acoustic guitars. The interior of the guitar is quite susceptible, and in addition to the fingerboard, bridges are often unfinished.
With too much humidity, wood swells, joints and glue becomes weak, and once the process begins, it is difficult or impossible to correct. Dry conditions suck moisture out of wood, and can cause wood, glue, and joints to split and crack, which also is difficult or impossible to correct when it reaches a certain point.
Commercial guitar humidifiers and dehumidifiers are inexpensive and reliable, and should be used according to seasonal and atmospheric conditions. Always store guitars in their case when not in use, and avoid basement or garage storage. As a general rule of thumb, if humidity levels are uncomfortable for you, your guitar probably feels the same way. Proper humidity levels for guitars are between 45 and 55% relative humidity.
Guitar cleaning not only makes your axe look good, it also protects the finish. Guitar finishes are designed not to clog wood pores, they allow acoustic soundboards to vibrate freely, and electric bodies to resonate properly. Guitar finishes are much different than furniture polishes, so furniture polish should never be substituted.
Furniture polish can contain waxes and other substances which may clog finish pores, and may actually damage the guitars finish eventually. Always use a commercial polish or cleaner made especially for guitars, and use a dedicated clean, dry, cotton cloth… one for polish application, and one for final buffing.
Generally, it is not advisable to apply cleaners to unfinished guitar parts, such as fingerboards and bridges, but it is worth checking the manufacturer’s literature or web site for specifics. For some instruments, these parts can be treated and cleaned with a small amount of linseed or lemon oil. In all cases, a wipe with a cotton cloth very lightly dampened with water, followed by immediate drying is using sufficient.
Clean metal parts with a damp cloth, and there are some commercially available guitar hardware cleaners or combination finish/metal cleaners that will do a fine job. Another rule of thumb for guitar cleaning: Use the mildest possible cleaner, progressing to stronger formulations only if necessary.
Tips On Guitar Strings
Guitar strings should be changed whenever you are unhappy with the sound. There is no set rule when to change strings, and it is a matter of preference. It is best to always tune your strings up to pitch so there is constant tension on the neck.
If the guitar is to be shipped, or will be stored for long periods of time, strings should be loosened. Of course this may result in neck adjustment when the guitar is ready to be played again, but the neck’s natural tendency to relax without strings is better than forced tension with strings installed over long periods of time.