What will I learn?
- What causes your guitar to develop dirt and how to prevent it.
- How to efficiently clean a guitar.
- Which products to use to clean a guitar without damaging its finish.
How to Clean a Guitar: Step-by-Step
Later in the article, we go into far more detail about the points below. However, if you want to cut to the chase then follow these concise steps to make your guitar shine like new!
- Wash your hands – It’s obvious, but it’s also the most important thing!
- Remove the strings – This will make cleaning the body and fretboard far easier.
- Clean the fretboard – Use fine steel wool to remove stubborn gunk from Rosewood/Ebony/Pau Ferro fretboards, and apply Lemon Oil to re-hydrate. Use a damp cloth to clean Maple fretboards.
- Polish the guitar body – For Poly-finished (gloss) guitars, spray guitar polish onto a soft cloth and wipe down. Use a dry part to buff out the polish. For Matte/Satin/Nitro-finished guitars, use only a dry cloth.
- Refresh the hardware – If you want your hardware to shine, use a soft cloth and a tiny amount of guitar polish to remove dirt or dried sweat. WD-40 can be used to remove thicker grime or rust.
How Does a Guitar Get Dirty?
The dirt that your guitar builds up depends a lot on the environment that you play the most in, and for how long. For example, if you’re someone who goes out and gigs most weekends, then you’re probably more than used to enduring 1000-degree stages and standing under enough lights to guide a plane in for landing.
Playing an hour set under intense stage lighting makes you sweat. Worst thing for your guitar!
Playing in this context causes you to sweat buckets, which metaphorically is like kryptonite for your guitar. Sweat and grease on your guitar’s finish not only looks pretty bad, but it can wear away the lacquer and cause irreparable damage to the fretboard in particular. It can also reach and harm your guitar’s electronic components and hardware, causing even more problems…
However, if you practice between 1-2 hours a day at home in a cool, well-ventilated room, then your guitar will probably not require cleaning very often. It’s all about context.
How Do I Keep my Guitar Clean?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to clean certain aspects of your guitar, it’s worth mentioning methods that you can try to stop your guitar from building up grime in the first place. It’ll save you time and effort in the future. Trust us!
Wash Your Hands Before you Play Guitar
Before I pick up my guitar, I always wash my hands. That’s my life hack – and you guys can have it. To be honest, lots of players already do this. But you’d be very surprised by the number of players I’ve seen who have picked up their guitars after eating greasy food and then wondered why their axe is plastered in smudged fingerprints, and the strings sound like rubber bands.
It’s such a simple thing to do; not only keeping your guitar clean but also allowing you to eek more life out of your strings. This saves you both time and money, as you won’t have to keep buying new strings and spending ages changing them! Wait around 10 minutes for your hands to fully dry, then play away to your heart’s content.
It’s also worth mentioning products such as GHS’ Fast Fret or Jim Dunlop’s Ultraglide 65, which are great to use to extend the life of your strings. Just apply these cleaning lubricants to the strings to remove any grime, and you will get sparkly-sounding freshness as well as a better playing experience thanks to a smoother feel. These products also help to remove fingertip-induced dust and dirt from the fretboard – two birds, one stone!
Put your Guitar Back in its Case
You may not want to hear that, especially if you like to exhibit your guitars on the wall. However, the major downside of leaving your guitars out is that dust will easily accumulate on them. Dust isn’t necessarily as big of an issue as sweat; however it can build up in the crevices of your guitar and affect its electronics and their functionality.
You know that crackling noise you’ve heard when moving the pickup selector? Or when rolling down the volume pot? Nine times out of ten, dust is causing that. This can be fairly easily resolved by removing the cavity plate on the back of your guitar and blowing the dust out, but if you own a Strat or a similar guitar where the electronics are attached to a scratchplate, this is more of a headache.
How to prepare your guitar for cleaning
Inevitably, your guitar will need cleaning at some point, even if you follow the above recommendations. You can clean your guitar without removing the strings, but a thorough clean may make this necessary – not to mention a lot easier! As a rule, I generally schedule cleaning my guitar with when a string change is needed. It just makes more sense.