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’ll go into far more detail about the points below. But if you want to cut to the chase, then follow these concise steps to make your guitar shine like it’s 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 a lot 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’s 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 amount of dirt that your guitar builds up will depend a lot on the environment that you play the most in, and for how long. For example, if you’re someone 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, which is the worst thing for your guitar!
Playing in this scenario causes you to sweat buckets, which 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 rust and even more problems.
If you practice between 1-2 hours a day at home in a cool and well-ventilated room, then your guitar will probably not require cleaning very often. It’s all about the context and the conditions.
How Do I Keep My Guitar Clean?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to clean certain parts 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 me!
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. But to be honest, lots of players already do this! However, you’d be very surprised by the number of musicians I’ve seen who have picked up their guitars after eating greasy food and then wondered why their axe is plastered in smudged fingerprints. Not to mention that 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 spend ages changing them. Just wait around 5-10 minutes for your hands to fully dry, then play away.
Wipe Down Your Guitar’s Strings
Products such as GHS’ Fast Fret or Jim Dunlop’s Ultraglide 65 are great for extending the life of your guitar strings. Just apply these cleaning lubricants to the strings after a playing session to remove any grime, and you will get sparkly-sounding freshness as well as a faster playing feel ready for the next time you pick up your guitar. These products also help to remove fingertip-induced dust and dirt from the fretboard — two birds, one stone!