Guitar maintenance should be a simple thing, right? But there are so many products and opinions out there that perhaps you might put it off for another few months. Then a crack appears on your beloved cedar top acoustic, or your fretboard is feeling sticky, or maybe you just think it could be better now that you have gotten familiar with all its little quirks. Here are some simple tips for guitar owners that can make a big difference.
The biggest concern here is to maintain a minimum 45% humidity level in the guitar case, or in the room where you keep it. Wood cells shrink when very dry, and can literally pull apart on large surfaces, such as the top or back soundboards, causing a crack. Tops can also warp and bridges can come loose. Glues may break down in extremes of humidity and temperature. Dryness, which is prevalent during cold winters, can also affect the neck woods. Shrinkage will cause the neck to warp and change playability. Fender warns its customers to maintain proper humidity or the guitar will be out of warranty! A “poor man’s” trick is to dampen a sponge, place it in a zipped plastic bag with pen holes poked in it, and keep it in the case. Alternatively, and perhaps more wisely, purchase any one of many inexpensive humidity control devices, such as Planet Waves Humidipak Automatic Humidity Control System, and mount it in the sound hole or let it reside in the case.
Stable humidity and temperature is just as important here. To help maintain a clean and smooth fretboard on any guitar, wipe off finger oils and sweat buildup between string changes, or at least twice a year. Use a rag slightly dampened with water to clean off the build-up. Do not use steel wool; its tiny particles can get into the electronics and pickups and ruin them. Professional fretboard oils are fine, but use very small amounts, always working it in and wiping off any excess. Gibson recommends Luthier’s Choice Fretboard Conditioner, but only use it if the wood is dry.
Electrics have much more hardware and electronics and may require a professional setup. Always make sure a guitar is playing correctly before purchasing. Serious players should bring their new guitar to a guitar service center, sometimes referred to as a luthier, for a setup that suits their exact needs. A luthier can provide customizations and change out parts to suit a guitarist’s intended tone or performance. Once you are happy with a setup it should last a while, but harder or more frequent playing may require more frequent visits for maintenance.
General cleaning should be done often to avoid dirt buildup. There are many products out there and any major brand will work fine for finishes when the instructions are followed.
Harris Thor is owner-operator of the HG Thor Guitar Lab and custom shop in Vestal, NY, established in 1990, and is an authorized Fender Musical Instrument Corp. service center www.woodwiz.com/guitarlab.