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How To Clean A Guitar: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide

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Cleaning a guitar

What if I told you that one of the best ways to maintain the sound and longevity of your guitar is by simply keeping it clean? Well, its true. Dirt, dust, sweat, and oils can all build up on the strings, hardware, body, and fretboard of your guitar. Over time, this can dull and dampen the sound of your instrument, and can even cause long term damage. Not to mention lessoning the resale value over time. The solution? A six-string spring cleaning! Many musicians and luthiers will even tell you its best practice to wipe down your guitar after each time you play it. But every so often you'll want to give your instrument a good deep clean.

Here's our step-by-step guide to help you safely and effectively clean your guitar, so you can keep your instrument looking and sounding its best.

Before you begin:

  1. Wash your hands: this goes without saying, but you'll want to give your hands a good scrub to remove any excess dirt & oils

  2. Gather your supplies: there are a few things you'll need in order to give your guitar a thorough clean: •Soft cloth (such as a cotton t-shirt) or microfiber rag •Q-tips •Plastic scraping tool such as a credit card or guitar pick •Your preferred guitar cleaning products, polishes, waxes, and cleaning kits (I'll recommend a few top rated products later on)

  3. Remove the strings of your guitar: If you plan on giving your fretboard a deep clean, remove the strings before you begin. You can skip this step and give your strings a deep clean, too (see step #2)

Step #1: Clean the fretboard

The fretboard is usually the grimiest part of most guitars. It's constantly exposed to all of the sweat, dirt, and oils from our hands (and whatever else a Saturday night jam might leave behind!)

For a fretboard that's been through a lot and is in need of a deep clean, follow these steps to bring it back to life:

  1. Remove the strings of your guitar

  2. Using a slightly dampened soft cloth or microfiber rag, wipe the spaces in-between the frets clean. *Be sure to not get the fretboard too wet as this can damage the wood

  3. Using a slightly dampened Q-tip, clean the space along each fret

  4. If there is still grime along each fret, use a plastic scraper such as a credit card or guitar pick to scrape out any dirt

  5. If your fretboard is lacquered (if it has a shiny finish) you should only ever use a soft dampened rag and never anything abrasive.

  6. If your fretboard is made of raw wood, you can get away with using more abrasive methods of cleaning such as 0000 steel wool

Usually water is enough to effectively clean a dirty fretboard. But if you feel like your guitar needs a little something more, or if you want to polish and condition the wood, it's best to use products designed specifically for guitars. A great all-in-one product for cleaning, conditioning, and protecting the fretboard of your guitar is the Dunlop 65 Fretboard Lemon Oil.

Cleaned and lubricated guitar strings

Step #2- Clean the strings

Did you know dirty guitar strings can really change the way your instrument sounds? Our sweat is naturally acidic and can cause alloys in the strings to oxidize and rust. That, plus a buildup of dirt and grime can cause a muffled, dull sounding guitar. But no worries, by simple keeping your guitar strings clean, you can prevent future damage and prolong the life of your strings.

Here are some steps you can take to safely clean your guitars strings:

  1. Working one string at a time, tuck one side of a dry cloth or microfiber rag underneath the string on the fretboard

  2. Fold the other side of the rag overtop of the string

  3. Slide the rag up and down the length of the string until each string has been thoroughly cleaned

  4. You can also find some pretty handy tools designed to do just this. Check out this string cleaning tool here

  5. Never use soap & water to clean guitar strings. This will speed up corrosion and can damage the strings long term

If you feel like your strings need a little more TLC, the Dunlop 65 String Cleaner & conditioner is a favorite among musicians. Many guitar enthusiasts will also recommend that you keep your strings lubricated to prolong their life and keep them sounding their best. I'd recommend you check out the GHS Fast Fret String Cleaner And Lubricant.

A cleaned and polished guitar fretboard

Step #3- Clean the body

The body of your guitar can pretty quickly accumulate fingerprints, dirt, and dust. Luckily, its also the easiest part of the guitar to clean. You just have to be mindful of your guitars finish.

Here's how to clean the body of a guitar, depending on its finish:

  1. If your guitar has a glossy shine, it is probably finished with either a Polyurethane, Polyester, or Acrylic finish. These finishes are the easiest to clean because they essentially give your guitar a protective layer. For these finishes, you can simply wipe your guitar down with a dampened rag, but you can also use a variety of guitar cleaners, polishes, and waxes.

  2. If your guitar has a matte or satin finish, you should only ever use a soft, slightly dampened cloth or microfiber rag to wipe down and dry the body. Using cleaners, polishes, and waxes may cause splotching on the finish.

  3. If you are using a guitar polish, apply the product to a soft cloth or microfiber rag (never directly onto the guitar) and wipe down. Then use a dry cloth to buff out the polish.

  4. If your guitar has lacquer checking, as many vintage guitars do, you'll want to avoid using any creamy cleaners or waxes as product can buildup in between the cracks and cause further damage to the instrument. For this finish, its best just to clean the body with a slightly dampened rag and buff dry.

lacquer checking on the body of a guitar

Pictured: lacquer checking on the body of a guitar

Here are a few top rated guitar cleansers, polishes, and waxes for you to check out:

Step #4- Clean the hardware

The final step to deep cleaning your guitar is to clean and polish the hardware. Dust, dirt, oils, and sweat from our skin can rust and clog up metal hardware over time, which can not only effect the overall appearance of your guitar, but also the performance.

Here are some tips for cleaning the hardware on your guitar:

  1. The best way to clean the hardware is with a soft cloth or microfiber rag and a small amount of guitar polish. A good guitar polish will help to break up dirt and oils. If your in the market for a good polish, I'd recommend the Music Nomad Silver Polish.

  2. Buff away any remaining guitar polish as residue can lead to corrosion of the metals, using a Q-tip for those hard to reach spots

  3. If your metal hardware is showing signs of rusting, carefully remove these parts and let them soak for 3-4 hours in white vinegar.

clean and polished guitar hardware

And that's all, folks!

Now that your done, your guitar should be looking dapper and sounding sweet. But keep in mind that while a deep clean is always great, the best way to keep your instrument looking and sounding its best is by regularly giving it a good "once over." Keep a dry rag handy and get into the habit of giving your strings a quick wipe down when your done your daily jam.

And now that your guitar is looking fresh, it deserves a fresh stand! Check out our line of luxury instrument displays here!

A guitar display case


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