If you want to be sure that your guitar is playable at its best, you need to be sure that everything is set-up and cleaned properly. If the strings are rusty, the fretboard is filled with grime, or any other similar issue, the playability of your guitar will drop. Lots of time when there is a replacement of the part it is because of bad maintenance and lack of care. With proper cleaning, you will get the maximum out of your instrument and the best possible playability. Here’s a quick and simple guide on how to fully and properly clean your electric guitar.
Tools You Need To Clean The Guitar
There is a number of tools you might need while cleaning your guitar. Some will differ depending on the type of the guitar or model or steps you’ll take, so there is a chance you won’t need all of them. We will mention here one of the most basic ones, and other additional tools will be mentioned in the next steps.
- Some kind of polish cloth. There are different brands, types, sizes on the market. You can get one that is designed for guitar cleaning or you can use some softer fabric you already have. No matter what you choose, you will always need a piece of polish cloth.
- String lubricant or cleaner. If you want to make sure that your strings are functional for a longer time period, this is a great option.
- Peg or string winder. While this is not essential for the cleaning process. It will definitely speed up winding when you re-string your guitar.
- Fingerboard or fretboard cleaner. Some kind of cleaner for fretboard or wood oil
- Wood cleaner or wood polish for the guitar body. For polishing wooden parts of the guitar neck and the body of the guitar. There are a lot of different types and brands and they usually depend on the type of wood and type of guitar finish.
- Some kind of polish for metal parts of the guitar. You will use this for polishing tuning machines, the bridge, screws or any other part of guitar hardware except strings.
- Allen’s wrench. For bridge and for the truss rod. Size may depend on the guitar model
- Screwdriver. You might need one if you want to make sure that your guitar is properly set-up after cleaning
Wash Your Hands
Before start, you should wash your hands. If you plan on cleaning your guitar, your hands need to be clean as well. You won’t do much if your hands are dirty
Clean The Guitar’s Strings
If you don’t plan on putting a new set of strings, you can use some of the string cleaners for them. They will prolong the life and playability of the strings. Strings can also be cleaned with a dry cloth or with a string cleaning product. All of these options are done before removing strings because it is much easier. Try to develop a habit of cleaning your strings after every session. The other option is boiling them. While this is not the best option, it will refresh your strings. The main problem is that after removing the strings, they are permanently deformed because of the bridge and the tuning pegs and it is nearly impossible to put them the way they were before, which will only result in more deformation and tuning instabilities.
Take Off The Strings
Either you plan to use the old string after you finished cleaning or you decide to put a new one. I always recommend removing the strings carefully one by one. However, you can choose to cut them if that is easier for you, which I don’t recommend. But only after you unwinded them a bit before that. Otherwise, they can snap and hurt you.
If you still didn’t decide what are the best guitar strings for your guitar, you can check out mine at the following post Best Electric Guitar Strings – How To Choose & Change Them?
If you plan on putting them back on after cleaning, you should carefully remove them and sort them so you wouldn’t waste time later. While you can go on the next step with only loosening your strings, it is much more effective to completely remove them for better access.
If your guitar has a floating bridge removing all the string together can reset the setup. Doing a setup to your guitar with a floating bridge is an advanced topic, easily if you are a beginner. Therefore I advise you to continue doing the following steps one by one when you remove two strings at a time. After you removed the first two strings you should continue to the next step and when you finished you need to put them back or new ones before you continue to the next pair.
Clean The Guitar’s Neck
Once the strings are removed or part of them you will start cleaning your guitar. Start from the headstock and work your way through the rest of the guitar. On the headstock, you have tuning pegs and sometimes string guides. If your guitar is standing in the open somewhere on a stand or anything, there might be a layer of dust beside the grime that accumulates from playing. Use some soft polishing or microfiber cloth to polish the headstock and metal parts. Be sure not to scrub hard because you might damage the wood. After that, you clean the back of the neck. This is the easy part since there won’t be much work to do on the back of the neck and the headstock. The only “tricky” part is to carefully clean every part of the headstock between tuning pegs and string guides if your guitar has them. If your tuning pegs need proper care or if they don’t turn easily you should remove them. After removing the tuning machines, you can use some oil or WD-40 to remove any rust or corrosion that might’ve appeared on them. If any part of the guitar needs additional cleaning or fixing, you should always isolate it to avoid damages to the rest of the instrument. If there is no rust or corrosion problem, then simple wiping will do the work. You can always use a tiny bit of guitar polish to make sure that they have their original shine back.
What Types Of Products You Can Use
If you plan on using any type of product beside the cloth for cleaning, it is important to avoid most of the household products. The chemicals might damage the wood or the finish of the guitar. Paper towels might damage your guitar finish as well. So the best option would be to use a guitar microfiber cloth. But any other soft cloth will do just fine, like an old cotton T-shirt. You can always use a little bit of water while cleaning your guitar. If not, there are countless products designed especially for guitar cleaning. Fingerprints, dust, smudges, all can be removed quite fast. There are many brands that design cleaning products. You should definitely check those as well. The choice is amazing and is designed for almost every part of the guitar. From body gloss, guitar polish & cleaner, fingerboard cleaners, and conditioners, to all the different oils and formula for keeping your guitar in the best possible condition.
Clean The Guitar’s Fretboard
The fretboard is one of the most used parts of the guitar. Naturally, you will spend the most time cleaning it. Sweating while playing guitar is quite normal, but it can dry the wood and cause some permanent damage. There are many different types of fretboards and you should check which one is yours so you know exactly what to do to make sure that your guitar is healthy and playable for the longest time period.
The main problem with maple fretboards is that all the dirt, marks or dents are easily noticeable. You cannot use any conditioners on maple necks. Lots of maple fretboards are without any finish or with a satin finish. Of course, there are those with some sort of lacquer finish as well. The best option for cleaning them would be using a soft cloth or ultra-fine steel wool. For those with lacquer finishes, you can use a damp or dry cloth only.
Rosewood, Pau Ferro And Ebony
You can use the ultra-fine 0000 steel wool to clean any grime or gunk that may be on the frets. After you make sure that everything is clean, you can choose some of the products like conditioners and oils for the fretboards. Conditioners will rehydrate the wood preventing any further cracks or damage from playing.
All Fretboard Types
No matter what fretboard you have, the most dirt will be next to the fret (metal line). Take additional time to make sure that each fret is cleaned. Because of the fret height compared to the fretboard, it is easy to miss those parts that are in the corner of each fret while wiping. Go one fret at the time and take a close look to see if any grime or gunk remained in the corners. If you have a type of fretboard that allows you to use oils and products, it is important not to use too much of it. The last thing you want is to “drown” the fretboard. Use a tiny amount of the oil and wipe it all off after you’re done with it.
Clean The Guitar’s Body
Cleaning the rest of the body of the guitar is rather simple. It is unavoidable that your guitar body will have some fingerprints or dried sweat or grime. But it is rather easy to clean the guitar body. There won’t be as much dirt or grime as on the fretboard. Because usually there is a thicker layer of finish on the body. Same as with the neck, you should be aware of what type of finish you have on your guitar before proceeding.
Polyurethane And Polyester
Most of the guitars are with these types of poly finishes. They are the easiest to clean. You can use a variety of different products to clean them. If you opt for some of the guitar cleaning products you will have no problems at all. There are also types of wax that can protect your guitar for a certain amount of time from additional grime.
The satin-finished guitars have a thin layer of lacquer, something like semi-gloss. You can use most of the cleaning products on them. The best option would be to use only dry or slightly dampened cloth for cleaning these types of bodies.
On the other hand guitars with matte finishes should only be cleaned with a dry cloth. Guitars with matte finish will eventually have some shiny spots on the places that you use the most like above the bridge (where you rest your hand). Using any type of waxes or product will make the problem even worse and turn your guitar finish from matte to glossy.
Cleaning The Hardware
When we talk about guitar hardware, we usually mean bridge, frets, tuning pegs, potentiometers, etc. The main issue with this is rust and corrosion. Salt from the sweating and skin oils can develop into rust if the guitar is not properly maintained. We already talked about frets and tuning pegs so let’s get on with the rest.
Clean The Guitar’s Bridge
Most of the guitar players rest their hands above the bridge making it the most “endangered” part of the guitar hardware. There are different types of bridges but all of them are prone to corrosion and rust. You should use a soft cloth or a guitar polish to clean them. The cloth will help bring the original shine to the polished parts. But don’t use too much of it and make sure that there is no residue after cleaning for it may corrode in the end if not cleaned. The fixed bridges are the easiest for cleaning because they don’t have any additional cavities. For the floating bridges and tremolo systems, you will have a lot of additional holes you should look into. Some of the parts might be hard to access like saddles. You can always use a cotton bud to help you clean the dust from those areas. Guitars with the tremolo system will have an additional cavity in the back of the body. Remove the cover and make sure that the springs and tremolo block is clean as well. Guitars with Floyd-Rose will work the same as the tremolo ones and you should each saddle and under each saddle as well. If the bridge is in bad condition and is already corroded or a bit rusty, then you should remove it completely for better access and additional cleaning. You can use WD-40 on it. It is great for rust, corrosion and grime and dust as well. But be sure that the bridge is removed, because WD-40 might damage the finish of the guitar. When the bridge is removed, use a toothbrush to apply WD-40.
Clean The Guitar’s Pickups
Beside the bridge, pickups are the second part of the guitar hardware most prone to rust. Your hand might rest on top of one of the pickups or you’ll hit them with your pick while playing. Depending on the pickups you have. If your pickups have some sort of protection either chrome or plastic, you can use a dry cloth for plastic or polish for chrome. Some pickups like on the Stratocaster have open magnets, you should avoid using steel wool for cleaning them because tiny bits of metal might get stuck on them or go inside and ruin the pickups. If you plan on doing the deeper cleaning, you should remove them the same as with the bridge of the guitar. And always protect the rest of the pickups with the tape to leave exposed only parts you are cleaning and to make sure that you don’t damage anything else while doing it.
Clean The Guitar’s Potentiometers And Switches
You will want to remove the caps from the potentiometers so you can access that tiny bit of the body or pickguard that was inaccessible before. Other than that, you will use a dry cloth as well as with the rest of the guitar. Potentiometers and switches won’t need additional care because of the covers that protect the electronics.
Clean The Guitar’s Screws
Whether you have the pickguard on the guitar or not, you will have screws somewhere on the body of the guitar. For cleaning screws, you can use a dry cloth or some sort of polish.
Re-stringing the Guitar
After you finished with all the cleaning, it is time to restring the guitar. The best option is to use a new set of strings. Take one string at a time. Don’t pull them all out because you’ll spend time searching for the right string. Depending on the type of bridge it might take you some time to do it. Guitars with the fixed bridge are usually the easiest because you don’t have to do additional intonation and tuning. After restringing an entire guitar, you should do a bit of a string stretching to make sure that they fit properly both on the bridge as well as on the tuning pegs. It is normal for the guitar to go out of tune after restringing so take your time before proceeding to additional settings. It is a good idea to do the entire set-up of the guitar after every restringing to make sure that each string is intonated properly.
As mentioned before you have a floating bridge this will be the time to put the two strings back or a new pair from a new package. After you finished go back to the first step and remove the next two strings and continue cleaning the fretboard.
11 Guitar Maintenance Tips
The best advice is to constantly take care of your guitar to avoid having to do fixes and repairs instead of a simple cleaning.
- Wash your hands before playing.
- you should do a minor string cleaning after each session. Whether you have a new set or not, you should wipe the strings after you’ve finished playing. A simple wiping with the dry cloth will increase the strings’ lifespan and will make your playing more comfortable.
- It is a good idea to have a different cloth for strings and for the body. The strings might damage the cloth and if you use it for them only, then it will hardly be a problem at all.
- Storing your guitar properly. If you are not playing the guitar, it should be stored somewhere. If you have a guitar case, that would be the best option. If it stays in open, it is certain that the dust will collect on it and it will be more exposed to humidity and temperature changes
- It is quite handy to have a piece of cloth with your guitar at all times. If you have a guitar case, keep it in the additional compartment. Wipe your entire guitar after each session to remove all the fingerprints and sweat before it turns to rust and before deep cleaning is required.
- Deep cleaning of the guitar should be something that is done when needed. But you don’t need to use all the oils too much. Deep cleaning with fretboard oils should be done maybe once a year
- It is natural for the parts of the guitar to be worn at the places you play the most. The back of the neck, some frets, the place where you rest your hand on the body, for example, will look worn after some time and might even have finish removed from them. Along with some scratches and dents, this is the natural life of an instrument. If you have cracks or holes or parts of your finish removed, you won’t treat that part of the guitar with finish polishers or cleaners. No matter if your guitar used to have a finish there. On guitars with a maple neck, it is normal that finish wears after a time of playing. Of course, it will take years for this to happen, but it will eventually happen. The areas with a broken finish as well, need no polishing. You want all of these things cleaned with a dry cloth and without additional chemicals and products.
- Don’t leave your guitar on vinyl. Avoid putting your guitar on vinyl bags for example. Vinyl will eat through the lacquer. Avoid vinyl products as much as you can. Whether if it is a simple bag or a guitar stand or a capo, there is a chance that it will destroy the finish of your guitar. If it has nitrocellulose finish (which is not rare), you might get some dents or damages to the guitar finish. If you use capos or stands that rest on the neck, you will damage the finish on the neck of the guitar.
- I once read the saying: “if it moves oil it”. We mentioned using WD-40 for the guitar hardware but you can also use oil for the mechanical parts as well. While most of the electric guitars don’t have exposed gears in the tuning machines, you can always use a tiny bit of oil for the mechanical parts to ensure that they are moving properly. Some of the enclosed tuning machines on the electric guitar have holes one that is designed for this exact purpose. Of course, you will need to be sure that that oil won’t go anywhere else, so the tiniest bit is enough. The best part about using this kind of oil is that it needs to be done once in a blue moon, so don’t feel bad if you have never done it before.
- Check the potentiometers, screws, back-plate, jack, everything that can be removed, if it is tight and not moving. You don’t want any of the screws to be loose or guitar output jack to jiggle.
- So these are the most important steps of deep cleaning your electric guitar. The best option would be to do a minor cleaning every few days or every week, depending on how often you play. If you ensure that your guitar is properly maintained, you won’t have to worry about additional fixes, repairs or part replacements in the future. Take these simple steps to make sure that your instrument is always the best it can be. It will allow you to play with more pleasure and ease which will only result in a better tone you’ll get out of it and furthermore better music. You’ll never be able to create beautiful art without a beautiful and maintained instrument.
For more maintenance tips you can check out my post 22 Essential Guitar Maintenance Tips – Extend Its Life
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