Are you an amateur or seasoned musician? Have you ever thought about what makes your favorite guitarists’ performances sound so good?
The guitar picks, strings and amps they use might be part of it, but another element is having a well-maintained instrument. Like cars, guitars need periodic tune-ups to perform at their best.
You can maintain your own guitar by following some simple tips every few months. Here are some things that professionals do to keep their guitars in tip-top shape.
Keep the Body Clean
Any time your picking hand strays from its home position on the neck of the guitar, or rests against the body while not playing, wipe away any crud that has collected there. Dirty surfaces can affect guitar sound, and can change the way your guitar strings feel when you play.
Regularly check the screws in your guitar to see if they require tightening or loosening. The neck should be tightened so that it doesn’t bow under tension, but the head shouldn’t be “cranked” so tightly that it pulls away from the guitar body. Check strap buttons to ensure they are secure. For this, you might find it handy to have a special capo-like tool for guitar maintenance . These types of tools can help you torque down guitar neck bolts without causing damage to the guitar neck itself. It’s also important to regularly check on guitar nut slot sizes , because worn slots will hamper string vibration, making them harder to bend.
Check Guitar Frets
Check guitar frets regularly to make sure none are sticking out past the edge of the fretboard. This can be a sign that your guitar needs a professional set-up or some fret work, which is done by filing down any high points on guitar frets with an extra-fine guitar file.
If you notice enough wear on your guitar strings that they aren’t holding their tuning, this may mean that you need to replace them more frequently than normal—or swap them for new guitar strings altogether. Unless you play your guitar every day, guitar strings lose their freshness surprisingly quickly—even if they don’t look worn or corroded. Many pros change their guitar strings every day.
There are guitar tools that can simplify guitar maintenance projects like changing guitar strings or adjusting guitar hardware, so keep this in mind when you are shopping for guitar gear.
The guitar strings themselves need to be checked and changed periodically, according to their condition and use—it’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing this every time you change your guitar’s strings. If you don’t replace them when needed, guitar strings can stretch out and become unplayable very quickly.
You should also check guitar tuners occasionally because loose or mis-adjusted tuning pegs will affect guitar sound and playability. Check the screws on the back of the guitar headstock and tighten any that are too loose. If they are too tight, they will pull up on the guitar face causing it to bow forward when tightened down all the way. In both cases, turning the tuning key in one direction will tighten it, and turning it in the opposite direction will loosen it.
Keep the Neck Clean and Oiled
An occasional cleaning with a guitar-safe cloth is generally all that’s needed to avoid dust buildup on any guitar surface—including guitar necks, fretboards, bridges and headstocks—that will affect tone. Although there are electric guitar polishes available commercially, they should be used sparingly because they coat the surface of the guitar in various substances that have their own effect on sound quality. A better choice is to wipe down your instrument with a clean cloth after playing, along with using a chamois leather to remove excess dust. Most guitar waxes and polishes contain guitar-harming ingredients like silicones, as well as guitar-safe ones like beeswax or carnauba wax.
Check guitar waxes and guitar polishes at your local music store before you buy them to make sure they won’t damage the guitar’s finish. Most guitar polishes should be wiped off with a clean cloth after a few minutes, but some guitar polishes can leave a sticky residue that is difficult to remove from your guitar without taking the finish off first—so check guitar polish instructions carefully before using them on acoustic or electric guitars.
There are many more things you can check on your guitar, but this list is a great place to start. Keep an eye on your guitar and talk to an expert if you need to — especially if you have any vintage guitars that need more careful maintenance. If you care for your guitar, you’ll have an instrument that stays with you for the long haul.