I love playing guitar, but hate cleaning it. It’s a necessary evil though, and if you want your guitar to sound great and last a long time, you need to clean it regularly. But how?
I’ve written this guide to cleaning a guitar to answer all of your questions and make it as painless as possible.
Keeping Your Guitar in Tip-Top Shape
Wash Your Hands Before You Play
It’s a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many musicians pick up their guitars after eating greasy food and then wonder why their instrument is covered in smudged fingerprints. Not to mention that the strings sound like rubber bands! So, take a few minutes to wash your hands before you play and you’ll get the most out of your strings, saving you time and money.
Wipe Down Your Strings
Products like GHS’ Fast Fret and Jim Dunlop’s Ultraglide 65 are great for keeping your strings in top condition. Just apply these cleaning lubricants after playing and you’ll get:
- Sparkly-sounding strings
- Faster playing feel
- Removal of fingertip-induced dust and dirt from the fretboard
To save yourself time and effort in the future, there are a few things you can do to keep your guitar clean:
- Wipe down your strings after each playing session
- Store your guitar in its case when not in use
- Clean your strings with a cloth every few weeks
- Use a guitar polish to keep the body of your guitar looking shiny and new
What’s the Dirtiest Thing About Playing Guitar?
If you’re a gigging musician, you know the drill: you get up on stage and it’s like stepping into a sauna. The lights are so hot they could fry an egg, and you’re sweating buckets before you even start playing. It’s not just uncomfortable – it’s bad news for your guitar!
The Damage of Sweat and Grease
Sweat and grease on your guitar’s finish can do more than just make it look gross – it can wear away the lacquer and damage the fretboard. It can also get into the electronic components and hardware, causing rust and other problems.
How to Keep Your Guitar Clean
If you want to keep your guitar looking and sounding its best, here are a few tips:
- Practice in a cool, well-ventilated room.
- Wipe down your guitar after each session.
- Invest in a good guitar cleaning kit.
- Keep your guitar in its case when you’re not playing.
It all comes down to context and conditions. So if you want to keep your guitar in tip-top shape, make sure you’re taking the necessary precautions!
How to Give Your Fretboard a Facial
Rosewood, Ebony & Pau Ferro Fretboards
If your fretboard is looking a bit worse for wear, it’s time to give it a good ol’ fashioned facial.
- Jim Dunlop has a range of products that are perfect for cleaning Rosewood/Ebony fretboards. But if you’ve been a bit too lazy and there’s a lot of gunk built up, then steel wool might be your only hope. If you do use it, make sure to only use 0000 steel wool. Its fine steel fibres will remove any dirt without damaging or wearing down the frets. In fact, it will even give them a bit of a shine!
- Before you use steel wool, it’s a good idea to cover your guitar’s pickups with masking tape to prevent any metal particles from sticking to their magnets. Once you’ve done that, put on some latex gloves and gently rub the wool into the fingerboard in a circular motion. After you’re done, wipe or hoover away any debris and make sure the surface is clear.
Conditioning the Fretboard
Now it’s time to give your fretboard some TLC. Conditioning the fretboard rehydrates the wood and deeply cleanses it to make it look as good as new. Products like Jim Dunlop’s Guitar Fingerboard Kit or Lemon Oil are perfect for this. You can apply this with a damp cloth or toothbrush, or combine this with the steel wool step and rub it onto the board. Just don’t go overboard – you don’t want to drown the fretboard and cause it to warp. A little goes a long way!
How To Make Your Guitar Shine Like New
The Dreaded Build-Up
It’s inevitable – no matter how careful you are, your guitar will inevitably get some marks and grease over time. But don’t worry, cleaning the body of your guitar is much less intimidating than cleaning the fretboard! Before you get started, you’ll need to figure out what type of finish your guitar has.
Gloss & Poly-Finished Guitars
Most mass-produced guitars are finished with either polyester or polyurethane, which gives them a glossy protective layer. This makes them the easiest to clean, as the wood isn’t porous or absorbent. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Grab a soft cloth, like the Jim Dunlop Polish Cloth.
- Spray a few pumps of Jim Dunlop Formula 65 Guitar Polish onto the cloth.
- Wipe down the guitar with the cloth.
- Finish off with some Jim Dunlop Platinum 65 Spray Wax for a professional look.
It’s important to remember that you should never use lemon oil or typical household cleaning products on guitars, as they can dull and degrade the finish. Stick with specialist products to keep your pride and joy looking its best!
How to Make Your Guitar Look Like New
Step 1: Wash Your Hands
It’s obvious, but it’s also the most important step! So don’t forget to scrub those hands before you start cleaning your guitar.
Step 2: Remove the Strings
This will make cleaning the body and fretboard a lot easier. Plus, it’ll give you a chance to take a break and stretch your hands.
Step 3: Clean the Fretboard
- For Rosewood/Ebony/Pau Ferro fretboards, use fine steel wool to remove stubborn gunk.
- Apply lemon oil to re-hydrate.
- For Maple fretboards, use a damp cloth to clean.
Step 4: Polish the Guitar’s Body
- For poly-finished (gloss) guitars, spray guitar polish onto a soft cloth and wipe down. Then use a dry part to buff out the polish.
- For matte/satin/nitro-finished guitars, use only a dry cloth.
Step 5: 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. Or, if you’re dealing with thicker grime or rust, WD-40 can be your best friend.
Getting Your Guitar Ready for a Good Clean
Steps to Take Before You Start
Before you start scrubbing away, there are a few things you should do to get your guitar ready for a good clean.
- Change your strings if needed. It’s always a good idea to change your strings when you’re about to give your guitar a good clean.
- Make sure you have all the necessary cleaning supplies. You don’t want to be in the middle of a cleaning session and realize you’re missing something!
Cleaning Without Removing the Strings
It’s possible to clean your guitar without taking off the strings, but it’s not as thorough. If you want to get your guitar really sparkling, it’s best to remove the strings. Plus, it’s a great excuse to give your guitar a new set of strings!
Once you’ve got your guitar ready for cleaning, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Use a soft cloth and gentle cleaning solution. You don’t want to damage your guitar with harsh chemicals or abrasive materials.
- Don’t forget to clean the fretboard. This is often overlooked, but it’s important to keep your fretboard clean and free of dirt and grime.
- Be careful when cleaning around the pickups. You don’t want to damage them or mess with their settings.
- Use a toothbrush to get into hard-to-reach places. This is especially useful for getting rid of dirt and dust in the nooks and crannies.
- Polish your guitar after you’ve finished cleaning. This will give your guitar a nice shine and make it look like new!
How To Give Your Guitar Hardware A Shine
If you’re a guitarist, you know that your guitar’s hardware needs some TLC every now and then. Sweat and skin oils can cause rust to develop on the bridge, pickups and frets, so it’s important to keep them clean.
Here are some tips to keep your guitar’s hardware looking shiny and new:
- Use a soft cloth and a light amount of guitar polish to clean the hardware.
- Use a cotton bud to get into hard to reach areas, like between string saddles on a tune-o-matic bridge.
- If the hardware is badly corroded or rusty, use WD-40 and a toothbrush to tackle thick grime. Just make sure to remove the hardware from the guitar first!
The Finishing Touch
When you’re done cleaning, you’ll be left with a guitar that looks like it just rolled off the factory line. So grab a beer, strum some chords, and show off your shiny guitar hardware to your friends!
How to Give Your Acoustic Guitar a Spring Clean
Cleaning an Acoustic Guitar
Cleaning an acoustic guitar is no different than cleaning an electric one. Most acoustic guitars have either Rosewood or Ebony fretboards, so you can use lemon oil to clean and rehydrate them.
When it comes to the finish, you’ll mostly find natural or satin-finished acoustics. This type of finish is more porous, which allows the wood to breathe and gives the guitar a more resonant and open sound. So, when cleaning these guitars, all you need is a dry cloth and a bit of water if needed to remove stubborn marks.
Tips for Cleaning Your Acoustic Guitar
Here are some tips to help you give your acoustic guitar a spring clean:
- Use lemon oil to clean and rehydrate the fretboard.
- Use a dry cloth and a bit of water to remove stubborn marks.
- Avoid using any harsh chemicals or abrasive materials.
- Make sure to clean the strings and the bridge too.
- Don’t forget to clean the body of the guitar.
The Benefits of Keeping Your Guitar Clean
- A clean guitar looks and feels better than a grubby one, so you’ll be more inspired to pick it up and play.
- If you want your guitar to last, you gotta keep it clean. Otherwise, you’ll be replacing parts in no time.
- Keeping it in good condition also means it’ll hold its value if you ever want to sell it.
The Bottom Line
If you take care of your guitar, it’ll take care of you! So make sure to give it a good scrub every now and then. After all, you wouldn’t want your guitar to be embarrassed by all the dirt and grime, would you
If your guitar has a maple fretboard (like many Stratocasters and Telecasters), you don’t need to use lemon oil or fretboard conditioner. Just wipe it down with a microfiber cloth and maybe a small amount of guitar polish.
Guitar Care: Keeping Your Instrument in Tip-Top Shape
Storing Your Guitar
When it comes to storing your guitar, you have two options: keep it in a case or keep it in a closet. If you choose the former, you’ll be protecting your instrument from temperature and weather changes, as well as keeping it safe from sticky fingers. If you choose the latter, you’ll need to make sure the humidity is consistent, otherwise your guitar could suffer from warping or cracking.
Cleaning Your Guitar
Daily cleaning is essential for keeping your guitar looking and sounding its best. Here’s what you should do:
- Wipe down the body of your guitar with a soft cloth
- Clean the fretboard with a damp cloth
- Polish the finish with a special guitar polish
Changing Your Strings
Changing your strings is an important part of guitar maintenance. Here’s how to do it:
- Unwind the old strings
- Clean the fretboard and bridge
- Put the new strings on
- Tune the strings to the correct pitch
Everything You Need to Know About Changing Guitar Strings
Why People Change Guitar Strings
Guitar strings are like the lifeblood of your instrument – they need to be changed every now and then to keep your guitar sounding and playing its best. Here are some of the most common reasons why guitarists change their strings:
- Replacing a broken string
- Replacing an aged or dirty set
- Changing playability (tension/feel)
- Achieving a specific sound or tuning
Signs It’s Time for New Strings
If you’re not sure whether it’s time to change your strings, here are some telltale signs that it’s time for a new set:
- Tuning instability
- Loss of tone or sustain
- Buildup or grime on the strings
Cleaning Your Strings
If your strings are just a little dirty, you can make them sound newer by cleaning them. Check out our guitar string cleaning guide for more information.
Selecting and Installing the Right Strings
When selecting and installing new strings, playability and sound are two qualities that will vary based on your brand and string gauge selection. We recommend trying out different sets of strings to find the perfect one for you. Just be aware that moving up or down in string gauge will affect the guitar’s setup. You may need to make adjustments to your relief, action, and intonation when making this adjustment. Check out our electric guitar setup guides for more information.
How to Keep Your Guitar in Tip-Top Shape
Store it in a Case
When you’re not playing it, your guitar should be tucked away in its case. Not only will this keep it safe from any accidental bumps or knocks, but it’ll also help maintain the right humidity levels. Leaving your guitar out on a stand or wall hanger can be risky business, so it’s best to keep it in its case.
If you’re travelling with your guitar, make sure to give it enough time to adjust to the new environment before taking it out of its case. Unlocking the case and cracking it open can help speed up the process.
Maintain the Humidity
This is especially important for acoustic guitars. Investing in a humidification system will help keep the humidity levels at a consistent 45-50%. Not doing so can lead to cracks, sharp fret ends, and failed bridges.
Set it Up
If you’re in an area with frequently changing weather, you’ll need to adjust your guitar more often. Check out our guitar setup guide for more info on how to set up your electric guitar.
Cleaning your guitar is an essential part of being a musician. Not only will it keep your instrument in great condition and last longer, but it will also make it more enjoyable to play! So, don’t be afraid to take the time to clean your guitar – it’s WORTH IT! Plus, you’ll be the envy of all your friends who don’t know the difference between a fretboard and a fret-NOT!
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe