How to Clean a Guitar

Serious guitarists have a serious attachment to their guitars. We have all heard of B. B. King's guitar Lucille, Eddie Van Halen's Frankenstrat, Eric Clapton's Blackie and many more guitars treated more like beloved companions than plain old musical instruments. Just as you would with a classic car or any other object you value highly and love dearly, you want to keep your guitar in the best condition. That means regular maintenance and cleaning. Cleaning your guitar will make it look good and will also help it last longer.

But you have to be careful with how you clean a guitar. While doing it the right way will make it shine, doing it the wrong way could actually damage your pride and joy. But have no fear! Strings and Beyond is here to help you with some basic tips on how to clean a guitar. These techniques are applicable to electric guitars as well as acoustic guitars.

Getting Ready

First you will want to have the best setup possible for cleaning your guitar. That means doing it in a place where there is good lighting. You should also gather all the materials you need beforehand so you don't have to go searching for things you need in the middle of the job.

What do you need, anyway? Start off with a clean, lint-free cloth. Microfiber cloths are great for cleaning guitars, but if you don't have any on hand, you could probably get away with an old clean T-shirt or an old clean sock. Just make sure they are as lint-free as possible.

When it comes to cleaning and polishing agents for guitars, it's best to err on the side of caution. This means using the least harsh materials possible so you won't damage your guitar's finish. Start off with some water and lightly dampen your cloth with it. Keep a small tub or pail of clean water nearby so you can occasionally dip your cloth in it to remove dirt and grime from it as you clean your guitar. Make sure to thoroughly wring out your cloth after cleaning it and before using it on your guitar again.

If you plan to polish your guitar, look for polish with carnauba wax. This and many other guitar-cleaning and polishing products will be available at your local music store and online. Avoid waxes with petroleum-based chemicals and other harsh materials.

If there are some heavily soiled spots on your guitar, keep a little white distilled vinegar close at hand too. This mildly acidic solution can help remove stubborn grime.

What Not to Use

Now that you know what materials to use, keep in mind items to avoid. Steer clear of cleaners with bleach, lacquer thinner and other harsh chemicals. Avoid all-purpose cleaners and furniture polish. Don't use paper towels, which can scratch the finish on guitars.

Regular Maintenance

As we all know, an ounce of prevention can save a ton of headaches. A little regular cleaning and maintenance of your guitar can help prevent buildup of grime and crud in the long run. That can help your guitar sound better and last longer as well as looking cleaner. Make sure to occasionally wipe the instrument's strings, neck and bridge with a dry, lint-free cloth to get rid of dust and dirt. While you're at it, wipe the metal parts of your guitar with the dry cloth too.

You can also keep your guitar cleaner by putting it away in its case when you're not using it. That will protect it from dust and make your cleanings less onerous and frequent.

A Thorough Cleaning

Every now and then, you will want to give your guitar a good, thorough cleaning. This means removing the guitar strings so you will have easy access to the fretboard and frets. Removing the strings will also protect them from water and cleaning materials as you clean the guitar's body.

After you have removed the guitar strings, lightly dampen a cloth in water. Now you can clean the frets and fretboard with the cloth, using gentle motions to get rid of dirt, grime and grit. If your cloth becomes dirty, remember to rinse it occasionally in water and to wring it out. If you encounter some tough spots, you may also use a cloth with a bit of distilled white vinegar on it.

Next move to the guitar body. Clean the front, back and sides of your guitar with a damp cloth, rinsing the cloth occasionally and wringing it out thoroughly. Use a circular motion to remove dirt.

You can also clean the bridge of the guitar with a damp cloth. For hard-to-reach spots, use a toothbrush or a pipe cleaner.

Don't Forget the Details

Remember to clean the tuning keys on your guitar too. Wipe them with a dry cloth. If you have an electric guitar, you can clean the pickups with clean, damp cloth. If you spot any rust on the pickups, you should remove them with an Allen wrench. Then use a bit of rust dissolver, a white pencil eraser or a bit of lighter fluid to remove the corrosion. Dry the pickups and replace.

Some guitarists like to polish their guitars to make them shine. But polish shouldn't be used on guitars with satin finishes or on vintage guitars because it can damage their looks. If you do decide to polish your guitar, stick with polishes made with pure carnauba wax. Simply spray a bit on a cloth and polish.