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Guitar Maintenance and Care

Do you love the way your electric or acoustic guitar plays for you?  The way it looks? The way it sounds?  If you get real enjoyment out of your guitar, there are some easy things you can do to keep it looking, sounding and playing good for as long as you live. After tens, hundreds, or even thousands of hours of playing, the only thing that your guitar needs from you is a bit of regular care and maintenance.  You don’t have to do anything extreme such as wiping down the guitar from top to bottom after each chord you play, or housing it in a custom made glass box, so that no one’s hands but yours touch it. Just a little TLC is all your guitar needs.

So, what can you do to keep your guitar in good condition?  Let’s start with the simplest and cheapest way to take care of your guitar – Wash your hands!  Yes, you read correctly. Whether you realize it or not, your hands have oil and dirt on them. Washing your hands before playing the guitar will help to preserve the fingerboard and prolong the life of your strings. Also, regular cleaning will greatly benefit your guitar. All you have to do is wipe down the neck and body every time you get done playing the guitar. This not only keeps it looking good, but also makes it sound better. Over time the oils on our fingers accumulate on the surface of the strings and they lose their brilliance.  So don’t be afraid to get into the habit of wiping down the strings with a soft, clean cloth after each use.  This aids in limiting corrosion, extends their life and also protects the fretboard.  Cleaning and polishing the sides, top and back of your guitar regularly is also a good thing to do.  There are a number of polishes offered by guitar companies specifically for the guitar that you can buy, or you can just use a high-quality furniture polish.  If you clean and polish regularly, your guitar will always be looking its best.

It is best that you never expose your guitar to excessive heat or cold for prolonged periods of time. Heat and sunlight can quickly make the woods in your guitar look old and faded. Cold weather might not affect the finish as much, but it can cause damage to binding, inlays and the neck of the guitar.  Your guitar requires a cool, dry environment to remain in good condition, so do your best to keep your guitar in these types of surroundings.  While it is more fun to have your guitar out where you and everyone else can admire it, your guitar should really be kept in its case.  Your guitar doesn’t appreciate being exposed to light, extreme heat or cold, dust/dirt, etc.  It also doesn’t enjoy changing temperatures, changing humidity, or being in direct sunlight. If possible, steer clear of the cheap gig bags, and get yourself a hardshell case.  

If you have an acoustic guitar you might also want to purchase a humidifying system. This will assure that the wood doesn’t dry out, crack and warp. This can be especially beneficial if you live in a hot, dry climate.  And don’t get nervous, you don’t have to spend a fortune on this kind of protection for your guitar.  You can find a decent guitar humidifier online for under $20! Also, do your best to not subject your guitar to any drastic temperature changes.  If the temperature changes too quickly the wood expands and contracts, which is bad for the guitar.

Regularly checking and tightening all screws, strap-pins and tuning machines are good things to do. This just makes a lot of sense, because nobody wants any rattling or jingling when they’re playing their guitar, either at a show or at home.  Be sure that your guitar’s bridge and neck are setup correctly for the gauge of strings you are using. When changing string gauges, make sure that your guitar is setup properly for the new strings. Obviously you don’t want to do this too often to your guitar.  If you don’t know how to do this yourself, you might want to get someone who is trained to do it for you. Make it your business to regularly clean all metal parts of your guitar with a high quality metal cleaning compound. Chrome and nickel have a reputation for corroding and tarnishing, especially in certain environments.  So make a point to clean your pickup covers, bridge, and tuning buttons, which will help in preserving the beauty of your guitar.

When playing or handling your guitar, avoid being around things that can cause damage (scratches, dings, etc.) to your guitar. If you’re like me and wear a studded belt and a belt buckle, you may want to take it off while playing; this will prevent the back of your guitar from getting all scratched up.  Also, consider buying a stand, so you never have to leave your guitar leaning against a wall, desk, amplifier, etc. Having a stand will eliminate having to worry about your guitar accidentally sliding off your bed, or falling over while stood up against something.  Guitar stands can be inexpensive, and are very much worth the money.  A guitar stand is also great to have during your breaks if you’re at a gig.  

Changing your guitar’s strings is the most common maintenance procedure that you– as a guitar player – will perform.  How often you change your guitar strings depends on a few things. For most guitar player, strings should be changed once a month.  Those who perform regularly should be changing strings more often. Heavy players (professional/on-the-road musicians) should be changing strings as often as they can afford it. A common misconception is that if you don't play, the strings don't wear.  Unfortunately, even if you didn't play your guitar for a month after restringing it, chances are those strings will still sound "dead."  It has to do with the metal oxidizing, which starts as soon as the strings are removed from the package. So, what kind of strings should you use? If you have a nylon string guitar, replace the strings with nylon. Steel string guitars are braced differently and the extra tension of steel strings can destroy the guitar. If you have a steel string guitar, you have some other choices. The most common strings for a steel string guitar are bronze, phosphor bronze, or silk and steel (these are better for older/cheaper models as they can make a difficult to play guitar a bit easier).  Try out some different brands, that way you can find which strings are the best for you.  Take this into consideration when deciding on which gauge of strings to use.  The string gauge refers to the thickness of the strings. A light gauge set of strings will be easier to press down than a medium set. However, the medium set will give you more volume and better tone. If you should decide to change string gauge, just remember that the tension on the guitar will be different and may require some adjustments.      

Are you ready to change your strings? Before doing anything be sure that you are 100% comfortable with changing your strings.  Changing the strings on an acoustic guitar is a little bit different than an electric guitar. ***CAUTION: Only remove one string at a time***  You will want to:

  1. completely slacken the string, uncoil it from the tuning peg at the head of the guitar
    and remove the other end of the string from the bridge by removing the sixth string
    bridge pin from the bridge of the guitar 
  2. replace the sixth string by sliding the ball-end of the string down a couple of inches
    into the hole in the bridge. Now, replace the bridge pin back into the hole, aligning the
    carved slot of the pin with the string.  As you replace the bridge pin, lightly pull on the
    string until you feel the ball slip into place;

  3. pull the sixth string towards the headstock of the guitar.  Pull the string about an
    inch past the tuning peg you’re feeding it through, and using your fingers, crimp the
    string to a 90 degree angle, so the end of the string points in the direction of the
    tuning peg;
  4. slide the string through the tuning peg until you hit the crimp in the string; 
    begin tightening the string, to slowly bring it into tune; 
    apply tension while wrapping the sixth string; 

  5. watch and make sure the wrapped string passes over the end portion of the string
    protruding from the end of the tuning peg, on the first wrap-around; 

  6. Immediately after the wrapped string has passed over the string end, guide the
    string so that on the next pass, it will wrap under the string end.  All subsequent
    wrap-arounds will also wrap under the string end, each wrap going below the last; 

  7. stretch the string to help maintain tuning, and repeat this entire process for the
    other 5 strings.

Here’s a short description of what you would do when changing the strings on your electric guitar.
You will need to follow these steps:  

1) loosen the sixth string on the guitar,
2) remove the old guitar string, 
3) feed the new string through the back of the guitar, 
4) pull the new string through the bridge,
5) leave extra string length for wrapping around the tuning peg,
6) crimp and wind new electric guitar string,
7) use tension to control string winding,
8) wrap the guitar string on the tuning peg,
9) cut any excess string, and
10) stretch the guitar string, then repeat theses steps for the other 5 strings.

If you don’t set your own instruments up, it is advised that you take your instrument to a local guitar technician annually to give it a total check-up.  No matter how good you take care of and baby your guitar, the truss rod will need to be regularly adjusted, along with the intonation screws on the pickups, to make sure that you are getting the sound from your guitar that you like.

Bridge adjustments may be necessary also, so it’s always good to take your guitar in for a preventative inspection.  This is just one more thing that will be good for your guitar in the long run.

If you’re planning on putting your guitar in storage, remove some of the tension from the strings, polish and clean the guitar, and then put a small amount of lemon oil on the fretboard. Keep the guitar in its case and store it in a place that won’t get too warm, cold, or humid. By doing this you can be assured that when you take your guitar out again, it will be in good, clean shape.  And when you finally decide to take your guitar traveling with you, please remember that your guitar is not just another suitcase. Do your best to protect it when traveling.  When traveling by car, don’t make your guitar a prisoner of the trunk, if you can help it.  The back seat is a much safer place for it to be, because a lot of car trunks are neither heated nor ventilated, so temperatures can fluctuate (which we know is BAD for your guitar).  Extreme heat or cold is an open invitation for cracking and warping.  Even the glues used in your guitar can be affected by heat, which can cause loosening and breakdown of glue adhesion. If you think of your guitar as being a baby, then you will always do everything you can to protect and treat it right.

The best thing you can do take care of your guitar is play it every day.  Yes, that’s right – play it every day!  Sticking your guitar in its case and stuffing it in the closet for several months will only make its condition go downhill.  You have to play it regularly just the way you drive your car regularly.  It’s obvious that a lot of the tips, suggestions and recommendations above are those that a lot cannot strictly follow. Some of the above requires a guitar tech, a lot of time and at times, a large monetary investment. There are some who have the patience and persistence to keep up on such a strict maintenance routine, but a lot of us don’t or just can’t.  Maybe the most diligent of us have the persistence needed to keep up such a strict maintenance routine, but it’s a difficult thing to do.  Be assured that your guitar won’t disintegrate or fall to pieces if you don’t follow every one of these steps; however, if you are able to do these things, you can be sure that your guitar will live as long as or longer than you! is a division of Todd, Michael and James, Inc.
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