For optimal playability, it is important to keep your acoustic guitar clean and maintained properly.  If you clean and maintain your guitar regularly, not only will it perform at it’s best, but it will last you a lifetime.  As the sound of an acoustic guitar comes from a combination of the strings and the body resonating, it is important to not only change your strings fairly often (depending upon how much you play and the chemical composition of the natural oils and acid content in your perspiration, as well as the climate that you live in).  If you perspire from your hands when you play, and have a fairly high acid content in your perspiration, you will have to change your strings and clean your fingerboard more often than if you don’t.  Additionally, dead skin from your fingertips can build up in the fingerboard and the windings of the strings.  To check if your strings require changing, take a look at them very closely.  If they are tarnished and/or dirty, it is definitely time for a new set.  If your strings are too old, you can also tell that it is time to change them by running your finger underneath the unwound strings.  If your fingertip shows signs of tarnish, or you feel a slight roughness on the part of the string that comes into contact with the fingerboard when you play, it is time for a change.  On average, the casual player can get away with changing their strings every 2-3 months.  If you play more often, then of course the strings will require changing more often.  Using a coated string (the coating is an anti corrosive material), then you will be able to use a set of strings a bit longer than an uncoated set.  I personally use a light gauge, coated set of Martin Lifespan SP phospher bronze strings.  They have the same coating as the Cleartone brand, which does not “shed” or “flake” like some other brands of coated strings.  I choose the phosphor bronze as opposed to the 80/20 bronze strings because I like a richer deeper tone.  A phosphor bronze string has more copper in the metal than the 80/20 strings, so they will give a full, rich tone.

Every few string changes, I also clean and treat the fingerboard and the fret wires.  The fingerboards of most acoustic steel string guitars are made of either Ebony or Rosewood.  Both woods can be cleaned fairly easily.  For both Rosewood and Ebony fingerboards, I usually polish the fret wires with a good metal polish.  I prefer one called Flitz, which will remove the tarnish, without removing any of the metal.  If the fret wires are extremely tarnished, I would recommend a quick rubbing with some 0000 steel wool in order to remove really built up tarnish and corrosion.  Any good wood cleaner can be used to clean the fingerboard itself.  Just use a small amount of the cleaner and a soft microfibre cloth to get the dirt off of the surface.  If the dirt on your fingerboard gets too caked up, you will want to use a soft toothbrush to remove the heavily caked up debris and any dirt that may have gotten into the pores of the wood.  Rosewood is more porous and softer than Ebony, and you may have to clean it more often, because dirt and grime can get into the pores.  Additionally, Rosewood that dries out, will flake and crack.  To keep this from happening, using a good quality lemon oil will keep the wood moisturized  (some people prefer linseed oil, but I have found lemon oil to be a good moisturizer).  I find that the wood will usually absorb the amount of lemon oil that it needs and send the rest back to the surface of the fingerboard.  After applying a small amount of lemon oil to the Rosewood fingerboard, wait a few minutes, and wipe the excess away with a soft clean cloth.  I usually use a separate cloth for polishing the frets, oiling the fingerboard and cleaning and polishing the body of the guitar.  This is to prevent getting the metal polish and/or lemon oil on the body of the guitar.  Remove as much of the lemon oil from the surface as you can to avoid getting it on the fret wires and having the fingerboard get an oily feeling.  Ebony is a bit harder and less porous than Rosewood, so it will require less moisturizing, and will not hold as much dirt and debris in the pores as Rosewood.  Follow up the lemon oil with a light cleaning with a good wood cleaner and your fingerboard will feel great.

To clean the body of the guitar, first determine whether there is a satin finish or a glossy finish on the wood that makes up the body.  If the body has a satin finish, you would want to use a cleaner and/or protectant more than a polish.  If the body has a glossy finish, you can first clean it, and then use a polish to keep the finish shiny and new looking.  There is a product called The One made by a company called Music Nomad, which is a cleaner, protectant and a polish all in one.  A light spraying over the entire body followed by rubbing and buffing with a very soft cloth (as mentioned above), will not only clean and protect the wood of the body, but give it a nice feel and look.  The cleaner the wood of the body of your acoustic guitar is, the more it will resonate and the better it will sound.  Following the maintenance and cleaning of the fingerboard and the body of the guitar, a new set of your favorite strings will make your six stringed wooden friend feel and sound great.

Finally, the wood used to make an acoustic guitar requires proper storage when not being played.  If I know I’m not going to be playing the guitar for a while, I always keep it in the case to protect it from the elements.  I also store the guitar in it’s case in a place that is not too hot or cold, or too dry or humid.  Acoustic guitars like a climate between 45-55% relative humidity to be at their best.  If you feel that your guitar is either kept in a too dry or too humid environment, there are things that you can use to prevent these things from happening.  There are humidifiers that can be kept in the case when the guitar is in it that will keep it at the proper level of humidity.  There are also hygrometers that can measure the level of humidity in the case and the room where the guitar is stored to assist you in determining whether the guitar is stored under the proper conditions.  A rule I go by regarding guitar storage, from a temperature pont of view, is to never store your guitar near any type of heat source or where it is too cold.  If you have a closet with no heat or hot water pipes running through it that does not have any outside walls on any of the sides of the closet away from the door, this would be a good place to keep the guitar in the case.  When traveling with the guitar, never put it in the trunk of your car.  I usually put the guitar on the floor of the back seat of the car.  This way, if you are comfortable in the car, your guitar will be too.  Putting the guitar in the trunk of a car for any fairly long period of time will expose it to any extremes of temperature depending upon what season it is where you are.  Too cold, too hot, too damp and too dry do not make for a happy playable guitar.  Follow these simple steps and you and your guitar will be happy together for a very long time.


If you have any questions about guitar maintenance – or guitars in general – feel free to give me a call or drop me an email – Ira

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Ira Hoch
A guitarist for 40+ years, Ira was once at the helm of the Guitar Department at the Sam Ash Music store in Forest Hills, New York. Before that, Ira was a recording engineer at New York’s famous Record Plant Recording Studio, where he worked with a lot of diverse artists and received a platinum album and cassette for the KISS “Crazy Nights” album. A player of both electric and acoustic guitars, Ira’s main axe is his 1963 Gibson SG Special. When not setting up his own instruments to his liking, Ira is busy perfecting his skills as a close-up magician and actor. So, when you need the best deals on guitars, amps, and live sound gear, be sure to give Ira a call and let him work his magic for you.