For most people, an electric guitar isn’t just an instrument, it’s a piece of art, culture, personal history and – if you look after it well enough – an investment. Cleaning and properly maintaining your electric guitar isn’t just a suggestion, it’s an absolute must.
Cleaning an electric guitar isn’t just about giving it the occasional wipe down, though. Guitar players need to learn about how to care for the instrument and ensure it’s maintained as well as the day it was first made.
In the same way we discussed cleaning an acoustic guitar, we are going to look some of the different aspect of electric guitar care, from temperature to refinishing. When put into practice, this will help keep you electric guitar both looking and sounding its best.
Electric Guitar Care: Temperature & Humidity
Although we might think the main danger to an electric guitar is getting dropped or knocked around, reality is that a guitar’s worst enemy is improper temperature and humidity levels.
Humidity levels refer to the amount of moisture that is in the air. If there is too much moisture in the air, the wood in a guitar can take on this moisture, causing it to swell. This can alter the entire geometry of a guitar, affecting both tone and playability.
Damage can also happen if there is too little moisture in the air which causes the guitar to shrink as natural moisture in the wood is taken away.
Humidity isn’t the only danger to guitars; temperature can also have disastrous consequences. If it is too hot this can cause cracking and glue joints to weaken, which ultimately lead to warping.
Temperatures that are too cold can damage the finish of the guitar, which can in turn lead to more damage if the exposed wood isn’t properly protected.
Humidity and temperature are dangerous for guitars, but there are ways that you can fight it.
A few quick tips:
- Watch where you store your guitar. Never leave you guitar in a place where these elements are stressed like near a direct heat source, outside on a hot or cold day, in the trunk/boot of a car, etc.
- Use a hardshell case when traveling, as some soft cases absorb heat and can cause more heat damage. Storing your guitar in its case like this will help limit physical damage, as well as heat/humidity damage.
- Invest in a digital hygrometer, and keep this in the case. This will show you the temperature and humidity of the environment your guitar is in, so you can move it if it’s in the danger zone. The ideal temperature for storing guitars is between 72-77 degrees Fahrenheit, and 45-55% humidity. (Note: GuitarAdventures recommends the Oasis OH-2 as a reliable hygrometer)
- Consider purchasing a humidifier. Whether you keep the guitar in your case or hanging on the wall, there are a variety of humidifiers that can help regulate the moisture level to keep your electric guitar safe. For more information, see the GuitarAdventures complete guide to guitar humidifiers.
How to Clean Your Electric Guitar
While preventing damage from the elements is one of the best things you can do for your electric guitar, cleaning is an equally important aspect of guitar care. You don’t want to let too much dirt of grime build up. There are loads of cleaning products on the market, however, and it can be hard to know which ones are right for the job.
Here are a few things to consider when cleaning different parts of your electric guitar:
The body of your electric guitar is the center piece and something you want looking perfect. In my experience the best cleaner for the lacquer body is Meths (Methlyated Spirits), as this is perfect at degreasing, cleaning, and leaves no residue on the surface. You only need to use a very small amount, and wipe clean straight after. Another good cleaner is the Dunlop 65 polish & cleaner, this in inexpensive and does a good job. It is always important to know what finish your guitar has before using any products, as some might not be suitable for certain finishes.
Over time strings can become covered in dirt, and grease effecting the tone and quality. Strings should be wiped down with something like a micro-fibre cloth after use but if they’re really dirty you should probably just replace them.
Fret boards are a tricky part of the guitar to clean, as they either come finished or unfinished. If it is finished with a lacquer, then use the same method mentioned for cleaning the body. However, most fret boards are unfinished which makes them vulnerable to drying out, so you will want to use a product which will clean as well as nourish the wood. A lemon oil is perfect for this, but do not over apply the oil, apply little by little.
Maintaining Your Electric Guitar Correctly
Cleaning isn’t always enough when looking after a guitar, and you need to conduct regular maintenance checks to ensure everything is in working order.
This is the time you should tighten any bolts or screws, change strings, clean or repair pickups, etc.. If something need fixing or replacing, in most cases it’s not a bad idea to give a try yourself, unless you’re dealing with precision changes such as frets, wood cracks or refinishing.
There are countless tutorials online to help guide your though each job. A little trick I’ve learn over the years to prolong string life is to rub a graphite pencil in the nut where the string sit, as this acts as a dry lubricant, helping the strings last longer.
What NOT to Use When Cleaning Your Guitar
As mentioned before, there are some product that are ideal for guitar use, and some that aren’t. It can be hard to identify which one are and aren’t safe when cleaning, repairing or refinishing guitars.
First, never mindlessly use a domestic cleaning product on a guitar without doing your research. While some might be fine to use, some could ruin the guitar finish. Always research or ask around to see what others say before using them.
Avoid anything that contain bleaches, lacquer thinners, heavy metals, or silicone. If you are unsure, don’t risk it. For repairing and refinishing guitars, ensure all products you use are also suitable for use on guitars. Just because a product is ok for use on wood, doesn’t mean it should be used to refinish you guitars.
Some stores have a specific guitar finishing products section, making it easy to find and identify safe treatments. If you do have any concerns, contact either manufactures or suppliers as they should be able to advise whether a product is safe for repairing or refinishing guitars.