Learning how to clean a guitar is an essential skill that every guitar player should know how to do. Cleaning your guitar is one of the most important aspects of proper guitar maintenance.

Over time, with regular practice, your guitar will naturally accumulate dust, sweat, and grime. If not properly cleaned, this can adversely affect your guitar’s overall performance. In addition, if you want your guitar to last a lifetime, then it is crucial that you clean it properly to ensure longevity.

In this article, we will share with you the complete guide to cleaning a guitar, including how to efficiently clean the guitar body, neck, fretboard, pickups, and strings.

Prepare Your Guitar For Cleaning

Before you start cleaning your guitar, there are few things you’ll need to do in preparation. Start by choosing an area where you will place your guitar. Preferably, choose a well-lit location to easily spot the areas that need the most attention as well as all the imperfections. You can opt to place the guitar on a desk, workbench, or even your lap.

When working on your guitar, it’s best to have the neck propped up at an angle at the nut. This makes it much easier to access the tuning pegs and other parts of the guitar. It just makes the guitar a lot easier to handle.

I would also recommend resting your guitar on a padded work mat to ensure that you don’t damage the finish. When you’re working with a guitar, you’ll likely be lifting up, flipping over, and handling it a lot, so it’s important to make sure you don’t leave any scuffs or scratches. You can find my personal recommendation for a work mat and neck support cradle here on Amazon. 

Organize Your Workspace

When cleaning the guitar, it helps to have ample room to move and neatly organize your tools and cleaning supplies. You do not want to worry about your guitar sliding, falling or banging into anything. So, clear your work desk or bench, clean off all the dust and gunk and then place your guitar on the table. Arrange all other supplies right next to it.

What you will need:

  • A soft cloth
  • Glass cleaner
  • Water
  • Guitar polish that contains pure carnauba wax
  • White distilled vinegar (for heavy-duty cleaning)

Ensure the area is clean by dusting it. After that, wash your hands before handling your guitar.

Remove the strings

Once you have your station and all the necessary tools and products for cleaning set up, remove the guitar strings. Removing the strings is crucial as you do not want them to come into contact with cleaning products. It also makes cleaning your fretboard a lot easier.

Ensure you remove two to three strings at a time to prevent messing with the guitar’s neck tension. If you opt to clip the strings, make sure to loosen the tension first. We highly recommend conducting your thorough guitar cleans when you want to change your strings.

How to Clean The Guitar Fretboard

The guitar’s fretboard is the area where the strings are located. This part is subjected to the most wear. A guitar fretboard requires to be cleaned once or twice a year. Excessive dust and sweat build-up can cause permanent damage to your guitar if not properly cleaned.

Usually, when sweat buildup dries up, it evaporates and dehydrates the wood, leading to cracking, which can form permanent marks. Since fretboards come in different materials, you need to adopt the right cleaning method for each material for longevity.

Ebony or Rosewood Fretboards

If your ebony or rosewood fretboard is lightly dusty, Jim Dunlop’s Guitar Fingerboard Kit is perfect for cleaning ebony/rosewood fretboards. But if you have been too busy to clean it and a lot of dust and gunk have built up on the fretboard, steel wool might be essential to use in this case.

Cleaning Your Guitar with Steel Wool

#0000 steel wool contains fine steel fibers that can remove any unwanted debris without causing wear or damage to your frets. Just make sure to rub it in the direction of the wood grain. As you rub, you will literally see the wood becoming clean under your fingers. This procedure helps to suck in all the moisture and oil out of the wood’s surface, leaving it polished to an extent.

Vacuum or blow dry the steel wool filling off the fretboard, table, and the surrounding area. After that, wipe off any debris left on your frets to ensure the surface is clear. At this point, your fretboard might be looking a little too pale and ashy. Conditioning your fretboard will help hydrate the wood and deeply cleanse it, leaving it looking bright and new. Generously dampen a clean cloth or toothbrush with lemon oil or a conditioner of your choice and rub it into the board.

Maple Fretboards

Due to this wood’s lighter tone, it is more susceptible to showing dirt and finger marks compared to ebony or rosewood board. Therefore, you may need to clean it a little more often. Just make sure not to use any conditioner products on this wood.

For satin-finished maple, a slightly damp cloth will do.

Lacquered maple fretboards should only be cleaned with a damp or dry cloth. Using steel wool, no matter how fine, will take away the shine, leaving a matte-like finish. Lemon oil will also take away the sheen. So, strictly use a lightly dampened or dry cloth to clean a maple.

How to Clean the Body of Your Guitar

Once the fretboard is clean, move down the length of your guitar to clean its body, including the back, front and sides.

Different Types of Guitar Bodies and How to Clean Them

Gloss and poly-finished guitars – The majority of guitars are finished either with a polyurethane or polyester finish, which gives them a glowy protective layer. As a result, it makes it the easiest finish to clean since it does not leave the wood absorbent or porous. Hence, you can comfortably use different polishes and waxes to give your guitar a look worthy of being in a showroom.

Matte and Satin-finished guitars –  Matte finish can only be cleaned with a dry piece of cloth.

How to Clean The Guitar Neck

Does your guitar neck feel greasy and sticky? Now is the right time to clean it. You need to use a gentle solvent that is gentle on most finishes and works well to remove the dirt and oils that accumulates on the back of a neck.

Dampen a clean cloth with a solvent of your choice. Lightly wipe down the neck, turning the cloth as you work your way down to keep the soil you remove from getting back on the neck. Do not rub too hard as it will only polish the neck and make it even glossier. If you are cleaning a guitar neck with an old distressed finish, do not rub it too aggressively. Rubbing too aggressively might rub it off, forcing you to refinish the entire neck.

How to Clean Guitar Pickups

Pickups are located on the body of an electric guitar. If the pickups on your guitar look slightly grimy, a damp cloth will do a great job of wiping it clean. But if you notice some rusty spots on your pickups, it is crucial that you carefully remove them.

Start by unscrewing the pickups. Clean each pickup with a rust dissolving solution or a white pencil eraser. Once you have cleared all the rust spots from your pickups, screw each of them back and wipe them with a dry cloth.

How to Clean Guitar Strings

If you change your strings at least once every month, it may not be always necessary to clean them. That said, dirty guitar strings tend to lose their tonal quality after being played for a month or so without cleaning.

Usually, whenever you strum your guitar’s strings, natural oils from your fingers and dust coat are left on them. Over time, these oils and dust create a grimy build-up that corrodes the strings, affecting its tone. The grime also makes the strings wear out faster than normal. To combat the grime buildup menace, consider wiping your strings every so often.

To clean your guitar strings, use a clean cloth to get all the gunk and dead skin from the strings. Start by giving them a general wipe down. After that, gently pinch each string between your thumb and index fingers with the cloth in between, and swipe up and down the string length. This cleans the string all the way around its circumference and clears off any grunge.

If you are looking for a more thorough clean, you will need to use a cleaning solution. Just make sure not to use rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol can get the neck of a guitar and suck out all the moisture from the guitar’s wood. A guitar that is overly dry tends to get damaged easily. Instead, use cleaners that are specifically made for guitar strings.

However, I wouldn’t worry too much about cleaning guitar strings, simply because you should be changing them frequently anyway. I would say that rather than worrying about giving your guitar strings a thorough cleaning, you’d just be better off changing your guitar strings anyways. I do, however, give my strings a quick wipe down after each playing session. You don’t want to leave the sweat and grime from your fingers on your guitar strings for a long period of time. This will lead to corrosion and shorten the life span of your guitar strings.

I like to change my guitar strings fairly often since I like the feel and sound of fresh strings. In addition, you can use it as the perfect opportunity to clean the rest of your guitar as well since the strings will already be off of the guitar.

Check out my article that breaks down exactly how often you should be changing your guitar strings and how to know when it’s time to change them.

Polishing the Finish of Your Guitar

Guitar experts recommend against polishing your guitar too often. This is because although it will leave your guitar looking nice cosmetically, it might dampen its sound. If you opt to polish your guitar after cleaning, use polishes that contain carnauba wax and not petroleum or solvent products. Spray the polish in a clean cloth and wipe it down your guitar.

Also, do not polish a guitar with a satin finish as it will make it look blotchy. The same applies to vintage guitars. Nitro finished vintage guitars tend to develop a sheen or change color over time. So take extra caution with vintage guitars. Also, avoid polishes on these guitars as they can remove the finishes faster. Instead, simply clean it with a clean cloth that is slightly damp.

Finally, always make sure to store your guitar whenever it is not in use. Putting it back in its case not only keeps it clean for longer, but it also protects it from damage.

Conclusion

I hoped you enjoyed reading this comprehensive guide on how to clean a guitar. Keeping your guitar clean is a major aspect of maintaining your guitar that most people tend to overlook. It affects how your guitar feels, sounds, and looks. Properly cleaning your guitar twice a year will ensure that your guitar lasts as long as it possibly can. It may seem like a chore, but next time you go to change your strings, just clean the rest of your guitar as well. You’ll be glad you did!

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How to Clean a Guitar