Guitar Maintenance - 4 Simple Ways To Care For Your Guitar!
We spend so much energy pursuing that next small step on the tonal ladder - the perfect cable, pick, pedal or pick up combination; it is quite surprising then that so much of our sound can be negatively affected by a little dirt and grime or playability of our guitars. Sustain, tone, playability and tuning stability can all ruin your guitar day! So let’s look at 4 basic ways to keep your axe in top shape.
Before we break out the cloths and sprays, let’s start with your hands! We all know that picking up your pride & joy for a serious practise session whilst still sporting your last meal’s hot sauce all over your digits is not the best idea; but the truth is your hands are grubby mitts which exude oils, sweat and all manner of goo which can be harmful to the contact points of your guitar. Washing your hands before playing will reduce the corrosive effects of whatever build up is on your hands (yummy!).
Wiping down your strings, fretboard, body and bridge before and after you play is also an effective way to stop any progressive accumulation of grime; which will not only tarnish the guitar’s finish and hardware but, more importantly, drastically affect your tone; creating a dullness where there was once crisp, singing sustain!
Use a microfibre cloth for this task. When you get into the mucky job of cleaning your fretboard, a super fine grain steel wool will get shot of all those grimy deposits (again, yum) which could have a rather undesirable impact on your playing experience.
The place where all the magic starts! So keeping these renewed is a must! But we already know this, right? We are all a little guilty of waiting until that tell tale blackening and furring of the higher strings before sitting down for a restringing session. Its OK to acknowledge that this really is an uninspiring task, especially if you have a a number of guitar to restring!
Again, that grimy build up is a tone killer! But there are earlier signs that you are due a string change; tuning stability and intonation can often be attributed to simply needing a fresh set of strings. There is nothing more off putting than the sound of things slowly drifting out of tune as you climb the fretboard; you’ve nailed that lick but those bends still don’t sound on the money! If this is a sudden occurrence then you may have to bring string change day forward a little.
If you have found yourself playing more guitar, then be prepared to up the frequency of changing your strings (for many serious players this is once a week!).
To prevent you wavering over that string changing session; keep a couple of sets in reserve, plus some all important spares of the, ever breakable, B and high E strings.
Removing your strings also provides the perfect chance to get in at that rather nasty dirt and deposits on your fingerboard with a cloth (and preferably some, purpose made, cleaning product such as lemon oil). As a word of warning - avoid leaving your guitar stringless whilst tackling the task of cleaning; thereby creating a release of tension which may bow or warp your neck. Instead, remove two or three strings, maximum at a time; ensuring there is still some string tension in place. On the same subject, it is often recommended that you loosen your strings whilst your guitar is not being played; whilst this is good practise when shipping guitars, this is not a healthy thing for your axe in regular use though and is to be avoided.
Which brings us on to our next tip ……
As mentioned in a previous blog, there is no better motivational tactic than to have your guitar on a stand, ready to rock! However, our 6 string pals are very sensitive when it comes to matters of temperature and dreaded humidity.
Whilst the majority of us don’t perform most of our wood shedding duties in the deepest base of the Congo, humid parts of the world such as areas of Asia and the US can present a potentially harmful environment for you guitar; creating water damage and warping. If you want to really get nerdy - optimum humidity levels vary between 40 - 60%. If you are serious about protecting your guitar from moisture, you can get an early warning with a device called a hygrometer which will gauge the level of humidity. A lot of moisture in the air a killer for those shiny new strings you just spend the time changing too!
A more common consideration is temperature. Guitars are very similar to us humans, preferring a balmy 21-25 C/70-75 F. Winter and cold climates typically bring big changes in room temperature, even with regulated heating, so this might be a good time to relegate your guitar to its case when you aren’t practising. Equally, your guitar won’t thank you for direct sunlight or any direct heat source. It is basically like owning a Mogwai! Temperature changes can cause the woods in your guitar to expand or contract with some unwelcome consequences which could cause damage, rendering it less than its peak playable state.
We always view a sturdy hard case as a way of negating the knocks and bumps we might bestow on our guitars when taking them en route from A to B; but they are also an effective way to stave off those troublesome environmental forces which can do all manner of bendy hurty things to your favourite axe!
4. Treat your main guitar to a pro set up
Just like you would take your car for an annual service, your guitar really will benefit from the more expert treatment a professional guitar tech can provide. Tricky areas such a truss rod adjustment, neck alignment/relief (your neck should have a very slight curve) require a more experienced hand and can root out the causes of those bothersome fret buzzes and less than slippery action. Sure, you can tinker around with bridge height and other home remedies, but a full pro health check could return to you a guitar which feels like new (we all love a new guitar day!).
Another option is to go deep and learn the guitar tech skills you need to set up and maintain your own guitars - it could provide a nice and profitable side line too!
So there we have it; a quick round up of ways to keep your guitar in peak condition. The only downside is, now you cant blame your guitar set up for all those funky notes! …. Think I’ll go and practise my string bending!