General Care and Maintenance for Electric Guitars

An electric guitar may not be as fragile and needy as an acoustic guitar, but it is important that you do not neglect your electric guitar. In order for your electric guitar to play smoothly and stay in tune properly, it must be maintained. I have written a few short articles discussing some easy ways to maintain your electric guitar and ensure that your guitar’s life lasts longer and plays better.

How to Clean your Electric Guitar

I get asked on a fairly regular basis how to clean an electric guitar and what kind of cleaning solution to use. There are tons of different cleaning products out there for guitars and most of them are pretty good. It is not necessary to buy over priced cleaning products that are made by guitar companies. Some simply furniture cleaners will work fine. I like to use a combination of products to clean my electric guitars. Before I we clean your electric guitar, it is important to take a second and look at what kind of finish your guitar body and fretboard have. Glossy finished bodies require a different amount of attention than Flat finished bodies and unfinished fretboards require a different amount of attention than finished fretboards.

How to Clean an Electric Guitar with a Glossy Finish

Most electric guitars have glossy finish. This is good because in most cases glossy finish is easier to clean than a flat finish. There are two main kinds of cleaning products: sprays and pastes or gels. Personally, I only use spray products on my electric guitars. I think these products do a good job removing the dirt and fingerprints while providing a smooth shine. My favorite spray cleaner is Dunlop Formula 65 Polish Cleaner.To apply this cleaner, simply spray a few squirts around the body of your electric guitar. Make sure not to spray your pickups, as any kind of liquid can cause corrosion on the pole pieces. Then take a soft rag, usually I use an old t-shirt, and swirl in the cleaner. Once the dirt is removed from the guitar surface, grab a clean cloth and buff your finish to a high shine. You can also use a micro-fiber cloth to buff your guitar. Planet Waves makes a nice one. Both of these amazing products are available on the right side of the page.

Paste cleaners can be messy and may require more work to wipe off all of the cleaner from the guitar, but pastes can work well. If you are going to clean your guitar with a paste style cleaner, make sure not to use any cleaner with abrasives or silicone in the cleaner. These elements will wear or scratch your guitar finish. To apply a paste cleaner, simply take your micro-fiber cloth or t-shirt and squirt some cleaner onto the cloth. Take the cloth and swirl in the cleaning product until the dirt is removed from the body. Then you can switch to a clean cloth and buff the finish to a high shine. Important: you do not need to press down or rub in the cleaner into the guitar. All you have to do is simply wipe the cleaner around to loosen and remove the dirt. You do not want to scratch your finish by swirling to vigorously.

How to Clean an Electric Guitar with a Flat Finish

Flat or satin finished electric guitars require a different cleaning process than glossy finishes. I would not use a paste cleaning product on a flat finished guitar because the paste will eventually wear down or smooth out the satin finish and cause it to look glossy. On most satin finishes, I would use Dunlop 65 Polish and Cleaner to clean the guitar. If the guitar is not extremely dirty and you just want to remove fingerprints, I would simply use a damp micro-fiber cloth to wipe away the fingerprints. Do not work or try to clean the satin finish too much, as you can cause glossy spots in the finish.

Cracks and Exposed Wood on an Electric Guitar

If your electric guitar has a crack in the finish and the wood is exposed, do not get cleaning product into the exposed wood.

How to Clean an Electric Guitar Fretboard and Frets

If you have played guitar for awhile, you should have noticed that as you play your guitars your fretboard develops a film of dirt built up on its surface. This film of dirt is a combination of sweat from your fingers, dirt in the air, and dirt or dust from your strings. Luckily, this dirt is easy to clean. There are two main styles of guitar fretboards: unfinished and finished fretboards. Electric guitar frets can also get dirty. Mostly, frets become corroded and discolored. I will show you how to clean and maintain both electric guitar fretboards and electric guitar frets. Here are some cleaning products that I recommend.

How to Clean and Condition an Unfinished Electric Guitar Fretboard and Frets

Most electric guitar fretboards are unfinished–meaning there is no lacquer sprayed on the fretboard itself. Among these unfinished fretboards, ebony and rosewood fretboards are the most common. You can use any number of special fretboard cleaning products to clean your fretboard, but I like to use Murphy’s Oil Soap. Oil soap not only helps clean your fretboard, it also helps condition and moisturize it. Since your fretboard is unfinished, there is no layer of lacquer to help protect it from the elements. The fretboard can dry out and even crack if it is severely dried out. Oil soap will prevent your fretboard from drying out. It will also give your fretboard a new clean shine. To clean your fretboard, simply drip a small amount of oil soap on your fretboard. It does not take much–a little goes a long way. Then take some #0000 steel wool and rub the oil soap into the fretboard and remove the dirt buildup. You may want to cover your pickups so that pieces of the steel wool do not get magnetically stuck to the pole pieces While the steel wool is soaked in the oil soap, you can rub and polish the frets with the steel wool until the frets are shiny and clean. After the fretboard and frets are cleaned, you can wipe away the excess oil soap with a piece of paper towel. Now your fretboard is clean and conditioned and your frets are nice and shiny. For a more in-depth article about polishing frets, please see the fret polish page. Here are some cleaning products that I recommend.

Not all unfinished fretboards are made out of ebony and rosewood. Some unfinished fretboards are made out of maple. Maple fretboards pose a challenge to clean. The light color wood can easily be stained by oil soap and dirt. DO NOT use oil soap on a maple fretboard. Use a razor blade to clean an unfinished maple fretboard. Simply take the razor blade and lay it flat against the fretboard. Then scrape the razor across the surface of the wood removing the dirt. You will need to mask off the fretboard with a fret-mask or with painter’s tape before you can polish the frets. The mask will help protect the maple wood from the steel wool. Once the fretboard has been masked off, you can rub the frets with #0000 steel wool. Do not use oil soap to polish the frets. After you have polished the frets, you can blow the dust off the masked fretboard and remove the mask. Now your fretboard is clean and conditioned and your frets are nice and shiny.

How to Clean and Condition a Finished Electric Fretboard and Frets

Few electric guitar fretboards are finished. The only guitars with finished fretboards that come to my mind are Rickenbacker guitars and some older Fender models. These guitars are uncommon, but you may have one or run across one in the future. So, I will talk about how to maintain them. Do not use any of the methods that I have discussed in this article to clean a finished fretboard. Do not use steel wool, oil soap, or razor blades to clean your finished fretboard. All of these processes will harm the finish. On most finished fretboards, I will simply use a damp micro-fiber cloth to clean the dirt off the finish. I would not advise using steel wool to clean the frets on a finished fretboard either. Many finished fretboards are sprayed after the frets are installed. This means that the frets have a thin layer of lacquer on them. Steel wool will harm the finish on both the frets and the fretboard.

General Care tips for Maintaining your Electric Guitar

Like with any guitar, the surrounding environment plays a big roll in the life of the guitar. Any form of severe weather can be traumatic to your guitar whether it is hot, cold, humid, or dry. Environmental changes cannot only ruin the cosmetic appearance of your guitar like cracks in the finish, it can also harm the structural integrity of your guitar. I have written some basic tips to follow in taking care of your electric guitar and protecting it from the elements

What Temperature is Right for my Electric Guitar?

Temperature is a deadly force on guitars. Extreme heat can warp guitar necks and melt glue joints where as the extreme cold can crack guitar finish. It is important not to leave your guitar in areas where there are extreme temperatures of any kind. Do not leave your guitar in the car, in the window, or in direct sunlight on a hot sunny. Also don’t leave your guitar next to space heaters or any other type of heater. Guitars need to stay at room temperature–not be super heated. The extreme heat can cause neck or fretboard glue to loosen or your neck to warp.

Either of these problems can result in major repairs. Extreme cold can also cause great damage to your guitar. Do not leave your guitar out in your car during the winter. The finish can freeze on the guitar and when you bring it inside it will crack. If you have to leave your guitar in a cold car before a gig, I would suggest you bring it inside well before you have to play it and leave it in the case. This will allow the guitar to “thaw” slowly. Your finish should be fine. Ovation acoustic guitars are notorious for doing this. The whole top of the guitar can crack right up to the bridge because of the sudden shift in temperature.

The perfect temperature for a guitar is room temperature without any extreme shifts. Obviously, sometimes this is impossible to achieve when you are playing gigs, but it is a simply guideline.

What Level of Humidity is Right for my Electric Guitar?

Humidity is just as dangerous to guitars as extreme temperature shifts and swings. Humidity can cause the guitar wood to swell or shrink and crack the finish. High humidity will allow your guitar to absorb more moisture out of the air. The guitar wood will fill up with water and expand while the hardened finish on the guitar will stay a constant size. The expanding of the wood can crack the finish. Low humidity has the opposite effect on electric guitar wood. The guitar wood dries out and shrinks while the hardened finish maintains the same shape. If a guitar is dry enough, it will almost always crack the finish. Most luthiers agree that an ideal humidity is around 50%. It can be a little more or a little less, but this is a good rule of thumb. During dry winter months, you may need to place a humidifier in your guitar case in order to maintain the humidity around 50%. Here are some good humidifiers that I recommend.

Signs that your Electric Guitar is too Dry and needs to be Humidified.

Sharp Fret Ends.

Sharp fret ends are caused by low humidity. When your neck and fretboard dry out, they contract or shrink. Since the metal frets are not as reactive to the changing environment as the guitar wood is, the frets stay the same length. You will notice this because the ends of the frets will start to poke your hand, as you play up and down the neck. Severe cases will actually develop sharp fret ends that can cut your hand. To fix sharp fret ends, see the fretting an electric guitar page.

Low Action.

Low action can be caused by warping of the neck due to the neck profile changing with the dry weather. You may notice that your strings are buzzing more than normal. You may want to slowly humidify your guitar before you try to adjust the truss rod or action. After you get your guitar all cleaned up it’s time to learn how to shred on your guitar!

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