What makes you go, ‘Wowwww!!!’ when you see a car or a motorcycle? For me, it is when the vehicle is without a speck of dust and grime on it, looks polished, and gives that general look that it is well-cared for. It shows the character of the person driving it too.
Of the many, many guitars that I have fixed in the 10 years of me repairing acoustic instruments, seldom have I come across a guitar that had been well cared for; I mean kept spic and span.
Each time I have told the owner to keep the guitar clean but it dawned on me only yesterday – when I repeated my words to another customer – that I had never told anybody HOW to clean your guitar and keep it in ship shape!!
So, here is how I would advise you to clean your guitar. Please understand that this is not how I do it but this is how I am asking YOU to do it, so that you don’t break the bank on products while doing it.
Know also that for each job that I will talk about here, there is more than one product available in the market. They are certainly not bad for your guitar but if you can get the job done for much less, why not?
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
- Two worn out COTTON t-shirts cut up so that the back and front form two pieces. You should have four halves of good, soft cotton.
- One unused , SOFT toothbrush
- One unused, HARD toothbrush
- Scotch Brite pad Yes, the same thing used to clean utensils with
- Glass cleaner (Colin) It comes as a spray
- Waxpol car wax tin You will get this at any car accessories shop and is probably the most expensive item in this list. But don’t worry. It should last you a lifetime. What you are looking for is solid wax not the liquid variety.
- White vinegar Your corner grocer should have this. A half-a-litre bottle costs under Rs 30
- Dish washing liquid just a drop or two
- Warm water in a bowl
- Usha sewing machine oil If mother does not have it, buy it. This too will last a lifetime.
- Ear buds and toothpicks
All set? Here we go!
For you to be able to do all that I am about to tell you, the strings will need to come off the guitar. So, it will be best that you save this exercise for when you are ready to change strings. For the sake of making your cleaning job easier and also to make explanations more understandable, we will break up the guitar cleaning according to area and into three parts: i) The fretboard and bridge, ii) The Body, and iii) The headstock and hardware.
- The fretboard and bridge
If your fretboard looks like this, you have work to do, so roll up your sleeves. In that bowl of warm water, put in a few drops of the dish-washing liquid ( a drop or two is enough for 100 ml water). Take the HARD toothbrush, dip it in the water and start stirring till you see the soap mix with the water.
Now, take out the toothbrush and go to work on your fretboard in circular motions. You can apply as much force as you want. Start at one end and go to the other, paying attention to each fret.
After you are through with this step, take one of the halves of a worn out, pure cotton t-shirt and wipe your fretboard dry. Inspect it. If you are satisfied with the result, wonderful.
If you feel that you have removed most of the deposition from your fretboard, but not all of it, take the Scotch Brite – DRY – and go to work on the fretboard. Rub briskly, concentrating on problem areas but not leaving any part of the fretboard unattended.
After you are done, take the SOFT toothbrush and brush away whatever remnants of the Scotch Brite pad are left. Inspect. What do you see? Clean fretboard, shiny fretwire?
Moving to the bridge, remove the saddle and the bridgepins and with your SOFT toothbrush, give the bridge a brisk brush. You will need to be careful if you have an under-saddle pick-up in your guitar.
If left uncleaned for long periods of time, dust tends to cake in areas that is hard to reach (like in between bridgepin holes and on either side of the saddle). If you are able to brush it off, excellent. Otherwise, it’s back to the warm water, HARD toothbrush and the piece of t-shirt to dry off things.
till your bridge looks something like this:
ii) The body
There are different processes to be followed if your guitar cost you under Rs 6.5 – 7K and over it. Why? Because of the material used in each is the reason for its price.
For less-expensive guitars, take one of the t-shirt pieces and properly dust the front, back and sides. Do pay special attention to the shoulders of the guitar (the area of the body on either side of the neck, where it meets the body) and the area between the soundhole and the bridge, over which the strings run, because all the dust seems to settle in those two areas.
Then take the end of another t-shirt, dip into the soap-warm water solution, squeeze it as dry as you can get it and simply give the front, sides and back of your guitar a healthy rub – in circular motions.
On more expensive guitars, you do all of the above and then follow up with Waxpol. Take a fresh piece of cotton t-shirt and ‘moisten’ a corner with ONLY WARM WATER. With this corner, wipe out a little bit of the wax from the container. You will notice that it is as hard as candle wax. Please don’t try and take out a whole load of the wax, only as much as you would take out shoe polish on a brush from a tin of polish.
Go over the front, back and sides in circular motions. I would advise you to do one portion at a time. For example, you wax both the sides. The side that you applied the wax on first, return to it and with a fresh t-shirt piece, give it a good buffing till there is a healthy sheen to it. Next, turn your attention to the side that you applied the wax on last.
Next, go to the back, do half first and then the other half, and then the top, exactly how you did the back. The wax not only protects your guitar from minor scratches but it even hides smaller ones. What’s more, it gives it a nice sheen and makes it smell good too!
EXCEPTION: No wax should be put on guitars with satin finishes. Just a wipe with warm water is enough.
iii) The headstock and hardware
Does your headstock and tuning machines look anything like this? They should not. And yes, I know one of those photographs is that of an electric guitar and the other one of a bass, but you get the point, don’t you?
Now that you have the strings out of the way, clean the headstock front and back. If you need to use your moistened rag, so be it. You will notice that it is difficult to clean areas very close to the tuning machine. Take a ear bud and try getting into these spots. If you still can’t use a toothpick with a corner of the t-shirt wrapped around it.
If your tuning machines are beginning to rust, take a bit of the white vinegar in small container (the cap of the vinegar bottle will do) and dip a earbud in it. Next dab the rusty area with the vinegar and leave for some time. After waiting 15-20 minutes, bring back the Scotch Brite pad and give those tuning machines a good rub.
Now is also the time to check if any of the tuning machines or your strap buttons are loose. Tighten them and then drop a single drop of Usha oil into each tuning machine – if they are open like the one in the photograph.
If they are closed, see if they have a hole in them. If they do have a hole, dip a toothpick in the oil and touch it to the hole.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: String cleaning liquids, sprays, polishes are another waste of money. In a t-shirt, just pinch a string between your thumb and forefinger and pull up and down the neck. Do this before and after playing and you can come and thank me later.
However, one implement that I have found particularly helpful, for it is time saving, is this:
Slide it under the string, shut it, and pull up and down the neck. All six strings cleaned at one go! I have a few of these things. Next time you’re here, remember to pick up one of these handy-dandy tools.