Guitar Maintenance: Best Tips to Keep A Guitar In Top Shape and Superb Playability

Do you want your guitars to always look new and have superb playability? Check out the comprehensive tips for guitar maintenance. These are the tricks I have been using all along for years to keep my guitar consistently in optimal condition.                                                                                                                        


Guitar Setup and Regular Checking

It’s always a good idea to get your guitars professionally set up even when you purchase a brand new guitar, some stores won’t set it up for you. The same if you buy a second-hand guitar.

For more details on switching, see our article on How to Set Up Your Guitar

A little easy tip: To check if the guitar has any loose screws and bolts. They can affect the sound of your guitar and playability. It is always good to have a set of tools in your guitar case for tightening them when necessary.

Guitar Cleaning 

General Cleaning

Your guitar needs general cleaning after playing since the dirt, sweat, and oils on your hands will cause the strings to deteriorate and get rusted over time. Hence do the following before and after each playing session:

1, Wash Your Hands Before You Play 

This can remove the dead skins, oils, and dirt in your hands to keep the strings and the fretboard safe from the grime.

2, Clean and Condition Your Strings

Wipe down the strings and fretboard after each practice with a microfiber cleaning cloth to remove the unwanted elements. You may also want to lubricate the strings to help keep the dirt away and make them last longer, sound better, and play faster.

I use MusicNomad’s String Fuel to clean and lubricate the strings and condition the fingerboard simultaneously. After applying the string fuel back and forth, remember to use the lint-free microfiber cloth, which is stored inside the tool to remove any excess oil. 

3, Clean the Headstock, Neck, and Body

Use a microfiber cloth with guitar cleaner to wipe the headstock, neck, and body to remove the fingerprints and dirt adhering to the guitar surface. I highly recommend that Music Nomad The Guitar One All in 1 Cleaner would be the best choice. However, any other brands of guitar cleaners such as Dunlop 654 Formula 65 Guitar Polish & Cleaner and D’Addario Shine Guitar Spray would be fine.

You can use Music Nomad Pro Strength Guitar Polish to polish the guitar if you want it to be shiny nicely again. The MusicNomad Premium Guitar Cleaner and Polish Care Kit is a good choice including the One All-in-1 Cleaner and the Guitar Polish, F-ONE Oil Fretboard Cleaner, and also two 16-inch x 12-inch lint-free, washable premium microfiber cloths. There are also some alternative products such as Ernie Ball Instrument Polish and Fender Custom Shop Guitar Polish.

In-depth Cleaning

While you are restringing your guitar(check our guides on Electric, Acoustic and Classical), it is a good chance to deep clean your guitar when all the strings are removed.

1, Remove loose particles

Use a can of compressed air or a high-end wool brush to remove any loose particles on the surface before you start cleaning your guitar with anything else. This helps avoid scratching your guitar by the loose particles adhered to the surface when cleaning with the cloth afterward.

2, Clean and Lubricate the Guitar Nut

The nut is the little piece that the strings slot through. Dirt and grime will be accumulated over time and the strings may get stuck in the slots then causing tuning problems.

  • Use dental floss or your old strings to run through the slots a couple of times to remove the dirt stuck in the slots. 
  • Lubricate the nut slots once or twice a year for avoiding string binding and ensuring smooth tuning. You can find many lubricants on the market for nut lubrication. 
  • For a quick fix, you can rub some graphite from a pencil into the string slots generously by simply coloring the slots. A more permanent way is to grind the graphite to a powder and mix it with a small dollop of Vaseline. Then use a toothpick to put a little bit of this graphite paste into the nut slots. 

3, Clean the Headstock and Machine Heads

The dirt and grime on machine heads will make the tuning harder. Wipe these keys and the headstock down with a cloth. You may also want to lubricate these keys once or twice a year to enhance smooth tuning.

4, Clean the Fretboard and Frets

Dirt will adhere to the frets and fretboard, particularly those made of unfinished rosewood or ebony. The frets will oxidize and lose shininess over time as well.

Brush the fretboard and the frets gently with an old toothbrush to clean out the grime. If the dirt is too heavy, you can use an old pick with sharp edges to remove the heavy dirt, especially the grime accumulated at the fret grooves on both sides. Similar tools like credit cards and plastic spatulas will do as well. For maple fretboard or fretboard with big and delicate inlays, simply clean it with a soft microfiber cloth with a guitar cleaner.

Although a lot of people say that you can use fine steel wool to clean the frets, I strongly recommend NEVER using it as somehow the fibers from the steel wool may get stuck in and ruin the pickups even if you use masking tape to cover them. Never take the chance on this!

5, Polish the Frets

Before polishing your frets, apply masking tapes on both sides of the frets or simply use steel protectors to protect the fretboard from scratching.  Many different products can be used for polishing the frets.

Miracle Polishing Cloth is probably the cheapest choice, then Lizard Spit MP 15 Ultimate Fret Polishing System and MusicNomad FRINE Fret Polishing Kit are more expensive but you can get a better result out of them.

6, Condition the Fretboard

Unfinished fretboards may dry out and crack with time, except maple fretboards with lacquer finish. Conditioning the wood will help prevent the dirt from easily adhering to the wood and make the fretboard look nice too. 

Conditioning the wood 2-3 times a year according to the humidity. You may have to do this more frequently if you are in a very dry environment. Either any brands of Lemon Oil or Music Nomad F-One Oil are great for the job. Put one to two drops of the oil on each fret and lightly rub it with a cloth and let the wood suck the quantity for around 10 minutes. Then remove the excess oil with a cloth. Repeat the process if the wood is still too dry. You can oil the bridge if it is unfinished wood.

7, Clean the Potentiometers

The potentiometers are the control knobs of your guitar. Dirt like dust, sweat, and even hair can get into the knobs and cause a scratchy sound when you turn them. Sometimes, this can be simply fixed by turning the pot back and forth until the scratchiness disappears. For better cleaning, you can pull the knobs off, and then clean the metalheads of the potentiometer.

If you want to further clean the metal connectors of the potentiometers, you can unscrew the pickguard or for some guitars, the electronic cavity is at the back of the guitar, unscrew the plate and get access to those connectors. Then apply some DeoxIT D-Series Contact Cleaner to these metal parts. Turn the knobs a couple of times so that the contact spray can clean the whole range of the pots.

I highly recommend using an extension tube for your spray can to avoid making a mess and potentially damaging the guitar’s finish.

8, Clean the Pickups

Dust and grime can accumulate around pickups and affect the sound via unwanted noise and static cracking. You simply use a cloth to remove the dirt around pickups and pickguard. You can use guitar polish (MusicNomad FRINE Fret Polishing Kit) to clean the pickups.

9, Clean the Bridge and Saddle

You should clean the bridge of your guitar a few times a year during the restringing process. Dirt can get into the small parts of the bridge, especially the electric guitars. 

  • Clean the Acoustic Guitar Bridge
  1. Remove the saddle and the pins. Put a piece of masking tape on the saddle to make sure that it is inserted in the correct direction afterward or it will affect the intonation.
  2. Wipe the bridge thoroughly with a clean lint-free cloth dampened with a little bit of guitar cleaner.
  3. You can use a damp soft-bristled toothbrush to remove the heavy dirt and clean the difficult-to-reach areas.
  4. You can put a little bit of lemon oil on the unfinished wood bridge. Let it suck for a few minutes, then reinsert the saddle and pins.
  •  Clean the Electric Guitar Bridge
  1. Scrub the bridge and saddles thoroughly with a soft-bristled toothbrush, especially the areas under the saddles and the bridge edge. 
  2. Put a thin cloth underneath the saddles then wipe the dirt out of the bridge.

Guitar Restringing

Change your guitar strings regularly

Guitar strings will get corroded, over-stretched over time, and become brittle and hard to tune. The frequency you need to replace the strings depends on how often and how hard you play the guitar. The harder you play, the more often you need to change the strings. The period varies from 1 month to 3 months or 100 hours of play, even when you rarely play since the strings will wear with the elements and the sweat and oil you left on them from your fingers when you played your guitar last. When the notes become dull and the strings become hard to tune, it’s time to replace the strings. 

Stretch your new strings after you have replaced them by gently pulling up on the strings but not too hard or else they will break.

For more details, please check our guide on How To Restring A Guitar(Electric, Acoustic and Classical). 

Guitar Storage and Keeping

When you are not playing your guitar, always keep it in a high-quality gig bag, or ideally a hard case to prevent wear and tear on your instrument.  Here below are some tips on storing your guitar to provide the best protection to your guitar:

  1. Clean the whole guitar including the strings and fretboard with a soft cloth to remove any dirt, sweat, and moisture after playing and before keeping it in the case.
  2. Use a Guitar Stand or a Guitar Hanger to hold the guitar for a temporary duration. Don’t just lean your guitar without any support against anything. It may fall and get damaged. 
  3. Use Strap Locks to keep your guitar strap in place when you are playing. This can prevent your guitar from coming loose from the strap and dropping to the ground accidentally.  
  4. Avoid keeping the guitar strap on the guitar in the case otherwise, the strap may ruin the guitar finish. 
  5. Store your guitar in a temperature-controlled room. Keep it away from a radiator, heater, or fireplace. Don’t store it in a loft, attic, garage, or damp basement.
  6. Use a dehumidifier or humidifier to regulate the moisture levels.
  7. Loosen the strings to relieve the tension when traveling for long distances, especially across the states or countries.
  8. Allow a couple of hours for your guitar to settle and adjust to the new environment after traveling and before playing it on stage.

How Temperature and Humidity Affect Your Guitar

Keep Your Guitar Out Of Extreme Temperature

Guitars are made of wood that is sensitive to temperature and humidity. Extreme temperatures can damage your guitar. For example, freezing conditions could ruin the guitar finish and cause cracks. High temperature could cause the glue to weaken and lead the bridge of an acoustic guitar to lift and pull away from the body. Hence, NEVER leave your guitar in the car on a hot summer day and overnight during the cold winter season. The environmental changes will adversely affect the wood, especially acoustic guitars, which are more susceptible to these changes. The optimal temperature for storing a guitar is from 21-25℃ / 70-77℉.

Keep Your Guitar Away From Direct Sunlight

Direct sunlight will dry out the wood and cause cracks. The light may also fade the finish gradually. Keep your guitar in the shade and store it in a case. Avoid hanging the guitar near a window where there is a lot of sunlight. 

Pay Attention to the Humidity

The ideal relative humidity for guitar ranges from 45-55%. It is still safe to keep your guitar at a 40-60% relative humidity level. In high humidity conditions (above 60%RH), the woods will absorb moisture in the air and swell. This may lead to neck warping, fret bulging, duller and less resonant tone, etc. If it is at a low humidity level (below 40%RH), the wood will dry out and start to shrink. Cracks may appear in the woods. The fret ends may protrude from the fretboard, causing fret buzzing and string choking. 

A digital thermo-hygrometer is more reliable than an analog one. It is cheap insurance for the investment that you made in your guitar. Don’t rely on a thermostat in your hallway to tell you the humidity in your guitar room. You can keep a Guitar Thermo-hygrometer in your case or in your room to tell you the relative humidity and temperature. It will interact with an app on your phone such that you can get useful information without the need to open the case. If you have a collection of guitars, this is extremely handy. 

For humidification, I would recommend using Humidipak, a two-way guitar humidifier, which absorbs moisture whenever the humidity is too high(too wet) and emits moisture whenever humidity is too low(too dry). No more manual adjustments based on seasonal changes, geographic locations, temperature, or other factors are needed. However, this product is not intended for dehumidification in high humidity environments. You need to use a dehumidifier to keep the optimal humidity. 

D’Addario acoustic guitar soundhole humidifier

During dry seasons, use a specialist guitar humidification system, especially for acoustic guitars. The MusicNomad The Humitar ONE – Acoustic Guitar Humidifier & Hygrometer, D’Addario acoustic guitar soundhole humidifier or the Oasis humidifier are good choices. They hang safely in the soundhole and release the moisture slowly and evenly, keeping your guitar perfectly humified. 

What to do next?

You have all the tips on maintaining your guitar in top condition. The next step is to learn to set up a guitar professionally and Tune Your Guitar. Please check out our guide on How To Set Up your Guitar(coming soon). 

Photo of author


Gavin W has been mastering several types of music instruments like guitar, drum, bass, and audio mixing tools for over 15 years. He has participated in many rock shows such as Hajin Chan and Super Junior concerts. He was the guitarist of a pop-rock band called Pendular, which has won some significant awards like Asian Beat, Champion in Warehouse Youth Band Competition, and No Drug Music Contest. He is also active in the music education sector and has been a music tutor in schools and music learning centres since 2008.

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