We all know that new strings will breathe new life into your guitar, and regular sight-cleaning the body and wiping the strings after gigs to clean off sweaty fingerprints is all well and good.
But what should you really be doing to look after your guitar?
Here are our ten top tips for looking after your guitar while you’re on the road, and keeping your prized possession ready to play at a moment’s notice.
1. Stay on Top of Guitar Tuning
It’s all part of the professional touring guitar technician’s job to be able to change a set of strings in a matter of minutes and hand it back to the artist… in tune.
New strings are susceptible to slipping of course, and the main problem is often too many winds around the string post. Make sure to opt for no more than 3 turns max.
Sweat residue also makes the fingerboard, frets, saddle and bridge all home for all sorts of grungy bugs to breed and eat guitar hardware for breakfast, whilst also attacking the pickup windings and dissolving gold plating.
Either way, however often you change your strings, you should use this as an opportunity to periodically check over important and essential maintenance in detail, the likes of the nut, fingerboard, frets, controls and hardware for example.
2. Brush the Fingerboard & Neck
Both the fingerboard and frets take a lot of punishment, so a string change offers the ideal opportunity to get down and dirty with a toothbrush.
That old worn one you thought about throwing away (don’t get them mixed up) is ideal for gently cleaning away and loosening fingerboard dirt especially close to the fret edges.
Unless your fingerboard is not lacquered or lacquered maple, ebony, carbon fibre or phenolic, a thin coat of fretboard lemon oil maybe a few times a year, will help restore the natural oils in the wood and return it to its original lustre. It’s also worth investing in a stainless steel fret shield and eraser to polish the frets to a high shine.
Keep the neck clean and wipe after using of course (body chemistry again). If you have a guitar with a bolt-on neck, glance at the neck alignment now and again, easily done with the top and bottom strings along the edge of the neck or the position markers on the fretboard.
3. Keep Your Saddles Clean
An electric guitar or bass guitar’s bridge, saddles and vibrato unit (if installed) are also the first in line to collect acidic sweat residue.
Saddles are critical to string height and intonation adjustments, so keep an eye on the Allen key head adjustment screws, they sit pretty tight in the saddles but are susceptible to movement, and if allowed to rust up will prove tricky to adjust.
Applying drops of WD40 with a cotton bud (again don’t get them mixed up) will also protect and help free-up stubborn screws.
Thoroughly wipe off plastics and body surfaces, if tempted to spray.
4. Keep an Eye on Your Guitar’s Nut
A well cut nut will pretty much look after itself, but over the years it’s possible for the unwound strings to cut the slots deeper, a buzzing ‘open’ string is often a tell tale sign.
Check out a reliable guitar luthier in this case.
Creaking strings as they catch in the slots when tuning or bending is the sign of a dry or worn nut, especially on three-a-side headstocks.
There are plenty of lubricants for nuts on the market and a slippery nut will also help to ensure ‘return to pitch’ when using vibrato systems.
5. Adjust the Truss Rod
String tension and extreme variations of temperature can cause movements of the neck that require truss rod adjustments, but unless you have a regular afternoon gig in the heat of the desert and up in the snow cap mountains in the evening, once settled, truss rods rarely need adjusting.
Any bowing will be evidential by looking upward to the neck towards the nut. If truss rod adjustment isn’t for you, search for a reliable guitar repair centre.
6. Loosen Your Strings Before Travel
There was a time when it was mandatory to pack guitar necks with t-shirts and towels to guarantee a safe ride. These days of course the likes of the Fusion range of gig bags with their neck supports and body liners, offer paramount protection, totally eradicating the fear or stress of travelling with your precious guitar.
We are allowed (apparently) to have our ‘gig bagg’ed instrument’ with us on board a plane as long as it fits in the overhead locker, but the ifs and buts that apply are a little confusing to say the least. It is essential though that a day before you fly, you should loosen the strings especially on acoustic and archtop jazz guitars.
Cabin pressure and temperature changes can cause havoc, acoustic guitars with taut strings have up to 300lbs of pressure on that gorgeous mahogany neck… it doesn’t bear thinking about.
7. Humidity: In or Out the Guitar Case
The jury’s still out on this one.
Do you hang it on the wall and bow down every time you walk past, or enjoy the cellulose waft as you open the case once a week? Either way, wood of course is porous, and to be technical here, the moisture content is determined by the relative humidity and temperature in the atmosphere.
Acoustic guitars, and archtop jazz guitars in particular, are prone to cracks within soundboards, backs and sides especially if kept in a dry room for too long. The ideal humidity range for acoustic style guitars is between 44-55 percent, a decent quality digital hygrometer is a good investment.
If you plan to store the instrument for long periods of time, it’s often advised to loosen the strings a little to relieve the tension, but do not remove them.
8. Invest in a Set of Strap Locks
You have your favourite guitar straps no doubt, keep a lookout for the loophole at both ends, they can wear and enlarge and slip off the guitar.
A set of strap locks is a good investment and takes the pressure off, heaven forbid the repair bill and anguish if the guitar drops off.
9. Check the Jack Socket
The guitar lead often gets the blame for annoying crackles and buzzes. Before you strip the jack plug off the end, check out the guitar’s jack socket, it could be loose or dirty, or have a dry solder joint.
10. Pickup Selector Switch
I’ve seen many a guitarist with a blank face as they wonder why there’s silence from the amp during a show. After hours of after-gig debating and uncertain dismantling of the amp, a dirty pickup selector switch on the guitar was the problem, keep it clean and free from dirt and those body chemistry fluids.
We’ve established that cleaning and polishing with dedicated products is all part of essential guitar maintenance. Saying that, you may like the beaten look and wanna be like Slash. So wear the top hat just as long as you know the heavily studded belts and bracelets are gonna cause severe buckle rash.
Protect Your Prized Guitar
Follow these ten tips to keep your guitar in top condition, and protected from the stresses and strains of being on the road.
You can also give your guitar the very best protection by picking up a brand new Fusion Bags gig bag!