Stringed Instrument Care

Proper care of your musical instrument can lengthen its active life, reduce repair bills, and help retain its monetary value. Proper care can also help avoid problems and "down time".

The three most common things which damage a guitar are sweat, alcohol, and tobacco smoke/ash. These three, separately or together, can ruin frets, finish and metal parts. Wiping your instrument with a clean soft rag after playing will remove most of these elements. A light coat of wax such as a commercial guitar polish or even Pledge will help even more. The wax will help seal the finish and keep it from absorbing moisture and dirt.

Wax will hurt your strings, so it is best to wax an instrument when the strings are off. Changing the strings is the prime time to do regular maintenance on your guitar.

You may change strings as often as before each gig or as little as once a year. Usually bass strings are changed less often, perhaps because of cost, but also because they seem to last longer than the thinner strings. While your strings are off, check ALL screws, nuts, etc. for looseness. Especially check the tuners. Everything should be firm, not tight or loose. Checking your tuners with the strings off will also let you know if they are still working smoothly or are wearing out. Keeping them properly adjusted will considerably lengthen their working life. At this time clean the fingerboard and frets with a mild abrasive such as a Scotchbrite pad; just enough to make the frets shiny and to remove the fried chicken from the board!

If your fingerboard or bridge is unfinished wood, give them a coat of Raw Linseed oil. Put on enough to make them wet then polish it off with an old piece of cloth. What you can't get off is the proper amount to leave on. If your fingerboard is finished (painted) like the rest of your instrument, do not use the linseed oil but use the same wax/polish that you use on the rest of the guitar. Remember that wax or oil is not good for the strings, so be sure not to leave excess wax or oil on the fingerboard. At this time polish the remainder of the guitar, making sure that everything is as clean as possible. If you are getting corrosion on any metal pieces or mechanisms a little machine oil will help avoid future repair bills. After putting oil on the various mechanisms, blot off as much as possible. Minimum lubricant and on the proper places is the game. Do NOT use WD40 as it will cause future damage. Restring with the proper gauge of strings and you are ready to play - with a really fresh instrument.

As with any device, the mechanical aspects of your instrument need to be checked and/or adjusted once or twice a year to maintain maximum playability. Your needs will match the demands of your playing schedule. Professional musicians usually have a traveling "Tech" who is part of the band and maintains all of the instruments on a constant basis. A private musician may elect to learn to do his own work or find a competent repair person to handle the work. Use common sense if possible, and make a joyful noise!