What Professionals Do
One of the first things professionals do when they take care of their guitar is to make sure that it is clean. Not having a clean guitar will affect how it sounds and be at risk of being damaged more easily. It’s just like taking care of any other valuable instrument; if it’s not cleaned regularly, it will get harder and harder to keep in regulation order.
The main thing to remember with guitars is that they are sensitive instruments and need to be treated. They are not designed for heavy-handed players as this can cause damage to the body or guitar neck.
Here are some ways to keep your guitar intact
Clean and Prep the Guitar
To keep a guitar in tune, it must be regularly cleaned and properly prepared by the guitar player. Check all strings for proper tension, paying particular attention to the lower strings. If there is too much slack in any string, tighten it until the saddle bends away from the fretboard. Check that each string is evenly mounted on its ball end at its bridge saddle slot. A poorly mounted or loose string will cause it to buzz when fretted near the neck or next to another string with a similar pitch. Inspect tuning keys for chips in their slots and carefully scrub them clean with a soft abrasive compound if necessary. If the keys are loose, remove them from their mounting posts and glue them back in place. Check each string nut for proper height and straightness. If it is too high or low or not straight, file it until it is. Also, check that each string nut is securely screwed onto tuners with a sufficient thread showing on each screw for good grip.
Clean the Fretboard
Wipe the fretboard down with a rag dipped in solvent, being careful not to get any solvent on areas of the fingerboard where you place your hands when you play (especially behind frets). Then wipe down with a clean rag soaked in oil; this will keep your guitar from drying out and cracking. Wipe the frets with a cloth soaked in polish; again, be careful not to get any polish on the fingerboard where you place your hands.
Align Frets and Check Action
If your frets are poorly aligned, sand them until they are. You may need to wet-sand them for best results. Too-low frets will buzz when played, and too high of action can also cause buzzing. If you need to lower the action, do it by adjusting the neck’s truss rod accordingly. Do not lower the action too far, or you will compromise the guitar’s structural integrity. Next, check the alignment of all of the fret buttons and remove any bent or cracked ones. Replace these tuners with new ones.
Check Neck Fit
Check that the neck fits tightly in its slot and is appropriately aligned. If it is not appropriately aligned, add a bit more glue to a few of the bridge saddles and then re-tune for several hours to allow it to dry completely and set firmly. Re-check position of the neck on neck pocket with a third hand as needed. Sand any misalignment around or between frets with fine sandpaper, if needed.
Check the Neck and Adjust Truss Rod
If you have been playing your guitar a lot lately, the neck may have warped slightly. This is common with softwoods like mahogany, and it is easily remedied. If the neck needs to be bent back into alignment, it will do so with time as you play the guitar. Additionally, many playable-condition guitars are shipped to dealers and customers with their truss rods incorrectly set. This causes permanent warpage of the instrument’s neck that another skilled individual can only remove through a further adjustment to the truss rod. To correct this problem, try adjusting the guitar’s truss rod by hand to fix any warpage or adjust as needed to remove relief in the neck. To do so, take your guitar to a repair shop and ask them to check the comfort of your neck. While you’re there, ask if they can adjust the guitar’s truss rod for you as well.
Check Nut Height
Turn the tuning keys until all the strings have gone slack. Using a feeler gauge or another thin strip of metal, check that each string is slightly below the height of its nut slot. If the nut is too high, remove it and correct it. It should fit snug but not cantilevered out from the neck into the air; if so, it must be filed down.
Check Nut Tops
Hold a piece of paper or something else about 3 inches wide and 4 inches long against the back of your guitar’s nut, ensuring there is no fret buzz when doing this. Press down on the paper or other object and check that you do not hear any fret buzz when you press on adjacent strings. If you do, file down any sharp edges that are making your guitar buzz.
Check Tuning Keys
Tune your guitar for a few hours. Then, re-tune the guitar for a few more hours. This will make sure that there are no loose or broken tuning keys; if any are open, re-glue or replace them. If any breaks, fix them with glue and re-tune one last time to see if there are still buzzing issues before replacing them entirely. New tuning keys should be filed at an angle to give you better leverage when they’re installed in their respective slots.
Test the Guitar After Tuning
After re-tuning your guitar, play it for a few hours to ensure that all tuning keys have settled in properly. If there is still any buzzing, you may need to adjust (or replace) the tuning keys again. Also, check the frets for rough spots or discolorations from too much string-to-string contact. Any rough areas should be sanded smooth with fine sandpaper wrapped on a woodblock. Please pay attention to places where frets are located side by side and other parts of the fretboard that might contribute to rattling during play.
Test the Frets for Buzzing
Take a few of your favorite stompboxes, plug them into the guitar, and try them out to test the frets for any buzzing. If a particular fret is still buzzing or produces unwanted harmonics, file it down using fine sandpaper on a hardwood block. Play the guitar again for several hours to check for any further buzzing. Repeat this process until there are no more buzzing problems (and you can play comfortably).
Ways to Keep String Safe
There are two ways you can effectively protect a string:
Dry them: Before putting on your new strings, leave them to dry for 24 hours (you can also store them in a clean, cool place). Not only will this stop the cold or humidity affecting your strings’ lifespan, but it will also preserve their tone.
Wipe your strings down: After playing your guitar, wipe the strings down with a clean cloth and some water. You can also carry some extra water in a small spray bottle so that you can give your strings a quick spritz to keep them moist. String sprays are also available, and these contain ingredients such as alcohol or lemon juice that prevent corrosion.
Call us overly sentimental, but there’s something about a guitar that stirs deep emotions in us. It could be the beautifully shaped mahogany neck, the strings with just enough give to create a jazzier sound than most stringed instruments, or the gentle “thud” when you play and then take your hands off of them. Whatever it is, guitars are a fantastic instrument, and people who know how to maintain them properly can enjoy them for decades on end.