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A Comprehensive Guide to Guitar Care and Maintenance

While many people take a pass on learning a musical instrument as a child, it’s also a skill that many adults regret not learning. That’s even more true these days with research showing that playing an instrument preserves mental function longer as you age. The good news is that you can pick up an instrument later in life.

The guitar is a popular choice for many adult learners. They’re relatively inexpensive, more portable, and less noisy than many of the other choices. The pitfall of learning later in life is that you may not be up on guitar care essentials.

If you’re learning the guitar and want to keep it in good shape, keep reading for our guide on guitar care and maintenance.

Basic Storage

Acoustic and electric guitars are primarily built from wood. That means that they’re fragile in surprising ways.

For example, you may damage the body or neck of a guitar if you drop it. Electric guitars also have electronic components inside that may not fare well after an impact.

That means that the safest place you can store your guitar is inside of a proper guitar case. Hard cases offer the most protection, but even soft cases will help protect the instrument.

Once you learn a few songs on your guitar, though, you want to show off a little. That typically means displaying your guitar on a stand. You want the right stand though.

Many guitars come with a nitrocellulose finish. Cheap stands can damage that finish, so make sure you pick from the best nitrocellulose safe guitar stands you can find.

Advanced Storage

Remember that part above where it says that guitars are made of wood? That means you must take environmental factors into mind with your storage as well. After all, there’s a reason why woodworkers let recently purchased wood rest in their shops for a while before using them.

Wood will soak up and release water. That counts for water in the air, too. High humidity spaces will damage your guitar’s frets and bridges over time.

You can avoid this by keeping your guitar in a humidity-controlled space whenever possible. The ideal humidity is around 50%, which is lucky for you because that’s also the right humidity for homes.

You should also avoid serious temperature changes as much as possible, as well. Think carrying your guitar around in the cold and then pulling it out in a nice warm house. That risks warping the guitar, which will definitely change or even ruin its playability.

If taking your guitar between temperature extremes, let it rest inside the case for a while. That lets the guitar adjust slowly to the new temperature.

Basic Maintenance

Even and maybe especially if you buy used, expect some basic guitar care and maintenance. First up, get strings meant for the kind of guitar you own. Acoustic guitars typically get bronze strings, while electric guitars generally get stainless steel.

If you’re not sure about the right kind of string or the right gauge, which is the thickness of the string, ask at your local music shop. They can help you pick the right ones.

You should also pick up some microfiber cloths. Your fingertips produce oils that you’ll deposit on the strings. Wiping the strings down after each use will extend the life of the strings.

You can also use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the neck and body after each use.

If you make these a regular habit, caring for your guitar will prove a fairly quick process most days.

Advanced Maintenance

Like most instruments, you can go deep on the advanced guitar maintenance. Before doing that, though, make sure you understand exactly what kind of guitar you own. Not all techniques work on all finishes or materials.


Changing out the strings is one of the more common maintenance tasks. The exact process varies based on whether you play an acoustic or electric guitar. For example, acoustic guitars use string pegs, while electric guitars use a bridge to hold the strings.

Look for a guide on changing strings for your type of guitar.


While changing the strings, though, you can take the opportunity to use a fretboard conditioner on the neck. This helps preserve the look of the fretboard.

Don’t bother with the conditioner if your guitar sports a maple fretboard. These boards either come unfinished or with a heavy finish. The conditioner won’t help in either case.

For very dirty fretboards, you can get some extremely fine steel wool — 0000 grade — and rub the fretboard in small circular motions. This will lift off any accumulated dirt and oils from the neck and frets.


For high gloss bodies, you can use a basic guitar polish. It’ll help restore the luster of the body. As a general rule, most off-the-shelf polishes will work fine on most guitars. Always read and follow the directions on the polish.

If you shelled out a pretty penny for your ax, though, check on the manufacturer’s website for their recommended polish. They’ll typically provide a list of preferred polishes for your guitar.

A lot of acoustic guitars come with a matte finish or a satin finish. Liquid guitar polish won’t do much for these, so don’t bother with it.

Instead, invest in a good guitar polish cloth and give your acoustic a solid once over. It’ll look great.

Guitar Care and You

Guitar care isn’t especially difficult, as long as you stick with some basic routines.

Wiping down the strings, neck, and body after each use will prevent an excessive buildup of oils and grime. That way, when you do a more in-depth cleaning, it goes quickly.

Storing the guitar in a case helps prevent incidental damage. The right stand will help protect the finish. Avoiding extreme temperature changes will protect your guitar from warping.

Looking for more tips on music and instruments? Check out the posts in our Music and Movies section.


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