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Guitar Shop 101: The Great Guitar Cleanup

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Fig. 9. Planet Waves’ Fret Polishing System includes super-fine abrasive paper and a guard to protect the wood.

Simply lay the template over the fretwire and polish the frets until they glisten (Fig. 9). The kit works great and there is little mess to clean up. But even with this system, you’ll want to vacuum the residue off the neck left by the polishing paper.


Fig. 10. Like the fretboard, an acoustic guitar’s bridge needs to be cleaned and conditioned.

Cleaning and conditioning a bridge. It’s very simple to clean and condition the bridge on an acoustic guitar. Remove the bridge saddle and then scrub the bridge with a toothbrush and conditioner (Fig. 10). Use cotton swabs to clean inside the saddle slot. When the gunk is cleaned off, wipe down the bridge with a paper towel. That’s it!


Fig. 11. Filth can build up on a bridge and its saddles. When hardware gets this dirty and rusty, you’ll need to disassemble and clean it with WD-40 or 3-in-One oil.

Cleaning the hardware. Sweat is a big enemy of hardware because its acids and salts corrode the metal plating and attract dirt that clogs up any moving parts. In extreme cases, a guitar’s bridge (Fig. 11) and tuning keys (Fig. 12) can begin to rust. Cleaning these important mechanisms keeps them looking good and functioning at their best.


Fig. 12. If left on metal hardware, sweat can eat right into the plating and cause rust.

For cleaning metal hardware, I’ve had success with 3-in-One oil and WD-40. Remember that these products are only safe on metal, so avoid getting them on the fretboard or finish. I typically remove the hardware to clean it with an old toothbrush and then carefully wipe it off before reinstalling.

Cleaning the finish. When cleaning your guitar’s finish, avoid furniture polishes like Pledge, which contains lemon oil, or products that contain d-Limonene, alcohol, solvents, or silicone. All of these will damage the finish over time. Sweat is another finish-eater because it causes lacquer to soften and break down.

Water actually works well to clean a guitar finish. Use a slightly damp micro-fiber cloth to wipe away dust and grime, and rinse the cloth frequently to remove any debris. As for a good polish, I only use pure carnauba wax, which is safe for most finishes.

Controlling humidity. Once your guitar is clean, you’ll want to protect the wood with some type of humidifier. For a guitar that’s stored in its case, I recommend the Humidipak from Planet Waves. It’s a simple, accurate, and effective way to maintain the ideal humidity for your guitar. If you keep your guitar out in a studio or living area, try running an ultrasonic or warm mist humidifier in that room. For most stringed instruments, the optimum humidity level is 45 percent.

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