Photo 1. Image courtesy of singlecoil.com.

I’d like to thank you for all your feedback about Mod Garage’s first column on acoustic guitars (“Conquering Classical Guitar String-Changing Terror,” February 2015). By popular demand, here’s another acoustic-oriented column, just in time for this issue’s acoustic theme. Our topic: cleaning out an acoustic guitar’s interior.

Free surprise inside! When you add an old acoustic guitar to your arsenal, chances are it’ll be full of dust, dirt, and other things that have accumulated over the years, especially if the guitar was stored on a stand or wall rather than in a case. Most of this debris builds up naturally over time, but I’ve found the oddest things inside old guitars: picks, woodchips, string ball-ends, pet feces, gigantic dust bunnies, toasted plant parts, a mummified mouse (former nest included), and most memorably, a very old handwritten letter folded and glued inside the soundboard.

Such debris can tell us a lot about a guitar’s history, but it’s not always fun removing the stuff. Additionally, old acoustic guitars often smell bad inside due to a combination of old dust and moisture. But don’t worry—I’ll show you how to clean things up in a few simple steps.

When you add an old acoustic guitar to your arsenal, chances are it’ll be full of dust, dirt, and other things that have accumulated
over the years.

My procedure isn’t the only possible method, but we’ve used it in our shop for many years with great results. It works equally well for steel- and nylon-stringed guitars, and it’s dirt-cheap.

Enter the parlor. Our demo model is a MAFIMA parlor guitar built in the 1920s in Markneukirchen, Germany, which a customer brought in for a full restoration. (MAFIMA was the brand of luthier Max Fischer, derived from the words “MAx FIscher MArkneukirchen.”) Our customer bought it at a flea market without a case. It was in surprisingly good shape for its age, but it was full of dust and dirt, and inside it smelled like an old museum hall with a waxed floor that hadn’t been cleaned for decades—not very appealing.

The first step is easy: Remove the strings, turn the guitar upside down with the soundhole facing the ground, and shake for several minutes until any large, loose debris falls out. It’s a good idea to do this outside—you may be surprised by the amount of debris you encounter!


Photo 2. Image courtesy of singlecoil.com.

Next, grab your vacuum and a duster. You can also use any piece of cotton cloth or an old, clean sock. Disconnect any attachments from the vacuum’s hose, and then wrap the duster or cotton cloth around the end of the hose, securing it with a rubber band (Photo 1). Turn on the vacuum, put the hose inside the guitar, and hoover everything up (Photo 2). The duster protects the inside of your guitar from damage.


Photo 3. Image courtesy of singlecoil.com.

Those hard-to-reach places. Now use a small extension vacuum hose like the one shown in Photo 3. You can buy these for a few bucks at most home improvement and computer stores. (To prevent damage, I only use the kit’s small, soft hose.) With this neat little toy you can vacuum all the spots inside the guitar that your standard vacuum hose can’t reach.

By now most of the dust and dirt should be gone, but the next two steps should get everything out. The idea is to loosen the rest of the dirt with shots of high-pressure air, and then suck it up as it’s flying around with the vacuum hose. We have an air compressor at the shop, but you can use a can of compressed air that’s sold to blow dust out of computer keyboards.