How to Take Care of Your Guitar

Taking care of your guitar is essential if you want to enjoy your experience of playing.  A quality guitar that is well-maintained is easy to play and produces a consistently good sound.

The most important way to think of guitar maintenance when you are learning how to do it is “treat the guitar as if it were a baby.”  If your guitar were a baby, there are a few things you would do for it’s safety:

  1. Carry it with care and attention. That means no quick or jarring motions.   Keep your eyes on where you and the guitar are moving or resting.
  2. Watch where you walk while carrying it, being especially mindful of not banging it into things like edges, corners, pieces of furniture, etc.
  3. Place it in its carrier, (such as a guitar case) gently, making sure not to scratch its surface.
  4. Pack its travel case with all the necessary items for going away from home. For a guitar, these items are picks, a tuner, spare strings, a cleaning cloth, and a cable if it’s an electric guitar.
  5. If it were to travel with you in a vehicle, you would place it in there in a way that assures it does not get whipped or bounced around while moving.
  6. Keep it away from temperatures extremes and humidity.

Luckily, guitar strings don’t need to be changed as often as a baby!  However, the most important part of the guitar to maintain frequently is the strings.

Tune up your strings every time you play. Keeping the strings in tune helps prevent neck warping, which can ruin a guitar’s sound. If a guitar is consistently out of tune, the string tension causes the neck to bend toward the tighter tension. This makes it more difficult to play and get into tune.

Tuning also helps the strings last longer, avoids breakage and alerts you to any loose tuning pegs or machine heads on the headstock. Since the tuning peg (the white peg protruding from behind the headstock in the photo) gets turned slightly every time the strings are tuned, they can wear out and become loose.  A loose tuning peg can cause a string to break, slip out of tune or not get into tune at all. If the tuning peg is loose, get it changed right away and save yourself a lot of headaches.

Cleaning your guitar is the next most important part of caring for it.  Make sure you have a good cleaning cloth.  A flannel cotton cloth, sometimes called a “chamois,” is a good choice because it’s durable and has a surface that picks up finger oil smudges and dust easily.

Wipe off your strings every time you play to assure any skin oils from your fingertips and hands are removed from the strings.  A smudge build up on the strings creates extra friction and drag on your fingertips as they slide on the strings. Not good! Run the chamois cloth from the headstock down the full length of the string surface and back. Do this when you finish playing, before returning the guitar to the case or stand. Cleaning the strings like this each time you play will also help them last longer.

The wood surfaces of your guitar body also benefit from being wiped clean each time you play. Natural oils from the fingertips and hands can leave smudges on the guitar surface that build up over time. This is especially true on the fingerboard and the back of the neck. When there is a smudge build up on the neck surface, it creates a drag on your thumb and slows  you down while you play.

If you have an electric guitar, pay attention to the 1/4” connection jack where you plug in your guitar cable. Since this jack is used frequently, it can wear out or become loose inside the guitar body, or at the washers and nut that hold the housing together on the outside. Once any of these parts become loose, the guitar may start to short out and have sound problems. Check the connection every time you plug in and listen to your playing for any sound drop-outs that indicate your jack is loose and needs to be tightened up.

If you have an electric guitar, it is also a great idea to educate yourself about your guitar’s pick-ups and switching options. Since these can vary greatly from one guitar model to another, and often have interesting sound capabilities that are distinct to your model, it’s worth whatever time it takes to learn about these for your guitar.  The most important things to know are:

  1. How many pick-ups does your guitar have?
  2. What are the selector positions for each of the volume and tone knobs?
  3. Do the volume and tone knobs effect which pick-ups are used, or do you have a selector switch for the pick-ups?

Since the answer to each of these questions has a major impact on your tone and sound production, it’s critical to find out those answers. Pick-ups, knobs and switches each have electronic connections inside the guitar. If any of them aren’t working correctly, neither will your guitar!  You can find information about your guitar’s electronics, pick-ups, knobs and switches from the website of the company that made your guitar or any of the manuals that came with your guitar when you bought it.

Thanks to mistibluday for the photo!

Phil Barrow

Phil Barrow

Phil is a guitarist and Director of Resound School of Music, a music school specializing in at-home music lessons. Phil's passion is helping others to discover their lifelong love of music, and he writes about a variety of topics aimed at helping you to become a better musician.

About Us

Resound School of Music was started in 2009 with a vision of providing the finest music instruction available from the comfort of your home. But don’t be mistaken; we’re not your typical, stuffy music conservatory, nor do we want to be. Instead, we are the music school that was designed with you in mind.