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How to Clean and Polish an Acoustic Guitar

Updated on May 27, 2013
Cleaning up your guitar is a snap when the strings are out.  Every time you re-string your guitar is the perfect time to polish.
Cleaning up your guitar is a snap when the strings are out. Every time you re-string your guitar is the perfect time to polish. | Source

Having to take care of your guitar is a no brainer, but some times we let our guitars go a little too long without maintenance. Before you know it, a year has rolled by and at closer inspection, you notice that your guitar is losing some of it's luster.

It only dawns on you because you broke a string, and as you remove the old set of strings, when you inspect your fret board, you find it dull and dry.

If you live in an area where the weather changes enough to swing 50 degrees or more in any direction, you'll probably have to do this at least once or twice a year. If you live in an area with heavy weather changes, it is probably best to keep your guitar in a case when you're not playing it. This will help to protect your guitar from warping, during it's stretching and shrinking.

It was a nice warm day today, so I took my guitar out on the porch and gave it some tender loving care - it always seems to feel nicer, sound fuller, and play easily after cleaning and polishing.

In this hub, I'll cover the following topics:

  • Re-Stringing a Guitar
  • Guitar Cleaning
  • Fretboard Cleaning
  • Guitar Fret Polishing
  • How to Polish a Guitar

Preparing to use our polish.
Preparing to use our polish. | Source

Re-Stringing a Guitar

Okay, you're looking at cleaning your guitar right? Well, chances are, if your guitar is dirty, you need new strings anyway. Any time you re-string your guitar, you should take the time to do some deep cleaning. Cleaning and polishing your guitar will not only make it look good, but it will add years to the life of your guitar.

Slowly and purposely loosen all strings a little at a time - start by making a half turn on the keys for each string. This way, the guitar won't have too much stress on a few strings only. Since these strings are a safety hazard to you and those around you, make sure to coil your used strings and place them in the bag that your new strings came in. This way, you can safely discard the strings without risk of hurting anyone.

Now that the strings are off, go over every square inch of the guitar to see where your trouble spots for cleaning is - or if your guitar will need repair. Inspect the tuning keys for any rusting or build-up is always a good idea since they are easily overlooked. Look over your frets to see if there are any signs of corrosion - usually a blueish-green color. Inspect the hole for dust or dirt that may give mold or mildew a foothold to start. Look over the ivories and pegs where the string's metal coils will be pegged into place. Look for any damages, cracks, or anything else that may need to be replaced, then decide if it's something you can handle, or send in for professional repair.

This over-view will give you an indication of the condition of your guitar. If everything looks fine, let's continue with the clean-up.

Working the polish into the fret board
Working the polish into the fret board | Source

Guitar Cleaning

Guitar cleaning is very simple, and easy to do - it is entirely up to you to what extent you want to have your guitar cleaned. If it has been wiped down habitually after every play, you probably don't have too much to worry about. But if you play your guitar like you ride a horse and put it away wet and breathing heavy - you probably need a bit more than a thorough wipe down.

For daily wipe downs, like my iPad and other electronics, I like to use micro-fibered cloths to wipe finger prints and little kiddie smudges off. You can use this to wipe down your guitar, and some of the dust and grime that accumulates.

If your guitar has been through a lot, you'll probably need a little more 'oomph' in your cleaning. I use a soft cloth - an old t-shirt will do - dipped into warm water and some mild dish detergent. Make sure you ring out the cloth before wiping. This will cut any greasy residue and give you a clean slate to start with. Wipe down any moisture immediately after to preserve the wood, finish and metal works of your guitar.

Work the polish into the grain with a soft clean cloth.
Work the polish into the grain with a soft clean cloth. | Source

Fretboard Cleaning

This is a part that never gets the attention - check out your frets. Sometimes there's a build-up of tarnish or gummy substance that needs to be cleaned off. You can use a very 'fine' grade of steel wool (using a #0000 grade of steel wool is adequate) but make sure to efficiently and totally cover the sound hole of your guitar to avoid any fine bits of steel getting into the pick-ups.

To avoid any possibility of metal pieces getting sucked up by the magnetized pick-ups, I use a green scrubber. You might already have this available, and if not, these scouring pads can be found in any store with a cleaning supply department.

Gently scrub the frets on every side and be careful not to scour the fret board itself. Wipe any dust free of your guitar fret board and to prepare the surface for polish.

How often do you have your guitar "Set-Up"?

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Keeping all woods in good condition is a great idea.
Keeping all woods in good condition is a great idea. | Source

Guitar Fret Polishing

Now that your fretboard is nice and clean, it's ready for a good polishing. I particularly like using GHS Fast-Fret. It's a cleaner and lubricant for strings and fret boards. Rubbing Fast-Fret liberally directly onto the fretboard and using the supplied cloth to spread the formula over the entire length of the fret board. Wipe away any excess.

This product not only enriches and treats the fret board, but you can rub it directly onto your strings and board each time you finish a playing session. The good thing about this product is that it won't attract dirt to any treated ares, and you can use it as often as you like.

Source
Always inspect the neck while going over your guitar.  As you can see, the frets are now fresh and alive with rich color.
Always inspect the neck while going over your guitar. As you can see, the frets are now fresh and alive with rich color. | Source

How to Polish a Guitar

Okay, two different attitudes towards polishing guitars. We should talk about a few things before you go out and slap on a layer of wax onto your guitar. There are two schools of thought out there, and depending on your particular guitar and your own perspective, you need to make the best decision for your personal situation.

First, for the newer guitars, the finish is so thick and clear, that you actually won't need to do any kind of polishing for years to come. Like me, I just use the micro fiber cloth and wipe it down after each play. However, if your guitar needs a little spit shine, some guitarists like using a spray-on car wax. Using a spray on wax will ensure that you can use a very thin layer of wax that you can spread over the entire guitar.

The wax will help to protect your guitar from accidental spills, and improve the look and feel of your guitar.

Second, there are some out there that would not dream of putting on a coat of wax over their guitar. One reason is that wax build-up can occur, and after many years of this, it can actually change the sound of your guitar. To correct this, there are some enthusiasts that use non-wax Pledge or Endust on their guitar finishes.

For professionals, the fading finish of a guitar is just one phase of the guitar's life. I don't have a guitar that's really expensive, but if I did, I would probably not put anything on it except a good wipe down after every play.

One thing is for sure, if you're not sure what to do, you should check with your guitar professional at your local music shop. Because of the different types of finishes on the market, and the finishes that have changed over the years in guitars, it's best to check with a professional.

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    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Hi jdw, thanks for your comment. Not to sound like a commercial but, you'll really like the look and feel of your guitar once you give it a good shine. The Fast-Fret product can be used on strings as well, this will keep the strings coated and protected, and allow you to due some serious finger-flying! Peace. Kawi.

    • jdw7979 profile image

      John David 4 years ago from Middle America

      Great tips and thanks.. I am bad about cleaning up my acoustic and usually just wipe it down. Thumbs up from this lazy guy!

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Crissylite for your comment. It's quite easy to do when you're writing about something that you love doing. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks for your comment OpiePride, keep on strumming. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Rose, had a good time doing it, even had enough time to play a little. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks for your comment whonu, it was a fun hub to create. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks MarieneB for your comment and good words. Yep, sounds like a good time for some tender loving care for your guitar. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks starbright, I really appreciate that. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks RTalloni for your comment, I'm glad you've found my hub helpful, I am humbled in a league of such great talent. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks "a"-mate, I had a blast doing it, and it was on a subject that I love. Thanks so much for your comment. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Darrylmdavis, I'm glad you found my hub helpful. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks mercuryserv - I know what you're feeling, but my 12 string is there in Hawaii safely tucked away in a case. I'll be able to play again sometime this summer hopefully when I come home for a brief stay. Thanks for the comment, as always, it's good to hear from you again. Aloha. Peace. Kawi.

    • Crissylite profile image

      Crissylite 4 years ago

      Thanks for this article; very informative!

    • OpiePride profile image

      Michael Pridemore 4 years ago from Lexington, Ky

      Great tips, great hub!

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      Excellent hub with great tips and awesome visuals! Congrats on HOTD. (Voted Up) Take care. -Rose

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

      Very informative and interesting hub on guitar care. Thank you for sharing this nice work. whonu

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      Thank you for this very comprehensive guide on cleaning a guitar. I have had my guitar for about a decade and have not ever cleaned it except for a mild wiping with a small cloth. I keep the guitar in a case, so that helps keep it from getting too dusty, but now it's time to clean it, so I'm glad I read this.

      By the way, congratulations on receiving Hub of the Day!

    • starbright profile image

      Lucy Jones 4 years ago from Scandinavia

      Brilliant hub, interesting and helpful. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Congrats on your Hub of the Day award and thanks for the information. My husband will find it interesting and I'm looking forward to showing it to him.

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 4 years ago from United States

      Congrats on Hub of the Day! I don't own a guitar, but this is a very detailed guide. You included some great pictures, too. Voted up!

    • Darrylmdavis profile image

      Darrylmdavis 4 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

      Very useful...I am always looking for insights to help me maintain my daughter's guitar.

    • mercuryservices profile image

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      This hub makes me miss my guitars. I sold them before I moved. It's amazing what a setup and a cleaning will do for the sound. I had a Fender J Bass with strings that were high at the store. I left them like that for a while then lowered them and then my fingers were flying around all over the place, it was so easy. Plus the sound was a lot clearer after I swiped the dust off the pickups. Nice photos and clear instructions. Peace!

      -Alex

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Aloha Joe, mahalo plenty for the comments - you can see my purple lavalava and my luau feet in this one I think... lol. Peace. Kawi.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Hi, Kawi!

      This was a well-written, beautifully photographed, and professionally presented article. Now if only we had a video with you playing a lovely Hawaiian son! Food for thought? : ) Aloha and mahalo, bruddah!

      Joe

    • KawikaChann profile image
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      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Hi Mhatter99, thanks for stopping by. That's awesome - I have a 6 string here in Oregon with me (pictured above), and my 12 string at home in Hawaii for whenever we have gatherings (kanikapila - we play and sing). I don't have a guy that tunes them, but I do have two parakeets that carry a tune... not the same is it? Peace. Kawi.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for the tips. The same guy that tunes my piano takes care of my guitars.