Guitar/Guitar Maintenance and Storage

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Properly maintaining a valuable guitar keeps it valuable. Guitars can take a lot of abuse, especially if you play live shows and tour, and even if it pretty much "sounds the same," lack of maintenance may suddenly render the instrument unplayable. You don't need to carefully examine a guitar every day, but occasional check ups keep it good-sounding and ready to play.

Storage[edit]

The easiest way to take care of your guitar is to store it properly. The more expensive the guitar, the better your storage should be. It is generally accepted that the air humidity should be neither too high nor too low, thus somewhere in the 45-55% range, and the temperature of the area should be about 65-75 °F (18-24 °C). These two factors are the biggest threat to an instrument, because changes in moisture and temperature can cause permanent warping of the neck and other critical parts. For guitars made out of solid wood, it is advised to use a humidifier to prevent cracks and damage from weather change.

On the other hand, guitars made out of multi-layered(plywood) wood, typically in budget guitars, can withstand relatively more humidity and temperature changes. Keeping the guitar in a case away from direct sunlight can help with increasing the life of the guitar.

Storing Environment[edit]

The surest way to keep your guitar in good shape is to remember this simple rule: Do not expose the guitar to any climate condition that you would not want to be exposed to. If you keep this in mind, your instrument will likely last years and years.

Avoid large or rapid changes in humidity. Like your body, the guitar gets used to the climate it is in, and suddenly changing it causes stress. Humidity is the most dangerous thing that attacks an instrument, because when wood gets wet, the cell walls become softer and it is more easily bent. Often, the strings themselves are enough to bend the neck. Also, if the humidity stays way too low, then the wood will crack and the structure will weaken.

Temperature on its own is less damaging to the guitar. Wood is generally tolerant to changes in temperature, and for the most part it expands and contracts together. Extreme temperatures or rapid temperature changes, however, can cause serious damage, especially when combined with extreme humidity. Changes in temperature also affect strings, especially nylon strings. A significant change in temperature typically detunes the strings. Other areas to watch for temperature related damage are any glued joins, like where the neck meets the body, or the fretboard attaches to the neck.

Never expose your instrument to extreme temperatures for a long time. For instance, leaving your guitar in a car in the summer all day, or leaving it outside overnight are sure ways to completely destroy your instrument. Also keep the guitar out of direct sunlight as much as possible, because it makes the wood more brittle and can change the color of the instrument.

Keeping your instrument strung and in tune is another good way to make sure that you don't harm your instrument. Strings put tension on the neck. Excessive tension may make the neck bow if the guitar isn't kept in tune.

Methods of Storage[edit]

First, a simple tip: If one is playing the guitar and wishes to put it briefly aside to look for songs or notes or the like, then the best repository is the couch, the bed, or the floor (with carpet or with the guitar bag as a cushion). The basic rule reads: What lies down, cannot fall down. A guitar gets most of its scrapes because one leans it against a wall, or against a table edge, and then it is knocked over from the slightest contact or draft of air. If one had put it down, this would not have happened.

Wall Hooks[edit]

These are most often seen on the walls of guitar stores that must display dozens of instruments in a small amount of wall space. These are good, because they keep the guitar out of the way but openly displayed. These are just a U-shaped piece of metal, covered in rubber or soft plastic.

The piece screws to the wall, and the headstock rests snugly between the two pieces of metal. In regards to plasterboard walls be sure to drill into the timber studs. The weight of the guitar poses no risk to the neck or headstock. When you select a spot to hang a guitar, avoid outside walls. These are subject to more temperature change, which can risk damage to the instrument.

Guitar Stands[edit]

For the most part, guitar stands look similar to a wall hook, except instead of all the weight being on the headstock, most is on the bottom of the body and the neck is mostly supported to keep the guitar standing straight.

Each type of guitar has a specialized type of stand. For example, an Ovation guitar, which has a rounded plastic back, requires a differently shaped stand than a Fender Stratocaster or a regular acoustic guitar. Regardless of what type of stand you get, you should always make sure that it holds your guitar firmly. Some stands also have a locking device, which adds an extra level of security.

One problem you might encounter (although it is rare) is that the lacquer used on your guitar has a reaction with the rubber used to coat the stand. When you buy a new stand, you should examine the guitar every few days and look for discolorations or weak spots. As is often the case, serious guitar damage is easiest to stop before it starts.

Cases[edit]

A Les Paul style guitar in a hard case

There are two main kinds of guitar case, gig bags and hard cases. Gig bags are a favorable kind of keeping, because they give a good amount of protection, and they are also light to carry. Some often have backpack style shoulder straps. Gig bags do not protect against temperature changes very well. Hard cases, in contrast, provide excellent protection against temperature, humidity and physical damage. Hard cases are also essential for taking a guitar on an air plane, or for long journeys.

Compared to other methods of storing, cases are by far the most secure, and this is especially true of hard cases. If the guitar is secured properly in the case (almost) nothing can happen to it under standard conditions.

The biggest (and perhaps only) disadvantage of a case is that you cannot openly display your instrument the way you can on a wall hook or stand. Price is also a disadvantage, because although gig bags can be bought relatively cheaply, hard cases are expensive. Still, a cheap bag for an expensive guitar is a poor investment.

When you buy a case, you absolutely have to make sure that the guitar fits in the case. Gig bags are a little more forgiving, but you will not get a guitar to fit properly in a hard case that is too small. When you pick up the case, give it a little bit of a shake, and you should not feel or hear the guitar moving around very much.

Cabinets[edit]

Storing a guitar in a glass-front cabinet shows it off, and can help keep it at the proper humidity while being quickly accessible. The cost and required floor space may not be practical for most guitarists. One alternative is Musik Tent™, an Instrument Humidor that is portable and lightweight that uniformly humidifies, stores and displays guitars in wet and dry environments.

Maintenance[edit]

Body[edit]

The body often takes the most abuse, simply because it is the biggest target. To help keep a fine instrument in good condition, wipe it down with a soft cloth after playing. Don't use water-based furniture sprays. You can buy specially treated cloths and sprays for guitars at almost any music store. Dirt, sweat, and often small nicks and scrapes can just be cleaned up with a cloth, little bit of warm water. Murphy's Oil Soap can be used to clean the whole guitar. Wipe the strings with a clean cloth. Some guitarists advocate wiping the strings with warm water, but be sure to protect the fingerboard from moisture. Consider wiping your guitar strings off every time you play. Oils and dirt left on your strings make them asymmetrical—as opposed to evenly cylindrical vibrating bodies. They may even wear out a bit faster. A soft, natural fiber or "microfiber" cloth works the best and is safest for the finish. Clean the frets as you do the rest of the guitar. If necessary, carefully use 0.001 steel wool to get grime off the fingerboard next to the frets. You can also gently go over the frets to take off any minor nicks.

If you have a stained or lacquered body, you can treat it with a little bit of furniture polish. However, if you have a guitar with an untreated body, be extremely careful with polish. For these types, it is better to find some sort of cleaning oil or wax, since they help prevent hair-line cracks from developing. After cleaning, the body must be absolutely dry, because if the wood gets over-moistened, the tone of the guitar will begin to degrade.

Neck and Fretboard[edit]

The neck is probably the most important part of the guitar, especially if you want to play it for a long time. Unless the guitar is stored for extended periods of time, the tension of the strings will always be pulling against the neck and stretching it away from the body. If stored for a long period of time, strings should be loosened, to reduce the tension on the neck. If the guitar gets moist, this neck warping happens even faster. Sometimes warping can be fixed by adjusting the truss rod, but this only prolongs the death of the instrument, and can't really fix the problem.

You can also oil or wax the fretboard, but you should first determine whether the fretboard is stained or painted, and use the appropriate protection. Always remember that using too much cleaner is always worse than using no cleaner at all, and always rub it in slowly.

Another drastic way to repair a warped neck on acoustic guitars is take all the strings off, and place a small glass of water into the body. Then, keep the body in place and put a small amount of weight (1 or 2 pounds) on the neck and let it bend back into the proper shape. When it has been corrected, remove the water, keep the weight on and let the guitar dry. Hopefully the neck will remain in the correct position, however it will be much more prone to warping from that point on. Since this procedure is somewhat accident prone, some manufacturers offer special instrument air moisturizers, which you can put in a case, or on a specific area of the neck. These generally allow for a higher rate of success.

The fretboard is usually made from untreated wood, and it should be cleaned regularly, before dirt begins to build up. Usually a good time to do this is when you change your strings, which should be every month or two. You need to clean the wood between the frets, and the simplest way is using a clean damp cloth or some very fine steel wool. Use some water with a little bit of detergent to make cleaning easier. If you use steel wool, you can also clean up the edges of worn frets, which is important because smooth frets improve the life of your strings. If the frets are really worn down, they can be replaced, but this is generally not a good project to undertake yourself.

It is very important that the neck is not wet after cleaning, because water damages the structure of the neck. Your cleaning cloth should be damp, not soaking wet. After cleaning, you can also apply a coat of furniture polish to seal the wood.

Strings[edit]

A set of strings wear down slowly, if you maintain them properly. Since regular playing does some amount of damage to the strings, it's a good idea to change regularly. Full sets of strings should be replaced at the same time. If you only replace one string, the others are likely to break soon, the strings will have different tones, and the opened pack of strings will begin to corrode. When changing a set of strings, some guitarists recommend replacing them one at a time, rather than removing all strings at once, to maintain tension on the neck (i.e., remove and replace the first string, then the second, then the third, etc.).

If you do not clean your strings, they may become dull, and even begin to rust. Dirty strings also damage the frets themselves, because the grime and rust makes the strings more coarse. There are many types of string cleaners. Pharmacies sell boxes of individually wrapped alcohol-saturated pads. These are excellent for occasionally deep-cleaning strings, but protect the fingerboard.

If you clean your strings infrequently, you can just as easily use glass cleaner to release the sweat from the strings. It's easiest to soak a cloth in window cleaner, and then slip the cloth behind, and clean the whole length of each string individually. You can tell when a string is cleaned when you rub the string and the cloth is still clean. Also, you shouldn't let the cleaner remain on the strings, because residue might damage the string too. As always, protect the fingerboard from moisture. When finished, wipe the strings with a dry cloth.

Tuning Mechanisms[edit]

Tuning mechanisms are usually chromed, gold-plated, anodized, or burnished steel. Since steel rusts, especially when it contacts sweat, these pieces should be cleaned periodically. Properly oiled mechanisms work smoothly and help keep the strings in tune.

To prevent rust, clean and oil parts regularly. You can use commercial machine oils from any hardware store, but baby oil or petroleum jelly works too. Too little lubricant is better than too much—adding more is easier than removing excess. Two drops is often enough. Avoid making contact with the wood parts of the guitar because the oil could stain or discolor. Electrical components (switches, sockets, potentiometers, etc.) can also go bad if the oil gets in them.

Many tuning machines have a screw in the knob that controls how easily they turn. The knobs should be snug, with no free play, but they should not be so tight that they are difficult to turn. Care should be taken not to over-tighten, as this may break plastic tuner buttons or may strip the screw thread and require repair or replacement.

Guitar
Getting Started: Different Types of Guitars | Anatomy of a Guitar | Buying a Guitar | Buying an Amplifier | Tuning the Guitar | Tablature | Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar
For Beginners: The Basics | Intervals and Power Chords | Open Chords | Muting and Raking | Learning Songs | Song Library
Lead Guitar: Picking and Plucking | Scales | Arpeggios and Sweep Picking | Slides | Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Trills | Bending and Vibrato | Harmonics | Vibrato Bar Techniques | Tapping
Rhythm Guitar: Chords | Barre Chords | Chord Progressions | Alternate Picking | Tremolo Picking | Rhythm
Playing Styles: Folk Guitar | Blues | Slide Guitar | Rock Guitar | Country and Western | Metal | Jazz | Classical Guitar | Flamenco
General Guitar Theory: Tone and Volume | Singing and Playing | Writing Songs | Playing With Others | Recording Music |Tuning Your Ear | How to Continue Learning
Equipment: Guitar Accessories | Effects Pedals | E-Bow | Cables | Bass Guitar | Harmonica and Guitar Combo
Maintenance: Guitar Maintenance and Storage | Adjusting the Guitar | Stringing the Guitar
Appendices: Dictionary | Alternate Tunings | Chord Reference | Blanks