Care and feeding of your guitar and other stringed instruments

Ever seen an old piece of furniture at a garage sale? Or the wood of a hundred-year-old barn? Chances are the wood is cracked and warped. That could happen to your instrument if you don’t take care of it. Here’s a few tips to keep you and your instrument happy.

Wipe your fretboard off after you play, especially if you’re playing outdoors or if you sweat a lot. The dirt and sweat can make it sticky and hard to play. It affects the intonation too. That dirt can even work its way around the frets and actually damage the wood.Keep your instrument in the case. It’s always the safest place for it, especially if you have pets or kids who might knock it over.

Humidify during the winter or all of the time if you live in a desert. There are many commercial humidifiers available or you can make your own with a damp sponge and a plastic bag. More about that here. Winter is especially a dry time for instruments because we turn on the furnace. Dried out wood can shrink, making frets rattle, causing the top to bow and creating cracks.

Dehumidify if you live in a humid climate. Keep it in a room with a dehumidifier. Otherwise, the water in the air will cause the wood to swell – your top can develop a bow, causing the bridge to lift off. It can also make the instrument sound dead.

Never, ever store your instrument in an attic or basement. Attics are too hot and dry. Basements, unless they’re finished and you run a dehumidifier, are too damp.

Keep the finish clean with a dry or slightly damp cloth. If you need something more, there are lots of commercial instrument polishes on the market. Never use a furniture polish that has lemon oil or silicone (like Lemon Pledge or Armor All) because in the long run, they can damage the finish. Be careful with special finishes sometimes found on vintage or expensive instruments like French polish, soft lacquer or shellac. You might want to check with a luthier or the manufacturer before using anything on an instrument like that.

Avoid exposure to direct sunlight. An occasional gig outside is okay, just don’t keep your instrument on a stand where it gets sunlight every day. The light can dry out the wood and fade the finish.

Never store your instrument over a heating vent or near a fireplace. It’ll dry out the wood.

Never store your instrument for very long inside a car, especially if the temperature is over 80 F. Temperatures inside can be 20 or 30 degrees higher.  Hot temperatures can loosen the glue and make the neck action high. These are not issues that will go away after it cools off.

If you carry your instrument in from a cold day and into a warm house, do not take it out of the case right away. The abrupt change in temperature can cause damage, especially to the finish. Leave the instrument in the case and let it acclimate slowly. I once damaged the finish of a mandolin because I didn’t do this. It created a spider web-looking pattern over the whole thing.

Never take off all the strings and store it for a lengthy time. Your instrument is designed with the tension of the strings in mind. Leaving them off can affect the bow of the neck.

If you travel with your instrument, make sure you have a sturdy case. More about that here.

Take care of your baby.


Want to know more about taking care of an instrument in the winter? Check out this post.

Live in Ottawa and want guitar, mandolin or ukulele lessons? I’m your woman. Contact me here.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
This entry was posted in Music instruction, Playing the guitar, Playing the ukulele and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Care and feeding of your guitar and other stringed instruments

  1. Julie Nicolay says:

    Excellent blog, and love the Jennifer Aniston clip, LOL! Great way to start my day on both accounts!

  2. hmmm. although i agree that the safest place for a guitar is in its case, i also think that a guitar on a stand is an invitation to play. one less obstacle to squeezing in a few minutes of joyful practice.

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