How to clean a guitar?

A clean guitar improves your playing! “Really?” I hear you ask? So, how to clean a guitar?

Well look at it this way. If you are proud of your guitar, you’ll want to play it more. You’ll want to show it off. If you have carefully cleaned every inch of the surface by yourself, you will know all of its nooks and crannies. If you have buffed the shine, you’ll be able to dazzle the audience with one more piece of your artistry.

So, if you want a clean guitar… where do you start? Please read our instruction below to have best knowledge on how to clean a guitar.

Remove dust and dirt

Every guitarist has a view on this. Every one has their own way of working. One person’s no-no, is the next person’s watchword. But here’s how I look after my guitars.

Oh… if you have electrics, make sure you are not connected to an amp before you go any further.

How often?

Ask a professional guitarist or guitar technician and they’ll advise you to wipe down all of your guitar surfaces after every time you play. They’ll also advise you to put the guitar back in its case straight after a show to keep it safe. But then they also probably change strings once a week!

If you regularly sing around open camp fires, you’ll probably need to clean your guitar more frequently than if you perform in smoke-free coffee shops. If your guitar never leaves the house, it probably doesn’t gather too much grime.

For myself, I play out in acoustic clubs once or twice a week and carry out a regular amount of practice. I change strings once every 3 or 4 months or more frequently if I have a “big gig” coming up. And that leads us to the first big controversy.

Strings on or off?

When I change strings (even on my 12 string), I remove them all. I then give the guitar a thorough clean. Before I re-string, re-tune and play the new set into shape, enjoying the glorious fresh sound.

Some guitarists are screaming at me now! “Taking all tension off the strings will warp the neck, mate!”  I have confidence in the quality of my equipment. They are all well made. Even the ones I made myself.

The process

So, for me … strings off.

Get a soft dry cloth. Wipe down all the surfaces to remove any visible dust and dirt. Pay particular attention to the area of the body under the strings just above the bridge where dust can collect easily. For an electric, wipe around your pick ups and switches. Don’t dislodge your saddle while you’re doing this. Work carefully around the head stock, make sure you remove any grease and dirt that may have collected on the tuners. Wipe the fretboard, make sure every fret gets a rub and every fretstop is touched. Look out for any build up of grime against the frets (especially up in first position). You may need to use the blunt end of a pencil (or something like that) inside your cloth to get into the edges of some frets if they are particularly grimy.

With all the visible dirt out of the way, take another soft cloth (a clean one) and dampen it with water. You don’t want any drips, just a little moisture in the fabric.  No liquid, no drips! And repeat the whole cleaning process again. This time you are looking out for greasy finger marks, in particular.

Wipe down the top, bottom, sides, fretboard, headstock, tuners and any pickups. No liquid on the pickups!

Then back to a dry cloth. I always spend some time making sure the back of the fretboard (where your thumb goes) is really dry and smooth. Also, the fretboard itself and all the frets. It’s worth the effort.

To polish or not to polish?

If you have a matt finish you may not want to buff things up. If you have a high-shine, you’ll want to layer it up and buff it down.

Don’t use household cleaning sprays. Apparently silicone wax doesn’t sit so well with lacquers used in guitar finishes. You probably don’t need to polish, but I always use a little guitar polish (made by a famous American guitar manufacturer) along the top surface of the body.  I also make sure the back of the fretboard has a layer of polish well rubbed in  along the while length. I also give a squirt on the fretboard and make sure that is rubbed well in. I think this helps with a smoother action.

Oiling the fretboard?

I know people who use lemon oil (or proprietary fretboard oil) a couple of times a year on their fretboard. If  your wood is especially dry or you are building up a guitar for the first time, you may want to do this. You should probably avoid it for light-coloured maple fretboards. There is no real need … unless you want to.

Change the strings

Put your new strings in place. I always use new.  A friend of mine still likes to boil up his old strings in a pan of water and re-use them. He was brought up in austerity. I think life’s too short.

Tune it all up to concert pitch. Play until the strings settle. Cut or curl the excess string length as you see fit.  Then before you stop, take that clean dry cloth and rub the back of the fretboard once again to remove any grease. Also a quick wipe of the body once more to remove any finger prints you may have left.


Then step back and admire your handiwork:  a clean, playable guitar.