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Many players underestimate how keeping your guitar clean affects tone and playability.
You can take your instrument to the next level with simple tools and easy steps, all without spending a dime.
However, even though guitars can take quite a beating when touring, they are somewhat delicate regarding the cleaning process.
There are a few materials you should and shouldn’t use and common practices that will prevent your instrument from getting damaged.
In this article, as a fellow guitar player, I will guide you step-by-step on how to clean an electric guitar and give you a few tips on how to always keep your guitar in pristine condition. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- How Do I Clean My Electric Guitar?
- Tools and Items Needed to Clean The Guitar
- Things you Should Prepare for Before Cleaning an Electric Guitar
- How to Clean an Electric Guitar? [Step-by-Step Guide]
- Products That You Shouldn’t Use
- How to Prevent Electric Guitar from Getting Dirty [Maintenance Tips]
How Do I Clean My Electric Guitar?
Most guitars can be easily cleaned using a microfiber cloth, some conditioning oil for the fretboard (such as lemon oil), 0000 steel wool, and guitar polish.
The materials and steps will vary slightly depending on your guitar’s finish, the fretboard material, etc.
So keep reading as we go in-depth through the tools and processes to clean your instrument.
Tools and Items Needed to Clean The Guitar
Microfiber or Polish Cloth
These are essential to wipe the dust off and give shine to your instrument without risking any kind of damage or scratches.
Make sure you choose a microfiber or polish cloth that is soft enough.
There are even a few options in the market that are specially designed for use with guitars and other instruments, such as the AAwipes Guitar Cloths Microfiber 6-Pack and the Ernie Ball Microfiber Polish Cloth.
These don’t cost much, but if you have any soft cloth lying around in your house that is soft enough, these will do.
Lemon or Mineral Oil
Lemon oil is an old acquaintance with guitarists. Used sparingly, it will help you keep your fretboard in pristine condition and prevent it from drying out or cracking.
It is also very affordable: you can get a 4oZ bottle for as low as $3. Mineral oil also works and can be easily found in drugstores.
Important Disclaimer: lemon oil is only suited for fretboards made of dark wood like rosewood.
Skip this item and don’t use it if you have a maple fretboard, as it might damage your guitar.
0000 Steel Wool
Fine 0000 steel wool can be a great ally when cleaning your fretboard, as it allows you to clean deeply through the grooves of the wood, but it shouldn’t be used on maple fretboards with a glossy finish.
Remember that 0000 is the only grade of steel wool suitable for cleaning your guitar’s fretboard. Anything thicker would damage the wood.
Any old toothbrush you have lying around will do, as it will help you clean hard-to-reach places and wipe dust and dead skin cells from the grooves on the wood of your fretboard.
Guitar polish will help you keep the body of your instrument in pristine condition.
It shouldn’t be used on the fretboard, though. You can find wood polish products specially designed for guitars, such as this one from Dunlop, for fairly cheap.
Things you Should Prepare for Before Cleaning an Electric Guitar
Wash Your Hands or Put On a Pair of Gloves
It might sound redundant, but many people skip this step.
Make sure to wash your hands or wear gloves before working since the oils present in human hands could damage your guitar.
Remove the Strings from your Guitar
If you want to do some deep cleaning to your guitar, you should remove the strings beforehand so as to have easier access to the fretboard and parts that go under it.
You will most likely want to put on a fresh new set after you’re done anyways.
How to Clean an Electric Guitar? [Step-by-Step Guide]
Inspect and Clean your Headstock
The headstock of your guitar has mechanisms such as the tuning pegs that must be kept clean in order to stay in pristine work condition.
Use the toothbrush to help you in this area. You can also use fine steel wool in the metal parts to give it a shine.
It is a great idea as well to check if your tuning pegs are secure in place since they tend to get a little wobbly with time.
You can easily fix this with a screwdriver. If you want to go up a notch, you can remove them from your headstock to make the cleaning job easier, but it is not necessary.
Clean your Fretboard
The fretboard is of the dirtiest places on a guitar, as oils and grime will build up there fairly quickly.
You can solve this by using the 0000 fine steel wool to lightly scrap the dirt off. Remember to always go with the grain of the wood.
You can also use a dull safety blade or an old credit card to scratch off the grime on the surface of your fretboard, but it won’t go as deep into the groves of the wood as the 0000 fine steel wool.
If you have a fretboard with a glossy finish, avoid using steel wool and stick to something gentler instead, such as a piece of cloth, to prevent wearing the finish away.
Condition your Fretboard (Dark Wood Scales Only)
After cleaning, chances are your fretboard will be a little dry and need some conditioning.
A dry fretboard doesn’t look good and feels awful to play on.
For the job, you will need either lemon or mineral oil. As we mentioned before, you can buy lemon oil specially designed for fretboards for a very cheap price.
You can apply the oil on your fretboard with the help of a microfiber cloth. Make sure to wipe the excess off with tissue paper, as you don’t want your wood to have a layer of wax covering it.
Again, it is essential to remember that lemon and mineral oils should only be used on dark wood scales such as rosewood. Don’t apply it if you have a light fretboard like those made from maple.
Clean your Guitar’s Hardware
Metal parts such as the bridge have a lot of gaps that can accumulate dirt and dust very easily, so give them special treatment.
We recommend that you take them off your guitar using a screwdriver to help the job, though it is not always necessary and only should be done if you know to put it together again after the job is done.
You can use the 0000 fine steel wool to lightly clean any metal parts and a toothbrush to help tackle those hard-to-reach places.
Just be very careful not to let the steel wool anywhere near the pickups, as they are magnetic, and doing so could create an awful mess.
Clean your Guitar’s Body
In theory, cleaning your guitar’s body is the simplest of all steps, but the products and tools you can use will depend on your instrument’s finish.
The most popular materials used on guitar bodies are polyurethane and polyester, satin lacquer, and matte coat. We will cover how and what to use when cleaning each one of them below:
Polyurethane and Polyester Guitar Bodies
The most popular kind of finish, these guitar bodies can be cleaned with a slightly damp cloth or another product specially made for the job.
You can also apply guitar polish to polyurethane and polyester without any problems.
Satin Finish Guitar Bodies
Satin guitar bodies have a layer of lacquer covering the paint job, so you should only use a dry or damp cloth.
Applying guitar polish to this type of finish is not recommended, as it will wear away the lacquer.
Matte Finish Guitar Bodies
If your guitar has a matte finish, only use a dry cloth. If you use a damp cloth or apply any type of product, you run the risk of making the finish too glossy.
Re-String and Regulate your Guitar
After you’re done cleaning, you can re-string your guitar. While regulating your instrument is an optional step at this point, remember that you should do it since, chances are, your guitar got unregulated from the pressure release when you first took off your old strings.
Products That You Shouldn’t Use
Below, we list a few products you shouldn’t use while cleaning your guitar. Of course, the list is vast, and it is impossible to cover everything, so make sure to use a healthy dose of common sense.
Anything Too Abrasive
While you can use certain materials, such as 0000 fine wool on your guitar’s fretboard, you shouldn’t get anything abrasive near the body of your guitar or in areas where there is any paint job or finish, such as lacquer.
If you need to clean your hardware with steel wool, we recommend removing it from the guitar first.
It is also worth remembering that glossy-finish maple fretboards will get damaged and scratched by abrasive materials, which is not a great idea.
Present in most households, it is tempting to dab a cloth in alcohol and just rub it all over your guitar, but you shouldn’t in most cases, as alcohol is a drying agent and could cause certain types of wood and finish to crack.
You’re better off with a dry cloth and some guitar polish to finish it off.
Another mistake that is made very often is using furniture polish on your guitar’s body.
This isn’t recommended at all since the type of finish on these instruments differs from what is used in a tabletop. You should only use guitar polish.
All-Purpose Cleaners and/or Soap
It should go without saying, but all-purpose cleaner products from the likes of Pine Sol, Windex, and soap aren’t made to be used on instruments, as there are harsh chemicals that could damage the paint and finish of your guitar.
Lemon or Mineral Oil on Maple and other Light Wood Fretboards
If your fretboard is made of maple or other light types of wood, then you shouldn’t apply lemon or mineral oil to it, as it will most definitely stain and damage your scale.
Although you don’t need to condition the wood, you can still clean it using the other steps in the article.
Avoid Overusing Any Products
Sure, lemon oil and guitar polish are excellent allies for keeping your guitar in great condition, but you shouldn’t overuse them.
If you do so, you have a high chance of creating a product build-up and damaging your instrument.
You should only apply lemon or any suitable oil to your fretboard once or twice a year.
Guitar polish can be used sparingly, but you don’t need to apply it every time you clean your instrument.
How to Prevent Electric Guitar from Getting Dirty [Maintenance Tips]
Wash your Hands Before Playing
This is the simplest thing you can do to keep your guitar in pristine condition.
Many players skip this step but remember that we are constantly touching things, and our hands naturally produce oils that can build up on the fretboard of an electric guitar fairly quickly.
Wipe your Strings after Playing
One of the simplest things you can do that will prevent your electric guitar from getting dirty and, in turn, help your strings last longer is to wipe them with a clean cloth or special product after playing.
This practice will remove any dead skin cells and prevent natural oil build-up on your fretboard, which is one of the dirtiest parts of a guitar.
Any type of cloth you have lying at home will do, but you can also use something like this D’Addario Planet Waves XLR8 String Lubricant/Cleaner, which is affordable and will not only clean but also lubricate the strings.
Change your Strings Regularly
Over time, your strings will start sounding dull, lose their shine and build up oils, so you know it is time to change them.
As for how often you should do this, there is no definitive answer. It will depend on how often and where you play your guitar and how you store your instrument.
For example, someone doing many gigs a month will probably have to change their strings at least bi-weekly, while a beginner guitarist playing a few hours a week can get away with using the same set for a few months.
Store your Guitar Properly
The effects of weather can be quite punitive to any instrument, so if your house gathers dust very easily, consider keeping your guitar in a gig bag or hard case. If you opt to keep it on a floor stand or wall mount, you will have to clean it more often.
Check our article on 10 Best Solid-State Amps by ‘James Longman’.
You should aim to clean your guitar regularly and make it a common practice in your routine, as the process is fairly simple and shouldn’t take longer than an hour to be completed.
As for how often you should clean your electric guitar, the answer, as always, is it depends. Consider your use of the instrument, whether you’re using it for frequent gigs, how much you sweat, etc.
Also, remember to apply our preventive tips to prevent your guitar from getting dirty.
By doing minor things such as washing your hands before playing and wiping your strings after each session, your instrument will be clean for much longer.
We hope you like our article.
Make sure to check our related posts, share this page with a friend, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions!
Hello, I’m Ian.
I’m a music producer, musician, and writer for the AudioReputation website. I’ve been involved with making music and the processes revolving around audio technology for longer than I can recall, so I find it amusing to share my knowledge with fellow enthusiasts worldwide when I’m not working with artists or creating new songs.
Along my path as a music maker, I discovered the ability to write informative content, and I decided to embrace it. I’ve written for a few websites about audio and music, including a digital magazine.
I’m particularly passionate about any sort of audio gear: guitar pedals, amplifiers, headphones, and even home speakers. That makes it really joyful for me to review any product related to the subject and give my honest opinion about them. I also frequently write tips and guides for consumer and professional-grade audio.