How to clean an acoustic guitar

Struck the wrong chord when cleaning your guitar? Learn how to do it properly.

Updated

How to clean an acoustic guitar

The beautiful sound that resonates from your guitar will only keep sounding sweet if you clean it regularly – but just how do you clean an acoustic guitar? With these simple methods, we’ll help you learn how to clean an acoustic guitar body, how to clean guitar strings and even how to clean the fretboard and polish the frets. Let’s get started.

Whether you want to know how to polish frets or how to clean your guitar neck, a microfibre cloth is a vital piece of kit as it won’t shed any threads that could get stuck under the frets.

How to clean an acoustic guitar: step-by-step

Cleaning a guitar can be split into three main processes: the body, the strings, and the fretboard (or neck). Each one requires a slightly different method.

How to clean a guitar body

  1. Buff away smudges with a microfibre or lint-free cloth for general maintenance.
  2. Use specialist guitar polish to add shine to guitars with a glossy, lacquered body.
  3. Do not polish guitars with a satin or matte finish, not even with specialist products.
  4. Never use standard furniture polish on your guitar as it can dull the shine.
  5. Do not polish the strings or fretboard with the product used on the guitar body. These require a different treatment.

As with any new cleaning product, always try any guitar polish on a small area first. Follow the instructions on the label and stop immediately if you notice any damage.

To keep your acoustic guitar in top condition, invest in an acoustic guitar humidifier. Most options sit across the sound hole or clip onto the strings and help keep the wood at it’s best.

How to clean guitar strings

  1. Place your guitar securely on its back, face up. Make sure the surface you use is flat, clean, and soft to avoid damaging your guitar.
  2. Loosen the strings by turning the tuning pegs.
  3. Spray a microfibre or lint-free cloth with water (for nylon strings) or specialist string cleaner (for steel strings).
  4. Do not use rubbing alcohol – it can damage the fretboard beneath your strings.
  5. Slide half of your cloth underneath the strings near the bridge.
  6. Fold the other half of the cloth over the top of the strings so it’s covering both sides.
  7. Slide your cloth along the strings, from the bridge to the nut.
  8. Apply downward pressure and upward pressure, to clean both sides of the strings.    
  9. Once finished, remember to re-tune your guitar.

When learning how to clean guitar strings it’s important to be able to spot when strings need changing, rather than just cleaning. If they feel gritty, even after cleaning, it may be time to replace them. You can expect to do this roughly every 3 months – or every 100 hours of playing.

How to clean a guitar fretboard and polish frets

  1. Loosen and cut the strings on your guitar. They need to be removed to clean the fretboard properly.
  2. Unwind one end of each cut string from the tuning pegs. Be careful not to injure yourself on the sharp edges and dispose of the strings carefully.
  3. Remove the opposite end of each cut string from the bridge. Most acoustic guitars have a fixed bridge so you’ll need to tap out the bridge pins holding the strings in place from inside the guitar. You can apply gentle pressure with a pair of pliers to help you.
  4. With the strings removed, wipe off any stubborn dirt from your fretboard. For rosewood and ebony, you can use very fine steel wool (grade 0000) to remove dirt but if you need to know how to clean maple fretboards then only use a lint-free cloth.
  5. Condition the fretboard with lemon oil. This is only suitable for rosewood and ebony fretboards and helps to rehydrate the wood. Apply sparingly, using a clean cloth, and buff into the wood. Do not get any lemon oil on the metal frets themselves.
  6. Polish the frets once the neck is clean and dry. If you’re not sure how to polish frets then there are plenty of specialist cleaners you can buy but ultimately a good buff with a clean, lint-free cloth will do the job.
  7. Restring your guitar when you’re finished. Make sure you strum and retune your guitar a few times to begin with to help your new strings bed in.

Happy playing!

Originally published