Proper Care of Acoustic Guitars

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One of my many jobs was working for a music store while I was in high school & college (what college I attended). This wasn’t just any music store, not a Guitar Center or Sam Ash. It was Hogan’s Music, owned by Chuck Block, father of Ron Block, guitarist for Alison Krauss. Chuck taught me a lot while I was there, he was like a mad scientist in the back repair room.

Anyway, I see a lot of people spend a lot of money on mid-high end guitars and then proceed to treat them like a bag of golf clubs; just breaking them out to play, and then throwing them back in the trunk until next time. This makes me remember a lot of things that I learned while employed at Hogan’s Music and I thought I’d share here on the ol’ blog. So here’s my list:

  1. Never, ever, under any circumstances store your acoustic guitar in your vehicle. If you read no further, please re-read this one. One hot/cold day in the car can ruin your guitar forever!
  2. 3 words: Hard Shell Case
  3. Always try and use a guitar stand, and if you can’t, rest your guitar against the strings (soundhole down), not the back of the neck. This looks funny, almost wrong, but think about it. Would you rather damage a $10 pair of strings or a $1,000 guitar neck?
  4. Don’t use chemicals on your guitar, anywhere on your guitar. A cotton cloth (baby diaper) and some warm water will work wonders on cleaning. And the same cloth but dry will lift the dirt and oils off the guitar when you are done playing it. Wipe down your guitar every time you handle it. (I know, yeah right).
  5. A guitar humidifier can’t be a bad thing if you’re that anal.
  6. Run a small alcohol wipe up and down your strings when you think it’s time to change them. It seriously give you another couple gigs of great sounding strings!
  7. Change your freaking strings! How many people do you know who are proud of the fact that they’ve had the same strings on their guitar for over a year. Ugh, people come on! The time frame on changing strings is based on a number of factors: how old are the strings (no matter how often the guitar is not being played), how often do you play, how acidic are your finger oils (seriously!), and the true test is really, how bright do you like your guitar to sound? (the newer the strings the brighter the sound).
  8. A little something I learned that’s helped. When installing new strings, after the very first tune up, grab your strings one by one and tug at ’em gently pulling them away from the guitar body – this will throw the guitar wildly out of tune again, but it lessens the time that you have to play on it while strings go out of tune.
  9. Do a “deep clean” when you change your strings. Just spend some time looking over your guitar, cleaning & checking, look for warpage, cracks, dings, etc. Grab some Q-tips & clean those hard to reach spots between the tuning machines. Also check the fretboard – if you have an unfinished fretboard, I’ve heard you can use some lemon oil to moisturize the wood. Also check the electronics (if you have them). Make sure the housing is still secure, check the output; depending on what kind of out you have, you might want to make sure it’s all still nice and tight.
  10. Lastly, if you’re having trouble with intonation (play a D chord and it sounds fine, play an E and it’s out of tune, or playing up higher on the neck sounds out of tune) – take your guitar to a professional. A tradesman will be able to set up your guitar personally for you – the right action (string height) can make you sound a million times better depending on your strumming, fingering style.

That’s all for now. Let us know if you know some tricks of the trade. PS – you don’t have to play a Taylor to be a worship leader 😉

9 thoughts on “Proper Care of Acoustic Guitars

  1. eric

    good stuff… forgot about the alcohol wipes. I think you told me about that before.

    I hate it when people don’t change their strings. Karl says to change them every week. Don’t think I’m that anal!

    I use Baby Oil on my neck… I know, I know… oil’s not good for the strings. But it really helps the life of the wood. And my 50 year old guitar needs all the help it can get!

  2. Billy Chia

    Alex,
    Nice tips. One question for ya. For years I placed my guitar sound hole side down. (I was told as a young musician that this is better for the neck.) Then last year a buddy of mine told me to never do that as this would cause extra fret wear from the strings having constant contact with the frets. Have you noticed sound-hole-down positioning causing fret wear?

  3. alex

    Billy, I can’t imagine that you’d get much fret wear from leaning a 7lb guitar on 6 strings. I don’t know th exact measurements but I imagine the pressure applied to the string to form a note/chord has to be hundreds of times the pressure that is applied by leaning it against the strings. When I’ve seen fret wear it is usually on the frets that I form chords on and nothing, absolutely nothing from resting the guitar. Again, I normally use a stand so this becomes a non-issue, but for those rare times when there is no stand I have no problem leaning the guitar against the frets. It is an interesting theory though.

    Eric,
    I wouldn’t admit to using baby oil for anything 🙂
    As far as strings – I’d say that Karl is right on if you are gigging (playing several shows a week). But for us weekend warriors it’s probably not going to be that often, but you know when it’s time.

    Vince, I agree micro-fiber is amazing stuff.

  4. Matt

    I’ve got two really bad stories re: leaving your guitar in the car. It concerns two different acoustics…one was saved.

    My excuse: I was young and in high school. While my buddies were making bad decisions by getting high in back of the theater, I was making bad decisions by leaving my axe in the car.

  5. May Liitle

    That’s awesome!!! I look for acoustic guitars for my boyfriend.And how to choose it.Which brands is the best ?I saw many web about this but your web is the best for me.Thank you.

  6. Justin

    Hi, im a bit worried about my 1yr old acoustic guitar, i think im seeing a fret wear and i usually play often. Is fret wear a normal stuff? Does it alter the orig sound of the guitar? And how do i know if it needs changing already? tnx

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