There are a few things that guitar players can do to keep their guitars in good condition. These are very simple things that can make a world of difference for the longevity of your instruments life. First and foremost, most novice players do not change their strings often enough. A string’s life begins its process of degradation the moment that they are installed on the guitar. For this reason, strings should be changed often. It is hard to say exactly how often a player should change their strings as there are many variables that play a factor in the degrade of string quality. For example, players who sweat more will have to change their strings more often. If the player is a smoker, or often plays in smokey venues, then the player will likely have to change their strings more frequently than a non-smoking player. Guitarists who play hard (heavy handed when fretting) will have to change their strings more frequently as well. But, the biggest factor is time. A guitarist who plays guitar for several hours a day will have to change their strings more often than a player who plays several hours a year (I find it unlikely that a guitarist would play so infrequently, though). If it has been more than a couple of months since your last string change, it is highly likely that they should be changed. Remember, professional guitarists often change their strings before every gig. Keeping your strings up to date and maintained will help keep the instrument in tune and keeps your instrument from sounding “flat.”
While the strings are off you have a good opportunity to do some regular maintenance to your frets. If your guitar has an ebony or rosewood fingerboard, it should be oiled (maple fingerboards are mainly finished, and should not be oiled). I prefer to use lemon oil, but have often used linseed oil in the past. Remember that if you choose to use linseed oil it needs to be disposed of properly as it has a tendency to ignite and is notoriously known to be a cause of house fires. A little bit of oil goes a long way, so if you purchase a bottle of Old English lemon oil, it will probably last for years. I like to “scrape” any grime that may be on the fingerboard with either a razor blade or 0000 steel wool before applying the oil. The steel wool can be used on the frets to shine them up a bit as well. Then I just apply the oil and wait a bit to let it soak into the wood. Since rosewood and ebony fingerboards are unfinished, if they are not oiled regularly the wood will often develop crack. Also, when wood dries out it shrinks, but metal does not, so often an un-oiled fingerboard will result in the ends of the frets sticking out on the sides of the neck, and can be the cause of the player cutting their hand.
These are just a few quick and simple things that will help a guitarist be able to enjoy their instrument for years to come!
By Dave Bolla
Grosse Pointe Music Academy Staff/ Certified Luthier