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
I am ashamed to admit that I don’t take care of my guitars as often as I’m supposed to. Life is busy but I’m going to make sure that I get all my guitars in for maintenance and repair as necessary from now on!
i had no idea ebony or rosewood fingerboard needed to be oiled. hmm. learn something new every day
If you learn something new everyday then you can certainly learn how to maintain your guitars over time.
It’s really not that difficult to maintain your guitars. More intricate repairs probably require professional attention, but things like stringing your own guitar and oiling the fingerboards could be done for one’s self. However, there are certain tricks, like how to tension lock the strings at the tuning machine posts to stop the strings from slipping, that would have to be learned in order to be done correctly.
Katelynn Kiesgen says
Nice tips! I’ll have to pass those along to my brother who often plays the guitar. I know that if I’m still doing his laundry and dry-cleaning, he sure as heck ain’t cleaning his guitar like he should. It was inherited, so I’d like to make sure it’s maintained. Can you get this professionally done?
Certainly, they can. Any time that someone has their strings changed in my repair shop, I oil the fingerboard and polish the frets. This is included in any stringing service that I do. I actually scrape and oil fingerboards during any repair that I do that requires that the strings be removed.
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