Keeping your acoustic guitar in good condition by caring for it and storing it correctly is an extremely important part of maintaining a guitar through the seasons and helps protect your investment.
By keeping your guitar in good condition you will keep it at its most playable, the parts and finish are in excellent order and that it is less prone to changes in humidity.
Guitar manufacturers and luthiers take great care in building a guitar so that you can be sure you are buying a high quality, well-made instrument. A variety of woods are often hand-picked in order to produce a certain resonance or finish and these all have different characteristics when it comes to caring and maintaining them.
There is nothing nicer than seeing a well cared for acoustic guitar. Woods and finish of a guitar that show age and color change over the years but are well taken care of are really beautiful, the sound improves and the value increases.
So it pays well to remember that an acoustic guitar isn’t just a tool and if you take care of your guitar over the years then it will help protect your investment and increase its resale value.
So how do you keep your acoustic guitar in good condition? below are 15 essential tips.
1. Clean Your Hands Every Time Before Playing
Ok, this first one is before you play but by doing this there will be less transfer of sweat, dirt, and grime to your guitar. This is essential as acidity in the fingers can do damage to not only the strings but also the fretboard.
If you find you have overly acidic fingers then it is worth reading our article here Best Solutions For Acidic Hands When Playing Guitar to learn how to control this.
2. Use Strap Locks On Your Acoustic Guitar
Strap locks can prevent your guitar from dropping to the floor and being damaged or broken in some ways. In this short video excerpt below you can see a standard guitar strap without a strap lock and how easily the strap can come off and then the Dunlop strap lock which fixes this issue and you can purchase on Amazon.
If you don’t have strap locks on your acoustic guitar currently then they are an easy and affordable upgrade, so make sure to invest in them.
3. Remove Your Guitar Strap After Playing
Vinyl and synthetic leather straps are treated with solvents which can affect the layers of finish on your guitar. Most all leather straps are better but can still affect the finish.
If you are done playing your acoustic guitar for the day, take off the guitar strap before putting the guitar in its case.
If you absolutely have to leave the strap on then consider a cotton strap, like this affordable one from Levy (click here to check price on Amazon).
4. Wipe Down The Strings After Playing
Most guitar strings are wound coil and open to collecting sweat, grime, dirt, oils from your hands and moisture from the air.
By wiping down the strings, in particular, the underside, you will prevent any transfer of this grime to your fretboard which over time will affect your acoustic guitar.
This particularly applies to untreated fretboards like Ebony and Rosewood as they are ‘open to the elements’.
Also by cleaning your strings after every time you can slow the oxidation and rusting process of a wound string and prevent and help prolong the life of the strings.
You can also consider using coated strings but these are a more expensive product and produce a different tone, and will still require a quick wipe down.
5. Wipe down the Neck After Playing
Do this after every session of play and use a soft lint-free cloth or a microfiber cloth, like this one on Amazon, D’Addario microfiber polish cloth (click here to check the price).
Make sure to do a good job on the back of the neck and fretboard. This will help prevent the oils in your hands and any dirt or grime leftover from affecting the finish.
6. Avoid Things That Will Cause Scratches And Dings
A belt buckle, a metal zipper or watch strap are examples of everyday apparel that can cause dings, scratches, gouges and general damage to your acoustic guitar.
Be wary of these and remove them where possible when playing your guitar. It is this kind of care and attention to detail that will help keep your guitar in good condition.
When you are pausing in between playing guitar to take a quick break or otherwise, then make sure you put your guitar on a stand. You don’t want to rest it up against a chair or sofa only to see it slip and fall to the floor because of a moment’s carelessness.
Consider buying an auto grip guitar stand for this so that you know it’s secure and you can get it easy access to it when you pick it up to play again.
I’d recommend this one that I bought and own after doing a lot of research due to living in an earthquake zone, check it out here on my recommended guitar gear page. It’s sturdy, durable and perfect for keeping your guitar safe. Consider it a worthwhile purchase to protect your investment.
7. Store Your Acoustic Guitar In Its Case When Not In Use
There are numerous reasons why storing your acoustic guitar in its case are the best way to keep your guitar in good condition.
By far the two most important reasons are to avoid the guitar being damaged and to be able to control the humidity which we will go into in the next tip.
A guitar case is single most the best way to store your guitar from being knocked over. Whether that is through young children, animals or whatever it may be, accidents can, do and will happen.
If you want to keep your guitar in good condition then you will need a guitar case and it will help protect your investment.
8. Protect Your Acoustic Guitar From Humidity
Whether you live with high, low, or fluctuating humidity, it’s best to create a microclimate for your acoustic guitar.
The best method is to store it in its case, with a good hygrometer (Caliber IV for cigars is excellent (click here to check price on Amazon), so you can respond to humidity extremes quickly.
You should be aiming for 45-55% humidity. Long periods below 45% or above 55%, are dangerous.
Use a humidifier to keep the guitar in the 45-55 percent range. The Oasis OH-1 Guitar Humidifier (click here to check price on Amazon) is excellent and comes recommended by our resident luthier, Gene.
Use a couple of packs of desiccant if you see high humidity.
9. Keep Your Guitar Out Of Direct Sunlight
Direct sunlight for extended periods of time can damage a guitar. UV rays will cause premature fading and aging to the pickguard, the wood and any finish. Only keep a guitar in direct sunlight for 1 to 2 hours at any one time.
The simplest way to keep your guitar out of direct sunlight is to keep your acoustic guitar in a hard case.
The case will block the UV rays, it will heat up in direct sunlight but distribute the heat around the guitar and do less damage than if the guitar was in direct sun.
10. Keep Your Guitar Away From Quick Temperature Changes
Acoustic guitars are made of wood and can expand and contract with the temperature of different seasons.
The issue comes when there is a rapid change in temperature. If you were to take a guitar out of a cold basement and then put it inside an enclosed car in the hot sun, and then start playing it, then this will likely cause significant damage.
Ideally keep the guitar in its case away from any extreme temperature environments, hot, cold or otherwise. If you do take it from one temperature to another in a quick amount of time, then allow the guitar to acclimatize inside the case for 10 to 15 minutes.
11. Clean And Polish The Top, Sides, And Back Of Your Guitar
By creating a regular cleaning regime you can ensure your acoustic guitar will always be in good condition, the woods are enhanced, it looks great and your investment is preserved.
Some key points to remember when polishing your guitar are:
- Never used a wax-based product on the guitar. The wax will build up over time and impede the top from vibrating.
- Never spray directly on to your guitar but on to your cloth and then clean and polish.
- Don’t apply polish to the frets as the fretboard is untreated (we cover this in the next tip.)
- Check with the manufacturer as to their recommendations.
Below are some links to the pages of some popular guitar builders care and maintenance recommendations that will help when it comes to polishing your guitar.
12. Clean And Condition The Fretboard
The general consensus across guitar manufacturers is that the frets of an acoustic guitar should be cleaned and conditioned once or twice a year.
The best and obvious time to do this is at a point when you change your guitar strings. So when this date falls and it is around 6 to 12 months since you last did then this is the time to clean the frets.
The product to use will depend upon the type of fretboard that you have whether that is treated or untreated. Ebony and rosewood fretboards are untreated and so will require a different treatment to maple which is treated in most cases.
Below are some recommendations for each:
To clean and condition the frets of an untreated fretboard like those made of Cocobolo, Ebony, Rosewood or Ziricote then use the following:
- 0000 Steel Wool
- Wood Oil Soap (apply to wool, not the fretboard)
- Microfiber cloth
- ‘Lemon Oil’ – use a guitar-specific lemon oil as pure lemon oil will damage a fretboard
Go up and down the fretboard (with the grain of the wood, not against it) with the wool coated in the wood oil soap.
Then clean off the soap and grime with a microfiber cloth and buff to a nice sheen.
Then use a guitar lemon oil and use it sparingly. We recommend Dunlop 65 that you can purchase here on Amazon, on a microfiber or lint-free cloth to work in the oil and complete the conditioning of the frets.
This video below will walk you through the process.
To clean and condition the frets of a treated fretboard like a maple fretboard, do not use a lemon oil product and do not use wire wool as this can remove the finish, instead use the following:
- Microfiber cloth
- Pump Polish – this one from Ernie ball comes with a free microfiber cloth
- Use dry part of the cloth to remove and clean the fretboard.
Apply a small amount of polish to the microfiber cloth and then go up and down the fretboard to clean off all the grime.
Then use the dry part of the cloth to buff the fretboard to a nice sheen and complete the process.
This video will walk you through the process.
13. Polish The Frets
You do not want to be polishing your frets every day, again this a 6 month to 12-month regularity regime or more depending on how much you play your guitar.
So consider doing this straight after you have cleaned and conditioned your fretboard, it will likely take you 10 to 15 minutes.
You will need the following tools to polish the frets:
- Fretguards – these ones on Amazon are excellent and affordable
- Micromesh papers (Starting at 1500 grit) – these sanding sticks on Amazon are ideal.
This video will walk you through the introduction to what you will need and the theory:
Next, follow the actual fret polish dependent on your type of fretboard.
How To Polish Frets On An Untreated Fretboard
How To Polish Frets On A Treated Fretboard
14. Guitar Setup
When you first purchase a guitar it is important to get it set up to make it easy to play, this is particularly important if you have bought a cheap first guitar.
However, It is important to set up your guitar at least once a year, every six months is better.
It could be more than this if you live in an area that experiences large changes in humidity or you are making big changes in string gauge.
For example, if you went from a 13 gauge down to an 11 gauge then it would be a good idea to have the action and intonation adjusted to make sure your acoustic guitar accommodates the change and no issue is caused.
Acoustic guitars are made of wood and prone to changes in shape as they swell and contract according to the seasons and the way you play the guitar. While most of the time these changes may be miniscule they can also make big changes to the way your guitar plays.
For these reasons, a setup will be different for every guitar, but in general, will address the following:
- Changing strings
- Adjusting the action using the truss rod or bridge
- Checking and adjusting the nut height
- Checking the electronics (if you have an acoustic-electric guitar)
- Checking and adjusting tuning pegs (lubricating open pegs)
- Oiling and cleaning the fretboard
- Polishing frets
- Checking the intonation and making adjustments if needed
A setup can be done by a guitar tech at your local music store or a luthier and will cost in the region of $50 to $100 but you can learn to do it yourself. Gene, our resident luthier, has written an article on how to it here How To Do Your Own Guitar Setup (Illustrated Guide
15. The More You Play Your Acoustic Guitar The Better It Sounds
Playing your guitar makes you feel great and makes it sound better. We explored this in our other article here Why Acoustic Guitars Sound Better With Age, if you would like to learn more.
The bottom line, however, the more that you play your acoustic guitar the more you will become accustomed to it and the more likely that you will improve your skills and ability.
Your passion will also develop as a consequence and then the care and maintenance of it will likely feel more of a pleasure than a chore.