Much like an automobile – or marriage – an electric guitar can easily last a lifetime as long as it is properly and consistently taken care of and maintained. Most of us players have probably already heard at length about how important it is to store that ax in a proper place away from extreme temperature and fluctuating humidity – unless you really like buying guitars that is – and from my own experience with others, most guitarists tend to follow this important guideline. That being said, one which most of us do not tend follow happens to be one of the easiest; consistent minor maintenance and upkeep. While having a grimy fretboard or rusty hardware won’t automatically kill an electric guitar, consistently cleaning and upkeeping CAN and WILL make the difference between that Telecaster living five years or fifty.
Yes, I know, what kind of rock star worth his leather pants takes the time to clean his axe beyond a good spit polish? Well, unless you’re sponsored by Gibson or Fender and don’t mind letting your guitar rot, you’re going to have the thing a good cleaning every once in a while. There are also things that every guitarist should always carry with them, such as a screw driver, as I found out during one particular gig where my input decided to fall inside my guitar’s body, so while we’re on the subject, let’s take a look some of the important repair tools and cleaning gear that every guitarist should not be without. Sounds good? Alright, let’s get started.
The Right Tools for the Job
Screwdriver Set: This should really apply to any household, not just guitarists. You know where to find them and unless you get something exaggeratedly huge or way too small, pretty much any screwdriver set will do you good.
Allen Wrench and Hex Tool: You’re going to have to be a bit more specific with size on these two. Those of you out there who have bought a brand new guitar should have gotten one of these hex or Allen tools (usually one of these two, some might differ, such as early electrics that used Phillip’s head saddle holes) along with your purchase. You might not have known its use at the time but it’s meant for adjusting your truss rod. While you won’t be making truss rod adjustments as regularly as you would change your strings, it’s still a must own for every electric guitarist. If you somehow lost or never got one, make sure you find out the right measurement required for your truss rod (it should be easy to find out by checking your guitar’s specs from the manufacturer’s site, or simply ask one of us here using the chat client below). Anyways, make sure you buy a good quality USA made tool. A cheap one will not only most likely break on you but you risk the chance of permanently damaging saddle hole on the rod, meaning it’s going to be next to impossible to make any future adjustments. Also, most floating bridge systems on electric guitars that have a whammy bar require hex or Allen wrenches to adjust the saddles and other parts of the assembly.
Ratchet or Monkey Wrench: While a ratchet set is probably most desirable, a crescent wrench set or a small monkey wrench will also work, but they will probably end up being cumbersome with some of those tight spots. There are a lot of bolts on an electric guitar. The output jack along with the tuning post collars are just two examples where these tools will be needed.
Cleaning and Polishing Supplies: this should be pretty easy to figure out. Investing in fine grade cloth – such as this Fender Factory MicroFiber cloth – is an ideal way to keep your guitar’s body, strings and hardware in tip top shape. A microfiber cloth – like the ones used to polish glasses or phone screens – is also good idea for that final rub down. And speaking of waxing and polishing, you should get yourself some guitar polish (such as this Fender Polish) and some mild jewelry or chrome polish for all of the steel hardware. You will also need from time to time some rust removal agent just in case any of the machinery, hardware or pickups get a bit oxidized.The strings will need their fair share of attention as well; string cleaners such as the Fender Slick should get the job done easily. And finally, get yourself a feather duster while you’re at it. It might sound a bit strange, but dust tends to build up everywhere, even inside the body of the guitar. You’re going to need something that can take care of that dust that doesn’t apply too much pressure, especially in those very sensitive areas where the pickups and electronics are housed.
Cleanliness is Rockliness
You might be wondering how you can extend the life of your guitar by just simply cleaning it. Well, going back to my caparison of the guitar to an automobile, when I say cleaning, I don’t just mean a simply wax job. No, more like a tune up and an oil change – and we all know what happens to a car when after you regularly skip both of those. The pickups for one need a lot of consistent attention. Seeing as how they are made of metal – and this goes for all of the metal parts of your guitar – they need to be free of rust. And don’t just wait until they look like they’re covered in mars dust either because by the time rust has oxidized enough of the metal to show up prominently, it could have already caused some damage to the wiring, coils or magnets. This isn’t too difficult to do either, but again, gets ignored by some all too often. Depending on what type of guitar you own, you might have to remove the faceplate/pickguard (such as with a Telecaster or Stratocaster). You will most likely need an Allen wrench or a small screwdriver for this. If they do look rusty, remove the pickups but remember to try and not disturb the wiring. Use some rust remover to take care of the buildup and some of that chrome polish to get them back in good shape.
Pickups are probably one of the more obvious parts of the guitar that we should all know to clean. The fretboard and body of the guitar on the other hand, doesn’t get as much of the attention. What most guitarists don’t know is that over time, the oil, grease and sweat from our hands gets all over the guitar, the fretboard in particular. As far as the fretboard is concerned, if you don’t remove this oil buildup, it can seep into the wood, ultimately dulling the guitar’s sound. The body has a bit more protection from grease and oil but the same cleaning regimen should be applied. And don’t forget to finish off that body with some good polishing. Trust me, it might not seem like it might make a difference but all of these things build up over time. By taking some time to consistently clean it over time, you can avoid any potential irreversible problems, even if it just has to do with the aesthetics of the guitar (this becomes especially important if you plan on selling it someday). Again, don’t do it once it actually becomes a problem. Just like with forgetting to change your oil – by the time you notice a problem, its already too late.