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How to Clean an Acoustic Guitar

How to clean an acoustic guitar featured image.

Your guitar is likely your baby. You probably spent a lot of time picking it out and learning to play it. It only makes sense that you will want to take good care of it. Learning the proper way to clean your acoustic guitar is an important step to maintaining it. It is important to not clean your guitar in a way that will actually do it some harm. Keep in mind the following points when the time comes to get your acoustic guitar looking spiffy again.

Use the Proper Cloth

You can actually buy cloths specifically designed for cleaning guitars or instruments in general. That being said, any cloth that you already own that is 100% cotton will work. You probably have an old t-shirt somewhere that will do the job. Just be sure that whatever you use is clean and relatively lint-free.

What you absolutely DO NOT want to do is use a paper towel. The rough surface can wreak havoc on the finish of your guitar. This is especially true for lacquer finishes.

Buy the Right Guitar Polish

You may not need a guitar polish, but if you decide to use one you should know what types are available on the market. There are three different types of guitar polish. They are:

1.) Water-Based Cleaners: These are ideal for cleaning water-soluble dirt. It is best to spray this type of cleanser on your cotton cloth instead of directly on your instrument.

2.) Abrasive Cleaners: You will notice that these types of cleaners look creamy. They are good for removing built-up dirt but can be hard on your guitar’s finish. Avoid this type of guitar polish if your guitar has a matte finish.

3.) Oil: This type of guitar polish is specifically designed to remove oily smudges, most likely caused by fingerprints. They are not very effective on any water-soluble dirt.

If you are going to use a polish, be sure to read the bottle carefully. Certain ones are aimed at certain types of guitars with different woods and finishes. The manufacturer of your guitar may have recommendations for the best polishes to use. There are even certain polishes out there that are designed for removing cigarette smoke residue.

Use Your Breath

Instead of buying special guitar polishes, you may find your breath is an effective way to get rid of spots. Fingerprints and other types of smudges can often be removed by “huffing” your breath on the spot. This provides just enough moisture to loosen up the spot enough for it to be wiped away.

The reason that breath is a good way to add moisture to your cleaning is that there is so little of it. If this method does not work, you can try wetting your cloth with soapy water. Use a very mild detergent and wet your cloth instead of your instrument. You do not want to introduce any more water than absolutely necessary to the wood of your guitar. If you do use a damp cloth, follow it up with a dry cloth for buffing.

Unstring Your Guitar

If it is time for a deep cleaning, you may want to remove the strings before beginning. In order to do this, rotate your tuning heads backward. Once you have the string as loose as possible, remove the pin that connects that string to your bridge. At this point, you should be able to pull out the string. Repeat this process until you have removed all six strings. Be sure to place the pins somewhere safe for when it comes time to re-string your guitar. Some people elect to clean their strings, while others find this to be an ideal time to replace them. Once restrung, be sure to take the time to properly tune your guitar.

Inspect Your Guitar

Cleaning your guitar is the perfect time to thoroughly examine it. Check the wood carefully for any cracks or other imperfections. If you do find any, take your guitar to a repair shop as soon as possible. By catching small problems early, you can avoid big problems from developing down the line. Tiny cracks can quickly develop into larger spiderweb ones.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, cleaning your acoustic guitar requires more than simply spraying it with a cleaner and wiping it off. Be sure to be familiar with the wood and finish of your guitar so that you can use the right products for the job. Regular cleaning of your guitar can help it looking and sounding good for years to come.