The Total Guitar
The Guitar Instruction Site
Brian Johns

My Guitar

How Do I Care For My Guitar?


Here are a few concepts regarding general practical guitar care.  There are also a number of other web sites totally dedicated to this subject in terms of both care and maintenance.  


  1. Guitars are handled and so, they will accumulate fingerprints and associated crud.  When this becomes bothersome, simply give your instrument a wipe.  But don’t use just anything – treat your instrument like a fine piece of furniture.  The best remedy is to use a clean lint-free cotton cloth; perhaps something like 100% cotton baby diapers.  Paper towels are very bad for this purpose.  With an area that proves to be particularly grimy, just moisten the cloth a tad.  But the easiest and most practical maintenance would be to routinely wipe off your instrument after playing before it goes back in the case.


  1. Polish is fine to use but you might want to use it sparingly.  This would be particularly true if you own an instrument with a solid top.  The top is primarily responsible for the overall sound, especially for an acoustic guitar.  It already has finish on it and so, it doesn’t need more.  A neck with excessive polish may have an undesirable or sticky feel.  Be vigilant as regards a build up of foreign material.  Also, be sure to use a polish that contains lemon oil as this will aid in preventing or deferring cracking.


  1. Extremes in humidity create havoc for instruments crafted of wood.   Effectively, a guitar is as comfortable as its owner.  So, that translates to maybe 60(F) to 80(F) degrees and, perhaps more importantly, 40% to 60% humidity.   Certainly, these are conditions that would be considered close to ideal which means they’re not always possible or attainable.  But strive towards the ideal.  As regards taking your instrument out of the house for a ride in the car, never leave it unattended – being left alone is such a drag.  And, if at all possible, never leave it in the trunk.


  1. During the heating season, if the humidity in your house drops below 40%, you probably should humidify your guitar.   A lack of moisture can cause your guitar to dry out with cracks developing, particularly in the softer tone woods, namely the top.  Most guitar tops aren’t finished on the inside so they are extremely porous.  Of course, room humidifiers and furnace add-ons are available but a small and uncomplicated guitar case humidifier might be simpler.   All you have to do is keep the guitar in its case when not in use and monitor the level of humidity via a "hygrometer" sometimes provided in the humidifier kit.  There are many available with all working off the same general concept of adding moisture via a time release process.  Usually, these devices resemble sponges.  Just follow the instructions and be sure to not over moisturize as too much dampness can cause warping.  A silica gel pack kept inside the case can countermand that situation.


  1. If there isn’t any alternative to exposing your guitar to extreme temperatures, let it warm up or cool off slowly, in its case.  You can loosen the strings but that may not make much difference for shorter periods of exposure, not to mention the hassle of re-tuning.


  1. The safest place to store your guitar is in its case.  The best way to carry your guitar is in its case.  But if you want to leave it out, on a stand and there are a number of reason why you might wish to leave it out, please do the following:


    • Eliminate the possibility of sun exposure.
    • Keep it away from a source of heat or other extremes, like a heating or cooling duct.
    • Make sure the stand is set up properly and stable.
    • Be aware of the environment as regard temperature and humidity as previously outlined.
    • Lessen the possibility of individuals or pets bumping or knocking over your beloved instrument.
    • Guard the tuners as youngsters tend to enjoy twisting them mercilessly because it’s fun.
    • Dust it occasionally and perhaps use a non-vinyl cover.  Dust can be a nuisance for the electric guitar or bass.
    • Play it.  Yes, the one glaring reason why instruments are left out is because they’re more likely to be played.  I would concur with that perception but be careful.


Proper guitar maintenance is generally best done by those with experience, whether by individuals who have played for awhile or by actual technicians.   Guitar set-up regards issues of “play-ability” and is highly individual in terms of preferences.  Some skill in both the ability to describe needs or preferences and then translate same to an instrument is necessary.  That only comes with experience.  Ideally, a properly set-up instrument is one that is the easiest to play.  Guitars, in terms of “play-ability,” are not the same.  As a beginner, this notion may be difficult to fathom but it is absolutely true.  Additionally, it doesn’t matter if an instrument is new or used as it likely will require set-up or maintenance at some point and perhaps right off the shelf.  “Play-ability” or “ease of playing” is an important issue for all players but in particular for the beginner.  To illustrate, some instruments, while even new, may have string height or intonation issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to alleviate.   When an instrument is excessively hard to play, it’s hard to practice.  This is almost always true with incredibly inexpensive instruments.


What’s The Best Guitar For A Beginner?


While certainly it’s possible to play any sort of style on any type of guitar, some guitars are better suited for a specific genre.  But whether an electric or acoustic, the places where the hands go, that is, the neck of the instrument and strings, is generally the same.   There are advanced techniques that are specific to a particular type of instrument but for the beginning student it is simply obvious guitar body shape, thickness, size or design that form the principal differences.


Guitar body dimensions are generally more significant than neck dimensions as one has to physically hold the instrument with the hands free to move.  Generally, there in not great variation in neck dimensions as compared to the many shapes, profiles and sizes available.


There are plenty of fine comparatively inexpensive guitars available.  Used instruments are always a viable option as well; just keep in mind the need for possible maintenance.  So, practically, there isn’t the need to spend the big bucks when starting out.  A better instrument will have a better tone but this is not a requirement for the beginner.  And, with a little experience, beginning players tend become more knowledgeable shoppers as the need or desire to upgrade arises.  A little knowledge can go a long way, so try to learn as much as possible about the instrument desired.  There’s plenty of opinion and real information available.


Another option is to borrow or rent an instrument.


If there is an interest in a particular style or genre of music, choosing the right guitar can be an easier process.  So, if the interest is in Rock, Metal or Country, the Electric Guitar is the usual choice.  If the interest is in Popular, Traditional, Folk or just a general approach to edification, perhaps either a Steel String Acoustic Guitar or Spanish Guitar or Classical Guitar with nylon strings is a better match.  For the performance of the Classical guitar repertoire, Flamenco or Latin, a Classical Guitar with nylon strings is definitely the way to go.


Here’s a quick and general overview of the three types of guitars mentioned:


  • Classical guitars with nylon strings tend to be lighter in weight with the strings being easier to press down.  However, the neck may be a little wider and tuning the instrument more problematic.  This type of guitar is generally available in a range of different sizes with a very small size for young kids.  Also, a nylon string guitar may be easier to maintain and is less expensive than a steel string acoustic guitar. 


  • Steel string acoustic guitars are a little more expensive than nylon string guitars because there’s more tension on the top and neck of the instrument.   It is constructed differently.  But much like the nylon string guitar, it’s available in a range of different sizes.  The most common size or shape, also known as the “Dreadnaught” variety is the probably the “workhorse” of the popular music industry.  Everybody has one.  Really, the only drawback is its size which may be unwieldy for the younger or petite player.


  • Electric guitars and basses can require the need for more outboard equipment: amplifier, cables and electricity.  Beginner “packages” which would include all of the above, are generally available with pricing comparable to steel string acoustic guitars.  Solid body electric guitars are the most common and even though having many more parts, are easier to manufacture than acoustic guitars.  The strings on the electric guitar are usually “lighter” and thus, easier to press down.  Big, monstrous amplifiers are definitely not a requirement for a beginner.  A small amp, with 5 to 10 watts of peak power is quite suitable.  The “cool” effects commonly heard are quite possible at lower volumes and can be added at any time.


Mostly, one should just remember that the music doesn’t really care how it’s played – it’s all about fun anyway.  You just want to feel comfortable when playing your guitar.


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