by the GSI staff
In Part One of this two-part feature, we addressed specific issues regarding the care of your instrument: humidity, dryness and its effects on the guitar. Now we’d like to touch on some of the more general questions we often hear from customers who wish to keep their beloved instrument in “tip top” shape.
Two common questions guitar owners have on this subject are:
“Should I always use guitar polish when cleaning my guitar?”
and “What type of polish should I use?”
There are a couple of important things to remember regarding this. First, wiping your guitar regularly greatly minimizes the need for polishing. When you do find it necessary, consider that certain types of polish may not be well suited to your type of finish.
The finish on a guitar serves many different purposes: not only does it make the instrument visually appealing, but more importantly, it prevents dust, excessive moisture and oils from entering the wood. It also protects against scratches, and in some instances it may even prevent fine cracks from spreading. For these and other reasons it is important to keep the finish in good shape.
Fortunately, protecting the finish is a fairly easy thing to do. First of all, it is recommended that you lightly wipe your guitar after every practice session. This type of cleaning requires nothing fancy: a soft cloth is sufficient; although if you want to do a more thorough cleaning, a leather chamois works wonders: it is extra soft, and it easily removes fingerprints or sweat.
Two inherent characteristics of lacquer are its strength and durability, making it generally safe for polishing. Make sure that you use formulas specifically designated as ‘Guitar Polish’. While some people like to use car or furniture polish, many of these products contain abrasives and other ingredients which may scratch or otherwise damage your instrument. Guitar polishes are specially formulated to be gentle on lacquer finishes. GSI recommends Planet Waves’ “Polish Spray” and “Polish/Conditioner”. Remember: Always apply the polish to the cloth, never directly to the guitar.
French Polish (Shellac)
People who own guitars with shellac should be particularly mindful of polishes and conditioners. In general, it is usually safer to use a soft cloth lightly dampened with plain water. If you absolutely need to use polish, then STAY AWAY FROM SOLUTIONS THAT CONTAIN ALCOHOL. Shellac dissolves in alcohol; which means that along with any unwanted blemish, you may be removing your beautiful French polish. If you do find a formula that is alcohol-free, use it sparingly and be sure to spray it onto a cloth, and never directly onto the instrument.
The most critical factors with respect to wood care concern humidity, dryness, and temperature. As we mentioned in part one of this article, 40-70% relative humidity is the safe range for storing your guitar. For more detailed information, see Care for the Classical & Flamenco Guitar, Part One: Humidification.
There are a few important measures you can take to further preserve and prolong the life of your guitar: a good case is essential; and a sturdy guitar stand is a good way of keeping your instrument safe when it’s out of its case or your cautious hands.
When it comes to normal wear and tear, a quick way of protecting your guitar’s wood (and finish) is by using a soft cloth as a right hand arm-rest to protect the edges of the guitar. Many players find it comfortable to use an old sock with the toes cut off to cover their elbow/forearm when wearing short-sleeved shirts. This not only protects the wood and finish but it makes it easier to slide your arm while playing. Also, remember to be mindful of shirts with buttons and metallic pens in your shirt pocket: you could add some nasty scratches to the back of your guitar.
Also, if you are “heavy-handed”, a Kling-On may be of great value: it consists of a removable plastic film that works as a tap-plate. Do be careful to remove the Kling-On and wipe the guitar with a soft cloth when you’ve finished playing. Otherwise, a small cosmetic mark may be left on your soundboard. If you wish to install a permanent tap-plate, be sure to find one as thin as possible so that your soundboard’s vibration is not restricted. Ideally you should have a luthier install it for you to avoid any air bubbles from becoming trapped between the soundboard and the tap plate.
A common question among players is “how often should I change my strings?”. That ultimately depends on how often you practice: if you play every day for an hour or more, re-stringing once a month will usually do the trick. If you play less, you can do it less often, and vice-versa. Lightly wiping the strings after each practice session may slightly prolong their longevity. But make sure you use a different cloth than the one you use to wipe your guitar. For a step-by-step guide to restringing a guitar, see “How to Properly Restring Your Classical or Nylon String Guitar“.
Re-stringing is a fairly straight forward process. But there are a few steps you can take which may help prolong the life of your guitar. The most important one is to avoid taking off all of the strings and then immediately installing the new set and tuning it to pitch.
The strings produce a considerable amount of tension on the soundboard and bridge, and releasing all of that tension suddenly, only to re-apply it a few minutes later can take its toll on the wood. Instead, remove one or two strings at a time; replace these 2 strings and then move on to the next two, and so on. This minimizes the “shock” that the wood encounters. Doing so reduces the risk of the bridge lifting off of the soundboard.
It is also a good idea to put a small piece of plastic or cardboard behind the bridge, in case the strings slip and slash against the soundboard. Finally, when you are done, use a pair of nail clippers to remove the excess string at the headstock. Planet Waves offers an ‘all-in-one’ string winder/clipper.
Like all material goods, wear and tear are factors that all guitars are exposed to. While it is obviously important to take good care of your instrument, it is also important to remember that guitars are built to be played, and therefore a few dents and scratches will undoubtedly occur over time. But as long as you are reasonably careful with your instrument these will be minor and should not affect your guitar’s performance.
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