Now that you’ve set up your ideal practice space (#MyPracticeSpace), let’s make sure you have the right guitar care habits to keep your guitar looking and sounding great.
One of my favorite things to do on a rainy afternoon—aside from strumming a favorite tune—is to restring, clean, and polish my guitar. It always feels and sounds great after given some TLC. Since changing strings is a little labor-intensive, and discussion on doing so should be its own post, let’s talk about the everyday things you can do to keep your guitar in tip-top shape.
Where do you keep your guitar?
Most guitars are made of wood—yes, even electrics! Wood can crack, split, or even warp if exposed to harsh environments like extreme temperature changes or too much or too little humidity. Keeping your guitar in a controlled climate with appropriate temperature and humidity is crucial to ensure the wood, finish, and binding doesn’t crack, split, or check.
When I lived in Michigan, the indoor humidity varied from nearly 80% in the summer months to lower than 10% in winter. I kept my guitars in cases year-round and used sponge humidifiers to keep them from drying out in the winter.
Luckily, in Oregon, the humidity remains relatively stable year-round. My humidistat always reads around 50%, perfect guitar climate! (Find out the humidity of your practice space with a humidistat like this one.) Still, I usually keep my guitars in their cases; if I want to hang any on the wall, I make sure they’re not near heat vents. I don’t add humidity to any of my guitars’ cases. (If you need to add humidity to your guitar’s in-case environment, try one of these.)
Get in the habit
Having great guitar care habits will make you a better musician and keep your instrument looking and sounding great. These habits will take some effort to build, but with persistence, the following suggestions will become effortless and fun.
1. Wash your hands before you pick up the guitar…every time!
Even if your hands look clean, they’re not. Do yourself and your guitar a favor and remove any oils lingering from your lunch, your hand lotion, or the dust that just settles on hands from the air, before you grab the guitar and start playing. Warm water also helps awaken the muscles of both hands and speeds the warming-up process!
2. Wipe the strings before and after you play.
Make a habit of wiping your guitar down with a dry cloth before and after you practice or perform. Wiping the strings and fretboard removes dust, finger oils, and other grime; prolongs string life; and allows your fingers to glide freely across the strings. Your guitar and your fingers will thank you!
3. Tune up
Tune up every time you play. If the strings are struggling to hold a pitch, this tells you they may need changing. Other signs your strings are due for a change include oxidation or discoloring and dull tone. New strings sound great! Study the way your strings sound over their lifespan and learn to change them before they go dead.
4. Be mindful when moving your guitar.
Be careful when holding your guitar and moving it from case to stand or stand to lap. Using two hands, hold it upright by the neck with the body toward the floor. Move slowly and mindfully when walking through a room with a guitar in your hands. It only takes one little bump against a doorframe or table to cause permanent damage to a guitar.
5. Put your guitar away when you’re done.
Nobody wants a precious instrument to get damaged because it was left out of its case or off its stand. Pets, young children, and random acts of…Oops! can strike at any moment. Keep your guitar safe, on its stand or in its case.
As musicians, we need our instruments to sound great all the time. Show your guitar you care, and it will be there for you, for a lifetime. What are your favorite guitar care habits or rituals? Let me know what you think in the comments.