Your Ultimate Guide to Electric Guitar Maintenance

When you buy high-quality guitars online, you need to make sure you’re giving them the high-quality treatment they deserve. You might’ve grown up watching rock stars smashing their axes during a performance, but your electric guitar needs a lot of TLC if it’s to keep performing at its best.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to keeping your high-performance guitar in good condition:

General Considerations

guitar maintenance

Before we get to the specifics, here are a few general points to keep in mind:

No Moisture

Your guitar needs to be protected from moisture in all its forms. Make sure that you don’t spill any beverages on it. Moisture protection also means:

  • Not cleaning it with water or with non-recommended products.
  • Not playing it outdoors in the rain, or allowing to get rainwater on it.
  • Not leaving it exposed to the elements anywhere.

Humidity

Guitar humidity

Similar to moisture, excessive humidity can cause a lot of damage to your electric guitar. Consider investing in a small hygrometer that you can keep inside your guitar case.

Make sure the humidity stays at recommended levels, so your electric guitar can stay in a good shape.

Temperature

Room temperature is best for storing an electric guitar.

Temperatures that are too high or too low can cause severe damage to a guitar. It’s recommended to protect them from natural heat (such as sunlight) as well as artificial heat (such as the heat produced by a space heater or a fire).

In the winter, electric guitars should be kept safe from the cold.

Crackling Noises

If you haven’t played your electric guitar in a while, chances are you’ll hear some static when plugging it into an amplifier.

This sound is known as ‘crackling’ and occurs when there’s dust accumulated inside the jack and disrupting a proper connection.

There’s a simple solution for it.

Take a cotton swab, dip it in some disinfectant absolute alcohol or ethanol, and rub it around the jack to clean it. This will get rid of the dust and minimize crackling.

Taking Care of Amplifiers and Effectors

Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars tend to come with a lot of accessories that can make proper storage a hassle.

Their cables, effectors, and amplifiers all need good handling if they’re to remain undamaged.

You can save a significant amount of money in repair costs by simply paying attention to how you’re storing your electric guitar accessories.

When putting them away, consider packing up each item in a separate plastic bag to keep it safe from dust and moisture.

1. Choose Sensible Storage

guitar storage

New guitars tend to get treated like new babies. You’ll make sure it’s always in the right place, looked after properly, and in no imminent danger.

But once you get used to your ‘baby’ and the newness goes away, you might become a little more careless. This is where the trouble starts.

Don’t store your electric guitar near windows or any areas where the temperature fluctuates throughout the day.

Find a place for your electric guitar where it’s protected from things falling on it, and where the temperature remains steady.

When not in use, your guitar should be stored in a quality guitar case. Hardcases are ideal unless you’re a fan of carrying your guitar across your back. The only issue with them is that they can be quite expensive.

If the high price of a hard case is a dealbreaker for you, you can also opt for a soft case that’s made specifically for your electric guitar.

2. Clean it Regularly

how to clean guitar

Just like learning to play the guitar requires daily practice, proper maintenance of an electric guitar calls for daily cleaning.

Remember to wash your hands before you start jamming away on your ax. This is because, throughout the day, all sorts of dirt, dust, oils, and sweat can accumulate on our skin.

All these things can easily be transferred to the strings and other components of a guitar.

Know that sweat and water can wear out the metal strings of your electric guitar, so wash and dry your hands thoroughly before playing. When you’re done playing, wipe your electric guitar down using a polishing cloth or a piece of microfiber cloth.

Once a week or so, you should give your electric guitar a deep clean using only a recommended cleaning product and a clean cloth. When you do, remember to follow all instructions mentioned on the product’s label exactly.

3. Regular Set-ups

guitar tune

When you buy a high-performance guitar it should already be professionally set up. You can confirm this from the vendor at the time of purchase. Alternatively, you can take your electric guitar to a local store and have it checked out for added peace of mind.

A set-up consists of several procedures that are performed on a guitar to keep it sounding good. Seasoned guitar players can easily perform set-ups at home with the right equipment. These procedures include:

Adjusting the Truss Rod

Nearly all guitars these days come up with an adjustable truss rod. Loosening it decreases the force, allowing the neck of the electric guitar to be pulled into a concave bow and increasing the distance between strings and fretboard.

Tightening it bends the neck backward—also called a back-bow—and brings the strings and fretboard closer to each other.

An experienced luthier or electric guitar player might be able to tell if the guitar neck is straight by set, or they might use a straightedge to measure it and make the necessary adjustments.

Adjusting the Bridge Height

The action of a guitar—the distance between its strings and fretboard—can also be modified at the bridge. When adjusting the bridge, it’s important to check for buzzing and false notes. Too much of either means that the bridge has been lowered more than necessary.

Assessing the Nut Height

Sometimes the nut slots on a guitar can be cut a bit too high or a bit too low. When one slot is adjusted, the others also need to be modified to compensate for the changes in the first one. Making accurate changes to the nut height requires a set of nut files and plenty of experience.

Assessing the Electronics

Electronics play a vital role in the proper functioning of an electric guitar, and they’ve given a good once-over during set-ups. Any dirt causing trouble with the connections is cleaned away, and the battery is checked and replaced if needed.

Replacing the Strings

It’s a good idea to replace strings on a regular basis, but they can also be replaced as part of a setup.

Knowing how to replace the strings on their ax is an essential skill for a guitarist, but you can also get professional help with this.

Assessing the Tuning Machine Hardware

Ideally, tuners should feel firm. If they feel a little loose to the touch, they can be easily tightened with the correct-sized screwdriver.

Checking for Structural Problems

If you’re playing a bolt-neck electric guitar, it’s worth knowing that the screws in the neck joint can sometimes become loose.

This issue can be caught by checking to make sure that the neck feels firm in the hand and doesn’t move too much. Set-neck electric guitars benefit from a close inspection to identify any cracks or faults.

Modifying the Pickup Height

Not all guitar players are aware of how much they can change their tone by changing the pickup height.

Soft players can benefit from moving them closer to the strings, and players with a stronger playing technique find it better to lower them just a smidge.

Experiment with the pickup height to find the tone that works for you.

Correcting the Intonation

One of the last steps in setting up an electric guitar is making sure its intonation is correct, meaning that each of its strings should sound at the correct pitch for each fret throughout its length.

An electric tuner can help find the correct pitch for each string, and its speaking length can be adjusted accordingly.

Once you start playing an electric guitar regularly, it’s a good habit to get it set up and fine-tuned as often as necessary. You’re going to feel and hear the difference, and this will help keep your electric guitar in top form.

4. Regular Restringing

guitar restringing

Restringing is a hotly debated topic among electric guitar players. You’ll find a wide range of opinions on how often it needs to be done, but no one can deny that it’s needed.

If you’re serious about your guitar playing, you also need to be diligent about getting your electric guitar’s strings replaced. Many dedicated players choose to restring their electric guitars after every performance, but this can be somewhat excessive for most casual players.

If you’re practicing playing your electric guitar every day, you should ideally have it restrung every two months. If you’re a weekend-only player, then it’s safe to say that you can wait a little longer.

Strings undergo a lot of wear and tear, which affects the sound quality, tone, and even the playing ‘feel’ of your guitar. New strings will have your electric guitar feeling good as new, giving you a much better playing experience.

5. A No-Fuss Fretboard

guitar fretboard repair

Every time you’re having your strings replaced, take a minute to show your fretboard some love. Only use the fretboard oil or conditioner that’s recommended for use with your electric guitar and no other chemicals.

Apply a small amount to a clean, polishing cloth and gently rub it into the fretboard.

Also, note that some fretboards—such as maple—already have a finish and don’t need oils, just a simple wipe. Using conditioners on maple fretboards can dull their glossy finish.

If they’re unfinished, you can clean them using a damp cloth with a tiny quantity of soap.

6. Polishing Your Electric Guitar

guitar polishing

Top-tier care for your electric guitar includes polishing it every now and then to keep it shiny and fresh. While many electric guitar players are satisfied with giving their guitars the cloth treatment, true enthusiasts know how to polish their instruments just right.

Start by wiping your electric guitar with a clean cloth and removing any dust or debris from its body.

As with the fretboard oil, only use recommended guitar polish and don’t apply it directly to the guitar itself. Spray some on your polish cloth, and gently wipe the electric guitar with it until there’s no residue remaining.

7. Consider Setting Up Your Very Own Toolbox

A good way to stay on top of your electric guitar maintenance is to create a toolbox. Find a sturdy box, and load it with all the things you need to clean up your guitar. Be sure to add a polish cloth, a microfiber cloth, and all the recommended cleaning products that you use on your guitar.

You’re much more likely to adhere to regular electric guitar upkeep if you have all the necessary supplies in one convenient location.

Conclusion

Keeping your electric guitar in top-notch condition requires consistent effort. We believe it’s similar to learning to play the guitar, as you might struggle with it initially but then become more proficient the longer you practice.

Learn how to take care of your electric guitar, and it’ll reward you by producing excellent tunes for years to come.

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Emily Scott is a musician and critic who has been writing about various genres for over five years. Her writing stems from her own experience as a performer, and her preference for rock as a genre, giving her a sense of familiarity with the subject. She is a commentator at a local radio network and teaches music history at a community college too.

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