Tips & Tutorials | January 18, 2023

Guitar Care Tips

Hand polishing guitar

Cleaning and Polishing Your Guitar

If you recently purchased an acoustic guitar, congratulations! A good instrument is an investment and, like anything else that is valuable to you, it will need some care and maintenance.

Some common questions that we get are “How do I clean and polish my guitar?”, “How often should I clean my guitar?” and “How do I clean the fingerboard?”. We are going to answer these questions today, so you can keep your guitar looking and sounding great for a lifetime. Or maybe even several lifetimes!

Please note that we will reference “guitar” throughout this post, but you can apply the same practices to your ukulele.

Person playing guitar

Keeping Your Guitar Clean

Before we get into the cleaning and polishing nitty-gritty (pun intended!), I want to mention that the best way to clean your guitar is to keep it clean by washing your hands before you pick it up and by storing it in its case when not in use. That being said, we all have natural oils in our skin, including our fingers, and the guitar is also exposed to environmental elements that are often out of our control.

How Often Should You Clean Your Guitar?

We recommend getting in the habit of wiping down your guitar after you are done playing it for the day and doing this every time you play it. This is very easy and only takes a few minutes. But, yes, we get it. You won’t always do that and, even if you do, your guitar will need to be cleaned periodically when fingerprints and other gunk build up.

Opening guitar polishing cloth

How to Clean Your Guitar

Cleaning your guitar is a fairly straightforward process.

Start by gently wiping down the guitar's body on all sides using a soft fabric. Then continue to wipe the neck, strings, and tuning machines. Wipe anywhere that your body touched the finish to clear any of your skin oils that may have transferred to the guitar.

You can wipe your guitar clean with a soft t-shirt or similar soft material, but the best option is a flannel cotton cloth like the Martin Polish Cloth.

How to Polish Your Guitar

Some people like to use polish on their guitar to give it some extra shine. But keep in mind that the guitar’s finish is porous, so you don’t want to use a harsh polish with a lot of chemicals because you could do more harm than good.

If you really want to use a polish, you can feel safe using the polish/cleaner that we sell in our 1833 Shop and on our website here. It is designed to be used sparingly, and all you have to do is spritz a small amount on the guitar top and then take the soft cloth and wipe it across the surface in a circular motion.

Please be mindful when working with an instrument with a satin finish. You don’t want to spend a lot of time rubbing a satin finish with a cloth because it will cause the finish to get shiny, and you don’t want that with a satin finish.

Close up of a guitar fretboard

How to Clean the Fretboard

The fretboard is the part that your fingers touch the whole time you play. Grime can build up even if your hands are always clean.

Clean your fretboard any time you change your strings — that's when you'll have the best access. There are some products that slide between the strings and the fretboard if you want to give it a once over more often. But with the strings off, you can take a soft cloth (best to start with a fresh one) and wipe off the fingerboard and frets.

You can also lightly rub minimally abrasive steel wool along the fingerboard and the fret wire. This will help shine up the frets and remove any gunk that the cloth missed.

You can also condition your fingerboard and bridge. The fingerboard and bridge are basically raw wood with a little bit of stain. They don't feature a finish that a conditioning product could damage. You only need to condition your fingerboard and bridge one or two times a year, depending on the humidity, just to keep the wood moist so it resists cracking over time.

There are a few different conditioning products you can try such as 3-In-1 Oil or Dr. Duck’s Axe Wax. You can also check with your local guitar retailer for their recommended products and follow the instructions on the package.

Close up of strumming a guitar

How to Clean Guitar Strings

Typical acoustic guitar strings have steel core wire, with the four lowest strings featuring phosphor bronze, bronze, or nickel wrap wire. Moisture in the air or on your hands can cause the strings to rust over time. They'll also accumulate grime just like any other part of the instrument. 

While you can still play your acoustic guitar with a bit of rust and grime on the strings, they'll sound dull and feel coarse. Your fingertips may have rusty residue after playing with dirty strings, and rusty strings may even cut your fingers if they become too rough.

Replacing your old strings with fresh ones is ideal when they get dirty, but cleaning your strings can help retain their sound and playability until you have time to replace them. Cleaning your strings is as simple as wiping them down with a soft fabric like the Martin Polish Cloth. Wipe your strings before and after every session to remove moisture and residue your hands may leave behind. 

In addition to cleaning your strings, you can lubricate them. String lubricants help your hands to slide more easily along the strings and fingerboard by reducing friction, and they can cut down on string noise as you play. Guitar string lubricant comes in various forms. Please follow the instructions included with the string lubricant of your choice. 

Learn More From Martin Guitar

A clean guitar will sound its best and feel amazing to play. You'll find the most joy in your instrument when you clean the body, fretboard, and strings, so check out our online store for care and maintenance accessories. 

I hope this information is helpful to you, and remember, if you love your guitar, it will love you back! Please follow along for more tips and tales from the Martin Guitar blog.