Sharp Frets Suck

My Guitar Has Sharp Frets. Should I File Them?

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Bob Asks:

“My electric guitar’s fretboard is very dry, so the fret-ends have started protruding and feel sharp. What should I do? Should I buy a fret file and file them down? Will oiling the fretboard with F-One oil fix the issue?”



Hi Bob:

First, when it comes to sharp frets, I never recommend immediately reaching for a file. That can come later, if a more conservative approach doesn’t work first.

Next, while your guitar’s fretboard will definitely benefit from the Music Nomad F-One oil, it won’t fix the issue you’re having with sharp fret ends.

Let’s dive in…

What Causes Protruding or Sharp Frets?

Sharp frets (or “razor fret” as we like to call it) can happen for one or more of the following reasons:

1. Low humidity (lack of moisture)

This is the most likely and most common reason for sharp frets–especially if they were fine before and then suddenly appeared. The guitar has been exposed to excessively low humidity (below 45%) for too long and the fretboard wood has literally shrunk, causing the edges of the fretboard to pull back, leaving the metal fret ends sticking out. Oil alone won’t fix this.

If you want to learn more about this, you can read my in-depth article about how humidity affects guitars.

2. Unseated frets

Sometimes fret ends can actually pop up out of the fret slots. This will make just those frets (the ones that popped-up) feel sharp. You can tell whether this is the problem if you’ve only got a few sharp fret ends, but the rest feel fine.

3. Poor workmanship

This is the least-likely reason, and usually only an issue on very cheap guitars. The factory just didn’t file the ends properly. This usually isn’t the case though if the sharp frets weren’t there before and then suddenly appeared.

Here’s What to do (First) About Sharp Frets

Whenever a guitar comes to me with sharp frets, the first thing I do is tackle #1 (possible under-humidification). It’s not only the most likely reason you have sharp frets, but the remedy is also the least invasive procedure. Not to mention that under-humidification needs to be addressed anyway.

So, we need to get moisture back into your guitar’s fretboard. Essentially, we want that wood to swell back out to where it’s supposed to naturally be. Before you begin, here’s what you’ll need:

The Procedure

  1. First, follow the humidifier manufacturer’s instructions for soaking the sponge and gently removing excess moisture (from the sponge). Don’t squeeze it to death. You want the sponge very wet, but not dripping.
  2. Next, put your guitar and the humidifier into the trash bag, with the guitar resting flat on it’s back inside the bag. Since the fretboard is what we need to fix, place the humidifier inside the bag just under/behind the neck (if acoustic, do NOT put it in the soundhole).
  3. Seal the bag, but leave a little air inside, to give the moisture enough space to circulate around the neck. Don’t go nuts and blow the bag up like a balloon. You just want a little extra air in there.
  4. Leave the guitar lying on its back and don’t open the bag for 7 days.
  5. On the 7th day, open the bag and check your fret ends.
  6. If the fret ends still feel sharp, re-wet the humidifier, put it back in the bag with the guitar, and re-seal the bag.
  7. Wait another 5-7 days (remember not to open the bag during this period), then check the frets again.

Still Got Sharp Frets?

After this intensive moisture treatment, if you STILL have sharp fret ends, then I would recommend taking the guitar to a professional tech or repairperson. They’ll determine whether your frets need to be filed and/or re-seated, and be able to do the work without scratching your guitar. If you’re inexperienced at this and attempt to file the frets yourself, you will most assuredly scratch the edges of your fretboard or the body of your guitar.

However, if you really want to tackle this yourself, here’s a good article on how to perform the procedure: Fixing Fret Ends That Stick Out in Dry Weather, by Stewart-MacDonald.

Tools suggested in that article:

As you can see, these tools ain’t cheap, so it’s probably cheaper and safer to just take your guitar to a pro and get a price quote first, before buying specialized tools like these.

A Few Final Tips and FAQ’s

Shouldn’t I put the humidifier in my acoustic guitar’s soundhole?

If you are doing this procedure to an acoustic guitar, you may be tempted to put your humidifier in the guitar’s soundhole–especially if it’s labeled as a “soundhole humidifier.” Don’t do this. Putting the humidifier in the soundhole really only benefits the body of the guitar, not the neck.

It’s the fretboard that needs help here, so putting a humidifier into the soundhole defeats the purpose and robs the fretboard of needed moisture.

Why not just put the guitar in its case with a humidifier?

Putting your guitar inside a trash bag with a humidifier may sound odd or extreme, but for a situation like this it’s necessary. Simply putting the guitar inside its case with an in-case humidifier is fine for everyday humidity regulation–on a guitar that doesn’t have a problem.

However, if your fretboard wood has shrunk to the point that the fret ends are actually sticking out, you’ve got a problem and need to be more assertive about getting humidity back into it. Guitar case interiors are usually too tight to let much moisture or air flow around around the guitar. Also, the plush materials inside most guitar cases soak up some of the moisture–which really needs to be going to your guitar instead.

What about leaving the guitar out on a stand with a room humidifier?

The same issues apply here as with leaving the guitar inside its case with a humidifier. It’s just not going to get enough moisture into a guitar that’s suffering from being under humidified (what we like to call a “dry guitar”). Like an in-case humidifier, an in-room humidifier is fine for everyday maintenance–after we’ve got the guitar’s wood back in balance.

What if I can’t keep the humidity at the proper level? Won’t the issue just come back?

Yes, the issue can indeed come back. If you live in an excessively dry climate where your guitar is exposed to humidity well below 45% the majority of the time, this is going to be a recurring problem for you. In this case you may indeed benefit from simply having the frets filed back.

Final Thoughts

So, before you reach for that file (or fretboard oil), reach for a humidifier instead and get your guitar back to an ideal humidity range of 45% – 55%. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then and only then should you consider filing them (or letting a pro do the work).

Got Sharp Frets? What Will You Do?

If you’ve currently got sharp frets, I’d love to know what you’re planning to do about it. Will you try my humidification procedure, or will you get the fret ends filed? Or, maybe you’re planning to file them yourself? I’d love to know, so let me know in the comments below!

 

9 More Mistakes Made by New Guitar Owners

9 More Common Mistakes Made by New Guitar Owners

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Awhile back, I wrote an article titled 11 Common Mistakes Made by New Guitar Owners. Wouldn’t ya know it, as soon as I published that article a bunch of other “common mistakes” started coming to me–things I’d completely forgotten about. So, let’s dive in!

These aren’t in any particular order…



1. When changing strings, taking all the new strings out of their packages at once.

Don’t remove all the guitar strings from their packages at once. It can be tough to tell them apart.

Don’t remove all the guitar strings from their packages at once. It can be tough to tell those suckers apart.

You might have the urge to take all those shiny new strings out of their individual packages at once. Resist this urge. Once out of the package, it can be really hard to tell some of the strings apart and you might put some of them in the wrong place. Only remove each string from its package one at a time, when you’re ready to actually install it.

An exception would be D’Addario strings. The ball-end of each D’Addario string is a unique color, and the package tells you the string size for each color. So, as long as you don’t destroy the package (and aren’t color blind), you’re good to go. Regular D’Addario users eventually memorize which color denotes which string.

2. Not stretching new guitar strings

Here I'm using my handy String Stretcha™, but you can stretch strings without one of these.

You need to stretch those new guitar strings! Here I’m using one of my favorite gadgets for the job: The String Stretcha™.

Speaking of strings, did you know that when you put new strings on your guitar they have to be physically stretched (by hand)? I’m not talking about simply playing them. I’m saying that once you put a new string on, you have to tune it to pitch, stretch it a bit, tune it again, stretch it again, and continue doing so until it stabilizes (stops going flat). This also helps seat them firmly against the tuning pegs, nut, and saddle(s).

If you’re not sure how it’s done, check out my blog post on how to stretch guitar strings.

If you don’t stretch them, you’re guitar will continually go flat immediately after you tune it, and it’ll continue to do so for hours, especially when you bend a string. It can be maddening if you don’t understand what’s going on and why.

You can stretch your guitar strings by hand or, if you have to stretch a lot of strings on a daily basis like me, you can use a tool like the “String Stretcha” pictured here.

3. Turning the tuning pegs the wrong direction

When you’re new to playing guitar, it can be difficult to discern whether the pitch is going up or down as you’re turning the tuning pegs. If you’re unsure, and just keep twisting the string tighter and tighter, there’s a point where the thinner, unwound strings will simply snap. This can be pretty jarring (okay, it can scare the #[email protected]! out of you). Then the realization sets in that you don’t have a spare set of strings.

If you’re unsure, take your time to first figure out whether the pitch is going up or down. Try to match your voice to the pitch and sing along with it as you turn the tuning peg, noting whether you’re having to raise or lower your voice. It can be tricky at first, but as you gain experience you’ll be able to instantly recognize whether the string is being tightened or loosened.

4. Not checking latches (or zippers) before picking up a guitar case

This one is rare, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes: Someone grabs the guitar case by the handle and lifts it without first making sure the latches are secure. The top pops open and the guitar tumbles out and crashes to the ground. The guitar will usually survive such a fall, but that new, shiny finish will not. This one will definitely leave a mark (or three). It’s “road rash” in the truest sense.

So, try to get in the habit of quickly checking your case latches before you grab your guitar case and run.

5. While wearing a guitar (standing), forgetting to LOOK and LIFT before you turn around

My girlfriend has a permanent scar under her right eye because, many years ago, a guitarist (not me) turned suddenly and whacked her with the headstock. It slashed her cheek open just under her eye and required 15 stitches. I’ve seen many guitars and people damaged because a guitarist decided to turn without first looking–whacking the headstock into someone or something.

When you’re wearing your guitar, get in the habit of lifting the neck up before you turn in either direction. Even if you think you can see clearly that there’s nothing around you, make it an automatic habit to lift the neck. You don’t need to stick the guitar way up in the air, just grab the neck and pull it toward your head–as if you’re inspecting the tuning pegs.

A note of caution: If you wear your guitar really high, watch out for ceiling fans before doing this maneuver indoors. I’ve seen several guitars accidentally jammed into low ceiling fans.

6. Not tuning the guitar before each practice

As a beginner, you may not be able to tell whether the guitar is slightly out of tune or not using just your ear, so make it a habit to check the tuning (and correct it, if necessary) before you begin playing or practicing. Resist the temptation to just start playing without tuning. It should only be slightly out of tune (if at all), so this really shouldn’t take too long to correct.

As you’ve played guitar for a few years, you’re ear (more accurately, your brain) will begin to memorize pitches. It’s a form of ear training that naturally happens over time. Playing an in-tune guitar will ensure you’re memorizing the correct pitches. Some day, you may even get to the point where you can tune your guitar by ear (without an electronic tuner).

Buy a little clip-on tuner for your guitar’s headstock (or soundhole) and just leave it there, so it’s always ready. I use two tuners from D’Addario: the NS Micro Headstock Tuner for my electric guitars and the NS Micro Soundhole Tuner for my acoustic guitar.

7. Comparing your progress to others

YouTube is filled with child prodigies. It used to really get me down, but nowadays I could honestly care less.

YouTube is filled with child prodigies. It used to really get me down, but nowadays I could honestly care less.

At age 25, after a lifetime of playing, performing, teaching, and even going to music school, I completely quit playing guitar. I didn’t touch a guitar for the next 11 years. I literally quit “cold turkey.”

Why?

I quit because I became discouraged–slammed by self-doubt and insecurity about my playing. This was the result of comparing my ability and progress to other guitar players. In the 90’s a new thing called “the Internet” was revealing just how many guitar prodigies and virtuosos there were in the world. A few years later, YouTube struck the killing blow when I saw young children doing things on guitar that I couldn’t even dream of.  I became so disillusioned that I simply quit. In hindsight, I realize that I was playing guitar for the wrong reasons. It was more like a competition for me back then–a competition to be “the best.”

For whatever reason, 11 years later I picked up the guitar again and I haven’t put it down since. Now, I simply love playing guitar for the sheer joy it brings me. I have no desire to be better than anyone, nor do I compare my progress to others. I no longer become discouraged when I see guitarists (even children) who are better than me. I could truly care less. It’s very liberating–like a huge weight has been lifted.

8. Feast or famine practice sessions

We’re all busy with the million other distractions and obligations that life throws at us. These can make it hard to practice guitar consistently. However, to the greatest extent possible, try to practice guitar a little every day. Or, at the very least, try not to go more than 2 days in a row without practicing. Of course, this is assuming that you’re serious and wanting to make solid progress on the guitar.

I often tell people that it’s better to practice for only 10 – 30 minutes every day (or as many days as possible) rather than doing big 2+ hour practice sessions only a few days a week. That’s what I call “feast or famine” practice: when you’re practice sessions are very long, but you only practice 2-3 days per week.

9. Looking at gear instead of playing guitar

How guitar players spend their time

Looks about right

Ahh, this one is the guitarist’s equivalent to “analysis paralysis.” There’s so much juicy gear out there–cables, strings, pickups, pedals, amps, and on and on. While there’s nothing wrong with having some fun and trying out gear, reading gear reviews, etc. try to avoid the trap of getting so wrapped up in finding the perfect piece of gear that you forget to actually PLAY GUITAR.

You also have to make sure you’re not just subconsciously procrastinating. There’s this weird phenomenon that I have yet to explain: I absolutely LOVE playing guitar, yet I sometimes find myself doing everything BUT actually playing guitar, even though I have free time. Looking at gear is the #1 thing I do on such days, and I sometimes have to snap myself out of it, put down the guitar catalog (or Internet), and just play my dang guitar.

Question:

When you were a brand new guitar owner, what mistakes did YOU make? Ever put the strings on upside down, or in the wrong spots? Ever do anything really dumb or destructive, because you just didn’t know any better? Let me know. I love to hear such cringeworthy stories!

Should you loosen guitar strings before shipping?

Reader Question: Should You Loosen Guitar Strings Before Shipping?



Markus asks:

I just sold a guitar and need to ship it. Should I loosen the strings before I pack it up for shipping?

Ever so often, this question comes to me–usually from someone who just sold a guitar online, and is about to pack ‘er up for shipping.

There’s a lot of debate out there about whether you should loosen a guitar’s strings before shipping. The debate has become almost a religious one and gets quite heated on guitar forums and such. Here are my thoughts:

I Don’t Loosen Guitar Strings Before Shipping (But That’s Just Me)

Firstly, I never loosen guitar strings before shipping a guitar. I’d just like to throw that out there.

My view is: if this were necessary, then all the major manufacturers–Martin, Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, etc–would do it. Yet, they don’t. I’ve never received a guitar from a manufacturer or big online retailer that has been purposely detuned. A little out-of-tune upon arrival, yes, but that’s the normal result of being knocked around during shipping, climate changes between locations, etc.  Whenever you receive a guitar in the mail, it’s almost guaranteed that it’ll not only be out of tune, but probably need a complete setup.

Shipping a guitar with the strings at full tension doesn’t pose any danger to the guitar neck itself. However, there might be some validity to the argument that the headstock is more susceptible to breakage if the guitar takes a bad fall during shipping. The theory is, because the headstock has full string tension pulling it forward already, the sudden pressure of a good smack can be enough to crack the point where the headstock is connected to the guitar.

However, it would need to be a pretty catastrophic fall and the guitar would have to have been packed poorly to begin with.

If You MUST Loosen Guitar Strings Before Shipping…

Now, I fully understand that, for your own peace-of-mind, some of you may still want to loosen the strings before shipping. I get that.

Here’s the deal: If you ARE going to loosen guitar strings partially or completely in preparation for shipping, then you should also loosen the truss rod a proportionate amount (and be sure to let the person on the receiving end know you’ve done this). If you loosen the strings completely–so that there is NO tension–then also loosen the truss rod bolt completely. Turn the truss bolt counter-clockwise until it begins to spin freely.

If you ONLY loosen the strings you’ll have an imbalance where the truss rod is bending the neck backwards with little or no string pressure to pull it the opposite direction. In that case, you may be helping the headstock a bit, but now the neck itself is probably a bit more susceptible to damage during shipping.

A Note About Shipping Nylon-String / Classical / Flamenco Guitars

Nylon string guitars (Classical and Flamenco) can indeed benefit from having the strings loosened (but not totally slack) prior to shipping. This is because these guitars usually don’t have a truss rod. They don’t need one because nylon strings don’t exert enough tension on the neck to warrant a truss rod. The natural rigidity of the neck’s wood is enough to handle the tension. So, you can safely loosen the strings prior to shipping, but you still need to pack the guitar adequately, and this includes padding INSIDE the guitar case as well as outside.

Summary

So, in summary, loosening the strings probably isn’t necessary when shipping a guitar. However, if it makes you feel better to loosen them, be sure to also loosen the truss rod (and let the person receiving the guitar know). What is FAR more important is properly packing the guitar, inside the case and outside. The same packing recommendations I give for flying with a guitar apply to shipping as well.

Hope that helps!

Guitar Care Warning: You May be Loving Your Guitar to Death

Warning: You May be Loving Your Guitar to Death

Last Updated: July 15, 2018

Hey, we love our guitars, right? We want to take care of them so they continue to give us a lifetime of joy and self-expression. However, when it comes to guitar care and our efforts to pamper our axes, it’s possible to overdo it–using too much stuff too often, or even using substances that are actually harmful to the guitar.

Let’s review some of the guitar care mistakes I’ve seen (and made) over the years, as well as some of the crap you should never use on your guitar.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. This is at no additional cost to you. Learn more.



BAD: Over-Oiling or Using the Wrong Stuff on the Fretboard

At some point I’m sure you’ve heard that your guitar’s fretboard should be oiled.

If your guitar has an unfinished (non glossy) rosewood or ebony fretboard, it’s true that it may benefit from an occasional application of a fretboard-safe oil. However, it should only be done about once a year (or less), and then only if it really seems to be dry or you’ve somehow stripped it of moisture, such as when you do a deep cleaning like the one I demonstrate in this blog post on fretboard cleaning. To give you an idea: I oil my fretboards only about 2-3 times in a 5-year time span.

Using too much oil and/or oiling too often can eventually lead to maintenance issues or even damage. I’ve seen or heard of frets, binding, or inlays coming loose in extreme cases. You don’t need to drown the fretboard–just a light application is all that’s necessary to bring some of the rich color back to the wood.

Also, if you’re going to oil your fretboard use the right kind of oil, and then only use a tiny bit. Wipe it on, let it set for about a minute, then wipe ALL the excess off the wood with an absorbent cloth or paper towel.

GOOD: Guitar Fretboard Cleaners & Conditioners

Music Nomad F-ONE Fretboard Oil Cleaner and Conditioner

What I use now: Music Nomad F-ONE Fretboard Oil Cleaner & Conditioner

Ernie Ball 4276 Wonder Wipes Fretboard Conditioner, 6 Pack

Tried ’em, liked ’em: Ernie Ball Wonder Wipes Fretboard Conditioner

Bayes Mineral Oil - Excellent, cheap way to oil fretboards

What I used to use: Bayes Mineral Oil Wood Protectant

Keep WD-40 away from your guitar

Keep WD-40 away from your guitar

BAD: Using WD-40 on Strings or Any Other Part of Your Guitar

Hey, it knocked out those squeaky door hinges and made your bike wheels spin forever, so it must be great for the moving parts of your guitar too, right?

Wrong.

For brevity, I won’t go into detail on the issues with WD-40, but it’s best for beginners to just keep it away. Leave WD-40 to the pro’s who know what they’re doing and how (and where) to use this correctly when they’re working on guitars.

I was appalled recently to discover a how-to article on the Internet where the author gives an in-depth demonstration (and endorsement) of how he uses WD-40 to clean his guitar strings. Don’t do this. It actually will clean your strings quite nicely, and will make them feel nice and slick. The problem is what happens as your fingers transfer any leftover residue onto the fretboard, neck, and finish as you play. You may think you were careful and wiped off all excess WD-40, but why take that risk?

GOOD: String Cleaners Made for Guitars

If you’re wanting to clean your guitar strings to squeeze a little more life out of them, then at least use a proven, guitar-safe string cleaner like Music Nomad String Fuel Cleaner & Lubricant or GHS Fast Fret. I used GHS Fast Fret for many, many years (it lasted for freaking ever) until I discovered the Music Nomad products (which I love, if you couldn’t tell). You can also just wipe your strings with a dry cloth every time you finish playing/practicing as I demonstrate in this blog post.

Or, if your strings are old, just replace them.

Music Nomad String Fuel Cleaner and Lubricant

One Good Option: Music Nomad String Fuel Cleaner & Lubricant

GHS Fast Fret String Cleaner & Lubricant

Another Good Option: GHS Fast Fret String Cleaner & Lubricant

Don't use household paper towels on the glossy finish of your guitar

Don’t use household paper towels on the glossy finish of your guitar

BAD: Using Household Paper Towels, T-shirts, Socks, Shop Towels, Etc.

Regular ole paper towels, like those you buy at the grocery story, are okay for wiping your strings and the bare wood of the fretboard, but never use them on any of the glossy parts of your guitar. They’re just not soft enough and can leave tiny scratches in the finish. I don’t exactly know why, but whatever they put in these paper towels just isn’t soft enough for most guitar finishes. Also, to be safe, avoid using t-shirts, socks, washcloths, shop towels, etc. on glossy bits, even if they’re 100% cotton.

When it comes to the glossy finish of your guitar, I’d recommend only using microfiber towels. I’ve been using a Music Nomad Microfiber Guitar Polishing Cloth for all my cleaning and polishing. I use that one because not all microfiber towels are created equal, and with the Music Nomad cloth was manufactured it FOR guitars.

Another great cloth to use for cleaning glossy guitar finishes (and everything else, for that matter) is a cotton cloth baby diaper. That’s right, for years I’ve been using Gerber Birdseye 3-Ply baby diapers for cleaning everything from metal parts to the fretboard to the glossy finish. I love those things! Just be sure you wash and dry it 3-4 times before you use it. That’ll help soften it up even more. Don’t use fabric softener when washing them.

Lemon Pledge: Great for Furniture, Terrible for Guitars

Lemon Pledge: great for furniture, not recommended for Guitars

BAD: Using Household Furniture Polish

I sometimes see people bragging on guitar forums, “I’ve used Lemon Pledge on my guitar for years, with no problems!” My question to these people is always the same: How many “years” are we talking here? Get back to me after you’ve used Lemon Pledge on the same guitar consistently for about 15 – 20 years and let me know how that worked out for you.

Here’s the deal: It depends on what your guitar’s finish is. If I ask you what your guitar’s finish is and you have to think about it or look it up, just stay away from furniture polish. Otherwise, you’re playing Russian roulette with your axe.

First off, avoid any kind of polish or cleaner if your guitar has a “satin” (non glossy) finish, or feels like it’s just natural wood (these are usually finished in some kind of oil or oil/lacquer mixture). Really, the safest way to clean a satin finish is with a cotton cloth slightly damp with warm water, followed by a dry cloth to remove any leftover dampness. If your guitar has a “natural” wood finish, I’d recommend consulting a pro first and asking them what you should do.

GOOD: For Glossy Finishes, Use Cleaners and Polishes Made for Guitars

For glossy finishes, use a proper guitar polish–stuff specifically made for guitars. There are a number of good ones on the market these days, and here are a few that I’ve used and recommend:

Music Nomad Guitar One All-in-1 Cleaner, Polish, and Wax

What I use now: Music Nomad Guitar One All-in-1 Cleaner, Polish, and Wax

Dunlop Platinum 65 Guitar Cleaner-Polish

Also good stuff: Dunlop Platinum 65 Cleaner-Polish

 

Never use regular household cleaners on your guitar

Nothing you see on the shelves at a grocery (or similar) store should be used on your guitar.

BAD: Using Other Household Cleaners

To some it may seem obvious, but I’m just going to come right out and say it anyway: do not use household cleaners such as bleach, Pine Sol, Windex, Fantastic, etc. on any part of your guitar, unless it’s a total junker you really don’t care about.

You’ll be especially tempted as you pass by the furniture & wood cleaning section (this is where you’ll find the lemon Pledge) in your grocery store. Don’t be swayed by all the marketing lingo about how these products “nourish wood”, “safely clean wood”, “condition and protect wood”, etc. Just keep on walking. The fact that these products work great on wood furniture and floors does NOT mean they’ll be good for your guitar.

Not Sure? Avoid These Ingredients

If you’re ever unsure whether something is good or bad for your guitar (including guitar-specific products), just inspect the ingredients and make sure they don’t contain:

• Silicone
• Solvents of any kind
• Acetone
• Alcohol

Finally, Never Underestimate Good ole Warm Water

I’ve given you some great, guitar-safe alternatives to consider in this article.

However, all the fancy guitar cleaners and polishes on the market today have created somewhat of an over-inflated perception of how necessary they actually are. Don’t get me wrong, I love the products that I use and have recommend here, but the reality is that good ole warm water, a soft cloth, and some elbow grease can work wonders on a dirty guitar. Just be careful that the rag isn’t soaking wet. You only want it slightly damp with water.

For tougher grime in small areas, you can do exactly what mom did to you as a kid: wipe the spot with a dab of saliva. NEVER spit on someone else’s guitar, but when it comes to your own axe, don’t be afraid to daub a little spit on a rag to rub off the tougher gunk.

For Further Reading on Guitar Care:

Here are a few reputable, reliable resources I’ve found where you can learn more:

Reader Question: Should I Loosen my Guitar Strings?

Reader Question: Should I loosen my guitar strings when I’m not playing it?

Mihail Asks:

I play my guitar almost every day. Do I need to keep the strings loose or is it alright to keep the guitar tuned up?



The Short Answer:

Keep your guitar tuned up to pitch, especially if you play it regularly. There’s really no reason to detune a guitar that you play regularly and, in fact, it would be pretty inconvenient if you had to completely retune it every time you wanted to pick it up and play. Guitars were designed and built with string tension in mind, so you can safely keep them tuned up to pitch, even if you’re not going to play them for a month or two.

The Long Answer:

If you have a steel-string acoustic or electric guitar, there is a metal rod inside the neck called a “truss rod.” It’s adjustable, and its job is to counteract the tension of the steel strings. It bends the neck backwards against the string pressure, and the net effect is a neck that stays relatively straight and stable.

So, you can keep your steel-string acoustic or electric guitar tuned up to pitch and not play it for months or even years without having to worry too much about damaging the neck. Some guitars even have additional metal or carbon fiber rods inside to provide extra stability. Your bigger concerns should be temperature and humidity (read my in-depth article on humidity here).

Acoustic and Electric Truss Rods

If your guitar has a truss rod rod, it can be adjusted via a bolt that is located just inside the soundhole (on acoustics) or under a cover on the headstock (on electrics).

Now, Classical or nylon-string guitars are a different story. If you’re not going to play a Classical guitar for a long period of time (say, more than a few months), then loosening the strings may be a good precaution because Classical guitars usually do NOT have a truss rod inside the neck. The reason is because, under normal playing conditions, nylon strings simply don’t pull on the neck hard enough to warrant one. However, if left unplayed for many months while tuned up to full pitch, and the neck can indeed take a forward “set” (the neck becomes permanently bowed forward).

Some of the more modern Classical guitars may have carbon fiber or similar reinforcement rods in the neck. Check your model’s specs and if this is the case, you can safely leave your Classical guitar tuned to pitch at all times.

Hope that helps!

Reader Q & A: Should I Drill my Classical Guitar for a Guitar Strap?

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Kathleen Asks:

“Do people drill into Classical guitars? I have a Classical guitar and would like to have strap buttons installed for a guitar strap.”



My Answer:

Well, before you even consider drilling… know that there are “Classical” guitar straps available. Don’t be fooled by the name though–they’re not just for Classical guitars, and work great with steel string acoustic as well. They’re physically different than the usual 2-button guitar straps. Willie Nelson uses one with the old, beat-up Classical guitar he plays. Here are 3 that I really like:

Levy's Leathers 1 Nylon Classical Guitar Strap

Levy’s Leathers 1 Nylon Classical Guitar Strap. Good, basic, low-cost nylon strap.

Levy's Leathers 2 Leather Classical Strap,Black

Levy’s Leathers 2 Leather Classical Strap. A great mid-priced leather strap.

Levy's Leathers M20JN-002 Classical Guitar Strap

Levy’s Leathers M20JN-002 Classical Guitar Strap. This is a high-end, deluxe strap.

Now, a word of caution: with a Classical strap you can’t let go of the guitar with both hands–at any time. One hand must be on the guitar at all times or the guitar will flip out of the strap whenever you’re standing. The upside is that it’s really quick/easy to attach and remove the guitar. Pick it up and hook it underneath. When your done, simply unhook it. You just have to be aware and NOT take both hands off at the same time.

Now, to answer your original question about drilling…

The drilling question really comes down to how nice the guitar is. If it’s cheaper and/or you aren’t concerned about devaluing it, you can definitely have a guitar tech drill a couple strap button holes. I’d never do this to a good Classical guitar, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it to a cheapo one. You just have to make sure it’ll balance right first. In other words, you might drill holes and install strap buttons only to find that it “neck dives” because the center of gravity is off and the neck + headstock keep heading toward the floor. You definitely don’t want that.