Essential Lockdown Guitar Maintenance

By Tristan Seume, Professional Guitarist & DIME Online Learning Technologist

Everyone knows that professionalism includes taking responsibility for the things under your own control. And whilst live music is taking some time off, now’s the perfect chance to take stock of your gear, making sure it’s fit for purpose and ready for when you’re back on the road.

It feels good to show your equipment some love and attention, and there’s no better time than the present to do so. Just like those niggly home DIY jobs you never seem to get around to, here’s our guide to getting back on top of all things guitar-related…

Change Your Strings

I’ve yet to meet a guitarist who relishes to the task of changing strings and I expect most put it off for a couple of reasons:

1)  it’s a pretty boring job and;

2)  no-one much likes paying for consumables.

Everyone wears strings out at a different rate – some people kill a set in one gig; others make theirs last months – but, as a rule, if you can’t remember when you last changed ‘em, then change ‘em! They’ll feel fresh like shaving with a brand-new razor. There are practical reasons for doing this too: tired, old strings don’t hold their tune well, and the intonation becomes vague. Lastly, buying the cheapest strings can be a false economy. By paying double for premium coated strings you’ll easily get more than double the lifespan.

Clean Your Fretboard

While you’re in the process of changing strings, now’s the perfect time to clean your fretboard too. Over time, your fretboard will have accumulated debris like sweat and dust from those diligent hours of practice. Restoring your fretboard will make it feel slicker, faster and altogether more pleasant to play. Take a microfibre cloth, wipe it clean of debris, before applying some proper fretboard oil in small, circular motions between the frets. Never use household cleaning products, as these can cause damage to your guitar.

Fix Those Rattles & Hums

It’s amazing what we can put up with when we’re too busy. You’ve become blind to that mysterious rattle you get when you play one particular note, or a wobbly jack socket or crackly volume pot. Time to sort it out!

  • Using a spanner, make sure the jack socket is screwed in nice and tightly – continual finger-tightening never works for long.
  • Make sure all the screws in your guitar are tight, such as those around the scratch plate, jack socket and pickups. This simple task can sometimes cure an annoying buzz easily.
  • Crackly volume pot? A small amount of switch cleaner can sort this out, although badly soldered contacts might need addressing too, if that doesn’t fix it. Depending on your guitar, access the pots by removing either the scratch plate for Fender-style guitars, or via the back plate for Gibson-style instruments. Tip: when removing the tiny screws, stick them all to a piece of masking tape so you don’t lose them!
  • Check for fret buzz up and down the neck. Your guitar’s neck should not be dead straight; it should have a small amount of relief (backbow) to allow the strings to vibrate freely along their whole length. Try the ‘tap test’ by placing a capo at the first fret, fretting the strings at the 12th and tapping them individually around the 5th. There should hear a tap telling you there’s a gap. If not, your action may be too low causing fret buzz. An 8th of an anticlockwise truss rod turn could help. Setting up your guitar’s action is a whole topic in itself, so make sure you do plenty of research before steaming in if you’re unsure.