Whether it's your Strat you've had since you were 12 or your newest, hottest splurge, that thing is your baby. You want to care for it as best as possible to maximize its life span, and to maximize its value if you ever (God forbid!) sell it. Taking care of your instrument can be easy, but if you're not careful, you could be unknowingly shortening its life span. Follow these simple tips, and your guitar will live a long, happy life.
1. Store your guitar properly
Rule number one: make sure your guitar is properly stored, as this will deter the vast majority of problems that your instrument may otherwise face from an inhospitable environment. The damaging elements can be broken down into three simple groups:
- sunlight, which can wear away at the paint job on your axe
- extreme temperatures, which can warp the wood
- humidity, which can warp wood and also cause oxidation on the hardware of your instrument
Aim to keep your instrument indoors at about room temperature unless you want to use it to play racquetball this summer. It's also always an excellent idea to keep your instrument in its case. It's a lot of fun being out and about, but you and your guitar both agree there's no place quite like home.
2. Make sure you're cleaning your fretboard correctly
The common standard for good fretboard hygiene is lemon oil. If you take it to any guitar shop, they'll mostly likely be using lemon oil to clean your fretboard, and if you decide to do it yourself, you should likely do the same.
Please never use any abrasive solutions to clean your fretboard. Or any part of your guitar. Or yourself. Lemon oil can be purchased at your local guitar shop or online.
3. Clean your pots
Pots, for any reader that may not know, is short for potentiometer, commonly referred to as a knob (i.e., volume/tone knobs). If you haven't yet, it's a good idea to take off your instrument's back plate and get to know the inner workings of the hardware. One thing you'll find inside your guitar's back plate is its pots. These, just like any other part of the guitar, can get dusty and need cleaning over years of use. Any dirt build-up can result in the crackling you hear from some instruments when adjusting their volume or tone knobs. Thankfully, this is a simple fix: just apply a little tuner cleaner available at any Radio Shack, or even any Walmart, and voila – your pots are good to go!
4. Strap locks
This one may not be necessary for every musician reading this, but for all my hip, young rock 'n' rollers out there, there may come a day where you thank your lucky stars you invested in strap locks. These little miracles will make sure your guitar or bass never haphazardly falls out of its strap and onto the unforgiving ground. An excellent idea if you're a hard-rocking performer, this is also certainly a valid purchase for any guitar you cannot afford to drop.
If you still aren't sold, strap locks come in a variety of levels of price and quality. Buy a full metal lifesaving device for your vintage Les Paul, or just drop 50 cents on a plastic ring that I've seen save many an instrument. If you care about your axe and see close calls in your future, check out a pair of strap locks!
5. Play it
This should be an easy one: play your instrument regularly. Give your instrument the attention it deserves. If you don't see your guitar for weeks at a time, you're not going to know if anything is wrong. I once left a bass leaned up again a wall for a weekend with its weight resting on one of its knobs, and guess what? Now that knob is just there for decoration. This is also how gradual warping can happen, or worse yet, you slowly drift away from music and start following sports.
So give your instrument the long, healthy life it deserves. Take care of your instrument, and it'll take care of you!
Max Monahan is a bassist and a writer living in Los Angeles. He spends his time working for an audio licensing website and shredding sweet bass riffs.