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10 Most Common Guitar Maintenance Mistakes Every Player Should Avoid

  • person Lyle Whitaker
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A humorous illustration features a smiling guitar repair technician in a white lab coat with a stethoscope. He is surrounded by guitars and repair tools, blending medical precision with guitar repair.

Hey there, fellow guitar and bass enthusiasts! Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting your musical journey, taking care of your instrument is crucial. We've all been there, making those innocent mistakes that could harm our beloved guitars. Today, I'm here to share some common guitar maintenance mistakes and how to avoid them. Grab your favorite beverage, and let's dive in!

1. Using the Wrong Cleaning Products

The Perils of Household Cleaners

One of the biggest mistakes I see is using household cleaners on guitars. Trust me, your guitar's finish won't appreciate that spray cleaner you use on your kitchen counters. Household cleaners often contain harsh chemicals that can damage the finish and even the wood itself.

What You Should Use

Stick to products specifically designed for guitars. A soft, lint-free cloth and a good guitar polish are your best friends. If you have an unfinished fretboard, like rosewood or ebony, you'll need a fretboard conditioner. One of my favorites is lemon oil—just a few drops can make a world of difference.

2. Incorrect String Changing Techniques

Why String Changing Matters

Changing strings seems straightforward, right? But there's more to it than just swapping out the old ones for new ones. Improper string changing can lead to tuning instability and even damage your guitar.

The Right Way to Change Strings

Here's a little trick I learned early on: always stretch your strings. After you put on new strings, give them a good stretch by gently pulling them away from the fretboard. This helps them settle in and stay in tune longer. Also, make sure you're winding the strings neatly around the tuning pegs—no overlapping!

3. Neglecting Regular String Changes

How Often Should You Change Strings?

I get it; strings can be expensive, and sometimes we want to squeeze every last bit of life out of them. But old strings sound dull and can even break at the worst possible moment.

Signs It's Time for a Change

If your strings look discolored, feel rough, or just don't have that bright sound anymore, it's time for a change. For regular players, I recommend changing strings every 3-4 weeks. If you're playing gigs, you might want to do it even more often.

4. Improper Storage

The Dangers of Bad Storage

Storing your guitar in a damp basement or a hot attic is a recipe for disaster. Extreme temperatures and humidity levels can warp the wood and ruin your instrument.

Proper Storage Tips

Keep your guitar in its case when you're not playing it. If you live in a dry climate, consider getting a guitar humidifier. I once left my guitar on a stand near a window during winter, and the dry air caused a nasty crack. Lesson learned!

5. Ignoring Truss Rod Adjustments

What's a Truss Rod Anyway?

The truss rod is a metal rod that runs inside the neck of your guitar. It helps keep the neck straight and adjusts for changes in tension from the strings.

When and How to Adjust

If your guitar's action (the height of the strings from the fretboard) feels off, it might be time for a truss rod adjustment. A little goes a long way here—turn it in tiny increments, and always use the correct tool. If you're unsure, it's best to visit a professional.

6. Failing to Clean and Condition the Fretboard

Why It's Important

The fretboard collects sweat, dirt, and oils from your fingers, which can build up over time and affect playability.

How to Clean and Condition

Use a soft cloth to wipe down the fretboard after each playing session. For a deeper clean, apply a small amount of fretboard conditioner. Just don't overdo it—too much oil can be as bad as none at all.

7. Overlooking the Importance of Humidity Control

The Impact of Humidity

Wood is a natural material that expands and contracts with changes in humidity. Too dry, and it can crack; too humid, and it can swell.

Maintaining the Right Humidity

Aim for a humidity level of 45-55%. A digital hygrometer can help you monitor this. If needed, use a room humidifier or a guitar-specific humidifier in the case. I once had a guitar that developed fret sprout (sharp fret ends sticking out) because my room was too dry. A humidifier fixed it right up.

8. Using the Wrong Tuning Methods

Tuning Tips and Tricks

Using a good quality tuner is essential. Clip-on tuners are handy, but make sure they're accurate. Tune up to the note rather than down to it for better stability.

Common Tuning Mistakes

Avoid tuning your guitar too fast. Take your time and let the strings settle between adjustments. This ensures better stability and prevents breakage.

9. Skipping Regular Professional Setups

The Benefits of a Pro Setup

A professional setup can make your guitar play like a dream. It involves adjusting the truss rod, action, intonation, and more. Think of it as a tune-up for your car.

How Often Should You Get a Setup?

At least once a year, or more if you're a frequent player. It's a small investment for a big improvement in playability and tone.

10. Not Inspecting for Wear and Tear

Regular Checks

Take a few minutes every month to inspect your guitar for any signs of wear and tear. Look for cracks, loose hardware, and worn frets.

Addressing Issues Early

Catching issues early can save you a lot of hassle and money. For example, if you notice a loose input jack, tighten it before it causes a short or other problems. 

 

Conclusion

Taking care of your guitar or bass is a labor of love. By avoiding these common maintenance mistakes, you'll ensure that your instrument stays in top condition and continues to bring you joy for years to come. Remember, a well-maintained guitar not only sounds better but also inspires you to play more. So, next time you're tempted to skip a string change or put off that setup, think about the difference it can make.

Do you have any guitar maintenance tips or horror stories? Share them in the comments below! And if you need more personalized advice, don't hesitate to visit your local guitar tech—they're always happy to help. Keep playing, keep maintaining, and keep enjoying your music journey!

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