Routine Guitar Maintenance and Repairs

Just like any instrument, guitars need some love from time to time to keep them up and running. While you may be able to scrape by with changing the occasional string when it breaks, this is not ideal. Basically, the more you learn to take care of a guitar the better it will treat you in return. While most of the topics discussed below are not the difference between your guitar working or not, they do all make a substantial difference. Especially when some of these things get compounded together, over time your instrument really starts to show its age. And even if you are someone who relies on shops for maintenance, consider learning to do some of these to save yourself time and money.   

Cleaning Pots, Switches and Other Electronics

Electric guitars have quite a few components that are prone to causing noise issues. This specific type of noise is typically generated as a result of either the pickup selector or different potentiometers being dirty. Luckily enough, the solution for this problem is very simple. All you really need is some electronic contact cleaner, DeoxIt is best but others can get the job done too.

As far as the actual spraying process goes, for pots you’re going to need to gain access to the opening (where the lugs go in). Getting to your pots or electronics in general is slightly different depending on the model of guitar you’re working with. If it is a S-style guitar you’re likely going to be taking off the entire pickguard, while for LPs and many other models the access is on the back of the body.   

Once you’ve located the pot’s opening spray some cleaner and work it in by twisting the shaft.* This process is the same for switches and other electronic components.

*Make sure to use a cloth or some protective covering if you are working above your guitar body!  

Polishing Frets

I don’t know hardly any player who polishes their own frets. It seems to be a pretty overlooked part of keeping your guitars playing great. Thankfully, many shops do this as part of their cleaning charge, so you can always have it done that way. But if you are considering trying this maintenance on your own, I would strongly recommend that you do so. I think this process may scare people away because of the fact that it’s technically considered “fret work”, but it’s really quite easy.

Now there are a lot of different options and methods that you will hear when it comes to the best way to go about polishing. Steel wool (0000 grade) is by far the most popular method, and with good reason. Steel wool does a great job and works quick; however, you do have to be somewhat cautious when using it. The little slivers it leaves behind can scratch finishes and get stuck to pickups. Essentially, just know that you should protect your fretboard and pickups with painters tape. Also the cleanup for this method requires a fair amount of attentive vacuuming to do right.

If you don’t want to go with steel wool plenty of people use options like sandpaper, compounds, block erasers, and a variety of other materials. There are great videos on YouTube for the specifics on each of these.

Regardless of how you choose to polish, doing so will keep your frets both playing and looking nice. Especially if you have an older guitar that has had a lot of playing but not so much polishing, you will notice a world of difference in the feel of clean frets.

Conditioning Your Fingerboard

Similar to fret polishing, you don’t hear of many players who regularly condition their own fingerboard. However, this is a very important part of ensuring the longevity and health of your board. The truth is that your fingers leave behind unwanted salt, acid and oil. Just think about how guitar strings look after going unchanged for an excessive amount of time, that same stuff gets on your fingerboard. If you pay attention you will start to notice a discoloration under the string lines and around the edges of frets. If not addressed, this can eventually lead to what is known as dry rot and some expensive fretwork down the line. To avoid this, make sure you are treating your fingerboard.

The old standard for fretboard conditioners is lemon oil. If you are working with rosewood, pau ferro, or ebony, this will do you well. However, you don’t want to use lemon oil on a glossy maple board, it is just not a good option for the lacquered finish.

Another fairly common practice is to use steel wool (0000 grade). But, as stated before, this can be quite annoying to clean up correctly and you have to be a little more careful overall. So, in my opinion finding a good oil solution is going to work best for most people.  

Address Friction Points

This is something that you can do every string change. The idea here is to make sure that every point of contact the sting runs into is allowing for the best movement possible. The two main points of contact you should focus on here are the nut and bridge. Your goal should be to find ways of reducing the friction between the string and what it touches. For example, in the case of the nut you may want to consider using some graphite from a pencil to help the string move more. Also several brands make really great lubricants that can be applied to anywhere the string is making contact.

It is worth noting that you may not need to worry about this too much depending on the parts in your guitar. For instance, if you already have a graphite nut and roller bridge installed you really don’t need a whole lot more than that. But regardless, paying attention to the points where friction exits on the strings is always a good idea.  

Replacing/Fixing Input Jacks

Ask any repair shop and they will tell you one of their most common fixes is dealing with input jacks. Why is this you might ask? Well, there is a lot of twisting and turning that goes on with some of the designs that exist in guitar jacks. Eventually it is common for this movement to cause solder points to become dirty or even just lose connection entirely. Whether you’re getting no signal at all or it’s just noisy, the problem very well may be the jack. Oftentimes you can test this by jiggling or turning the guitar cable to see if you can control the noise/outages.

To remedy this issue, all it usually takes is a little soldering. This process really just comes down to checking to ensure that the lead and ground wires are where they should be (and not touching of course). And that their points of contact are clean and soldered on well. If you are a guitar player who doesn’t know how to solder, you should consider learning. This is just one of the many instances where it will come in ever so handy.  

If redressing the solder points doesn’t fix the issue with the jack, it is possible the whole socket is bad. In this instance you would need to order a replacement and solder it up just like the original was.