Image of a person playing guitar

Basic guitar and amplifier maintenance

aintaining your guitars and amplifiers is a fairly easy task if you take a few simple steps to ensure they’re stored safely and looked after when you’re done playing with them. However there are a few extra things you can do to keep your instruments in good health. But before start thinking this blog is going to tell you that you have to polish your Fender every two days or change the valves in your amplifier once a month, rest assured – it’s nothing like that. No, today we’re talking about how to maintain your guitars and amplifiers to not only help you get the best out of your equipment and increase the longevity of your instrument, but to stop you from having to fork out for expensive repair works down the line. Today we’re going to look at what you should and should definitely NOT do with your gear as we think every guitarist should have an understanding of basic guitar maintenance.

We’ll split this advice in to two different blogs. Section 1 will be how to maintain your guitar and what not to do with your guitar. Section 2 will be how to maintain your amplifier and what mistakes you need to avoid. So read on!

Guitar Maintenance

how to maintain a guitar

Keep your guitar dry
One of the worst things you can do to your guitar is get it wet. I’m sure it goes without saying that you need to keep your guitar dry at all times as this falls into guitar maintenance 101. And no, I’m not about to tell you to NOT take it into the bath with you, because that would be silly and you should know better! I mean you need to wipe it down after you’ve played it. Sweat will gradually destroy the lacquer on your guitar and start to rust all the metal components of your instrument – especially after a hot and sweaty jam session or gig. So after you’ve played with it, give it a wipe down with a cloth to remove any sweat or residue that has collected on your guitar. It will extend the finish and overall look of your guitar as well as stop your tuners, bridge, and tail piece from degrading. Make sure you avoid household polishes and cleaning products as these things are definitely not designed for cleaning something so intricate as a guitar. Stick to the likes of Gibson guitar polish and cleaning cloths – they’re made to clean your guitar. Mr Sheen and flash wipes are not!

Store your guitar in a case
The best and safest way of storing your guitar is in a case or gig bag. This prevents your guitar from knocks and scratches as well as the effects of the ever changing humidity levels as well as the rising/falling temperature levels. We’ve actually covered the Safe Humidity And Temperature Levels For Guitars in a separate blog, which is worth reading if you’re curious about how humidity can damage your instrument. Storing your guitar in a case also safeguards your instrument from the likes of cooking smoke, spilled drinks and any direct sunlight that could ruin the finish. Hanging it on a guitar holder or leaving it on a guitar stand  24/7 means your guitar is just begging to be knocked or dropped. If you’re not going to be playing your guitar for a while, place it in the case. be sure to check on the guitar every now and then and make sure the case isn’t warping from excessive damp or due to the heat from a radiator. Which brings me to my next point…

Keep your guitar away from heaters and damp spots
Your guitar is a piece of wood, and as such will respond to temperature changes, so make sure you don’t leave it too close to a radiator as it will warp. In addition, if you have any damp spots in your house, keep the guitar well away as dampness could potentially set into the wood and warp your guitar. Keep the guitar in its case in a dry room – basically if you’re comfortable sitting or sleeping there, your guitar will be too.

Get a set of straplocks
A good set of straplocks are an essential accessory for your guitar. They basically ensure that your guitar strap won’t come off your guitar until you actually want it to. Straplocks are easy to install and will reduce the risk of you dropping your guitar when playing it and they’ll save you from having to pay a luthier to reset the headstock after you’ve decided to try and throw your guitar around your shoulders. Don’t take the risk of dropping it and damaging the body jack input or breaking the neck!

Condition the fretboard
The build up of dirt and grime on a fretboard may look cool, but after a few years, it will turn the playing surface into a sticky fly paper-like mess. Use lemon oil to condition the fretboard on your guitar and bring it back to it’s best. Add 2 or 3 drops to a lint free cloth and rub it down the fretboard once every 2 or 3 months. This will increase speed and articulation in your playing whilst protecting your fretboard from damage caused by dirt and grime.

Clean the nut
Your strings will pick up dead skin over time and so will the nut. Every time you change your strings, give the nut a little attention with some dental floss or the edge of a thin nail file. This will reduce tuning problems and sustain issues.

Tighten up all the loose screws, nuts and bolts
Screws, nuts and bolts will inevitably come loose over years of playing. If you have a loose jack, tighten it up otherwise you might hear crackling through your amp or worse, you could damage the connection if it’s loose. Check under your volume pots to make sure the nuts are tight too. Grovers should be checked to make sure they’re attached correctly to the guitar headstock as one loose tuner can ruin any chance of staying in tune and warp the neck due to the tension imbalance.

Don’t try and fix it yourself!
If something is wrong with your guitar, it sounds weird, the neck has become warped because you didn’t follow step 2 or you’re noticing fret buzz take your guitar to a guitar tech or luthier unless you’re absolutely certain you know what you’re doing. Adjusting truss rods or replacing pickups can be a tricky thing to get right and you risk damaging your guitar if you decide to try and modify it yourself. It’s best to take it to someone who knows what they’re doing as a wrong turn of the truss rod or adjustment of the bridge saddles might make it worse or even damage your guitar permanently.

How To Maintain Your Guitar

how to maintain a guitar

In summary, this is how to maintain your guitar;

  1. Keep your guitar dry
  2. Store your guitar in a case
  3. Keep your guitar away from heaters and damp spots
  4. Get a set of straplocks
  5. Condition the fretboard
  6. Clean the nut
  7. Tighten up all the loose screws, nuts and bolts
  8. Don’t try and fix it yourself

Now on to guitar amplifiers. Maintaining a guitar amplifier often requires less work than a guitar, but there’s a few very important things you should and should never do when it comes to a guitar amplifier. Read on…

Guitar Amplifier Maintenance

Keep your amplifier away from a heat source
Your amplifier is full of electronic components that if placed in direct heat can become damaged. Just like your guitar, keep it away from a heater and out of direct sunlight at all times. This will make sure all the innards are kept safe.

Keep your guitar away from mold
If you’re like me and you’ve gigged the life out of your amplifier, for it to pick up dirt from every festival under the sun, beer from disgruntled/excited punters and sweat from you rocking out on stage, chances are your amp is full of dirt. Mold spreads to unclean surfaces quickly and can get worse in damp rooms. To combat this, give your amplifier a clean with a damp soapy cloth after a few weeks of gigging and dry it off, if it’s going to sit in your living room/bedroom. This will prevent mold from forming on the plastic, the speakers or tolex of the amplifier.

Get a cover/flightcase for your amp
If you’re like most guitarists, your amps don’t get touched a lot. You dial in your settings and pretty much leave it like that forever, so with that said, your amp will sit there gathering dust even if you’re using it, and one of the worst things for your tone and volume knobs is dust! Give your amp settings a wipe down with a dry cloth every now and then being careful not to rub off the markings you’ve made for your settings.

Only use it in well ventilated areas
Ok, this isn’t always possible as gigs can be little sweat boxes with limited air conditioning. However, a room full of people is different to a small bedroom with the heating on and the windows closed. Just make sure all vents on your amp are clear from obstruction as this will help air flow and stop the amp from overheating.

Don’t let your amp get wet
Again, it’s difficult to stop this if you’re playing Glasgow Barrowlands and the crowd are throwing beer (this is a good sign by the way). Just don’t rest drinks on your amp as they might get knocked over and fry the circuits. It might look cool resting a bottle on your cab, but it looks less cool dragging your amp into a repair shop.

Set it to standby first!
If you have a valve amp or a standby switch on your amp, make sure you set it to standby first. Don’t just flick both switches on straight away! This makes sure any tubes in your amplifier can warm up first. This makes sure you get a longer life out of your tubes and is better for the overall health of your amplifier. Turn the power on and then hit the standby switch around 1 or 2 minutes later. A warm tube sounds a lot better too!

Don’t turn the power off when shutting down straight away
When you’ve finished playing with your amp, just turn the standby off and leave the power on for 1 or 2 minutes. This reduces wear and tear on your valves as they have time to cool down. You can then turn the power off and unplug the amp to be used again later. If you’re going to use it throughout the day, just flick the standby off and leave the power on as it will maintain the correct level of power in the valves and keep them sounding good when you return.

Match the amp to the cab
Make sure you match the ohm load of the amp’s speaker output to the ohm load of the speaker cab you’re about to hook it up to. If you get this wrong you might damage the amp and cab. If your amp says 8 ohms, match it to a cab the same or greater – never the other way around.

Keep the volume at zero when you turn your amp on
Make sure the volume of your amp is set at zero when you turn it on or off. That annoying “pop” sound that sometimes occurs when you turn it on is the surge of power going through your amplifier. Although it only lasts a millisecond, this surge of power could potentially blow your amp or speaker due to the amount of power passing through.

Don’t change the valves when hot
Valve amps can get quite warm inside, so don’t try and change the valves when they’re hot! You’ll burn your hand. In some instances valves will need to be re-biased, so it’s best to take your amp to a professional if a valve has died. Which leads me to my next point…

Don’t try and fix a problem yourself
This should go without saying. your amplifier is full of electric components and various parts that will potentially damage you quite badly if you touch them – even after you’ve switched them off. If something isn’t right, take it to a professional unless you’re qualified to fix it.

How To Maintain Your Guitar Amplifier

how to maintain a guitar amplifier

In summary, this is how to maintain your guitar amplifier;

  1. Keep your amplifier away from a heat source
  2. Keep your guitar away from mold
  3. Get a cover/flightcase for your amp
  4. Only use it in well ventilated areas
  5. Don’t let your amp get wet
  6. Set it to standby first!
  7. Don’t turn the power off when shutting down straight away
  8. Match the amp to the cab
  9. Keep the volume at zero when you turn your amp on
  10. Don’t change the tubes when hot
  11. Don’t try and fix a problem yourself

So there you have it, some quick tips on guitar and amplifier maintenance. View a complete range of guitar and amplifier accessories over at the Dawsons website, where you’ll find a variety of different items to keep your guitars and amps performing at their best.