Stay In Tune vol#6
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
Hello again! For the past few articles, I've been writing about some repair procedures that may me a bit intimidating or possibly too advanced for some of the readers, so I’ve decided to bring it down a notch or so. I thought I would talk about a good old fashion cleaning. This might be one of the most overlooked procedures of all. You would be surprised at the state of some the instruments that have passed through my shop. Sometimes, a good cleaning can solve many playability issues. Please allow me to explain to you the way I go about a thorough cleaning.
I start by removing all of the strings. I have had people ask me if it hurts the guitar or any stringed instrument to remove all the strings at once. Not at all! This is a myth at best. After taking the strings off, I do a good inspection of the instrument by taking note of its’ condition. I sometimes will measure the saddle location or the intonation of the saddles, so that if I have to remove them I will be at or near the proper intonation and height that I started with. ( assuming things were in order to begin with).
Let’s start with the electric guitar. After the strings are off I give the headstock a quick spray down with a furniture cleaner such as “pledge”, or one of the many others. The thing here that is very important to know is that you use a cleaner that contains no “wax” or “silicones”. When you use these products you are not doing your instrument any favors. Although it may look shiny and all, they are not good for any musical instrument. In the case of wax, all you are doing is putting on a thin layer of wax that after just a few applications can actually build up enough to cause the instrument to lose some of it’s natural tone from it’s original finish. I know this might sound extreme but it can happen. In the case of silicones, (the not so natural born enemy of the painter, refinisher, and guitar repairmen) they contain oils that can find their way into the smallest finish cracks or dent or split or hole. What this does is makes it very hard to repair a crack in the wood. The silicones finds their way into the crack and the “oils” that are then present prevent the glue that you would use to repair the crack from being able to adhere to the wood so that you can’t properly fix the problem. The oils also are not compatible with most finishes, such as lacquers, shellac, or varnishes. When a newly applied finish is put over a repaired spot and silicones are present they will cause the finish to create a blemish known as “fisheye”. At that point you will find yourself sanding it back down and starting over. Please never use products like “Armoral” or any products that contain silicones on your instruments. I know that products like “Armoral” are great for cleaning cases for instruments, but never use the same rag on your guitar, It can only cause headaches for you and your repairman.
One of my favorite things to clean is the fingerboard. This seems to be the place that collects most of the grime. A good way is to take razor blade (the kind that has a protected edge so you don’t cut yourself) and scrape back and forth between each fret. Take note here that it is very easy for the razor blade to kind of “get away” from you and cause a scratch or cut in the wood making it difficult to remove. Make sure that you get right up close to each fret to remove the grime that tends to accumulate up under the fret itself. I then take a small piece of #0000 steel wool and vigoursly rub “cross grain” ( meaning from bass to treble direction ) and then again in the “long grain” direction (from headstock to body).At this point you will see that your fingerboard is really looking good! To finish it off, I then will put a couple of drops of boiled linseed oil on a rag and rob in some into each section between the frets. Be careful not to use too much. A little bit goes a long way. This rejuvenates the wood and gives it a earthy type of smell that I love. It also protects it from future grime accumulating on the fingerboard.
I have seen many products that are offered by music stores and supply houses that claim to “dress up” or “lube up” the fingerboard, but I find most of them are way over priced and don’t do any better or as good as old fashioned boiled linseed oil You can purchase it at any hardware store and a small pint can will last a life time. I bought mine in 1982 and still have a half a can left.
On electric guitars a lot of dust particles seem to be attracted in and around the pickups. I’m sure this is due to the fact that they are magnetic .It causes a certain amount static electricity that attracts dust of all kinds. Also by the action of your hands rubbing across the strings you create enough static electricity to have some residual dust collect and attach itself on the other metal parts of the guitar such as the bridge, the saddles, pickup covers, output jacks, etc… This along with the sweat and oils from your hands can turn into a “grime” that has been known to destroy chrome plated materials If not properly cleaned or maintained you can end up with a rusty, ugly mess. It can cause the bridge saddles to seize up so that they are no longer adjustable. This is not good! So, I f your not doing anything later, pickup your instrument and give it a thorough cleaning, change the strings if needed and maybe try to adjust a thing or two (only if you feel your capable ) and I’m sure that you will find that it will return the gratitude by playing and sounding much better than it did before you picked it up!
Although cleaning is easy, it is also the best preventive medicine that you can do for your instrument Please treat it well and be happy! Until next time ……..
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings