Guitars, by nature, are fairly resilient creatures, and with minimal care, should last many years. Like anything else, however, there are some maintenance items that you should be aware of such as cleaning, string changing, action adjustment, intonation and electronics.
The guitar should be cleaned on a regular basis to remove build up of dirt, dust and grime from regular use. My favorite cleaning product is the Dunlop System 65 Guitar Maintenance Kit
A soft, non-abrasive, cloth will normally do the trick in conjunction with a polish of some sort. There are a number of guitar cloths and polishes available at your local music store and many can be purchased in a cleaning “kit”. DO NOT use standard furniture polish! They contain chemicals that are not good for the finish on your guitar.
Clean all the surfaces of the body and headstock with the cloth and polish. I typically refrain from using polish on the neck of the guitar because it has a tendency to “gunk” up which results in slowing down hand action when playing. I love the Jim Dunlop Guitar Finish Cloth
Guitar strings will oxidize and corrode over time. Even when the guitar is in storage. As a result, they should be changed on a regular basis, although that time schedule will be different for everyone.
Many professional musicians will put a new set of strings on for every show. If you are playing guitar at home and just picking it up every couple of days, you may want to consider changing strings once every month or so.
A new set of strings can “breath new life” into the guitar and make it sound better. Strings are not expensive so this is something that can a part of your regular maintenance routine without breaking the bank. Be sure to check out my review of the Ernie Ball Cobalt strings and String Dogs Tone Rockets for suggestions on what brand of strings to buy. Not sure how to change your strings? Click here to read my post on string changing.
The “action” of the guitar is the height of the strings off the plane of the neck. It is natural for the neck of the guitar to twist and bow slightly in response to changes in climate and temperature. This movement causes the action of the guitar to change and, subsequently, needs to be adjusted periodically.
Tweaking the action of the guitar requires adjustment of the truss rod in the neck in conjunction with adjustments to the bridge of the guitar.
The truss rod is adjusted using an Allen wrench or a wrench designed by the guitar manufacturer. Bridge adjustments differ between acoustic and electric guitars and vary by brand.
CAUTION: Improper truss rod adjustments can cause damage to the guitar. If you are unfamiliar with truss rod adjustment techniques it is recommended that you consult your local music store or a qualified luthier.
A guitar with proper intonation will remain in tune when playing notes and barre chords in higher positions on the neck. If your guitar is “in tune” in the open positions, but sounds out of tune when playing notes and chords higher up the fretboard, then your intonation needs adjustment. This is done at the bridge of the guitar and will typically be adjusted at the same time that the action is set.
Again, it may be best in the beginning to consult your local music store or a qualified luthier.
Electric guitars, and also acoustics with built in pickups, will need occasional electronic maintenance. Volume and tone pots (potentiometers), and selector switches will collect dust over time and will start to sound “scratchy”. They will need to be sprayed with a shot of “tuner” spray to clean them out. NOTE:Never spray WD40 or a similar lubricant into your electronics!!! That is asking for trouble.
Also, input jacks and internal wiring should be checked occasionally for shorts and breaks. Many of these connections, when broken, can simply be re-soldered.
By taking a moment to give a little extra care to your guitar you will prolong its life by many years and also add to its re-sale value when you get ready to upgrade!