How to clean your guitar

It’s not just about looking pretty – keeping your axe clean will also increase its longevity.

As you play your instrument it becomes layered with your gross oil and sweat, plus dust from your surroundings… all over the body, neck and fretboard. Sort it out – a sexy clean guitar makes you play better, fact.

First things first

  • Wash your hands, you mucky pup.


  • Remove the strings – release the tension and get rid of them – you can’t clean your guitar with them in the way!


  • Don’t use household cleaning products you mug, they’re full of chemicals which are not friends with the materials used on your guitar – you will cause damage.


  • Don’t clean your guitar like this every week – it doesn’t need it and aggressive overcleaning will end up doing more damage than good. Clean your guitar just when you notice a build-up of residue.


  • If you get into the habit of wiping down your down after each playing with a soft cloth, then that will keep it neat for longer and you won’t need to do a proper clean as often, but tbh who has time for that.


First we will clean that body work – and in order to do so, we need to know what the guitar is lacquered with.

Polyester and Polyurethane

  • Most guitars have a poly finish – it’s fairly glossy, thick and resilient.
  • You should use a specially formulated guitar polish (like those made by Jim Dunlop, Kyser, Planet Waves etc.) and spray it over the body a few times. Wipe it down with a microfiber cloth, and do it firmly so that you get all the grease and grime off.
  • If you’re a fancy-pants, you could also use a guitar wax after the polishing and buff that thing up into a right lustre… phwoar.


  • Often used on high-end and vintage guitars, Nitro finishes are a bit softer looking. They tend to age a bit nicer too – you get checking (fine cracks) and discolouration over time, often wearing down to the wood underneath.


  • To be honest, I wouldn’t use products on a Nitro body, you will end up wearing them thin. Instead, use a soft cloth and dampen it ever so slightly if needed. Care, patience and a soft touch are what is needed to clean the body.


  • If you have a guitar with a Matte or Satin finish, you don’t want shine! You will likely end up buffing some areas smooth through your playing and transfer of grease… yum. Use only a soft dry cloth to remove grease on this kind of finish.


Okay, lets tackle the fingerboard. This baby takes the most abuse and collects the majority of the oily build-up of your playing. Your sweat can soak in and dry out the fretboard wood over time, so to keep it from cracking and marking we need to sort it out.

If you have a lacquered maple fingerboard, then you should only the fretboard with a damp cloth, using anything more abrasive will damage the lacquer and end up in a dull finish. Do not put any products on your lacquered maple board!

If you have an Ebony, Rosewood, Pau Ferro, unlacquered Maple etc fretboard, continue.

Step 1 – clean off the grime.

  • If there is some real build up, use super-fine steel wool. Use 0000 steel wool only, not the sandpaper from your garage you idiot! Stick on some gloves and use small circles to clear the dirt away.


  • I know a guy with a huge gauge in his neck cause he was cleaning out grot with a screwdriver… don’t be like him.

Step 2 – cleanse the wood.

  • Use a specialist fretboard product (there’s a few good ones, but the Dunlop 65 range is great) and generously apply to the wood with a soft cloth. Easy as that.


Metal corrodes over time. Give your hardware a wipe with a cloth if there are no signs of marking or rust. If it needs a bit more work, remove it and give it a go with some WD40. You remove the hardware from the guitar because the WD40 (or you can use lighter fluid) will damage your guitar’s finish. A bit of elbow grease to clean and shine them, wipe it clean and put it back on.

That’s it, now you just gotta stick a new set of strings on that badboy and go and play for 20 minutes in front of the mirror.

*The links to Dunlop cleaning products are affiliate links – if you buy through that link, I get a teeny bit of cash!

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