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Top 5 electric guitar maintenance myths

You've seen my top 5 electric guitar myths. Well, this one strictly concentrates on electric guitar maintenance. I've seen a lot of stupid stuff concerning how you should take care of an electric, and these are the top 5 stupid things I've seen over the years.

1. "You should put baby powder on the back of the neck to make it feel smoother"

I'll tell you exactly what happens when you do this. When you put baby powder (otherwise known as talcum powder) on the back of the neck, will the action feel smoother? At first, yes. But then it will wear in, cake up, dry out your hands, which will then get on your fingers and make your strings produce a screeching noise when you move from fret to fret on the higher strings.

Oh, and let's not forget it actually makes dirt that gets on the neck stick out even more. From playing you'll be pushing that powder into the neck, which will eventually end up producing ugly stains that usually show up as dark spots - and there's no way to get those out.

And of course, let's not forget that talcum powder by its very nature will dry your hands, making it more difficult to move up and down the neck because the powder dried up all your hand and finger oils.

Talcum powder anywhere on a guitar neck is a stupid, stupid idea.

2. "You should use car wax on your guitar's finish for the best shine"

This does nothing but make the tiny scratches on a guitar body show up even more than they normally do, and in addition creates new scratches - particularly on the plastics which car wax was never designed for.

The best way to shine up a guitar is with a proper microfiber cloth, used dry.

If the guitar is really dirty that has gunk that a dry microfiber cloth can't remove, then yes it is OK to use glass cleaner and paper towels - if you do it in a specific way.

Before I list this specific way to clean, here are two bitter truths when it comes to electric guitar finishes:

1. Any time you rub any cloth on a guitar finish, you will get tiny scratches, and there is absolutely no way to avoid this. It doesn't matter if you wipe it dry with microfiber or wet with paper towels, the scratches will happen.

2. Some guitar finishes scratch more easily than others. In the cleaning method below I'll mention what scratches up quicker.

The vast majority of electrics have one of two coats on them, that being polyurethane or nitrocellulose (commonly known as "nitro").

Nitro scratches really easily, even when using a microfiber cloth dry. If the guitar has a nitro finish, what ultimately happens is that by nature the clearcoat will break down quickly (especially on the newer "thin skin" Strats purposely designed to do so), and therefore scratch up really easily. Guys with nitro finishes on Strats purposely want it because it promotes what's known as guitar finish checking (as in the vintage look where the paint wears off naturally), but the tradeoff is that before the checking starts, the nitro coat will get really, really scratched up quick just from normal cleaning. In fact, it could be argued that the best way to keep a nitro-finish guitar clean is to not clean it and just make sure it's stored in a case whenever you're done playing it so dust particles don't accumulate from the instrument sitting on a stand in the open.

Polyurethane on the other hand can take a beating and takes a long, long time to break down to the point where it completely wears off and the paint starts to wear down or chip.

With nitro, all you use to clean with is water, microfiber cloth and nothing else.

With polyurethane, you use a microfiber cloth dry first, and if that doesn't clean it up, then you use an ammonia-free non-scented glass cleaner and plain white paper towels.

The only thing you can do to prevent creating scratches when cleaning is to give the guitar a blast of air first, however you have to do that in a specific way as well.

A can of compressed air comes with a small red straw-like tube you can attach to the nozzle. Don't use that straw because it's not necessary for guitar finish cleaning, and furthermore you need a wide burst of air.

When going to clean the guitar, take your can of compressed air, hold it about 6 inches away from the area where you're going to clean and give it a shot of air even if no dirt appears to be present. Any particles you can't see (which is what really causes scratches in the first place) should be mostly blown away, and then you can apply your cloth.

Using the compressed air when cleaning won't stop scratches from forming on your guitar's finish - but it will slow the process down significantly. In other words, instead of it taking 2 or 3 years before scratches really start showing up, it'll take 5 or 7 years.

3. "Spraying your strings makes you play faster"

I think this video pretty much says everything you'd need to know about this nonsense.

Yeah. 'Nuff said there. 🙂

4. "You should never take off all the guitar strings during a string change"

Those who subscribe to this mode of thinking believe that once an electric is stringed up, it should always stay stringed up to promote string pressure consistency so the bow of the neck always stays the same.

The way someone who believes this stuff changes strings is that instead of taking off all the strings at once and then installing new ones, he will instead take off one old string, replace with a new one, then go to the next string and do the same, then repeat until all the strings are changed out.

I'll tell you where people who change strings like this are right and where they're wrong.

They are correct that yes, keeping strings on the neck during a change does keep the string pressure mostly constant (you'll always lose pressure whenever a string is removed, obviously).

They are incorrect that taking off all the strings will ruin a guitar neck and warp it early in its life, or by keeping strings always on it during string changes makes a guitar neck last any longer than it should.

The only thing I could say to those who subscribe to the "strings must always be on the neck" thing is simply this: Trust your wood, and trust your truss rod. If the neck did not have a truss rod in it, then yes, I can totally understand why you'd never want to remove all the strings. But there is a steel rod in there, it works with the wood well, does do its job and you can trust it. Yes, it is a leap of faith and I don't deny that, but believe me, the neck will bow back to its proper shape when you install new strings on it and said strings are stretched out properly.

5. "Always clean the back of the guitar neck"

I rarely clean the back of my guitar neck because the natural oils of my hands naturally smooth out the neck's feel, and when I clean it, yeah it's clean but feels "squeaky" for lack of a better word and it will take at least a good 20 minutes before the oils from my hands lube up the neck again.

The only time you ever have to do more than wipe down the back of a guitar neck with a dry cloth is if you always have dirty hands. And by dirty I mean really dirty, like if you had just finished doing some yard work before playing the guitar and didn't bother to wash your hands first.

This is, by the way, where the whole talcum-powder-on-neck nonsense comes from in the first place. You clean the back of the neck with a solvent, and of course after that you get that squeaky feel, which feels terrible. So then some moron came up with the idea of using talcum powder to smooth out the neck feel when all he had to do was just play the guitar for 20 minutes so his natural finger oils would smooth the neck feel properly.

I'm not saying not to clean the back of the neck, because after a while you should do it. However right after you do that, you have to play it for a bit (about 20 minutes like I said above) before the squeaky feel goes away and it starts feeling normal again.


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