How to Clean and Change Strings on an Acoustic Guitar

I love guitar. It’s a beautiful instrument, and does wonders for the sex appeal of men and women all over the world. Unfortunately, you aren’t going to be getting the ladies (or men) with a guitar that sounds duller than sin and is covered in fingerprints and dead skin. A vastly overlooked part of being a guitarist is learning how to properly clean your guitar and how to re-string it to perfection. In this tutorial, I’m going to attempt to show you how to do both on an acoustic

You Will Need:

  • An acoustic guitar, obviously.
  • A fresh set of strings. It will depend on your guitar and personal preference as to what gauge of strings you use. I generally use .10’s.
  • Several soft cloths.
  • A cleaning kit. Most music stores will sell you them for about £20.
  • A string winder (this is optional, but really helpful).

Step One

Firstly, you’ll need to take the old strings off of your guitar. The easiest way to do this is to loosen the string by turning the tuning peg towards or away from you until you hear the sound getting flatter (or lower). Taking your string winder next (or if you don’t have one, your nails) and get a good grip on the little pegs on the bridge of your guitar. Carefully prize the pins out of their niches. The bottom of the string should follow. Completely unwind the string from the top of your guitar, and discard it.

Step Two

Now that there are no strings on your guitar, it’s time to clean the fretboard. A ridiculous amount of dead skin and dust is pushed into the grain of the wood every day, and it’s important to remove some of the grime every so often. Depending on the cleaning kit you’ve bought, you should have a few different options now. The kit that I have includes five different cleaning tools. The first thing that you’ll want to look for is a fretboard cleaner. Most kits come with one of these in a handy spray bottle. Spray a little of the formula onto one of your soft cloths, and rub it into the wood of the fretboard. You will notice a dark stain on the cloth as you clean, particularly with the darker woods, but don’t worry about this; it’s normal! Clean the entire fretboard until it shines, but don’t put too much of the formula on or you’ll end up with a soggy stick of wood. Next, if your kit has it, choose the fretboard conditioner. Mines has a handy little applicator tip, but some don’t. Massage some of this into the fretboard, making sure to remove any excess. Your fretboard is now clean and conditioned.

Step Three

And now onto the most laborious task; the body. To keep the finish on you guitar looking new, you’re going to have to polish it regularly. Again, your guitar cleaning kit should come with some tools to help you with this. There are two main polishes/waxes used for most finishes. The first of these is cream of carnauba bodygloss. It’s a cream-based, and appears very streaky at first. In small sections, out some of this onto a cloth and sweep it over the body in a wax-on wax-off movement. Do this until the guitar is streak-free. Next, you’ll need a guitar polish. Nearly every guitar cleaning kit will come with one of these. Spray a little of this onto the surface, and do the same as before, ensuring not to leave any streaks. Your guitar should now be looking shinier than ever.

Step Four

The final task is to add more strings. Taking one of the pegs that you removed from the guitar earlier, get a string and find the small ball at the end. The peg will have a small groove in it at one side, so fit the string into that groove nicely, making sure that the ball is at the thinnest side of the peg. Again, being very careful, insert the peg back into its own niche, making sure that the string is sitting properly on the nut at the top of the fretboard. Thread the string through the hole in the pegs at the top of the guitar, and begin winding. You’re going to want to wind until the string is relatively tight. Don’t tune it up straightaway, stretch the strings a bit by placing your finger underneath the string and pulling gently. Do the same for the rest of the strings.

Step Five

Finally, once everything is re-strung, tune the guitar up. You’ll have to do this quite a few times over the course of the next few days, but the tuning will eventually stabilise once the strings are stretched enough. The last thing to do is to slide a bit of string cleaner over the strings. Not necessary, but I find it keeps my strings for much longer.

You shouldn’t have to do this often (I re-string my guitar once every two or three months), but it is an excellent way to ensure that your guitar sounds and looks amazing for as long as possible.

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