Guitar maintenance

Hi Dopers,

I’ve been getting conflicting information re: maintenance on my guitar, and I wanted to throw out a few questions to clear things up. For reference, this is the guitar I’ve had for about 6 months (I bought it new).

Fretboard oil: I’ve seen a varying range of advice for when and how to oil the fretboard. The extremes are monthly (to prevent cracking), and never at all (to let the wood age naturally). What’s the dope on this? How often do YOU lube up?

Changing strings: I haven’t changed the strings since I bought it, and several no longer hold their notes very well. Most sites I’ve seen say to remove all the strings at once (for easier oiling, of course), but the little booklet that came with my guitar says to never remove all the strings at once, but rather replace one at a time. Any suggestions there? I’m more inclined to trust the people that made the instrument…


I am currently learning how to play, and my instructor says to always change strings one at a time, the reason being that there is something in the neck that keeps it straight… or something. To take tension off of it would warp it, said he.

I have never oiled my fretboard. How does it help?

If you’re playing with any regularity, your strings have been dead for some time. I’ve never heard that you’re not supposed to change them all at once. They’re all getting roughly equal wear.

I’ve never oiled my fretboard either (in ten years), nor been advised to. Hope I’m not missing something important here. :wink:

Never heard of oiling a fretboard. When I think of all the old beat-up guitars I’ve seen in my life, and how many of them had cracks in the fretboards… none that I can recall.

How often should strings be changed?

I’ve never heard a real rule about it. It’s more of a feel thing: when the strings are going out of tune more quickly, when they sound dull instead of bright and metallic, aren’t sustaining the notes for very long, or feel gunked up from your fingers, then it’s time to change them.

Re: Oiling the Fretboard

This is very important in a high-end guitar, not nearly so much in a mass-produced import or the like.

Oiling preserves the wood, and permits it to age better and play easier over time. There are multiple types of oils for woodworking, and all have different purposes depending on their volatility and ‘drying rate’ - that is, how long it takes for certain oils to fully dry and/or absorb into the woods.

The most common oil for working on necks and other unfinished (non-lacquered) woods is tung oil, which can be found at most hardware stores.

I use a light furniture cleaning agent, like a few spritzes of Lemon Pledge on a soft rag for cleaning the finished surfaces.

For really bad areas, a couple drops of Murphy’s Oil Soap in warm water, then applied with a medium-soft rag does the trick.
Re: Strings

I assume we’re talking acoustic here.

It is totally okay to change them all at once, and thus be able to effectively clean the fingerboard et al, IF you are staying with the same brand and gauge.

If you are changing gauges, have somebody who knows what they’re doing help you, as you’re most likely gonna need some truss rod adjustments afterward, to accomodate the differing tension on the neck. This is easy to do, though, and if somebody is really interested I’ll get into the whys and wherefores of tension adjustments on acoustics. But it’s detailed enough that I won’t go there unless somebody requests it.

if you are a regular player, you should change your strings probably monthly. I strongly recommend Musician’s Friend brand acoustic strings (at $2 or so a set for most acoustic gauges in 10 packs), and they are cheap enough to change weekly if you’re starting to play out. They’re pretty nice sounding, and last a bit.

Fresh strings will make a difference in your playing and your sound. Don’t waste your time on Elixirs unless you’re playing out more than 2-3 times a week. They’re not worth it.

Removing all the strings at once leaves nothing to oppose the tension of the truss rod. The neck can bend away from the fretboard and it’s possible for this glue joint to fail.

I’ve removed all the strings at once about a million times, acoustic and electric, with no problems. I use lemon oil or some other stuff I bought at the grocery called Orange Glo on rosewood fretboards. One theory is that if the wood dries out it can shrink slightly, allowing the frets to loosen. I oil it mainly 'cause it looks better to me when it’s darker, which is another result of oiling. Maple fretboards are typically sealed and need no oiling.

This is good advice. I’ll add a visual indicator: When you can see notches on the strings where the string touches the fret, then it is time to swap.

I have also heard that you should only change one string at a time (i.e. remove one string, replace it, then do the next one – rather than remove all six at once and replace all six). Aside from being easier on the neck, I think it makes it easier for beginners since the other five are roughly in-tune.

I’ll second buying them in bulk from Musician’s Friend. But even if you run out to a guitar store – always buy two pairs. I remember when as a beginner changing strings, it was really frustrating to break one or kink one and realize that I would have to wait until the next day to run out to the store and buy a new pair.

I also keep a soft towel in the guitar case that I use to wipe the strings when I am done playing. I am honestly not sure if it makes a big difference or if it is just a habit I picked up from a friend.

And if funds are really tight, you can boil them and get a bit of extra play-time from them.

If you’re up for the typing task, I’d love to hear the tension adjustment information. =)

I’ve been playing guitar for 35 years … and boy are my arms tired. :smiley:
Thank you.

Okay, time to get serious.
I used to think that one of the biggest guitar “no-no’s” was to remove all the strings at once. However, throughout my decades of playing I became more confident rewiring and reworking guitars and found that sometimes I’d have to leave the guitar “unstrung” for days with no ill effects. I imagine leaving a guitar unstrung for very long periods would probaly be inadvisable.

As for oiling the fretboard, I’d say it should be done about every 5 years (maybe even longer). It is good for the wood and makes the neck have a much better “feel”. Many luthiers have said mineral oil is about the best thing to use and that’s my choice too.

I don’t know why your booklet would say not to remove all the strings at once. Guitars aren’t that precariously built. The booklet for my Ovation guitar specifically says to remove all the strings. The one for my Martin doesn’t warn not to. It’s the only way I’ve ever done it with five different acoustic guitars over a 25+ year period and none of them have suffered from it. Luthiers do it all the time in the course of making adjustments and installing accessories. And Frank Ford , who I guarantee knows his stuff, explicitly says it’s okay.

Ford also says to go easy on the oiling – once a year at most. His advice is on this page.

Back to that first link, click on the “owners manual” and/or scroll down for lots of helpful info and advice on care and adjustment of your instrument.

Here you go.

Now, one thing that can cause a problem is to suddenly remove the string tension, say by cutting them instead of unwinding them. Cutting them off all at once (or virtually all at once) probably would do harm.

I have done that in the past.
A pair of wire cutters: snip snip snip snip snip snip

I don’t do it anymore for the very reason you mention, but my guitars seemed fine.
I would agree with most others that there is really no reason to do them one at a time. I really like being able to clean the guitar with no strings in the way.

I suppose the day that the neck warps or something like that I’ll either take it to get fixed ($$$) or use at an excuse to buy a new guitar ($$$$ :cool: $$$$)

I currently have (quick count) 8 guitars–1 nylon, 2 electric, the rest steel string acoustic. I have owned many more over the many years. I have never oiled the fretboard and never had frets come loose or a crack appear. YMMV, but I’d say the 1 year minimum is reasonable.

I often remove all the strings from my guitars, just to change or to clean and change. No problems there either. One caveat: on an electric, the string tension my be the only thing holding the bridge on–be sure you can put it back together if if falls apart!

Strings–it depends on how much and how hard you play. Carlos Santana changes his (OK, has his guitar tech change his) every day. I change mine once a week or so on the ones I play regularly. I use Blue Steel 'cause they last longer, but I pick pretty darned hard and again YMMV.

I think most of the pros - the well-paid ones, anyway - probably do this.

I have seven guitars, three of which I play regularly. The two I’ve had the longest are a 60s Gibson SG which I’ve owned for 35 years and an Epiphone acoustic I bought new in 1981. Both of the guitars have rosewood fingerboards, and I use Pledge on the fingerboards to clean and moisten them. The fingerboards on both of these guitars are in great condition. I have Fender guitars made in 1965, 1979 and 1994, all of which have maple necks and fingerboards. As noted by **River Hippy ** above, maple doesn’t need to be oiled, just cleaned. I use a damp cloth for this and immediately wipe with a dry cloth. On most of my guitars, I change strings when they sound dead to me, with one exception. I’m in a band which plays gigs two or three times a month. I change the strings on my main Strat before each gig. I usually replace one string at a time, but remove all of the strings at once when I want to clean or oil the fingerboard.

Many years ago I read an article in Guitar Player (we’re talking maybe 25-30 years ago) that talked about string changing, and they mentioned that Santana changed the strings for every gig, but Robby Krieger of The Doors never changed them unless they broke.

I have a Guild X175 Archtop and a Martin D28, both working guitars. My band plays 2-4 times a month and has weekly rehearsals. I generally need to change strings about once a month, sometimes every two weeks if we’re playing outside in dusty or humid conditions. I use D’Addarios and use a fretboard oil that I got from Gurian many years ago every time I change strings. Usually one or two drops is plenty. I make sure that I clean off any excess, and my fretboards (both ebony) stay clean and comfortable.
When unstringing, I work from the outside in,(E’s to G&D) and inside out when re-stringing.(Start with G, end with low E) I don’t know if it makes any difference really, but I’ve never had any neck warpage problems. I just use Pledge on the finished surfaces.