Once you have the right tools and materials, it’s time to begin the polishing process. Before you do, there are a few things you should know to make sure your guitar will shine and that any damage is limited.
What You Need to Know about Guitar Finishes
When polishing your guitar, you’ll be dealing with its finish more than anything else. It’s important that you understand what type of finish your guitar has so that you can polish it properly without doing any damage.
For a simple guide to understanding the different types of finishes and how to polish each of them, read Part I of this series.
How to Safely Polish Your Guitar
It is good that you have decided to polish your guitar. I mean, really, who wants to play a dirty guitar? Polishing is not hard to do; most people can learn to do it with a little guidance and practice. But if polishing is not done correctly, there is the potential for damage.
In this series of articles, I will give you simple instructions on how to take good care of your guitar. In part one, we discussed what polishes are good for your guitar and what ones are not. We also discussed the types of abrasives (if any) that should be used on your instrument. In this article, I want to talk about what you should know before you start polishing – as well as some tips that will make the process easier.
If you have decided that your guitar’s finish needs polishing, it is time to get started.
First and foremost, you have to make sure that what you are working on is worth the effort.
You need to be aware of the type of finish. If it is a nitrocellulose lacquer finish, which was common on guitars made in the 1950s and 1960s, you should know that this type of finish will continue to yellow as time goes by. This has nothing to do with the polishing process.
In addition, if your guitar has a delicate finish, such as a violin or French polish, you should not attempt to polish yourself.
In our last article, we discussed why polishing your guitar is necessary. Polishing your guitar can help protect against scratches, dirt and dust that can damage the finish. It also makes your guitar look nice. And if you play out in public a lot, people notice a shiny guitar!
Although polishing is important, you don’t want to over-polish either. This can cause microscopic scratches that build up over time and eventually make your guitar look dull and hazy. Excessive polishing also removes any oils that give your guitar a rich look. So as much as you want to have a shiny guitar, you don’t want to go overboard with the polish.
How often should you polish?
There’s no hard and fast rule for this. Generally speaking, if you play out in public frequently and are constantly handling the instrument, you may need to polish more often than someone who plays at home alone or keeps it in a case when not in use. Some people prefer to polish after each playing session; others do it once or twice a year (or less). A good starting point is to polish every three months or so if you’re playing out in public frequently, and maybe less often otherwise.
If your guitar starts looking dry before then or gets
Now that we’ve gone through the materials you’ll need to polish your guitar, let’s take a look at how to approach the polishing itself.
Once you’ve selected the right guitar polishes and cleaners for your guitar, there are some important things to know before you begin.
1. Always use a soft, clean cloth for applying wax or polish. Lint-free cotton is the best option since it is extremely absorbent and will preserve the finish on your instrument.
2. Avoid using paper towels, which can scratch the surface of your guitar. In a pinch, t-shirts or other cotton garments may be used, as long as they are clean.
3. Never use anything harder than the surface of your guitar, such as scouring pads that can cause scratching and damage to the finish of your instrument.
4. Temperature matters: Do not apply wax or polish when the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) because the wax will not properly adhere to a cold surface.
Polishing the guitar should be done anytime you are doing fretwork. If you are leveling and/or crowning frets and not polishing the guitar, then you are wasting time, money and effort. Most fret jobs will require some amount of touch-up polishing to get rid of scratches caused by files and/or nicks from excess material removal. Before you begin polishing the guitar, remove all hardware and plastic parts that could get in your way or get damaged by polishes (tuners, pickguard, jack plate).
Polishes with rubbing compounds need to be used before polishes without rubbing compounds. Rubbing compounds will remove the surface finish, but will prepare the surface for a high gloss polish that would take much longer to achieve without it. Rubbing compounds can also mask small scratches that could cause problems later on if not removed.
If any areas of the guitar show wear down to bare wood, then they will need to be sealed with a thin layer of clear coat first before polishing can be done because they will soak up too much polish otherwise.
If there is any rust on metal parts (i.e., strings saddles), then they will need to be cleaned up first with a brass brush or one of several chemicals designed for