Cleaning and caring for your new McKnight:
All of our current guitars use catalyzed urethane lacquer finish and requires very little care. I suggest a lightly water dampened cloth to remove any body oils followed by a clean soft cotton cloth to dry the finsh. There is no need for any chemicals or polishes with this durable finish.
My earlier guitars (serial numbers ending with 23 or less) were finished with nitrocellulose instrument-grade lacquer. Lacquer requires a bit of care when handling, so take the following measures to protect your new instrument.
Do some “preventive” cleaning each time you play to avoid a number of future problems. A soft cotton cloth is best for polishing and cleaning guitars. Flannel “guitar polishing cloths” are available from local music stores. Alternatively, use an old 100% cotton T-shirt with no printing or graphics to wipe down the guitar after playing. Paper products such as tissues, napkins and paper towels can actually scratch a fine guitar’s finish, especially if it is lacquer or shellac French Polish.
Simply wiping with a cotton cloth will keep your guitar looking like new. Some areas, such as the area under the strings, might be a bit hard to reach, but it’s not that difficult to simply shove the wiping cloth under the strings to remove any surface dust.
You can extend the tonal life of strings by wiping them vigorously after each time you play. Simply grip the string through the cloth and scrub up and down its length. You can also keep the fingerboard relatively clean by wiping right over the board, strings and all.
As you wipe down the finish, particularly on the top and back, you might notice some spots or larger areas that don’t come perfectly clean. Removing tougher fingerprints, smudges, and other dirt can be accomplished with a trace of moisture on your wiping cloth.
For even more cleaning power, moisten the wiping cloth with a little mild detergent diluted in water. Spray the cloth, not the guitar. That way, you’ll be able to control how much water actually gets on the surface. The idea is to use as little moisture as possible, to avoid it getting into any tiny voids in the finish. Follow the damp wiping by buffing with a dry cotton cloth to remove any streaks.
There are many commercial guitar polishes and cleansers on the market. They are basically of three types: water-based cleaners, creamy water-based cleaners with very fine abrasives, and oils. Most of these are fine products, and, used according to directions, will yield good results.
Oils will remove oily smudges, but might not have any effect on water-soluble dirt. Water-based cleansers (which look semi-transparent in the bottle) should be sprayed on the cloth rather than on the instrument, and will clean up water-soluble dirt best. The creamy-type polishes may contain a slight abrasive, and are best avoided if you have a matte-finished guitar. Too much polishing can cause a semi-gloss finish to become shiny in patches.
Vinyl, Rubber & Plastics:
So here’s the deal: Vinyl eats lacquer. As such, it presents significant danger to a nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Rubber also can discolor and soften lacquer. A vinyl covered guitar stand can damage lacquer finishes. You’ll also find that certain capos can inflict this same bit of damage.
I find it interesting that guitar stands, hangers and straps made with vinyl are still sold. Worse yet, most, if not all, are sold without a disclaimer about the damage they can cause!
Heat is your enemy:
Excess heat is the most unrecognized and destructive force that acts on stringed instruments. I’m talking about the kind of heat that builds up in parked cars. It’s the kind of heat that kills the family dog in short order. It’s the kind of heat that drives out moisture and causes instruments to crack. It’s the kind of heat that causes glue to melt. It’s the kind of heat that causes necks to warp.
How hot is it?
On a hot day in full sunlight, my car can reach an interior temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit in only fifteen minutes. At that temperature, it’s not long before the interior of an instrument case gets extremely hot, too. At around 140 degrees, the glue that holds modern instruments together begins to turn to liquid. LITERALLY.
Where should I keep my instrument? In the case, on a stand, hanging on the wall?
For most instruments, the safest storage is in their cases. There, they are protected from dust and accident; and, to some extent, from temperature and humidity fluctuations. The downside is that they are also more out of the way and less likely to get used for a casual tune.
I don’t recommend gig bags as they offer the least protection for your fine instrument. Chipboard cases are a bit better, but still offer minimal protection. I suggest a HARDSHELL case made of plywood for the ultimate in protection. You can purchase an ABS plastic case, but they tend to distort and warp over time and you will find that they don’t close properly once distorted.
Frank Ford prefers to keep his hanging on the wall.
“I just use a leather thong tied to the tuners and hang it on a picture hook firmly mounted on the wall. I check behind the instrument to see were it touches the wall and I use double stick tape to attach a small piece of felt, about 4 inch square to protect the back from scratches. On the wall, staring at me, my guitar and mandolin are free to make me feel guilty for not playing enough music! They are free from the accidental kick that can send a guitar flying out of its stand. They do collect a bit of dust, but I can keep them wiped off easily enough.”
Frank’s old friend, Barry Olivier, has been teaching guitar to individuals and groups in Berkeley, California, for over forty years. Barry told me that, since the very beginning, he has given each of his students (thousands by now!) a leather thong to tie around the pegs so the guitar can hang on the wall. He tells his students to keep the guitar out so they can take advantage of a short playing breaks.
“If you have two or three minutes to spare, you can play a tune. That is, you can if your guitar is handy.”
Barry describes the case as a “barrier to playing.” He offers this quote from Shakespeare (“Timon of Athens” Act 1, Scene 2): “Sweet instruments hung up in cases. . . keep their sounds to themselves.”
Before you ask, I don’t believe that exterior walls pose any threat to a hanging guitar unless you live in a single-wall building, like a cabin. If I lived in a one-room, woodstove-heated house, or in the swamps or other harsh environment, I’d rethink keeping my guitar hanging on the wall.
In the winter, some houses get really dry when heated, especially if they’re located in cold areas of the country. If the ambient relative humidity is really low and you don’t humidify your house, you probably use a case humidifier and instead of keeping your instrument out.
Direct sun is an absolute no-no!
My least favorite place to keep instruments is on stands. They are more in the way because they take up floor space; they can fall; and they may have some problems if the finish interacts with the vinyl or rubber on the stand. A good way to prevent this is to cover the contact areas of the stand with a couple of layers of thick felt. You can also purchase fuzzy pads to cover the neck holder portion of the stand, but don’t forget to cover the any area where the body might come in contact with the stand.
We all agree that you should de-tune any instrument that’s going into storage for a long time. The only problem I have with that common wisdom is that usually I intend to play it tomorrow. . . Some of the above information borrowed [with permission] from the master repairman, Frank Ford, at www.frets.com.