OK, I admit I'm a bit compulsive when it comes to keeping my guitars clean.
And I don't mean that in the "Look, but don’t touch" way, since many of my guitars have dings and small cracks. I mean it in terms of keeping my guitars CLEAN.
So I've been known to drive my techs a bit nuts. But let my pain be your gain! I'm going to share some secrets on how to keep your guitar’s finish spot-free.
Did you know your guitar’s paint job is similar to a car’s? It’s true. Your guitar’s finish consists of paint (or color), then you have a thin layer of clear coat that covers the paint. Since I have detailed a car or two in my day (another one of my interests), I've been using my car-detailing knowledge to my advantage. As a matter of fact, Meguiars (a company that makes consumer- and professional-grade car-detailing products) also makes polishes for guitar companies, including Fender and Jackson.
If you've ever used guitar polishes from music stores and still think your guitar doesn't have that store-bought, sparkling gloss, this is because you are missing several steps needed to bring back and maintain that look.
So, here are steps you can take to make your ax shiner than the next guy's!
Step 1: Paint-Cleaning Clay
Paint-cleaning clay, which you can buy in any auto parts store, looks like a child’s modeling clay. I know this sounds weird, but it works. Use some "quick detailing spray" (also from an auto parts store) to serve as a lubricant as you gently slide the paint-cleaning clay back and forth. This removes contaminants, dirt and gunk from your guitar. You can actually hear the clay pick up the contaminants.
Your guitar’s finish also will be very smooth when you're done, and you'll get back some of its lost gloss. To clean your ax after you're done with claying, use a microfiber cloth. Microfiber is made from thousands of tiny loops that trap dirt (and everything else) in its fibers. It cleans well and will not scratch your paint. Stay away from socks, T-shirts and the like, because they will only scratch your guitar more!
Step 2: Polish
Many people get confused by this. When we think of "polishing" something, we think of shining something to a glossy finish. However, in professional talk, polish is something you use to remove light scratches embedded in the clear coat. Several guitar-detailing companies such as Planet Waves make guitar polish that do exactly that. Some guitar companies call this a paint restorer. You also can get one from a car store. Ask for car paint polish, and make sure you get something designed to remove light scratches. There are different ones available, depending on how aggressive you want to get. Most guitars have very light scratches caused by clothes, guitar picks, gig bags, etc.
The best results will be obtained if you use a small polish pad (which is usually orange or red) that also can be bought at an auto parts store or car-detailing website. Buff off your guitar with a clean microfiber cloth after you get a light haze from the polish on the paint. A good job should leave your guitar fairly scratch-free, and your paint will have no oxidation. Your guitar’s rich, deep color should be back at this step. Remember to use the polish sparingly.
Step 3: Wax
OK, now you can wax your guitar. Wax will protect your clean, polished paint from oxidation, light scratches, etc. The best wax is made from 100 percent Carnauba, but other variations will also work. Wax hardens on your guitar, making a great protective barrier. You can use microfiber cloth to put the wax on your guitar and after a light haze to buff it out. Remember not to use too much, as it will make the job messy and make the wax hard to remove. If you have a hard time removing the wax, use a little car-detailing spray. If you want to make your guitar look awesome, put on a light coat of wax, let it dry, put on another coat, let it dry and buff off everything with a microfiber cloth. You’ll be amazed!
Step 4: Detailer
Here's what you have most likely been buying at your music store in an attempt to keep your guitar clean. Some of these products are labeled "guitar polish." Since we know what a polish is now, let’s just call them "detailers." As you can see, you have been adding some minor gloss onto a guitar that needed some TLC. After you have clayed, polished and waxed the finish, you can use your detailer on a daily basis to keep off your fingerprints and just to generally keep the finish looking glossy. Again, use a microfiber cloth to do this. Every so often, you will need to revisit steps 1 or 2 to keep your guitar looking its best. To save money, buy a bottle of car paint detailer for about $6. It will last forever and will do just as good of a job.
To recap, here's a list of materials.
You will need paint cleaning clay, microfiber cloths, car or guitar polish, a polish pad, car or guitar wax, car or guitar detailer. Most of these products can be purchased from car detailing Internet outlets, big box stores such as Walmart, car-care stores such as Autozone, or guitar-cleaning-product manufacturers such as Planet Waves. Feel free to find car paint detail tips from the internet and simply apply them to a guitar!
Good luck, and keep those axes gleaming!
Polish-born Metal Mike Chlasciak has recorded or performed with heavy metal greats Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach, Bruce Dickinson and Axl Rose. Mike is the long-time guitarist for Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford's solo endeavor, Halford. For more info, check out his official website and visit him on Twitter.