I am amazed constantly when I see beautiful guitars smeared with dirt and gunk. My guess is players fear they’ll damage the finish, so they use conventional guitar polishes that do not clean anything really. Those polishes tend to attract more dirt than they repel, and you end up with a hazy coating that looks like your aunt’s end table layered with lemon Pledge.
If you have a transparent finish, it should be clear enough to see the grain as if you are looking through glass. Quit wasting your money on overpriced guitar polishes and try some inexpensive products that I’ve used with great success.
Clean Your Guitar
Before polishing, remove the built-up crud on the finish first. Lightly dampen a clean cloth in warm water that has a little dish soap added to it. Wring out the excess water and scrub the guitar, wiping it off with a dry rag.
If you have any stubborn dirt remaining, use Naphtha (available at your local hardware store). It’s pretty effective, but you do have to be careful with this stuff. Apply a small amount to a clean cloth. Work quickly because Naphtha will evaporate in a matter of seconds. When it is about half-evaporated, clean the guitar and wipe off with a damp cloth.
Polish Your Guitar
Keep in mind you are cleaning and polishing a finish that doesn’t react any differently when it’s on top of guitar wood or car metal, so there is no need to use products “made especially for guitars.”
I am a big fan of Meguiar’s car care products. You may have these in your garage already, or you can pick them up at any auto parts store. I’ve used all of these products effectively on lacquer and urethane bodies without worry of damage. I wouldn’t recommend using them on necks though, or you may end up with sticky neck syndrome. As always, follow the directions on the bottles.
Simply spray some on a rag, wipe it on the guitar finish, and wipe off with a clean rag. This product works really well for removing fingerprints, smudges, sweat and fresh dirt on the finish, but it is great for plastic pickguards and cover plates, too. It leaves a deep shine and doesn’t streak or smear.
This is a great product if you want to restore the shine on a neglected guitar that needs more than a light cleaning. Cleaner Wax contains a very fine abrasive that does a great job of removing buildup without leaving scratches. The process is like waxing your car: wax on, let dry to a haze, and wax off with a clean cloth. A little bit goes a long way.
This is an efficient, easy-to-use scratch remover for deeper scratches. It’s grittier, making it more aggressive than the Cleaner Wax, but it’s fine enough to remove scratches without damaging the finish. Afterward, restore luster by going back over the finish with the Cleaner Wax.
I was introduced to Meguiar’s as a teenager working in a body shop. My boss, Barney, gave me a hard time after seeing one of my “filthy” guitars that I had been cleaning with an expensive product and had eventually given up on. He clued me in that I should treat my guitar finish like a car and polished it up just like I described above. I was sold! And the products come in big bottles that will last forever, so it was and still is an economic bonus for players.