So, the impetus for this article comes from an observation and conversation with an old guitar player. Now, you might ask was that a conversation with a guitar player who was old or guitar player who played old guitars? The answer is, “Yes".
What caught my attention was the obvious amount of “schmutz” on his guitar. (In the world of woodworkers’ “schmutz” is just another word grime, dirt, or foreign stuff; it's just more fun to say “schmutz.”) Anyway, this schmutz was everywhere this old guitar player had touched his old guitar over the course of several years.
I asked him about it, and he said, “It gives it character and makes it sound better.”
Well, no question about the character part but I seriously question the improvement in sound quality. Think about it. How could that make a difference? I tend to think that sound quality improves with good practice and good instruction.
The schmutz we are talking about is the result of natural skin oil building up and mixing with dust and sloughed off skin cells over the course of time.
If you can scrape the schmutz with your fingernail you might want to think about cleaning it off?!
I think this is important for the esthetic reasons. Keep your instrument beautiful. Think about it. There is great emotional value in knowing your instrument looks great.
So, how does one remove the schmutz?
Don't scratch it off with your fingernail. Don't scrape it off with a metal object.
Some solvents seem like a good idea and they would work well but you if don't know what type of finish you have; you could also dissolve the finish and that's a bad thing.
Two products come to mind. I asked Erin Lewis what she recommends, and I also have one that I like. Bear in mind these are NOT product endorsements, these are just products we use.
First is: Feed-N-Wax Wood Polish & Conditioner This is a product that Erin uses.
The other product I like is: Liberon Black Bison Fine Past Wax
Liberon's comes in several shades but you will want to order clear or neutral. It has a pleasant odor. It is called “paste" wax but it is very soft. It is expensive but one can of it will probably last a lifetime.
With either product, apply with a soft cloth. Rub in circular fashion over the schmutz and rub it off before it dries. It will dissolve the schmutz and recondition the wood. This process could be repeated in the case of stubborn schmutz. Use a Q tip to clean out the corners between the edges of the frets and the fretboard.
Neither product will harm the frets, bridge or nut. You will want to do this process when you change your strings. And, you probably don't want to get much of either product on tuning machines. Both products will work well on tops, sides, and backs. Neither product will do anything for Micarta except clean off the schmutz. All in all, it is fun to care for one's instrument, but it is also necessary. Time, home heating and handling dries out the wood and wears off the finish. Additionally, schmutz happens.
So, help wipe out schmutz today!