Guitars are like potato chips. You can’t have just one. The longer you play, the harder it can be to resist the variety of styles out there, from acoustic to electric, and the different sounds and tones each makes. But do you know how to store and care for your collection, from your first to the most precious? Guitar care tips can help you hold on to your favorite axe forever.
We could think of no better person to turn to for advice on collecting and storing guitars than Norman Harris of Norman’s Rare Guitars in Tarzana, Calif., where he’s been “selling the world’s finest guitars to the biggest stars since 1975.” If you’re lucky, you could run into shoppers Dave Grohl, Tom Petty, Melissa Etheridge or jazz legend Phil Upchurch. Or purchase the Norman's Rare Guitars t-shirt that Nigel wore in the classic 1984 rock comedy “This is Spinal Tap”. So cool!
Despite his star status among musicians, Norman takes time to patiently advise players of all levels. He says he enjoys seeing collections start up as people play more and want something that looks and sounds better than their first instrument. “The more you play, the more you appreciate the quality of a good guitar.”
Once you have the guitar bug, it’s important to know how to care for the instruments, especially if you’re investing in a better “axe”. Norman says it’s most important to keep in mind that guitars are made of wood. “It expands and contracts so you don’t want to expose it to extreme temperatures or extreme moisture. Keep it as constant as you possibly can.”
He recommends keeping guitars at temperatures from 65 to 80 degrees. Anything more extreme, especially if the guitar goes quickly from one temperature to another, can cause damage. “You don’t want to leave it in the trunk of your car when it’s 120 degrees outside.”
He also has tips for keeping guitars in good condition when you put them away for storage. “Don’t leave all the tension off the neck. You want to keep it fairly constant, maybe lower the tension a full step or two,” he said. “Slack the string a bit but don’t take them off or detune it completely. Any extreme change like that is bad for the guitar. It throws it into shock.”
He also suggest keeping an eye on the wood. “It’s not a bad idea to polish it. Just make sure you rub all the polish off. And check it once in a while for mold or mildew.” If it’s in storage for a long time, check it at least once a year, he suggests.
Alternatively, many guitar players like to put their babies on display, but make sure you have a secure stand. “Be careful it’s not somewhere you can trip over it. Guitars can be fragile and if they fall, they’ll get damaged.” Norman offers a word of caution on older stands that have a hook that goes around the neck. “If there’s rubber on the hook that touches the neck, sometimes that can cause a reaction and melt the finish. We use A-frame stands in our store and it just leans against the body.”
Usually just keeping a guitar in a case is the easiest and best protection, just don’t wrap it in plastic! “I’ve seen some people do that and it’s not a good idea, the guitar has to be able to breathe,” says Norman.
In general, Norman says guitars are pretty durable and just a few common sense practices should keep your collection in good shape. “If a guitar is well cared for, even the less expensive ones, it will last a lifetime.”