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Maintaining My Acoustic Guitar's Finish


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First off, I know this doesn't exactly belong here, but I honestly don't know where else to ask. I've searched around the internet for a better place and couldn't find anything. If you know of a better place to ask, let me know and I'll be glad to take the discussion there.

With that out of the way, I've owned a Guild DCE1 for almost 10 years now. I love this guitar to bits, but I'm ashamed to admit that I've done almost nothing to maintain its finish. The guitar is beginning to show its age, and I would like to do what I can to fix it up and get on a schedule of regular maintenance.

The guitar has a rosewood fretboard and bridge, and a 'natural' finish, which I had always assumed to be oil. My plan was to use lemon oil on the unfinished rosewood, then tung oil and carnauba wax on everything else. The longer I've spent around here the more I've realized that how a finish looks doesn't necessarily dictate its composition, and I'm beginning to wonder if the finish is really oil. So, what I would like to know is, assuming the finish is oil, would tung oil and wax be an appropriate way to maintain it? If it's not oil, what should I do? Wax only?

Again, sorry for the slightly off-topic post, but I could really use some help. Part of my reason for posting here is that I'm hoping someone might know something about Guild's finishes. If I knew exactly what it was, there is plenty of information available to help me maintain it. I've tried contacting Guild's customer service, and they just give me the standard maintenance blurb from the manual, which really doesn't say anything about maintaining the finish.

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If it's a guild, and it's not glossy (satin finish?), it's likely some kind of poly (polyurethane, polyester), maybe nitro. Google says it's an acoustic with a satin finish (some quotes say 'hand rubbed', I say 'uh huh, sure, whatever' to that). An oil finish on a production instrument is a very rare thing indeed (only electrics I've seen with it are Warwick basses, MusicMan's necks, and exactly zero acoustic guitars. Necks, yes. Hand builders, yes. Factory instruments? No)

Also, the reason it doesn't say anything about maintaining the finish is because of this:


Sorry about the caps, but I want to make sure this is clear. If it was an oil finish (I can pretty much guarantee it ain't), then yes, if the finish actually showed wear, you coil re-oil and re-wax if necessary. Minor touchups might only require re-waxing. If it was oil, the manufacturer would be able to provide care and feeding instructions (as Ernie Ball/MusicMan does or at least did for their necks). For a film finish, laquer, poly, whatever, satin or gloss, clean it with water and mild detergent if absolutely necessary (slightly moist, not wet), naphta (lighter fluid) for any gunk, and if you want to polish it up and make it shiny, get some guitar or automotive buffing/polishing compounds.

Most finishes used on guitars do not need maintenance. An occasional clean, yes. A polish if you must, although it does make the finish thinner each time you do it, if its at all abrasive. Short of that, just play the darn thing.

Re: fingerboard, I know a lot of folks oil theirs with lemon oil, bore oil, whatever, but I just occasionally clean the board with naphta to get gunk off, and let 'finger oil' do the work.

In guitar maintenance, IMO the key thing is keeping it clean. You don't need to 'feed' the finish with anything, unless it's an oil/wax jobbie (and even then, my 6 year old oiled/waxed guitar doesn't need any work yet, although it doesn't get played that often). Shellac, ditto. It's quite easy to fix the top/add some shellac, but mostly, you're wanting to keep it clean.

Edited by mattia
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Thanks for the advice. I'll stay away from oil & wax. I think you're probably right that it isn't an oil finish. They would definitely say something about taking care of it if it was. Guild recommends a specific cleaning spray that I'll look into. I don't actually want to polish it... just clean it, so I'll stay away from polishes, too.

I'm starting to get pretty curious about the finish on the guitar, though. The neck, especially, has a very raw feel that I usually associate with oil finishes. I guess it must be some sort of thin poly with no grain filler. The neck has turned a pleasing tobacco brown in my favorite playing positions, and it seems to have picked up some oil from my hands, which makes it feel very fast and 'broken in'. When I finally start building my own axes, on of my first projects will be a mahogany-necked solidbody, and I'm hoping to be able to re-create the feel of this neck.

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