General Guitar Care Page Title
Your Lone Wolf Guitar is a finely handcrafted instrument built to provide many years of playing enjoyment.  Proper care will assure peak performance from your guitar including its signature ease of playing, exceptional responsiveness and superior tone.  In addition, it will help avoid future repairs. To better understand the need for proper guitar care, a few comments on the guitar design is helpful.

Photo of guitar bracing.
Guitar design.

Guitar design is a complex balance between structural integrity and tonal response.  A set of strings on an acoustic six-string guitar exerts a tensional force of 160-180 lbs. depending on the string gauge.  This force exerts a tensional force on the back, and a rotational force on the top in the area of the bridge.  The rotational force causes the area of the top behind the bridge to rise, and the area in front of the bridge to flatten.

If a guitar is overbuilt to avoid any distortion from string tension, the tonal qualities of the guitar will be constrained. The guitar's top needs to vibrate freely to create a refined tone. The average midrange tone common to many factory guitars is an example of overbuilding. However, these guitars are built to withstand the abuse of an average guitar owner.  In contrast, if a guitar is built too lightly it may exhibit great tone, but will eventually collapse under string tension.

Your Lone Wolf Guitar is built with a delicate balance between structural integrity and tonal response.  As a result, the guitars are a bit more delicate than a factory guitar, but possess superior tone, responsiveness, and sustain.  Although the guitars are a bit more delicate, they are not fragile.  They are made to be played long and often!  Just use common sense in caring for your guitar as you would any high-end equipment (e.g., photographic equipment, stereo equipment, etc.).

The general care of your Lone Wolf Guitar involves controlling the environmental in which it is stored, and regular cleaning. The greatest environmental threat to your guitar is fluctuations in humidity and temperature.  In both cases, extremes and/or sudden changes are the most detrimental.

Humidity control.

Humidity control is perhaps the most important factor in caring for your guitar.   Of particular importance is the relative humidity (RH).  RH is the percentage of moisture in the air compared to the amount the air can hold before reaching saturation.  So if the RH is 50%, the moisture contained in the air is one half of what the air could hold.  Warmer air can hold more moisture than colder air.  As such, if air with a given RH is cooled, the RH will rise.  Conversely, if air is warmed, the RH will decrease.

The impact of RH on your guitar is based on the fact that wood is a moisture bearing substance.  As a result, it absorbs and releases moisture depending on the RH of its surroundings.  When wood absorbs moisture it expands, and when it releases moisture it contracts.  The expansion and contraction is most pronounced across the grain.  If kept within a limited range, the expansion and contraction will not adversely effect your guitar.  However, larger variations in RH can harm your guitar.

The recommended RH for a Lone Wolf Guitar is 45%.  If the humidity drops significantly below 45%, the wood in the guitar will contract which can lead to various problems including:

  • Lowered Action and fret buzzing.
  • Frets protruding beyond the fingerboard.
  • Soundboard cracks (see photo on right).
  • Finish cracking along purfling, bindings, and glue seams.
  • Forward neck bowing.

While RH increases are generally safer, high levels can create the following problems:

  • Higher action.
  • Bulging of the top plate.
  • Neck back bowing.
  • Muffled tone.

As a result, controlling the RH in your guitar’s environment is vital to its health.  Also, since humidity related failures are not warranty items, it can protect you from costly repairs.

There are many ways to control the moisture level of your guitar.  First you need to monitor the RH of your environment.  This can be done by purchasing a relatively inexpensive hygrometer.  Base on your hygrometer readings, you can decide whether your RH is too low or too high.  Be aware that if you live in an area with cold winters, the RH in your home can exhibit significant seasonal variations.  This is due to the fact that the cold winter air cannot hold much moisture.  When this air is heated in your house, the RH drops dramatically unless moisture is added.

If your RH is below 40%, you need to increase the humidity.  This can done in a number of ways.  The easiest is to store your guitar in a hard case and add humidification to the case.  There are a number of case humidifiers on the market as well as guitar soundhole humidifiers (see photo to right).  These can be used separately, or in combination, depending on your needs.  Use care with soundhole humidifiers to ensure no excess water is allowed to sit on the wood of the soundbox; it will damage your guitar.  If you are storing your guitar in its case, use a hygrometer to monitor the RH in the case.

Photo of cracked soundboard.

Photo of soundhole humidifiers.
Photo of Humidified Cabinet
Photo of Cabinet Hygrometer
Photo of Cabinet Humidifier

If you own several guitars, a better solution is to store the guitars in a cabinet that is humidity controlled. The photos above show one of my cabinets that holds eight guitars. The humidity of the cabinet is kept at 45% using a system from Habitat Monitor. Habitat Monitor provides climate control sytems (humidity and temperature) for a variety of applications.

Temperature control.

Temperature control is also important in the care of your Lone Wolf Guitar.  As with humidity, extremes in temperature should be avoided.  Many modern glues release at elevated temperatures (some as low as 120° F).  The photo below shows a bridge pulling loose from the soundboard due to being left in a hot car. Temperature releasing glues is actually a beneficial trait in guitar building.  Components that may need to be removed through the life of a guitar are often glued with these types of glues.  This allows easy removal by heating for adjustments and repair.  However, this attribute must be understood when considering the care of your guitar.  Do not leave your guitar where temperatures can quickly rise such as in direct sun or in the trunk of your car.  Also, realize that black guitar cases will absorb heat quickly. In addition to glues releasing, high temperatures can soften the guitars finish.

Very cold temperatures can also have a harmful effect on your guitar.  Most commonly it can cause the finish to craze; the development of web-like cracks in the finish (see photo below).  If your guitar is left in a cold area for an extended period of time, such as from shipping, allow it to warm up very gradually over several hours.  This will minimize the effects of the cold temperatures.  Do not take it out of its case until it has acclimated.

Photo of bridge release due to heat.
Photo of cold temperature lacuer checking.

Regular cleaning.

Regular cleaning of your guitar is important, but when it comes to the use of chemicals, the old adage “less is more” applies.  It is a good idea to wipe down your instrument with a soft cotton cloth after each use to remove any perspiration and oils.  This will help prevent any build up of dirt and grime, as well as extend the tonal life of your strings.  For areas that won’t easily clean with a dry cloth, at slightly damp cotton cloth can be used.  Be sure to wipe your guitar dry and don’t let any moisture “sit” on your guitar.

Polishing your guitar with a high quality guitar polish will keep your guitar finish looking new, but polishing shouldn’t be done more than once a month.  Also, do not use a polish that contains silicon.  Silicon can make future repairs/touch ups difficult as it prevents the adhesion of lacquer.  Most guitar builders will not allow any silicone near their shops.  While there are a number of high quality polishes available, the polish I use in my shop is “Preservation Polish” (see photo on right) sold by Stewart-MacDonald.

Your fingerboard will accumulate dirt and grime over time.  Cleaning your fingerboard can be done by removing the strings and lightly scrubbing the fingerboard using #0000 or finer steel wool.  Use care to avoid scratching the finish on your guitar.

One final care tip involves guitar stands and hangers. Vinyl and Rubber products can soften and discolor lacquer finishes over time.  Alarmingly, many guitar stands and hangers use vinyl or rubber for the portions that contact the guitar.  Over time this can cause finish problems.  I recommend soft felt for guitar stands and hangers.  Felt will not damage your guitar’s finish.  The custom guitar stands that I handcraft use felt in the areas that contact the guitar.

Stewart MacDonald Preservation Polish.