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Whether you just bought your first guitar or have just invested in a nice, new instrument, you want to make sure it stays looking nice.
If you like cars, you know that wax is a key part of keeping a vehicle looking nice, but should you wax your guitar?
It’s OK to wax your guitar, and, as long as you choose the right products, it’s a good way to make sure the finish and wood stay looking their best. Waxing your guitar is only part of the equation, though — before you wax, you need to clean it.
Let’s go through what wax does for a guitar, what kind of wax you should choose for your guitar, and how to apply wax to a guitar.
Why Do People Wax Guitars?
Before we can understand why wax might be good for a guitar, we need to understand what wax does.
The most common wax used for guitars is carnauba wax, which is derived from the leaves of a South American palm tree. The resulting substance is refined and used in everything from cosmetics to food coating to shoe polish and even car and guitar wax.
It’s even used by woodworkers, as this video explains.
And just like with car wax, people use guitar wax to protect the surface of their instrument. That’s because the substance, when applied to a surface and buffed, produces a glossy, water repellent protective layer.
This keeps the finish safe on a guitar, slowing oxidation. It’s effective on vintage finishes like shellac and nitrocellulose lacquer as well as more modern polyurethane and even polyester finishes.
As we noted above, though, it’s only one step in protecting your guitar’s finish, though. You also need to clean your guitar regularly, otherwise all waxing will do is trap contaminants against your finish.
How To Wax Your Guitar Body
Now that we see what the wax is for, let’s look at the process of applying it, starting with a thorough cleaning.
- Set your guitar down on its back and make sure the neck is well supported
- Remove the strings — you’re going to need access to the entire instrument
- Use a small brush to remove loose debris, dust and dirt from the surface of the finish, paying particular attention to the area around the bridge and pickups, where grim can accumulate
- Use a cotton ball soaked in a small amount of naphtha to remove any sticky residue from the finish
- Use a soft cloth moistened in a mild cleaning solution to clean the surface of the finish, being careful around electronics
- Use a clean microfiber cloth to wipe down the guitar, being careful not to apply too much pressure, which could scratch the finish
- Use a paint-cleaning clay bar to remove dirt from the surface, using a small amount of the mild cleaning solution from earlier to wet down a part of the surface
- Wipe down the surface with a clean microfiber cloth to remove any remaining moisture or clay residue
- Use a polishing pad to apply polish to the guitar’s finish, working small areas using a circular motion
- Wipe down the surface using a clean microfiber cloth to remove any excess polish
- Apply a small amount of wax to the body of the guitar and, using a microfiber cloth, buff the wax until a glossy surface appears
- If any excess wax remains on the surface, remove it using a mild cleaning solution or an automotive detailer spray, followed by a wipe down with a microfiber cloth
Depending on your exact guitar, you need to be aware of what should and should not be cleaned or waxed. Used a dry microfiber cloth to clean off any metal parts, for example, and be careful not to get them wet.
You also want to avoid getting wax anywhere in the string path, so be careful around the tuners, at the nut, and around the bridge, saddle, and tailpiece.
If you have any unfinished wood, you need to be very careful when cleaning it, because too much moisture could cause the wood to swell. In particular, if you’re cleaning an acoustic guitar, be careful not to get too much moisture into the sound hole, where it could seep into the unfinished wood inside the guitar.
Depending on how often you play, it could be worth doing this anywhere from monthly to a few times a year. Just like with your car, wax only lasts so long, and exposure to air, as well as other oxidizing chemicals, makes it break down more quickly.
Should I Wax My Guitar Neck?
Once your guitar’s body is clean and waxed up, you might wonder whether you should wax the neck, as well.
It’s a good idea to wax the neck of your guitar, and that’s true whether you have a glossy, matte, or even unfinished and oiled neck. Let’s look at the process.
- With the strings off, gently lay your guitar face down on a padded surface, being careful not to damage anything
- Following the basic outline above, clean, wipe down and polish the neck, depending on its condition and finish — you’ll likely want to avoid polish for satin or oiled necks, for example
- Apply a small amount of wax to the neck and, using a microfiber cloth, buff in a circular motion until the wax is worked into the neck
The amount of gloss you see will have a lot to do with the finish you’re working with. On a standard lacquer or polyurethane finish, you can buff the wax to an almost mirror like shine and depth, depending on the condition of the underlying paint.
On a satin finished neck or an unfinished neck that has been treated with oil, you’re not going to get the smooth as glass look and feel that wax can offer on a shiny finish. Instead, it will feel smoother and slicker and might appear somewhat shinier than normal, depending on how much wax is applied.
What the wax does, no matter whether the finish is glossy or matte, is create a protective barrier against the things that cause damage to finishes, from the dirt and oil on a player’s hands to atmospheric pollutants that could cause lacquer to become discolored or otherwise harmed.
Should I Wax My Guitar Fret Board?
With wax on your guitar’s body and neck, you might be tempted to apply it to the fret board next, and you certainly can do that, though not everyone does.
Another method of conditioning a fret board is using some kind of oil. Here’s how to put wax on a fret board.
- As above, lay your guitar out and make sure the neck is supported
- Following the same outline as before, use brushes, naphtha, mild cleaning solution, and microfiber cloths to clean the fingerboard
- Apply a small amount of wax to a microfiber cloth and use the cloth to apply it to the fingerboard in small areas
- Use a clean microfiber cloth to buff the waxed areas until the wax is worked in, removing any excess with a mild cleaning solution or automotive detailer
- Use a cotton ball soaked in naphtha to remove any wax from the frets
Keeping the frets themselves free of wax is really the hard part of this process. It might make the most sense for a maple fingerboard that’s been finished with a glossy lacquer, which will take the wax relatively well.
On unfinished fingerboards, whether ebony, rosewood or some other choice, you certainly can use wax, but a good fingerboard oil might be much easier to apply cleanly and would serve a similar purpose to waxing the fingerboard — to protect the finish and the wood itself from oxidation or other kinds of corrosion or chemical damage. After all, the goal is to keep your fretboard protected and reduce the amount of wear.
Can You Use Car Wax On A Guitar?
If you’re itching to get started on cleaning, polishing and then waxing your guitar, but only have some automotive wax on hand, you’re in luck — depending on the exact formulation, you’ll probably be just fine.
The trick is to make sure you’re using a product that’s only wax, whether 100 percent carnauba wax or a mix of carnauba and beeswax. Most automotive waxes are simply carnauba wax, but it’s important to check.
The kinds of paint used on cars and the kind used on guitars is quite different, which should be obvious, but what might be less obvious is that means they’ll react to different things.
So a chemical that might be fine on the urethane paint of a car, with multiple base and clear coats, could harm the much thinner nitrocellulose lacquer used on higher end guitars.
That is especially true if you’re considering using the wax on your fret board. Again, 100 percent carnauba wax or a mixture of carnauba wax and beeswax are the right choice.
Any kind of chemicals apart from that could cause serious damage to the wood of the fingerboard, the metal of the frets or even the celluloid of the neck binding, if there is any.
The plan is to keep your guitar looking and playing its best, after all, and the fingerboard is key to that, so you don’t want it cracking or warping from chemical exposure.
The point of wax is to keep your finish looking it’s best, so if you want to make sure the wax does its job, you need to take care of your guitar. That means storing it in a case and keeping it in a place with stable temperature and humidity.
It also means doing simple things like washing your hands before you play, to minimize the dirt and oil your hands transfer to the guitar, as well as wiping down the guitar when you’re finished playing.
It can seem like a lot of work to clean and wax a guitar, and plenty of people do neglect that. But the first time you open your case to a freshly cleaned guitar, it will seem worth it.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.