Don’t have the dexterity to cover the fretboard in seconds? – Cleaning your guitar might give you an edge. Of course, if I’m being totally honest, cleaning your guitar, particularly the strings, is something that should be taught in every music classroom, before even moving on to the chords.
If your guitar is clean, then the intonation and tone are less likely to be altered or flat-sounding. If your guitar strings are clean, you can play better, sound better, and pay less for string replacements or professional servicing in the long run.
5 Best Guitar String Cleaners for String Health
Check out my favorite products, i.e. the best guitar string cleaners that no beginner, student, teacher, or virtuoso should leave out of their case.
The Music Nomad MN109 is one of the most popular string cleaners. Its formula combines mineral oils and refined natural oils for superior lubrication. This will help you slide, bend, press, pinch, or strum like it’s the first or second time using your strings.
Its large applicator can be used on all six strings at the same time. Talk about cutting down on your maintenance time.
One very important feature is the lint-free cloth. You can use it to remove excess oil and any gunk from the strings. But that’s not all. Using lint-free cloth is often recommended because it doesn’t leave anything behind on the string.
So, who can benefit more from the MN109? – Metal guitarists favor this product more than others. That’s because the superior lubrication properties reduce fret noise and maintain the smooth feel on the strings, which will favor shredding.
Lots of things have been said over the years about the GHS Fast Fret. Newer string cleaners have been developed in recent times, this remains one of my top favorites because of its affordability, ease of use, and longevity.
A bottle of Fast Fret can last a very long time. Its superior cleaning formula requires very little application to have a positive impact on strings. For this reason, Fast Fret is used not just on guitars but pretty much all other string instruments too.
It can also be used on the back of the neck and just on the fretboard, before you restring your guitar. It’s a non-aggressive solution that can lubricate a guitar properly so that your fingers fly on it with ease.
The application is simple. If you can hold and use a stick of deodorant, you’ll probably know how to use the Fast Fret. Run it up and down the fretboard, one string at a time. It doesn’t completely wipe down underneath the strings but enough solution gets there that you can wipe underneath the strings with a piece of cloth afterwards.
What separates the MN205 cleaning tool from similar products is its versatility. This makeup brush-like string cleaner can be used on other parts of your guitar too, the bridge, capo, keys, etc.
It’s a rather sturdy plastic brush which gives enough leverage for pushing close to the third fret on any guitar. It cleans strings of dust and grease while also wiping the fretboard of fingerprints, grease buildups, and other foul stuff.
A bit of scrubbing is necessary but the brush is soft so there’s no need to worry. The microfiber cloth at the other end leaves no dirt or fluff behind. It can also clean both underneath and on top of strings. This can drastically cut down on your maintenance time.
Note that this is the tool only without any lubricant or cleaner fluid. That being said, there are plenty of lubricants you can buy separately. The purpose of any good brush or string cleaner is to maintain your strings in top playing condition and extend their tone life.
Anything else is just a bonus. And, from a pricing standpoint, the MN205 already has great value for the money by the simple fact that it can clean a guitar from top to bottom, not just the strings.
It makes sense that one of the top guitar string manufacturers would also make a very reliable string cleaner. Ernie Ball designed Wonder Wipes as an aggressive string cleaner with maximum portability.
The wipes are wrapped individually in order to preserve the lubricant. They’re efficient at removing any gunk and grime from strings and have the benefit of reaching all around the strings.
Available in packs of 20, the Wonder Wipes solve multiple problems at once. The disposable wipes may not be the most cost-effective but the high-end formula does a good job of breathing new life into old strings and maintaining your new strings in pristine shape for a long time.
A simple name for a product that does everything for your strings. I like this particular string cleaner because it provides 360 degrees of string cleaning action. It cleans simultaneously the top and bottom of the strings and it can slide up and down the fretboard without much hassle.
The cleaner has removable and washable microfiber pads. No lubricant or cleaning solution comes with the cleaner. That being said, it’s still very good at restoring your strings to optimal condition. You can use an aftermarket cleaner fluid with the ToneGear string cleaner.
The tool looks like a cigarette holder. You lock it over the strings and slide it gently up and down the fretboard. There’s no need to unwind your strings much either. The only thing worth noting is that the handle is small. It’s still easy to use but perhaps not the most comfortable at first.
Lubricants or Cleaning Agents?
I say get both, preferably in the same package when possible. Some may argue that lubed strings have an undesirable tone and can make the finger sliding noise sound too punchy. This doesn’t happen on all strings or on all guitars and certainly not with all fingers, so it’s debatable.
Cleaning solutions are supposed to cause debris, gunk, dust, fingerprints, and other unwanted elements to detach from the strings. Once the solution is applied, through wiping you can remove anything undesirable from the strings and fretboard.
Once your strings are clean, they should sound a lot better. But you won’t necessarily be able to play much faster if the strings aren’t also smooth and slightly lubed. That’s why it helps to have access to both and using both as part of your maintenance routine.
Sprays vs. Other Cleaners
Don’t get me wrong. Guitar string cleaning agents that come in spray bottles are just as effective. Some may even have more powerful formulas than the products listed in this article. With that in mind, think of the coverage that a spray nozzle gives you.
Most of the time, the product gets wasted. Then you also have to consider the fact that not all string cleaners are suitable or at least non-damaging to the premium fretboard wood. Last but not least, simply getting a spray cleaner is not enough.
You’ll still need a good cloth which may cost more when bought separately. Furthermore, and this is a personal opinion, spray string cleaners are rarely as good at lubricating the strings.
How to Clean Your Strings
There are two ways to clean your guitar strings. The easiest way is to use whatever cleaner you have on the strings when your guitar in stringed. This allows you to clean the strings and fretboard at the same time and saves you the trouble of having to remove and replace each string.
The other option is obviously to take your strings out. Guitarists have different opinions on this. Some say that it’s ok to use three sets of strings at the same time. Meaning that you play for a while with one set, then swap it out for another, but without throwing away the first set.
In this case, you can clean strings each time you change them and you can clean them individually. I personally prefer using a set until it’s done for. Besides, strings are always packaged in a corrosive-resistance package and are preserved for a very long time that way.
It’s Time to Pay More Attention to Your Guitar’s Needs
Just like you need your guitar to sound and feel a certain way, the guitar needs something in return from you. That’s proper maintenance and regular cleaning and polishing.
If you’re still not sure which type of cleaner is more appealing to you, know this. You can’t go wrong with any product in this article. It comes down to how versatile it is and how many other products it can replace in your current arsenal.