Most damage to instruments is caused by careless acts. Being aware of some of the following typical handling hazards may prevent accidents from happening:
The lid dropping down on the instrument as it is being removed from the case. Develop an absolute habit of holding the lid with one hand as you remove the instrument with the other.
The soundboard or back being cracked when squeezed at its waist. Always hold or pass the instrument to another by its neck only.
Buttons, belt buckles, tie clips, fingernails, etc. cause nicks and scratches. Be aware of yours and of those to whom you pass your instrument.
Be sure to close at least one latch of the case lid when putting the instrument away for even a short period of time. Many instruments have been damaged when dumped out of an unlatched case.
Using a card mask below the bridge when changing strings and melting a ball on the ends of the treble strings will help avoid scars and nicks to the soundboard.
Always put the instrument back in its case after use, preferably a hard case. If you wish to store your instrument for a long period, it is advisable to loosen the strings a bit, storing it in its case, with a bag of silicon gel to absorb moisture. It is also advisable to wrap the instrument in cloth, preferably natural silk or fine wool, the latter being less desirable.
Temperature and Humidity
Avoid sudden changes in temperature or humidity. Extremes of humidity or dryness represent the greatest danger to an instrument, especially sudden change from a humid environment to a dry one. Rapid evaporation can cause instruments to crack no matter how well cured the wood may be. Similarly one should avoid leaving an instrument close to air currents, sources of heat, in the direct sun, close to radiators, chimneys, stoves etc.
Wood is a hydroscopic material, that is to say it loses and/or absorbs humidity from the environment that surrounds it. Radical changes of environmental humidity and temperature can cause great damage to a guitar. In an environment of moist air, wood swells. In a drier environment, wood shrinks. The temperature of the air determines the amount of moisture the air will hold. These cycles of change are normal and your guitar will tolerate them as long as they are not to the extreme. The ideal temperature for a classical guitar is a comfortable room temperature-about 70 degrees. The ideal relative humidity-about 50%. These are the ideals. However, a well constructed instrument should handle reasonable periods of time at 35% and 65% relative humidity without too much strain. Extended periods of exposure below 35% or above 65% should be avoided.
Under chronic conditions of low humidity, there is a risk of cracking. Continued exposure to conditions of high humidity may cause the instrument begins to loose its sonority and volume. As well, glues soften, and joins may come unglued. Excessive dryness or humidity will also affect action of your guitar. Too dry, and the action becomes high, too humid, and it may become too low, and strings will begin to buzz. As a result it is not advisable to hang the instrument on the wall since the guitar will absorb whatever humidity wall may contain and cause discoloration and warping of the woods. Heating systems create an atmosphere that is extremely dry. An inexpensive hygrometer can help keep the owner aware of the environment in order to make adjustments when necessary. To ignore such conditions could result in deterioration of the instrument and lead to expensive repairs. The only protection against dryness is to add moisture in the air near the instrument. The simplest way is with a case humidifier. In areas of extreme dry climates and homes heated during winter months, a room humidifier or vaporizer is recommended during long playing sessions.
Never expose an instrument to any extremes of temperature that you would not find comfortable. Typical hazardous areas to avoid include the trunk or interior of a closed automobile in hot weather, hot sunlight, or proximity to a heater. Freezing cold air, at the other extreme, should also be avoided.
Travel and Transportation Precautions
With respect to transportation, an instrument should be stored in its case, in a cool dry area. If you are traveling by plane and you are required to check your guitar-- always in a hardcase-- it is essential to slacken the strings. If you must check your guitar, the hardcase should be placed into an additional carton for added protection during shipping or airline travel. A makeshift handle of rope will facilitate handling. Fully insure the instrument against damage or loss during transit. Avoid direct rays of the sun or heater during transport or storage. An instrument should never be transported in the warm trunk of an automobile in the summer high temperatures can cook your instrument-- causing cracks, melting the varnish, etc.
Polishing and Care of the Finish
The finish on better instruments are invariably done by hand and with great care. This finish, however, is susceptible to damage by water, alcohol and perspiration. Wipe regularly and carefully with a soft clean cloth to maintain its luster.
Cleaning your instrument should be done with fine gamusa leather dampened slightly with water. You should never apply furnish polish or other products that contain alcohol as these will damage or remove the guitar's fine finish. I have seen a couple of fine guitars ruined by scrupulous owners who "polished" their vintage guitars with Lemon Oil or Pledge.
French polish is a very delicate finish that is very susceptible to fingernail scratches and direct hits especially to the soundboard. When tying the strings behind the tie-block on the bridge, you should use caution not to damage the finish with your fingernails. One way to protect the finish from this kind of damage is to place a piece of cardboard behind the bridge before beginning to tie the strings. Light masking tape can be used to keep it in place, but is not necessary. In fact, just being aware of the problem normally is adequate to prevent damage behind the bridge, even with very delicate French polish finishes. Buttons and buckles will similarly damage the finish of French polished guitars and need to be avoided. General caution when playing your instrument is recommended.
French polish may dull when exposed to sweat. If your finish becomes dull at or near the point of contact with your body, this is normal. To prevent this, we advise people not to expose their bare skin to a French polish finish because it dulls over time. If you are wearing a short sleeve shirt, wear a sock over the portion of your right arm that makes contact with the guitar. When wearing short pants, use a soft cloth on your left thigh.
Maintenance and Repairs
Avoid if at all possible blows and scraps, since any blow to the instrument can cause irreversible damage. In case your instrument is cracked, you should have it expertly repaired as soon as possible. If a crack develops in the top, near the bridge, it is advisable to quickly loosen the strings.
Ebony fingerboards are also a hydroscopic material. If they become too dry, shrinkage may cause frets to stick out beyond the edge of the fingerboard--feeling rough. While humidity will often reverse this process by expanding the fingerboard this may take time, and it is sometimes necessary to file these edge of these frets. This should be done only with downward strokes in the same direction in which the frets are fitted, filing upwards may dislodge the frets. This may easily be done with a fine file, although it is desirable to have an expert do it.
In the event that the varnish deteriorates, it is always preferable to place another coat of varnish over the original coating. French Polish can be restored to its original luster by an expert repairman with very little difficulty and expense (if he is familiar with the method of finishing). New finish is normally applied to the old without removing it. Only in extreme cases should the French varnish be scraped off in order to place a new coat of varnish. This is one of the great advantages of French Polish over more common lacquer or catalyzed finishes. Normally these need to be removed completely before refinishing. Refinishing a fine guitar whether it is French polished or lacquer is a skilled art, and should only by done by someone who has vast experience in refinishing fine guitars.
If strings buzz when strummed without fingers pressing on the fingerboard, this is due to wearing out the groves in the bone nut. This may be easily remedied by placing a small strip of thin cardboard under the nut. This usually is sufficient to compensate for the loss of bone in the groves of the nut. The alternative is to have a new nut made.
It is also advisable to keep your guitar tuned to the same pitch. When changing strings, change one at a time, tuning each up to pitch as you go. This maintains the stress to which the soundboard has become accustomed. If all strings are removed at one time, there may be a short recovery period before the instrument returns to its accustomed sound.
Never put strings for a steel string guitar on a classical or flamenco guitar. The lighter construction of these instruments will not tolerate the higher tension of steel strings-- and expensive and irreversible damage may be done to the instrument.
The fundamental nature or quality of the strings-from the raw materials to manufacturers specifications-will be coloring every nuance of tone derived from the sound box.
SELECT STRINGS WISELY! No matter how excellent your guitar may be, it will be below its potential without the right strings. Specific types of strings can further enhance the instrument for your needs. Experiment or consult the maker for recommendations on string choice or problems which may be related to strings.
Strings need changing when they become dull, heavy or out of tune. There are no rules that dictate how often strings need to be changed. General hand cleanliness, perspiration and acid producing characteristics of the hands as well as the strength of attack of the player effect string life. The longevity of strings will vary from performer to performer.
BASS strings, in particular, contribute greatly to maintaining the liveliness of the guitar. The vitality of the treble tone will respond in direct sympathy with that of the basses. When the guitar becomes dull and heavy sounding, changing the bass strings only, will revive this lost vitality.
The TREBLE strings need not be changed as often as the basses. A good-true set of tre