Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shine On

I've spent much of the past week cleaning up flood-related messes and throwing away a lot of un-fixable gear from my guitar tech workbox. All of my many nuts, bolts, screws, springs, buttons, switches, jacks and potentiometers are toast, drenched for days in river water, then exposed to the air and covered in rust. We had a few guitars survive, due to miracles, luck or simply having them stored higher than 42 inches.

Many local luthiers set up a "triage" center and began stripping down guitars that were wet and drying them out. You might want to remember these few tips on what to do should your prized axe ever get left out in the rain.

Here's triage member Jeff Senn on flood damaged guitars:

Flood damaged guitars can present some serious challenges in attempting to repair and restore them to playing condition. The duration of time an instrument has been submerged is the critical determining factor in the steps taken to save your guitar.

For an instrument that has gotten wet via a rainstorm onstage or very brief saturation, a quick drying off with a cloth such as the Planet Waves untreated polish cloth and spraying the electronics with a corrosion resister such as DeOxit D5 followed by a quick polish with Planet Waves Protect liquid carnuba wax can be enough. Also, if you are trying to save your strings Planet Waves Renew string cleaning system is ace.

Instruments that have been underwater for a few hours to a few days need much more care to survive.

The first step recommended is complete disassembly. If possible, every part should come off. If it's a bolt on neck instrument remove the neck. Necks can swell to the point where they will split the body.

Next, wipe all parts down with a mixture of 70% distilled water and 30% alcohol to remove contaminants. This won't hurt your guitar or finish since it's already wet, right? Make sure to dry off the surface completely after this bath. Metal parts should be treated with a bath of WD40 or Planet Waves String Cleaner, which will help to displace the moisture and slow or stop corrosion.

If you have a rosewood or ebony fingerboard treat the board immediately with an application of Planet Waves Hydrate fingerboard conditioner. As the water evaporates from the fingerboard, it often takes some of the vital nutrients with it and the board can crack in just hours.

After drying the guitar body and neck as much as possible with towels and cloths place the components in a garbage bag filled with rice, yes that's right, regular white rice that you purchase at your local grocery. After making sure the parts are sufficiently surrounded by the rice in the bag close off the opening of the bag leaving just a little slack for air to get in and out. The rice will remove moisture from the wood and you want there to be a little air flow through the bag opening to release this moisture. This process can be repeated over a few weeks if the instrument was under water for days.

If your guitar or bass has made it this far without developing serious cracks and has dried out completely you can begin reassembly. Start by cleaning and polishing the finish with some Planet Waves Restore deep cleaning polish. This with return the shine to your instrument and can help remove blushing and tarnishing from the moisture.

Frets can be cleaned with the Planet Waves Fret Polishing System to remove any corrosion. Planet Waves Express Packs can be handy in the reassembly process, as they give you three of the necessary "potions and lotions" as we call them here in our shop. Spray out the electronics one more time before reassembly/use with an electronic deoxidizing spray and if any of the components are corroded or rusty you may want to replace them at this time.

If you are not handy enough to reassemble your guitar or bass you can still do most or all of the cleaning yourself with some of the products mentioned and then take it to a professional tech to get your baby playing great again. After the recent Nashville flood a well-known and respected player helped to disassemble and clean instruments to help others, but when it came to reassembly he admitted it was out of his ability range. Nothing wrong with that. That's exactly what your local guitar and bass technicians are there for.

Having your pride and joy get a thrashing from mother nature can be a nerve wracking and humbling experience but with some fast action and a little patience some instruments can live to rock, swing or twang another day.

1 comment:

  1. This is great, step by step advice. I have used your new Renew String Cleaning System and I agree it is fantastic.

    I would only add the use of a Hygrometer in the guitar case after water damage just to see where the wood is humidity-wise. You don't want the wood too wet or too dry. 45 - 55% is ideal but it may take some time for the humidity level to return to that. You can visit my website to see what I use on my Martin & Fender guitars.