Vintage guitars are really something special. You can admire their craftsmanship; the precision with which these instruments were built before there were machines to mass-produce them is remarkable. The sounds produced by vintage guitars are also rich and vibrant. Playing one can feel like a true luxury.
If you are lucky enough to own a vintage guitar collection, then it is important to take good care of these instruments so that you and future generations can continue to admire them. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.
1. Remove the strings for long-term storage.
If you do not plan on playing the guitar often, you should remove the strings before storing it. This reduces strain on the wood, which reduces the risk of cracks forming in the wood over time. If something changes and you decide to play the guitar in the future, you can always have it re-strung. Even if you know how to string a guitar, have this done by a professional. They will likely be gentler when stringing the instrument since they have more experience and higher-end equipment.
2. Keep humidity under control.
The wood used to make vintage guitars is a little more prone to cracking and also to moisture damage than that used to make modern guitars. Finishes were not quite as durable a few decades ago, either. As such, it's important to keep humidity levels under control in the area where you store your vintage guitars. Ideally, relative humidity should be between 40 and 50%. If your thermostat does not have a hydrometer, invest in one, and pay attention to its reading. If your home is frequently too humid, you may need to run a dehumidifier. If it's frequently too dry, you may need to use a humidifier to add moisture.
Try to avoid placing your guitar in a storage unit. Even those that offer climate control don't tend to have as closely-regulated humidity levels as you'd have in your home.
3. Use light strings.
If you do plan on playing your guitar, have it strung with light or extra-light strings. These do not put as much strain on the wood as heavy strings, and they also tend to yield a more desirable sound on a real wood guitar.
4. Keep a sponge in the case.
Ideally, you should keep the guitar in a proper, lined guitar case. And inside that case, you should keep an absorbent sponge. Many cases have a slot in the top into which you can place the sponge so it shares space with the guitar but does not directly touch it. Do not moisten the sponge. Its role is to absorb moisture if needed, and then later release that moisture if needed. This serves as an extra level of protection against humidity or dry air if the power goes out and causes your humidifier/dehumidifier to fail.
5. Don't polish the finish.
If your guitar looks a little dull, you may be tempted to polish its finish. But this is not a good choice. Many older guitars were finished with nitrocellulose lacquer, and acidic polishes may wear away any finish that remains. Just use a soft cloth to buff the guitar. If you want to polish the metal parts, you can use a tiny bit of metal polish, but be very careful not to get it on the wood.
If you follow the tips above, your vintage guitars will look as good in 20 years as they do today. To learn more about how to take care of your vintage guitar collection, talk to a guitar tuning and repair expert.