What’s the best way of extending the life of your guitar strings? The answer is simple: Keep them clean.
Wiping them down after each play not only extends the life of your strings, it makes them play better too. There are dozens of products out there that not only clean but also lubricate them, helping you play faster.
In this article, we’re going to look at the best products out there.
At a Glance – Our Choice of the Best Guitar String Cleaners on the Market
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices, and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here’s what we’ll cover.
Table of Contents
What is a String Cleaner?
Cleaning and regularly polishing all parts of your guitar is the key to keeping it fit and healthy. As for guitar strings, they have a relatively short life-span once they’re strung on your guitar; this is mostly dependant on how often you play, it could be every 3 to 4 months if you play only a couple of hours a week, or every couple of weeks if you play four hours a day.
Specialist cleaning products remove the natural build up of ‘gunk’ from dirty, callused fingers, grease and sweat. This not only preserves their life but makes them sound and play better. Remember, you should also condition your fretboard with oil every so often to keep the essential oils topped up.
You may be thinking ‘why can’t I just use a cloth and some household cleaner’? Well, you could, but if you value your instrument and care for its longevity, you won’t. For a start, your average household cloth is cotton based and will leave bits of little fluff on your guitar, especially around the fretboard, that you’ll be cleaning off for weeks.
Worse still, this debris affects your tone. As for a household cleaner, your guitar is made of premium grade wood; wiping it down with something you’d use in your kitchen, or furniture polish, will dry out the natural oils in the wood.
But as I said in the introduction, strings aren’t meant to last forever. You can’t preserve a set for years, however, you can keep them and switch them out at regular intervals. But getting in the habit of keeping them clean while they’re on your guitar will have a big impact on the tone and even speed.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
So what are the key considerations when buying one?
The first thing is how you apply the cleaning solution. There are broadly three types:
- Top only – cleans the top of the strings only. This is the quickest to apply, as you just need to whip it out and run it up and down the length of the fretboard. They don’t clean 360° though.
- Up and under (clamp) – as well as on top, this style cleans under the strings (360°) too, cleaning both the upside and underneath. They are a bit fiddler though, as they need mounting and locking into place. They’re the most effective cleaning method though.
- Traditional spray – the stuff you spray on and work with a cloth. By far the messiest and most time-consuming method of application.
Some of these products come with a cloth to help with excess liquid. Lint-free, microfiber cloths are preferable as they need no fluff behind. Loopy cotton also dampens the sound, so to be avoided.
Finally, while all products will improve the playability of your guitar, some position themselves as lubricators as well. Lubricators are especially useful for heavy metal (shredding) and fast soloing in general, and will also help to reduce any fret noise.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Guitar String Cleaners
Music Nomad MN205
Ok, these look a bit like makeup brushes don’t they, but turns out they’re very tool for cleaning your guitar and various other bits of musical gear. They both have washable microfiber pads which are superb for cleaning grime away from hard to reach places. Flip the large brush around, and you also have a soft brush to clean off the build-up of dust on hardware and electronics. The Nomad Slim is great for getting to hard to read places too.
- 2 x brushes of different sizes for getting to hard to reach places
- Useful brush for removing dust on hardware and electronics
- Washable microfiber pads
Music Nomad MN109
Music Nomad MN109 is a top only applicator and includes a lubricator, to rival Fast Fret or Planet Waves’ XLR8. There are reasons to like this too. Firstly, the applicator is the full width of the fretboard so you get an even spread. It’s ergonomically designed for easy application, and rectangular in shape and includes a space for a removable cloth to remove any excess oil. The cloth is lint-free too, so you won’t find any leftover fluff after using it.
- Ergonomic applicator covers the width of the fretboard
- Blend of naturally occurring mineral oils
- Includes lint-free cloth
‘Up and Under’ String Cleaner
This is an ‘up and under’ cleaner. It’s a clever little clamp that fits above and below your strings and once locked in place, you move it up and down the fretboard to clean along with the entirety of the fretboard.
It cleans the strings really well, as opposed to just the top. In the process, your fretboard also gets a clean too.
The cloth is removable for washing but doesn’t come with a cleaning solution so you’ll need to buy some separately (such as the Kyser product below).
- Top and under cleaner
- No chemicals or solutions
- Also gives the fretboard a clean in the process
Planet Waves XLR8
The XLR8 from Planet Waves is a cleaner and lubricant. Coming in a robust little tin that’s reminiscent of shoe polish, it’s a handy little tool that will last a long time. As a top only product, it’s limited to only cleaning the upper side of the strings, but for speed of application it’s a good option.
As a lubricator, it also removes friction for faster playing, so will appeal to fans of Fast Fret.
- Ergonomic applicator
- Comes in a hard-wearing metal tin
- Budget price
I’d be surprised if you haven’t come across Fast Fret already, as they’ve been around for years. It’s designed as a string lubricant that helps you play faster, but also features here because it includes a cleaning solution too. The application is easy and comes with a cloth for wiping down any excess liquid.
- The bespoke applicator is really handy for running up and down the fretboard
- Canisters are hard wearing and easily fit into a gig back
- Keeps strings sounding fresh
Lizard Spit Fresh-N-Easy
The Fresh-N-Easy is by far the smallest string cleaner you’ll find – at a tiny 1 1/3 oz, it’s the size of a nasal spray and super easy to stick in your pocket on the way to a gig and quickly apply after or before your set.
It doesn’t come with a cloth to wipe down any excess though, but it does smell fantastically good.
- Small ‘pocket size’
- Great smell
Kyser String Cleaner
This product from Kyser is an old school guitar cleaning solution that you spray onto a cloth. As a lube, it also makes your strings smoother and easier to play. While the application method isn’t as advanced as the others on this list (it’s just a spray), you can use this in conjunction with top and under (clamp) products like the one from ToneGear.
- Includes lubricator
- Works in conjunction with clamp style applicators
- Very reasonable price
So, Which Should I Choose?
Music Nomad’s MN109 lets you clean and dry the strings with the cloth they include. For the price it’s hard to beat.
If you’re looking for the best brush, go with The Nomad Tool Set. These brushes are great for removing dust and grime from hardware and electronics.
The Up and Under String Cleaner gives the most thorough clean in our opinion, though you’ll need some solution to go with it (check out the Kyser product).