We all know that electronic devices do not last very long. Laptops, smartphones, various electronic gadgets – they all stop working after a few years of use.
Electric guitar can last for a very long time. If properly maintained, a good quality electric guitar can last for decades (and more).
But what exactly on a guitar has to be maintained? There are electronic parts inside an electric guitar (pickups, wires etc.), but a guitar is primarily made out of wood.
In order to make your guitar last as long as possible, you’ll need to replace some parts (from time to time). Pickups, volume and tone pots or internal wires tend to stop functioning properly over years of use.
Can A Guitar Last Lifetime?
Yes, guitar can easily last for a lifetime. But it can also totally wreck in about only few years if not taken care of properly.
There is no reason why a good wood couldn’t last for even a couple of hundreds of years. You see all those expensive violins from even 16th or 17th century?
Those are played occasionally on classical concerts, and yet they sound amazing. They are, of course, made out of wood. Electric guitar body and neck are also made out of wood. Guitars are usually made out of mahogany, maple, ebony, rosewood etc.
So, the bottom line is this: Electric guitar can last for a lifetime. However, pickups and frets tend to wear out over time, so you’ll need to replace those parts.
Let’s get into details.
How Long Do Guitar Pickups Last?
Guitar pickups have their lifespan. There’s no exact time of their life. They can last for a long time, but certainly not longer than a guitar (wood) itself. It all depends on the quality guitar pickup have, type, maintenance etc.
Main job of a guitar pickup is to “catch” a vibration of guitar string and send it to the amp output.
However, a magnetic field of guitar pickup gets bad over time. Signal transmission becomes not so good as it’s been at the beginning.
You’ll know that’s happening soon as you notice the tone is not so good and full as it’s been.
Magnets tend to go bad. How does that manifest? Over time, magnets lose their magnetic charge which results in a loss of output and frequency response. Today’s guitars are usually made out of permanent magnetic alloy which prevents that degradation.
However, if you have some old guitar that has pickups without that alloy, you’ll notice that changes.
Also, magnets can demagnetize over time. That means the strength of their magnetic field decreases. It is the process called degaussing (Wikipedia link).
Magnets often degausse if they are placed in a proximity of other magnet. Lot of times this is the main cause of pickups losing their magnetic field strength. That’s why you shouldn’t leave your guitar near big speakers or amps.
Corrosion And Rust
Pickups, strings, volume and tone pots – all of them tend to corrode and rust over time.
Check out the article from this page about string rusting:
Do Guitar Frets Wear Out?
Guitar frets do wear out. They wear out gradually over time.
How do you know your guitar frets worn out?
It’s easy. Inspect your guitar frets. Do you see some scratches on their surface? Are there some deep marks or pivots? If that’s the case, it may be just right time for you to change them.
How to maintain guitar frets? Well, obviously, the more you play your guitar, the faster guitar frets will worn out. But that doesn’t mean you should play your guitar less frequently (definitely no!).
It just means that you should monitor their shape from time to time. Scratched, worn out frets, will significantly affect the playability of your guitar. Moreover, they will make your strings worn out faster.
The best way to maintain you guitar frets is to wipe them every week. It shouldn’t take more than one minute to do so.
Here, check out the article about it, in details.
Do Guitars Get Better With Age?
If you have a good quality guitar, there’s a chance it will sound better as the time goes by. Why is that so? It is just that wood tend to get more stable when years pass by.
However, it can only get to sound better if you play it regularly. If you don’t play your guitar regularly, the sound will remain just the same. Why?
Each time a guitar is played, the whole wood body (and neck) vibrates. Wood loosens when it vibrates. As you probably know, a vibration is everything when it comes to sound quality.
Over time, loosened wood vibrates more freely. That means the wood will vibrate along with strings, at the same time. More vibration = better sound.
Crucial Maintenance Tips
There are three crucial maintenance tips you need to comply to, if you want your guitar to last a lifetime. Let’s go through each, one by one.
Humidity can become your guitar’s greatest enemy. It can destroy your guitar in a very short period of time if it’s not monitored regularly.
That’s especially the case if you live near the cost, or somewhere where winters get harsh. High humidity destroys the wood.
Wood tends to absorb the moisture from the surrounding air. If it absorbs too much of it, the neck may get wider. Any shape change will significantly affect your guitar tone.
Also, if relative humidity is too low, the wood may crack. That usually happens in winter. When outside temperatures get low, we usually turn the heat in our rooms.
Heat can suck up the moisture, which can make your guitar too dry.
Anyway, make sure you monitor relative humidity level in the room where your guitar is. Also, watch for the sweat stains on the neck (sweat is humid!). Check out these two articles from this page to get insight about this issue.
Storing is another important tip when it comes to improving your guitar’s shape.
Best place you can put your guitar into is a hard case. Hard cases provide best protection from humidity, temperature changes, sunlight, physical damage and so on.
I use a hard case to store a guitar I don’t plan on playing for some time. Gator cases are, hands down, the best one you can find.
This is the case I have, and I don’t have anything to say about it other than this: It’s as good as it gets. You can leave your guitar in it for a year, it doesn’t matter. The guitar will be in the same condition as it was. Feel free to check it out!
If you have one, leave your guitar in it. Especially if you plan to leave your guitar alone for some longer period of time.
Another option is to have a rack. I personally don’t have it, but my friend bought himself this one.
It doesn’t provide total protection, like hard case, but nonetheless it’s a great storing tool. Especially when you play your guitar often, so it’s practical to have this one in your home.
Temperature And Sunlight
Temperature is not so dangerous to your guitar’s overall shape as it is temperature change. Temperature changes tend to mess up various materials.
What happens when rapid temperature change occur? Materials tend to get wider as the temperature goes up. When temperature goes down, materials tend to shrink.
Rapid temperature changes may screw your guitar body and neck. That’s because your guitar is not wood only. You have metal frets, tuning pegs, pickups, plastic parts and so on. Different materials change their length at different speed (rate).
That’s why you shouldn’t leave your guitar in a hot or cold car, for example. (See the article from this page about this, here.)
Ideal temperature for your guitar is a room temperature. If it’s cold (or hot) for you, it’s the same for your guitar!
Another potential problem is a sunlight. UV radiation can be devastating for your guitar.
Sunlight can discolor your guitar and loosen up strings, frets and glue. Processes of photodegradation and photooxidation occurs when UV radiation is present.
Keep your guitar out of strong sunlight. Don’t place your guitar on a balcony or near a window. Those subtleties can really improve your guitar’s shape!
If you want to know more about that process in details, check out the scientific study by H. Derbyshire and E. R. Miller, The photodegradation of wood during solar irradiation: Part I: Effects on the structural integrity of thin wood strips. Link leads to Springer page.
So, this is it. Guitars can indeed last very long, but only if they are properly maintained!
Make sure you maintain your guitar regularly. Anyway, I hope this article gave you some valuable information you’ve been looking for.
You can check out other interesting articles about guitar, and guitar maintenance.
Cheers, and rock on!