Keep your equipment clean, seriously…

Yesterday, I told you about Paul. That was fun.

Today, I will tell you about Mike. Mike might be more likely to set your house on fire than Paul. He’s pretty awesome.

Mike is not his real name, but I’m using the story with permission.

On Saturday, I had people visit and one of them was Mike. I think Mike can be best summed up as being in his late 40s and still playing small bar gigs. Mike is very much the stereotypical small bar guitar player. I’m pretty sure that Mike said this when I first met him. “My name is Mike, and I live off the women I meet.” Mike’s pretty honest.

This might sound like a terrible job, but Mike doesn’t actually even have to be a very good guitar player. Mike doesn’t have to give two shits about his wardrobe. I am not sure if Mike even pays for the copious illicit substances he imbibes. If he does, I don’t know how. Mike has no money.

Mike isn’t in it for the money. No, Mike is in it for the lifestyle – which is more accurately stated that Mike probably isn’t able to be gainfully employed in an alternative industry. I like Mike, but I’m pretty sure he’d get fired on the first day as a fry cook.

Mike does have to worry about reliable transportation and reliable/affordable equipment. His transportation and equipment are about as reliable as a meth addict.

If Mike has ever had a new guitar, he probably stole it. Or conned a girlfriend into buying it for him. Seriously… If someone says they play guitar, they’re a walking example of a series of bad life choices.

I don’t think Mike actually has a driver’s license. I’ve seen his name in the paper! It distinctly tells me that they arrested him for exactly that reason. Mike drives – everywhere. I have ridden with Mike. It’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Mike is distinctly not allowed to drive anything I own. Mike is never even a little sober. He’s a fucking mess!

Which is to say, Mike is one of my favorite people! I fucking love hanging out with Mike. There’s pretty much no point in time when Mike is doing something that isn’t interesting.

Mike brings me treasures – often hoping that I’ll buy them.

On Saturday, Mike brought me a treasure – except he was very confident that he didn’t want to sell it. (That’s a good thing.)

Mike brought me a 1991 Fender Strat. He loves Strats.

When he finally conned me into letting him bring it into the house, my first words were. “Holy shit, Mike. That’s fucking disgusting.”

It’s 27 years old. It’s probably seen zero maintenance and I’m pretty sure it’s never been cleaned. None cleaning. None.

‘Snot even the least bit unusual. It’s definitely not even the least bit unusual for Mike. Mike knows they’re disgusting. He calls it patina. That’s probably an old French word that means ‘too lazy to clean my shit.’

‘Snot like Mike’s going to keep this guitar. No, this guitar will last him maybe a year – and he’ll be on to his next treasure. This isn’t a collector piece. I’ll give him $200 for it. $250, if he fucking cleans it.

It’s in terrible shape. He loves it. Mike doesn’t care one bit about things like intonation. Mike does not make faithful replications. Mike does make (some of) his own music. He once made me feel so bad I bought one of his CDs!

Mike gave up selling CDs pretty quickly. He now informs me that my CD is a collector’s item. He even signed it. Thank you, Mike. It’s a treasure!

Mike can’t actually sell merchandise. Mike doesn’t have his shit together well enough to do that. He’s tried – and it always gets stolen or given away.

He might actually have more stories than I have. Ain’t no way Mike is ever gonna write them down. I’d consider writing Mike’s story, but I’d be really hard pressed to fool people into thinking Mike plays guitar better than Hendrix.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think Mike is in it for the music. That might actually be a brilliant idea. I think he just likes the attention and lifestyle – which includes vast amounts of time spent inebriated and picking up ladies from the bar. He does have a fascination with the equipment used, but that’s probably developed from constantly needing to replace and repair it.

Huh… I’d ask Mike if he even likes music, but I’m pretty sure he’s sleeping and I doubt it’s in his own bed. I assume he has a bed, but I’ve never seen it. I’m not sure that’s fair. Mike has slept at my house and seen my beds. Then again, I’m never sleeping at Mike’s house – ever.

Either way, I’ve touched on some of these subjects before, but I feel like writing about ’em today and, well… ‘Snot like you can fire me…

Come on now…

Quick question! Let’s have a show of hands! How many of you have actually read your manuals for your gear?

Put your goddamned hands down, you liars. You fool nobody!

I’ve spent far too many hours puzzled by people who just throw those manuals right into the damned trash. I know you do – I’ve bought a lot of used gear and it’s damned certain you didn’t thumb through it until it was dogeared or even save it in the nice plastic bag it probably came in. I don’t know how you even lost it – it’s probably got a pouch right there in the damned case.

I was recently speaking with someone who’s learning to play the guitar. I asked ’em if they’d read their amp manual yet. They told me that they hadn’t and that they’d just torn into it and started using it.

That’s pretty normal. I’d say that is pretty prevalent in the guitar world. I don’t have exact numbers. I’d be curious to know. Hmm…

I actually went looking for some real numbers, backed by the bad science that is Internet Polls, and came up with none. (Ed. Note: This is where Ol’ Buddha kinda meandered off topic for a bit. Weed.)

That’s terrible! Someone should have these sorts of numbers. What percentage of people read the manuals for their guitar-related equipment?

In my process of looking for those numbers, I discovered that people say (which doesn’t actually have much credibility) that 80% of piano students drop out after just two years.

I also found 90% (in the first year) for guitar! Sounds about right, actually.

I’ll add to that. I hear that sort of thing with so much frequency that I have stock replies. I hear things like, “I tried playing guitar.” Or, “I used to play guitar.” I hear that far more often than I hear, “Oh, I play guitar!”

I usually respond with something like shaking my head and saying that’s nice. I don’t actually expect them to pick it back up again. If pressed, I tell many people that I really doubt they’ll find it a good time investment. People usually quit when they realize it’s fucking hard to make it rewarding.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah… We were talking about reading the damned manual.

You should do that. Really.

They wrote it for a reason, you know.

See, inside that manual it’ll tell you how to clean your fucking guitar!

I don’t have to type out directions. You have to open the damned manual!

I’m pretty damned sure it’s always in the manual.

You’re getting your squishy human fleshy bits warm and abrading them rapidly across a very rough surface – with upwards of 16 pounds of pressure, maybe higher.

In other words, you’re leaving millions and billions of bits of dead-you-flesh and oils all over the fucking thing. The guitar is covered in dead bits of the people who played it.

Clean that fucking thing. That’s disgusting!

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll absolutely play a disgusting guitar. I ain’t proud.

That doesn’t make it less disgusting. That just makes me also disgusting.

Look at the conditions you put your guitar! Your guitar, including that fretboard (which might have like 70% of the string’s vibration over it) is a delicate tool for transferring vibrations.

That’s what a guitar does, you know. It transfers vibrations. It might even be in your fucking manual. You won’t know, ’cause you didn’t read it.

There’s a reason they come finished the way they do. They don’t resonate nearly as well when they’re covered with a 0.5mm of cigarette smoke, dead skin cells, spilled beer, and smudged nacho dip.

No, it doesn’t make it sound distinct. It makes it sound muddy and it’s straight up disgusting.

So, read your damned manual. It’ll tell you how and when to clean it. It’s probably even got a schedule in there somewhere.

Mine get cleaned regularly – like on a real schedule. They do, too! I’m kinda picky about it. I’ll tell you how I clean fretboard.

When I remove the strings, I give the neck a quick wipe-down with a cloth that’s probably what you’d say is partially oiled. Bits of my cloth will have some tiny drops of oil left in them but, like I said, we’re disgusting.

I do this – every time I remove the strings. Even if I’m replacing a string back stage, I wipe it with something – probably my shirtsleeve ’cause I’m disgusting. It’s just a habit. I’m pretty sure every guitar I own also has its own cleaning kit in the case.

Every second time, or thereabouts, I’ll actually do so with it on a safe and stable surface, and under good lighting. I’ll pay attention to the condition of the material and I’ll remove grime – perhaps with a plastic toothpick or a guitar pick. I don’t let it get too packed with grime and that keeps it easy.

If it’s looking a little dry, I might drop the tiniest amounts of oil on the cloth and that’s pretty much as far as I go these days. I send them out regularly. I just consider that fee to be a cost of maintaining my tools.

But, the guy that I send them to is pretty damned obsessive. He cleans and conditions them well. He’s got a variety of tools and various ways to magnify the material to inspect it. You should probably inspect your guitar frequently. If you don’t know how to inspect your guitar, maybe you might first check the manual?

Caring for the body will vary quite a bit more. So, I’m not gonna write about that today. There’s lots of different bodies and they may well require a specific type of cleaning. It’s also probably in your manual.

Your other gear? Yeah, maybe clean that too. Yes, you use pedals with your feet, but you pick up your pedals with your hands. I know damned well you didn’t wash those hands and that stage hasn’t been properly scrubbed since 1949.

Maybe even consider cleaning and inspecting those cables. It probably won’t hurt – assuming you remember to unplug things first.

Amps? I’ve seen stuff in amps that had no business being in there. I’ve seen stuff inside them that I’m not actually sure how it managed to get in there. I’ve found bones of small rodents in them – and no sign of entry.

Keep your shit clean and maintained. It will last longer, work better, is actually less work than doing repairs, and you’re not spreading like a plague or some shit. Seriously, there’s trillions of bits of dead you-stuff stuck to your fretboard. That’s disgusting. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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