Rusty frets, no obvious damp?
December 13, 2007 6:10 AM   Subscribe

I recently got one of my guitars out of its case to find the frets covered in green stuff, and small patches of rust on a few of them....

... No other patches of rust appear to have worsened on the bridge etc (it's a '78 tele). I plugged it in and it was very crackly, which it wasn't before.

I checked my other guitar that I don't play regularly and found it to be in a similar condition. Both guitars have been kept in their cases - the tele in a hard fur lined hiscox case, and the strat in a gig bag.

The room they're stored in isn't apparently damp - I don't have central heating in my house, however the room the guitars are stored in does have a storage heater, and is the only room in the house kept at a decent temperature. The only thing I can think is the room is next to the bathroom.

My question is this: How can i prevent this from happening - would a de-humidifier help?

And does the rust on my guitars frets indicate the end of it's life? if not, how can i treat the frets? And am I better leaving the guitar out of its case?

any suggestions appreciated, really panicking about it.
posted by chrissyboy to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Poor capitalization / ineloquence is a by product of the stress this has caused!
posted by chrissyboy at 6:13 AM on December 13, 2007

A '78 tele is worth a chunk of change so you really should take it to a luthier. However you could lightly clean the frets with very fine steel wool and clean the switches with WD-40. If it's a rosewood neck you could oil it which would help cut down the oxidation on the frets. Refretting will seriously affect the value of your guitar so unless the frets are so worn down that they're causing playing/intonation problems I would leave them.
posted by oh pollo! at 6:21 AM on December 13, 2007

The oxidation of the metal parts (it sounds like your frets are made of brass or copper) of your guitars are mostly a result of humidity. If might want to consider getting a dehumidifier for the room where your guitar is stored and keep it set on a level that helps maintain a 45-55% humidity level. Any less humid than that and your guitar will dry and crack.

A luthier might be able to suggest a cleaning process that won't damage the wooden parts of your guitars, they also might know of a product you can use to coat the frets with to seal them and prevent this from happening again.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:53 AM on December 13, 2007

clean the switches with WD-40

Don't do this. WD contains nasty solvents and silicone oil, which could damage the plastic but will certainly cause gunk+dust to build up on the switch. It is designed to leave an oily residue behind. If you must clean switches, use tuner cleaner.

As for taking care of your guitars, you should really move them out of that room, because that kind of corrosion is due to humidity. You can't just put them in a bag with dessicant because you need to keep them at a medium humidity level.
posted by fake at 6:59 AM on December 13, 2007

Are these cases/bags fairly airtight? If so, if you store the guitar on a humid day, you're locking in humidity. Then, if the room gets cold, even once in a while, that vapor will condense on the metal parts -- not visibly, but enough to cause the corrosion. Being next to the bathroom is probably not the cause, but not having central heat will definitely contribute to moisture problems. Find out from the pros what the best storage temp and humidity levels are and try to achieve that. Here's board post that's relevant, Google "storage temperature humidity guitars" for other info. (That poster suggests keeping the guitar out of the case, BTW).
posted by beagle at 7:39 AM on December 13, 2007

Cleaning frets is easy. Get an old credit card/piece of plastic and cut a hole in the center big enough to hold a fret. Make it look like this. Get some of the finest steel wool you can find (0000 gauge) and then go ahead and polish them. Rub the wool up and down the fret until you get a nice mirror shine. You can use some sort of polish too. If it's a maple neck (and i think the tele is), it will scratch the wood, so watch it. Also, put some masking tape on your pickups, as stray steel wool will get attracted by the magnets. They should stay rust free for a while, and as a bonus they'll feel great. Obviously you have to take the strings off to do all this, and if you can't handle that, take it to a professional. Don't panic!
posted by Mach5 at 7:41 AM on December 13, 2007

Seconding the suggestions to keep the guitars out of their cases. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that you play them - at least occasionally. You'll be more likely to notice problems before they crop up. The frequent attention will help avoid neglect. Keeping the strings at proper tension and corrosion free will help maintain the instrument.

The crackly electronics could be solved by simply opening the panel and gently blowing away some dust. I wouldn't mess around in there much (due to the premium for "vintageness") without knowing what you're doing. I certainly wouldn't spray any WD-40 in there.

Vintage instruments are valuable precisely because they sound great - no sense letting them gather dust in the closet. Consider, for example, violins. Some of the finest are hundreds of years old and must be played daily.

Do your best to remain calm. A little corrosion will be an easy fix.
posted by GPF at 8:26 AM on December 13, 2007

Related question, hoping not to derail: If one were to place a dehumidifier in a room with musical instruments, what setting would be best, cranked all the way or is "medium" sufficient?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:36 AM on December 13, 2007

If one were to place a dehumidifier in a room with musical instruments, what setting would be best, cranked all the way or is "medium" sufficient?

Completely depends on the climate you live in. Here on the gulf coast, I'd probably leave it cranked all the way up and still have problems. In the New Mexico desert, you'd actually need to humidify the room. As was said in a previous post, the key is to keep it at about 45-55% humidity
posted by chrisamiller at 8:48 AM on December 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't want to completely dehumidify a room where you store wooden instruments. Wood will shrink with dehydration and this can cause glued joints to come undone.
posted by cabingirl at 9:06 AM on December 13, 2007

There are two kinds of "tuner cleaner" (contact cleaner); you want the zero residue kind.

Buy some instrument hanging hooks so you'll have your guitars on the wall indoors where people live. You'll play them a lot more, and they'll be in a healthy environment.
posted by lothar at 10:27 AM on December 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, feeling slightly calmer now....
posted by chrissyboy at 11:59 AM on December 13, 2007

Yeah chill, this is totally normal. Your frets are brass, the green stuff is called 'verdigris'. Do what Mach5 suggested above with the old credit card and cutting out a 'window' for the frets, to protect the fingerboard; but don't use steel wool, even 0000, on your frets; instead go to the hardware store and get a small can of something called 'NEVR-DULL', which is basically wadding impregnated with a special solvent. Use this wadding to polish the verdigris off your frets without leaving any scratches in the tops of them. Use the credit card to keep the juice from the NEVR-DULL off the lacquered wood of the fingerboard. (in a pinch, you can fold over a piece of aluminum foil and cut a window out of it too, although it's not quite as good.) I guarantee you that this is the only and best correct solution.

As far as preventing this, verdigris really doesn't seem to be catalyzed by moisture the way that iron rust is. It will crop up from time to time; just use your NEVR-DULL to get it off.

As far as the crackly guitar, the switch contacts and/or knob pots probably became corroded. Flip the switch a lot and rotate the knobs vigorously for a few minutes; if that doesn't fix it, they may need to be replaced, which is a quick and easy job.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:09 PM on December 13, 2007

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