How To Clean A Filthy Guitar Amp

Clean amp cover

Our guitar amps tend to be an afterthought when it comes to keeping our equipment clean. In addition to their intended use, they are frequently used as tables on which to set drinks and ashtrays. They collect much of the same dust and detritus that collects on our guitars, leaving them looking uncared for. 

Guitar amps with synthetic coverings can easily be cleaned with a bit of soapy water and a soft bristled brush. Place a drop of dish soap in a cup of water, dip a clean cloth in it, wring out the excess water, then wipe your guitar amp thoroughly from top to bottom. Use a soft bristled scrub brush or toothbrush to focus on hard difficult corners, around handles, or hard to remove debris such as spilled drinks. Then using a dry cloth make sure there isn’t any moisture left on your guitar amp.

It is best practice to wipe your guitar amp off with a clean, dry cloth every time you play to help keep debris from building up and therefore requiring a deeper cleaning less often. The best reasons to keep your guitar amp clean is that keeping it clean improves its performance and extends its life.

How do I clean my guitar amp?

24 hours a day, your amp collects dust – just like any piece of furniture in your home. There is a constant haze of dust floating around us. Composed of dander, smoke, pollen, mites, dirt, fragments of bugs bereft of life, bacteria, disintegrating carpet pads, and even eroding tires and plastics. Each human in your house sheds about 30 – 40,000 skin cells every hour! Every year the Earth adds 40,000 or so tons of space dust. 3 billion tires are manufactured every year because the old tires wear into fine dust like particles that float around in the air. On top of that you can add dander from pets, pollen from the air, smoke/ash/tar/residue from cigarettes or vape, and even oils from cooking. All of this detritus amalgamates into dust and settles onto your guitar amp making it look old and uncared for. Further, dust gets into the potentiometers (pots) and affects the performance of your amp. 

Guitar amps are typically covered with vinyl or alternatively with Tolex or Leatherette. Less often, you will find them covered with tweed or even real leather. Typically, vinyl covers are textured and a soft bristled scrub brush or toothbrush are necessary to clean into each of the nooks and crannies.

What you need to clean a filthy guitar amp with a vinyl/Tolex/Leatherette cover:

  • Two clean, dry cloths
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Soft bristled scrub brush or toothbrush (optional)

Clean guitar amp: before & afterSteps for cleaning a filthy guitar amp

  1. Unplug your guitar amp from the power source.
  2. Unplug all cords and cables.
  3. If you are not very familiar with your amp settings it is never a bad idea to write down where each of your knobs are set before cleaning your amp so that you can return them to the exact same setting when done.
  4. Remove the speaker grill (this will be cleaned separately).
  5. Remove each of the knobs to clean underneath them. Dirt left under the knobs can eventually work itself into the pots.
  6. Mix one drop of liquid dish soap into one cup of warm water.
  7. Wet a clean, lint free cloth in the warm water and dish soap mix and thoroughly wring as much water as possible from the cloth.
  8. Wipe the entire exterior of the amp (excluding the fabric screen).
  9. Carefully use a soft bristled toothbrush or scrub brush to get at hard to clean areas such as corners, or around handles. 
  10. Use the second clean, dry cloth to dry off any spots that remain wet or damp.
  11. If you’ve removed the knobs and cleaned the speaker grill (read on for speaker grill cleaning instructions) reinstall them.
  12. Become the envy of your band mates who now think you have a new guitar amp!

You can finish the process by wiping on a vinyl protectant to help resist stains and to make future cleaning easier. Just about any auto vinyl cleaner like Armor All, Mother’s, or Maguiare’s will do the job smashingly well. Simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions and wipe the cover down.

How do I clean my speaker grill cover?

When it comes to cleaning the fabric on the speaker grill cover, the necessary procedures can vary depending on how defiled it is or the extent of neglect. I do not recommend soaking the speaker grill in any type of liquid because the frames are typically made of plywood. Soaking wood can cause it to warp, swell or degrade and water can break down any glue used in or on the wood. I also do not recommend using shoe polish to restain your speaker grill. Shoe polish is typically made from oily petrochemical derivatives. These get absorbed into the fibers of your grill cloth taking a great deal of time to dry. This wet oil will stain most things that come into contact with it.

What you need to clean a speaker grill:

  • A clean, dry cloth
  • Large bath towel
  • Handheld spray bottle
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Soft bristled scrub brush or toothbrush

Steps for cleaning the speaker grill

  • Remove your amp grillRemove the speaker grill.
  • Mix one drop of dish soap in one cup of warm water.
  • Pour dish soap and water mixture into handheld spray bottle.
  • Fold a bath towel in half and lay the speaker grill on top of the folded towel.
  • Spray the speaker grill with soap/water mixture.
  • Using the clean, dry cloth, dab and wipe both sides of the speaker grill thoroughly.
  • Carefully use the a soft bristled brush to GENTLY scrub any stains or debris that does not clean up by wiping or dabbing.
  • Wipe the entire grill cloth with a dry cloth to get it as dry as possible.
  • Dry the grill cloth by air drying. If you are in a hurry, to speed the drying process you can use an air compressor to blow out any excess water or a hair dryer on a low heat setting will do the job fairly quickly.
  • Reinstall the speaker grill.

One can also use any type of fabric spray cleaner or stain remover to clean the grill cloth as well. I recommend following manufacturer directions as well as testing it in an inconspicuous area to ensure it will not remove the color from the fabric.

Once your guitar amp is cleaned and looking impressive it is an easy task to keep it looking its best by following a frequent yet simple cleaning routine. 

How do you maintain an amplifier?

Just as I have recommended with strings and guitars, maintaining a frequent cleaning routine is the best way to prevent or delay more intensive cleaning of your guitar amp. Simply wiping your guitar with a clean dry cloth after every use will remove debris before it has the opportunity to adhere itself to your amp. Thoroughly clean up any food or drink spills immediately with warm water and a clean cloth before it has time to dry. At the very least clean up as much as humanly possible and follow the above cleaning steps when you have your guitar amp where it can be cleaned more thoroughly. 

The guitar amp is often overlooked as an instrument because they tend to be less delicate and they aren’t used in the same non-stop manner that a guitar is. Typically you fiddle with the knobs then leave it alone. However, a guitar amp is just as important as a guitar and deserves the same respect you would give your guitar. Treat your guitar amp well and it will treat you well.

Andy Query

After years of doing repairs for friends and family as a side hustle I started Ibex Custom Guitars and repair out of my shop in Garden City, Idaho. Along with repairs I build custom electric and acoustic guitars, ukuleles, and cajóns. I apprenticed for five years under Master Luthier John Bolin of Bolin guitars where we built custom guitars for some of the biggest names in rock & roll, including ZZ Top, Steve Miller, and Joe Perry to name a few.

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