How To Clean A Guitar Bridge: Acoustic Vs Electric

Guitar Clean Bridge

The bridge on acoustic and electric guitars will get dirty and need to be cleaned from time to time. Basic cleaning of acoustic and electric guitar bridges is fairly simple, but heavy duty cleaning of electric guitar bridges can involve disassembling the bridge. Unless you are very experienced with electric guitar setup, you should leave this to a professional, otherwise your action and intonation will likely be intolerable.

When performing basic cleaning of a guitar bridge use a dry, lint free cloth to rub over the bridge and saddle to wipe away any dust and moisture that may accumulate during playing. Slide the cloth under the strings and wipe back and forth to clean the front area of the bridge beneath the strings.  As you remove the strings to replace or clean them, that’s the perfect time to give the bridge a little extra attention with a lightly damped cloth. For acoustic guitar bridges, with the strings off, remove the saddle and wipe the bridge completely with a damp cloth and for electric guitar bridges, use a lightly damped toothbrush to get around all those small adjustable parts. 

When satisfied with your results, finish up by thoroughly drying the bridge to prevent damage to wood, the finish or metal parts. Routine daily cleaning, and giving your guitar a little more care when the strings are off the instrument, will keep your guitar looking its best and keep moving parts working as expected.

How do you clean a guitar bridge?

Routine daily cleaning of any guitar is fundamentally the same. The idea is to remove dust, moisture, and grime before it builds up and makes your guitar look and sound dull.

What you will need:

  • A clean, dry, lint free cloth
  • A few seconds of time

You can use any type of lint free cloth ranging from a square cut from an old t-shirt to a high quality microfiber cloth. Just make sure it is clean, dry and free from anything that might scratch or harm your finish.

  1. Start by laying the cloth out flat and tucking it under the strings near the front of the bridge (above image).
  2. Work the cloth back and forth under the strings a few times until the area is satisfactorily clean.
  3. Remove the cloth from beneath the strings and wipe the back, sides and top of the bridge. Be sure to give a bit of extra attention to the edges where the bridge is fixed to the guitar.
  4. Repeat every time before and after you play to keep your guitar looking its best.

Routine cleaning will keep your guitar clean in the short term, however, there are difficult to reach areas, especially on electric guitars, where grime and gack will get missed and it will accumulate over time requiring a bit more effort. Anytime you remove your strings to clean or replace them is a perfect opportunity to give your bridge a more thorough cleaning. The proper cleaning method is different for acoustic guitars and electric guitars. 

Acoustic guitar bridge cleaning

What you will need:

  • Two (2) clean, dry, lint free cloths
  • Warm water
  • Liquid dish soap

Guitar Saddle MarkMix a drop of dish soap into a cup of warm water, then follow these steps:

  1. Remove the strings from your acoustic guitar and set the bridge pins aside.
  2. Remove the saddle and place a small piece of painters tape on the front so that you replace it in the same direction.
  3. 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.
  4. Wipe the bridge thoroughly, giving extra attention to the area where the bridge meets the soundboard.
  5. Frequently dry the areas that you have cleaned. If water is left on the wood or the finish it can cause damage.
  6. A damp, soft bristled toothbrush can be used to address heavy or dry deposits and difficult to reach areas.
  7. Ensure the entire bridge and soundboard are completely dry. Then, reinsert the saddle and restring your guitar.

It is important to make sure that the saddle is inserted in the correct direction or it will affect the intonation. If your acoustic guitar has an undersaddle pickup it will need to be pulled up and out of the way to keep it from getting damaged or wet. Undersaddle pickups are fairly expensive and delicate equipment and should only be removed by an experienced technician. Do not attempt to remove it from the saddle slot if you do not know what you are doing.

Electric guitar bridge cleaning

What you will need:

  • A clean, dry, lint free cloth
  • A soft bristled toothbrush
  • Warm water
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Drinking straw (optional)

Floyd Rose CleaningMix a drop of dish soap into a cup of warm water, then follow these steps:

  1. Remove the strings from your electric guitar.
  2. Dip the soft bristled toothbrush in the warm water and dish soap mix and thoroughly. Shake/tap the toothbrush to remove as much water as possible.
  3. Scrub the bridge and saddles thoroughly, giving extra attention to the areas under the saddles and where the bridge meets the body (or where the posts are inserted if you have a Tune-o-Matic or roller style bridge).
  4. Frequently dry the areas that you have cleaned with the dry cloth. Use a drinking straw to blow out any water that can’t be accessed with the dry cloth. If water is left on the metal or the finish it can cause rust, corrosion, or discoloration. 
  5. Ensure the entire bridge and saddles are completely clean and dry. Then, restring your electric guitar.

Be aware that electric guitar saddles have several moving parts with springs and screws for adjusting string height and intonation. These can easily get moved while cleaning which will affect the sound and playability of your electric guitar. If you are not comfortable with making the necessary adjustments you will likely want to take your guitar to an experienced luthier (guitar builder/repair specialist) rather than attempt to clean your electric guitar bridge yourself.

If you don’t maintain a proper cleaning routine you will eventually need to replace your bridge to keep your guitar working properly and looking sharp.

How much does a new guitar bridge cost?

There are many factors that determine the cost of a new guitar bridge. Principally, if it is an electric, acoustic or archtop guitar. Other factors include the types of wood or metal, quality of the bridge, fixed vs floating, brand, style and labor for installation.

Acoustic guitar bridges are primarily made from either ebony or rosewood though lower end acoustic guitar can make them from cheaper, softer woods. Manufactured acoustic guitar bridges are not expensive, falling in the range of $15 – $30. However, the labor to have the old one properly removed and a new one glued on is significantly more expensive than bridge itself. It takes a few hours to properly remove and replace a bridge. Most luthiers charge at least $60 per hour for their skilled labor. 

Further, the new bridge has to match the old bridge exactly to prevent gaps between the finish and the bridge or from having to remove finish to make sure the new bridge is properly glued in place. With the added cost of labor, a new bridge will likely set you back a minimum of $200.

Acoustic guitar bridges should only be removed and installed by an experienced luthier. Never attempt to remove the bridge from an acoustic guitar! If you do not remove the bridge properly and with the right tools you may irreparably damage the soundboard, permanently disfiguring your acoustic guitar and fundamentally altering the sound.

Electric guitar bridges have significantly more variables than acoustic guitar bridges. Electric guitar bridges include fixed Telecaster style bridges, Les Paul style bridges like Tune-o-Matic or roller bridges, and tremolo style bridges like Bigsby, Floyd Rose, and Stratocaster. Depending on style, brand and quality, the price can vary from as little as $20 for a piece of crap up to several hundred dollars for a top of the line tremolo bridge.

Tremolo style bridges are the most complex and therefore the most expensive. One can find a tremolo style bridge for as little as $20, but frankly, this is not the spot to cheap out on your guitar. Cheap tremolo bridges will not hold their tune. If you are considering a $20 tremolo, you will want to take a trip to the beach first. When you get there, take $20 from your pocket and throw it in the ocean, then go buy a decent tremolo bridge. A fair to middlin’ tremolo bridge will cost you in the ballpark of $100 – $150. 

Most tremolo style bridges should be installed by an experienced luthier. If changing bridge style, say from a Strat bridge to a Floyd Rose, routing of the guitar body will be needed to make it fit and this is something that should only be done by an expert. The labor will cost a couple hundred dollars on top of the cost of the new bridge.

There are some electric guitar bridges that are simple to replace like the Tune-o-matic style bridges. You can get a Tune-o-Matic style or roller bridge for as little as $15 but a good quality one will run in the neighborhood of $50. Even these, however, will need a proper setup after being installed. If you aren’t comfortable with setting up and intonating your own electric guitar a luthier will charge you in the neighborhood of $60-$120 for the work, depending on the bridge style.

Again: daily maintenance!

As with cleaning any part of your guitar, daily maintenance and routine cleaning of the bridge will extend the life of your guitar. Frequently wiping your bridge with a clean dry cloth only takes a few seconds and it will keep your guitar clean, keep the hardware working properly, and extend the life of your instrument.

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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