A classic old time technique
Cleaning "With the Grain"
© Frank Ford, 2004; Photos by FF

Better be careful if you try this trick on an instrument with a paper label!

In the years before vacuum cleaners and compressed air blow guns, a standard method of cleaning a stringed instrument was to pour in some grain such as rice or barley and shake it all around to knock down cobwebs, clinging dust and debris. Then, the grain was poured out, along with the loosened dirt.

The technique still works today, and can be used easily and to good effect when combined with compressed air and vacuum cleanup.

Here's all there is to it. The guitar in question is a 1960s Martin D-18 that had been infested with mildew and a lot of dust and dirt, so it looked dirty inside, and smelled really bad. To loosen the clinging dirt, dust and moldy stuff, I poured in about a cup and a half of brown rice:

Then, I taped over the soundhole to block it securely:

Now, the hard part. I shook the body all around as violently as I could for a while, and when I got tired, I passed it around the shop so everyone could get a turn. Here you can see Ian really mixing it up:

After a few minutes of staff aerobics, I removed the tape and alternately vacuumed the inside and blew on it with my compressed air blow gun to get all the rice and loose stuff out.

Usually that's all there is to it. This time, however, he guitar came out nice and clean, but still smelled really musty. So this time I decided to give it a heavy dose of baking soda to absorb some of the odors. Figuring it was really going to take a good intimate exposure to the chemical, I simply poured in half a pound of the stuff:

I taped the soundhole as before, shook it up and set it aside for a couple of days for the baking soda to do its job. As you can see, there was quite a snowdrift inside there when I took the tape off the soundhole:

After I vacuumed out the baking soda and repeated the rice technique, the inside of this guitar had lost most of its bad smell, and looked like new.

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