Guitar Polish Comparison - The Unvarnished Story

Four PolishesAt Backstage, we're constantly cleaning instruments, polishing guitars, and making our customers' tools of the trade look better upon departure than they did when they came through the door.    We take a lot of pride in the years of experience we have with the products we sell, and our understanding of why one product might be useful in one situation, and another product might be more useful in another situation.

We stock several different brands of guitar polish, and we use all of them in our own shop, because we haven't found a universally applicable polish.  To really do the job right, we keep four polishes on hand, and we use them all.  Here's sort of a rundown on what we sell, what we use, and why.

The four polishes we tend to keep around are Smith Pro Formula Polish, Kyser Dr. Stringfellow, Martin Professional Guitar Polish, and Clayton Pro Shine Guitar Polish.   Each has its purpose, and each serves its purpose well.

Let's start with the Clayton Pro-Shine. ($6.00, 4 oz.) This polish seems to have some lightly abrasive qualities to it, which make it ideal for easily cleaning instruments that have a build-up of grime or wax, as well as instruments with light scratches that need to be buffed out.  Older or infrequently maintained instruments seem to like this as a cleaner.  On guitars that need a really good, deep cleaning on the finish, this is often the bottle we reach for first.  We don;t really know what's in it , other than what the label says: "Made of natural and organic oils.".  The label also says it contains no silicones or solvents, so the polish itself should be safe for all finishes. Too much rubbing might have a negative impact on your finish, so use it lightly and keep an eye on your work.   While this is a great product for guitars with modern finishes, it's not the one we usually reach for when cleaning guitars with thinner finishes, such as Taylor and PRS instruments.

UPDATE 5/28/10: Tony just showed me a good trick to know if you use Clayton polish. The feeder tube (the little plastic tube attached to the spray head) is about 1 1/2" longer than the bottle is tall.  This causes the bottle of polish to act as if it is empty when the bottle is about 1/4 full.  So, when you think you're out of Clayton's, unscrew the top, cut off the curled end of the tube, and you're back in business for another quarter of a bottle.

Next we have the Kyser Dr. Stringfellow ($6.00, 4 oz.). This polish is what we reach for when the guitar needs a good cleaning, but doesn't need the sort of extensive cleaning we reserve for the Clayton polish.  It's only lightly abrasive, and does a good job of general cleaning. We don't know exactly what's in the Kyser polish, but the label does have a warning that it contains petroleum distillates, and can be "harmful or fatal" if swallowed.   It's always good to have a reminder that products should be used only in the manner for which they were created.

C.F. Martin Professional Guitar Polish ($7.50, 6 oz.) is a good polish we use in about the same manner as the Kyser polish.  It seems to have a lower abrasion factor than the Claytons, does a good job of putting on a shine, and is a good, general-purpose cleaner and polish.  This polish contains mineral oil and castor oil, and the label has several exposure cautions that should be observed.  While Martin polish is a good, general purpose polish, we tend to use this as an initial cleaner on an instrument that's not all that dirty, but could use a good cleaning before the final polish is applied.

Smith's Pro Formula Polish ($6.00, 4 oz.).  There are few instruments that come through our shop that don't end up with an application of Smith's Pro Formula Polish sometime before we call the job done.  If a guitar has been cleaned or polished with any other polish, we usually finish the polishing job with a treatment of Smith's.  Guitars that are going on our wall for sale get that "final touch" by an application of Smith's polish.   This polish has zero abrasive qualities, and is an excellent choice for all guitars, especially those with thin or delicate finishes.

We gave Smith's a call, and ended up on the phone with Ken Smith. Yes, that Ken Smith. Not only was he there, he spent 20 minutes on the phone talking about his polish.  (Want to hear what excited sounds like?  Ask Ken Smith about his guitar polish.)   Ken gave us some tips for using his polish.  "Spray it on a clean cloth, and then polish, instead of directly on the guitar."  Ken confirmed what we had already figured out, that his polish contains no abrasives of any sort.  He advised that his polish will clean all guitars, no matter how dirty, though a really grimy instrument will probably require more polish than a cleaner one will, and certainly will need more elbow grease.

One of the aspects of Smith's polish that he stressed was it's water based composition.  He outlined the way the polish is made, and the safe nature of his polish. "It's water based, the color is a food quality dye, and the smell is a perfume.  If it's accidentally consumed, there are none of the dangers that are associated with oil based polishes.".   He did stress that his polish is not designed for use on oil finishes, and that he makes another product for that application.   "Don't use it on bare, worn areas because the polish can creep though the wood and under the finish, and make finish re-touch or re-finishing difficult. Finish will not stick to 'waxey' wood. If this has happened, the bare wood will have to be de-contaminated (possibly with alcohol) because the wax is now IN the wood now. Then, after cleaning out the polish from the worn wood areas, it can be touched up or re-finished if that is your goal."  Being water-based, the polish can also be thinned with tap water, if desired.


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Backstage Music, LLC, 115-B Highway 12 West, Starkville, MS  39759
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