We all love our guitar amps, and many of us want to keep them in good condition. However, after enough time on the road or in a smoke filled bar, your amp will get a little too dirty for comfort. Not to mention the occasional spilled beer. Whoops! With a little time and effort however, your amplifier will be just like new. Here’s how to clean guitar amp tolex and grill cloth.
Tube guitar amplifiers are capable of creating lethal voltages and can store these voltages well after the amp has been turned off. Also, many components such as tubes can become very hot and unsafe to handle. Please exercise extreme caution when servicing amplifiers! If you are uncomfortable working with your amp in any way, take it to a qualified technician.
Blow off the Dust with an Air Compressor
The first thing I always do is remove all the dust that has accumulated on the amplifier. Begin unplugging all connections and double checking. This includes your guitar, speaker cab, pedal board, and the amp itself from the wall. You don’t want to accidentally begin moving your amp with something still attached.
Personally, I like to take my amp out to the garage or driveway and blow it off with the air compressor. You won’t believe how much dust will fly out of your amp, especially the grill cloth. Keep in mind to not get too aggressive with the air compressor around the speaker. It certainly needs to be cleaned, but you do not want to damage it either. Just be gentle when blowing the speaker off.
Make sure you get all the nooks and crannies, especially around controls and hardware. If you do not have an air compressor, you can try canned air, but I find that this doesn’t work as well. Remember to do this outside as it will stir up a lot of dust and will surly make a mess.
Vacuum up the Remaining Dust
Next, I like to vacuum the amp off. It is preferable to use a shop vac if you have one, but a regular household vacuum will work in a pinch. I like to use a brush attachment on the inside of the cabinet and a flat attachment for the grill cloth. Take your time here and give the amp a couple full passes. By ensuring you have removed as much dust as possible, your cleaning will be much easier.
Remove the Chassis and Speaker
At this time, you need to remove the amplifier chassis and speaker from the cab. Sensitive electronics and water do not get along! The last thing you want is to have water get trapped in a tube socket and short out your amp. Chassis and speakers are pretty easy to remove though, so there is no reason not to do it.
To remove the chassis, you must first disconnect everything attached to it. This includes the speaker and could also include effects like reverb. Occasionally you will find that the speaker is hard wired into the circuit and will have to be un-soldered. Chassis typically connect to the cabinet with either 2 or 4 screws. Simply unscrew the chassis and remove it. Please keep in mind that chassis are heavy! Always adequately support the chassis when removing it.
Next, most speakers attach to the baffle with 4 screws. Simply remove these screws and the speaker will come out after you have removed the chassis. Be sure to place the speaker and chassis in a well supported manner.
How to Clean the Amp Chassis
Please exercise caution when cleaning the chassis. Even though your amp has been unplugged, it is still capable of storing lethal voltages. Read my article here on capacitors to safely proceed.
Typically, a fair amount of dust accumulates inside the chassis. I like to also blow this out with the air compressor. Again, I use my best judgement and common sense while doing this. The electronics in your amp are sensitive and I do not recommend being overly aggressive with the air compressor. Only use the air enough to blow the dust of of your components.
Cleaning the Amplifier Faceplate
I have found that the faceplate of an amp is the most dirty component. This is because we are constantly touching it and the oils from our hands eventually get everywhere! This step is tedious, but if you are looking for the best results, you need to spend some time here.
No amount of using the air compressor is going to work on hand grime. I recommend using lint-free cleaning swabs. While these look like Q-Tips, they are not. Q-Tips leave fine fibers that you do not want getting inside of things like potentiometers. The lint free version is the proper tool for cleaning electronics.
Make a solution of luke-warm water and dish soap. Dip the cleaning swap in the solution and then scrub your faceplate with it. You will want to clean the knobs and switches as well. You will likely find that you may need to remove the knobs for best results as dirt loves to build up under them. Knobs attach with a set screw and you can remove them easily with a small screwdriver.
Please note that the water and dish soap solution is only appropriate to clean the outside of your amp. Never use this on the inside of the chassis or on the components. There is special electronics cleaner for this purpose.
Cleaning Internal Components
From time to time you will need to clean some of the internal components of you amplifier as well. For example, potentiometers can get dust inside of them which results in a loud, scratchy noise when they are turned. Since these procedures have more in common with servicing an amplifier, I will not be addressing them in this article. You can learn more about cleaning internal components by reading my Amplifier Service Guide here.
How to Clean Guitar Amp Tolex
Next, make a small batch of soapy water. It is best to use luke-warm water and a small amount of dish soap. Now with a clean rag (not the shop rag with oil, grease, and who knows what else on it) soak up a little soapy water to get the rag damp. Remember that you aren’t washing a car here, so there is no need to get carried away. By firmly rubbing down the tolex, most dirt and grime should come off.
Occasionally you may find a real stubborn stain or mark, in which case I suggest using a soft bristle brush. Tolex is tough stuff, so I wouldn’t be too concerned about damaging it. Rinse out your rag and repeat with some fresh water that does not have any soap.
How to Clean Guitar Amp Grill Cloth
For amp grill cloth, I find that spray on upholstery cleaner or Oxiclean works best. You need to follow the directions for the individual product you use, but typically these are the steps I take.
First, spray the cleaner on the grill cloth and give it a minute to soak in. Next, with luke-warm water and a clean rag, I gently wipe down the grill cloth. I do not recommend using a brush for this aplication as you do not want to snag any fibers on the grill cloth. Then, with a different rag and soap free water, I wipe down the grill cloth again. Finally, I vacuum the grill cloth with the shop vac to remove as much water as possible.
After your amp is all squeaky clean, you want to be sure to thoroughly dry it off. Take your time drying with some paper towels to ensure there are no water droplets hiding somewhere. Make sure you double check all corners and around hardware. Again, you don’t want water hiding somewhere before installing the chassis and speaker.
If the grill cloth is not dry yet, you can use the air compressor on it again to help. Let everything sit and dry for a while before proceeding.
After your amp is clean and dry, many guitarists wish to apply some protectant to the tolex. I have had very mixed results with this. Many players break out the Armor All from the garage and use it for the tolex. I personally do not recommend this. The amp gets a slippery, greasy feeling that I do not like at all. In fact, I rarely even use Armor All on my car for this reason.
What I find works the best is leather conditioner. I use it very sparingly, and to be honest, I’m unsure on how this product actually affects the tolex. Tolex after all is vinyl, not leather, so keep that in mind. Also, some conditioners have dye in them. This can be good if the color matches your tolex or disastrous if it doesn’t.
If you have some leather conditioner I suggest trying it out, but you may not need to go out and buy a bottle. Sometimes I don’t apply any conditioner at all. I find it’s kind of a case by case basis depending on the condition of your amp’s tolex. See what works best for you and your amp’s needs.
Install the Amp Chassis and Speaker
Once everything is completely dry, you can reinstall the amplifier chassis and speaker. This time, you will want to go in reverse order and install the speaker first. Once the speaker is back in, you can install the chassis as well. Be sure to reconnect everything that was unplugged. If your amp has multiple speaker connections with different impedance outputs, be sure you are connecting your speaker to the proper jack.
How Often Should I Clean My Amplifier?
Personally, I do not clean my guitar amp very often. Let’s be real, this is a lot of work! I typically only clean my amp when I begin to notice it is looking grungy. This will obviously be different for everyone depending on how much you play and the conditions you play in.
I find that I clean my amplifiers once every 1-3 years. If accidents occur, like spilling a beer, you should clean your amp ass soon as possible. While we are talking about spills, please remember that a guitar amp is not a coffee table, bar, or ash tray. If you keep things that easily spill away from your amp, accidental spills will be much less frequent.
So there you go! Your amp is fresh, clean, and ready to hit the stage. Just remember to use some common sense when cleaning your amplifier chassis, tolex, and grill cloth, and you should end up with some great results.