Well, if this ain’t the most interesting title we’ve had up to this moment then we don’t know what is. Okay, so you haven’t washed your hands after eating some good ol’ Allium sativum, and you went straight from the table to guitar practice. And now you’re wondering: why does my guitar smell like garlic? Now, now, we’re only kidding. Let’s get a bit more serious!

Here at Music Gear Heads, we like to joke around, and sometimes – the jokes are pretty lame. So, yeah, don’t take it too personally. Anyway, what have we prepared for you today? Are we really going to talk about why a guitar can smell like garlic? Absolutely!

The garlic smell is most probably coming from your guitar strings. Here’s why: during summer, our fingers tend to get a bit sweaty, and that, in the combination with metal or coated strings and less frequent handwashing, is the reason behind your smelly guitar strings. 

There’s no way you’ll get rid of the garlic stench just by reading the snippet above. Read the whole thing to make sure your date doesn’t leave the second you bring your guitar into the room.

Table of Contents

What do guitars smell like?

Before we continue our little talk about garlic-smelling guitars (has anyone ever used that word construction?), let’s consider a broader topic first. In other words, let’s see what a regular, non-garlic-related guitar smells like in the first place.

Let’s start this one with the acoustic guitar smell, which some say is ten times better than the new car smell (and we completely agree). How your brand new acoustic guitar smells will depend on the type of wood that’s been used in its production. For instance, cedar-body acoustic guitars are quite known for their strong smell, folks say that it basically never goes away (however, it’s not unpleasant). So, yeah, one should expect an acoustic guitar to have that fantastic wooden smell.

Here’s a quick detour for all the acoustic aficionados out there: an article about whether extra light acoustic strings are any good.

What about electric guitars? Here’s the thing: forget about the wooden smell since their bodies are always finished with either a polyurethane clear coat, varnish, or lacquer. The good news is that the smell of polyurethane (oh, what a term, sounds like a urinary disease) eventually goes away. However, the smell of nitro lacquer doesn’t and many folks are allergic to the so-called nitro finishes.

Oh, and we almost forgot to consider the so-called old guitar smell. Some folks would argue that the best guitar smell out there comes from old guitars. In other words, they say that age-old guitars possess that old dusty smell many people seem to be attracted to. However, if you’re dealing with an old instrument that had a smoker for the preview owner, you’re not going to love the smell of it. And it’s not like it’s easy to get the smoke smell out, trust us.

Why do Gibsons smell like vanilla?

For the second part of our intro section, we’ve chosen to talk about why some Gibson guitar models smell like vanilla. In a way, we’re trying to gradually come to a point where it’s completely alright to imagine a garlic-smelling guitar. So, why do some Gibson guitars smell like vanilla? Here’s our answer:

  • Gibson is known to use TKL guitar cases for their USA models/lines, and TKL is quite known to use vanilla-scented glue in the production of these cases. That scent eventually gets caught in your instrument’s lacquer and that’s why folks talk about Gibsons smelling like vanilla. 

Now that we’ve got that one covered, it’s about time we consider the main issue this article has proposed. Okay, so take a deep breath and join us on the quest to find out why a guitar can smell like garlic!

A guitar smelling of garlic laid down on the bed

Why does my guitar smell like garlic?

Without further ado, let’s see just why would an amazing string instrument known as a guitar smell like garlic. You’ll want to know that it isn’t the instrument itself that sometimes smells like garlic, it’s the strings we’ll be talking about here. So, why do guitar strings smell like garlic?

How do we know that it isn’t your guitar body that’s causing the smelliness? Well, many guitarists have reported the garlic-fingers issue after playing. Yup, some folks say that their fingers catch that recognizable garlic smell right after they’re finished with guitar practice. Here’s another thing: this is an especially common issue during the hottest months of the year.

Okay, so we’ve said that this issue occurs mostly during summer. That can mean only one: this garlic smell we’re discussing has something to do with sweaty fingers. If you’ve assumed that too, you’re absolutely right. Let’s see what’s the deal:

  • Some folks have fingers that possess bigger and more sensitive sweat glands, according to some studies. Anyway, the combo of sweaty fingers, metal or coated strings, wooden guitars, and somehow less frequent hand washing is our main suspect here. And it’s not like only metal or coated strings have the power to summon the garlic smell. Traditional gut or silk strings are also known to share the same attribute once the sweat ends up on your fretboard. 

Oh, and speaking of strings, here’s whether you need to wrap strings with locking tuners. Now that we know what’s causing your guitar to smell like your grandpa’s breath during flu season, let’s see if there’s a way to prevent the issue!

How to prevent garlic guitar smell?

Let’s see if there’s a method to keep your guitar garlic-smell-free. First of all, you’ll want to find a piece of cloth or an old T-shirt and wipe your guitar strings in a thorough manner (or simply replace them with a new set of strings). You should do this even if your strings don’t have the luxury of smelling like garlic, it’s a part of the regular guitar maintenance. Anyway, you’ll want to clean the fretboard too: use the 0000-grade steel wool to wipe it thoroughly. Before you clean your fretboard, make sure that your pickups (if you’re using an electrical guitar) or the sound hole pickups (if you’re more of an acoustic person) are covered with painter’s tape to keep them totally free of rebellious steel wool fibers.

And another thing: don’t try to use any household cleaning products on your strings or on the guitar itself. If you’ve wondered if WD-40 is any good for your guitar, know that it’s absolutely not. There are cleaning products that are specifically designed to be used on guitars, so yeah, there’s no need to experiment with any of your household solutions.

Now, let’s provide you with something of a conclusion: regular guitar maintenance and frequent handwashing is the key to a non-garlic-smelling instrument. That’s all there’s to it! We might want to see if there’s any other smell-related guitar issue we’d like to cover in this text. Oh, it looks like we’ve got something.

Ways you can get rid of guitar case smell

As always, we’ll reward your patience (it takes a patient person to read a 1500-word article nowadays) with a bonus round of useful tips. This time, we’ll consider the methods you can utilize in order to make your guitar case less smelly. You’ll notice that they’re pretty easy to do.

#1 Coffee beans to the rescue

First things first, you’ll want to try out probably the easiest one of them all: employing some coffee beans to help you get rid of guitar case stench. You’ll want to know that they’ve got the capability of acting as filters, therefore removing various hazardous gases from the air, not to mention – the smell.

So, how will you do this? Simply throw some coffee beans into an old sock or a mesh bag and put it inside your guitar case. That will probably help you greatly in the battle against guitar case smell.

#2 Oil and vinegar combo

Okay, so first you’ll want to mix two teaspoons of olive oil with one pint of vinegar. Next up, add a couple of drops of something that smells good like lemon essential oil or anything similar, just to neutralize the vinegar smell.

Put the solution in a spray bottle and use it on the inside of your guitar case. Just a light mist over the inside of the case will do the trick. Afterward, gently rub the solution in with a dry piece of cloth and seal the case. Keep it like that for the next 24-48 hours and repeat the process if necessary.

#3 Activated charcoal

Just like it can help you battle a nervous stomach, activated charcoal can also neutralize foul smells coming from your guitar case. As you know, it comes in many forms (granules, discs, etc.). Anyway, you’ll need to create a little sachet using some cheesecloth, muslin, or nylon hose and place the charcoal inside the guitar case. Make sure that the case doesn’t move during the process, as charcoal tends to be messy.

Also, while we’re on the subject of equipment maintenance, here’s one for the drummers: an article on how to clean Roland mesh heads.

Final words on the subject of guitar smell

Okay, so that’s about it on the subject of garlic smell coming from your guitar (strings). Hopefully, now you’re well aware that regular maintenance and handwashing have no alternative. If you’re on the lookout for more tips and info on various guitar-related subjects, pay a visit to this page. Until next time, good luck with maintaining your favorite instrument!