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Equipment Valeting

Tips & Techniques By Paul White
Published May 1994

All too often we don't really pay much attention to the way our equipment looks until we come to sell it — but as Paul White shows, it only takes a few minutes of TLC to give your gear a complete facelift.

Open any equipment manual and one of the first things you come across is a starchily‑worded warning not to clean your new synth, mixer or processor with petroleum spirits, thinners, paint stripper and various other things you'd never dream of cleaning it with anyway. But what should you use? The manual usually goes on to suggest a damp cloth, but have you ever tried cleaning a greasy front panel with a damp cloth? Success using this method is about as unlikely as the reality behind those TV commercials which show some miracle liquid wiping away the carbonised remains of last week's curry from the top of a stove with a single wipe.

After years of painstaking research at great personal expense, I can now reveal that a spray can of Mr Sheen is just about the best way to clean studio equipment — it works on both plastic and metal equipment, it doesn't appear to attack anything other than the grime it's intended to, and it also cleans perspex display windows. However, there are one or two things to bear in mind.

  • Firstly, don't spray it into faders or jack sockets — spray it onto your cleaning cloth first and then wipe away the grime and grot.
  • Secondly, if you're in the habit of sticking masking tape and labels over everything, and you find your gear covered in sticky patches of encrusted adhesive from long‑forgotten bits of sticky paper that you've only half managed to peel off, Mister Sheen will once again do the job for you. This time, spray directly onto the affected area and allow the gunge to soften for a minute or two before you try to wipe it off. Stubborn patches may need two or three treatments, but it's never failed to work yet. The same trick applies to residue left by double‑sided sticky pads or Gaffa tape.

Once you've got your piece of gear looking as clean as new, you might find yourself seeing scratches in the paintwork or anodising which you never noticed were there before. This normally happens just after you've advertised the item 'boxed, as new' in the SOS Free Ads and the first prospective buyer is walking up your garden path!

If the equipment is black, and so much of it still is, a fine indelible black felt marker pen can be used to touch up minor scratches. Even the best‑cared for equipment usually ends up marked along the edges of the front panel or around the rack‑mounting holes, and though the colour and finish of a typical permanent felt pen differs slightly from the paintwork you're patching up, the improvements that can be made are quite significant. For non‑black equipment, pay a visit to your local car spares shop and try to find a matching touch‑up paint — the type that comes in a narrow cylinder with its own brush. You'll probably need to buy a fine artist's brush to apply it, though, and don't expect a completely invisible mend, as car paint tends to be more glossy than that used on musical equipment. It's also advisable to try a little paint on the underside of the unit first, not only to check the colour match, but also to make sure the car paint doesn't attack the original paint beneath it.

While you're in a renovating mood, how do all the little display windows look — a trifle scratched? Minor scratches can be polished out with Duraglit — cotton wool pads soaked with a mildly abrasive metal polish. As an alternative, T‑Cut, or even Brasso, applied on a cotton wool pad works equally well. This is a little greasy, so after you've finished polishing, a wipe over with the ubiquitous Mr Sheen is recommended.


Having attended to the cosmetics, it makes sense to have a quick check over the electrics, and the first place to start is the mains plug. Ensure that the cable clamp is holding the mains lead firmly by the outer insulation, not by the individual wires. It's a good idea when wiring plugs to leave the earth lead about half an inch longer than it needs to be, so that, in the event of the cable being pulled out of the plug while the circuit is live, the earth cable is the last one to come off. This is a tip I learned while studying electronics at the MOD and it can be a life saver. Also check that the individual wires are clamped firmly in their terminals and that the wire colours correspond to the correct terminals. This last point might seem obvious, but most gear will still work if the brown and blue wires are swapped over or if the earth wire is disconnected. This usually results in more hum or interference, but most importantly, it presents a very real risk of electric shock.

While you've got the plug apart, make sure the fuse value is correct — 2A or 3A is fine for most audio equipment apart from large power amps — and make sure the fuse is gripped tightly by the fuseholder. If not, use a pair of pliers to squeeze the fuseholder contacts together very slightly before refitting the fuse. It also helps to wipe the ends of the fuse and the pins of the plug using a cloth onto which you have sprayed a little WD40. This helps prevent corrosion and maintains a good electrical contact. Any intermittent electrical contact in a studio can cause sparking, which manifests itself as an irritating and hard‑to‑trace crackle when heard over the monitors.

Having dealt with the mains side of things, it can also pay dividends to look at the signal input and output jacks. These often accumulate layers of grease and dust, especially in a studio where people smoke, and this results in a reduction in contact efficiency, which can, again, lead to crackles, loss of level or even distortion. Probably the safest way to clean these is using a cotton bud soaked in isopropyl alcohol, just as you'd use for cleaning tape heads. Alternatively, you could invest in one of Studiospares' jack‑shaped abrasive cleaners which are simply inserted into the jack socket a couple of times to polish up the contacts. (We reviewed this useful little item in the December 1993 issue. Another trick that seems to work is to wipe a jack plug over using WD40, then push this in and out of the offending socket a few times.

All the above treatments are quick, simple, and above all, cheap to do, yet they can transform a grimy relic into a desirable and safe piece of equipment in a matter of minutes. Don't wait until you come to sell your gear to get it looking its best, make a point of smartening it up now so that you can reap some of the benefit yourself!