How to clean your guitar fretboard

An electric guitar maintenance kit is a fantastic method to learn about how various aspects influence the instrument’s tone and playability while also saving you money. For this tutorial, we partnered with guitar fretboard expert Jack Ellis of Manchester’s Jack’s Instrument Services…

To maintain your guitar looking and sounding its best, let’s talk about fretboard care today.

What exactly do you mean by performing, exactly? Fretboard dirt and a dried out unlacquered fretboard may create all sorts of fretting issues if they are not properly maintained. Fret slots on a rosewood (or other unlacquered fretboard) may loosen as the wood ages and dries out. It’s easy to envision how a squeaky or buzzy guitar would sound if a fret is loose.

This can be kept under control with a little effort on your part. This helpful guide will show you how to take care of both lacquered and unlacquered fretboards.

Required tools
Blue Roll

Servisol Foam Cleanser 30

Lighter fluid / Naptha

Cocktail sticks
Wide masking tape

#0000 Wire wool

Stanley blade
Lemon oil

Almond oil

Even if your guitar doesn’t have an unlacquered fretboard, the maker will probably mention it somewhere in the manual or packaging. However, although some people like the look and feel of raw wood, doing so does not protect it from dirt and filth, which will seep in permanently.

This is how we take care of our lacquered fretboards to keep them looking new. If you see indications of wear where the raw wood seems to be revealed, you need to be careful. Let’s evaluate how delicate the lacquer may be.

The lacquer on many vintage Fenders from the 1990s and early 2000s is flaking off easily these days for whatever reason.

See the iconic peel on a Fender Toronado headstock in the photo below? If so, congratulations, your guitar falls into this category!

Use lighter fluid and a soft touch to clean your fretboard and neck if they exhibit indications like these.

Use a blue roll soaked in lighter fluid to clean a fretboard with brittle or broken lacquer. Using a lighter fluid to dissolve oil buildup and loosen clinging debris is a great way to keep your grill clean. Because the lighter fluid evaporates so rapidly, there is little risk of damage to the wood.

Using a new fretboard is less difficult, and you may be more aggressive with it. Having a fresh coat of lacquer ensures the finish is sealed, not cracked, and thus weather resistant. The Servisol Foam Cleanser 30 works wonders when it comes to removing filth and grime.

Apply a little amount and wait for it to froth up. Let it sit for 30 seconds before removing with a damp cloth. If the goo is very obstinate, apply a second coat.

After that, keep an eye on the color of your blue toilet paper.

Using a cocktail stick will be necessary if dirt has accumulated along the frets’ edges.

Repeat the foam cleaner step after using this to remove the tougher debris. We went with a cocktail stick since it’s gentle on lacquer.

Here’s what not to do: A brillo pad or washing-up abrasive sponge has been used to clean it vigorously, creating permanent scratches in the previous lacquer.

caring for fretboards made of rosewood, ebony, and pau ferro

These kinds of fretboards are also made of wood, but they are seldom lacquered (with the exception of Rickenbackers! ), so dirt and filth may accumulate on them. Even if they’re filthy, we can simply scrape the fretboard clean to expose a whole new surface!

This Squier P Bass neck has seen a lot of use, however it was stored in a wet place for a long time. Even after the water has evaporated completely, the white markings and unpleasant goop from the bottom part of the neck are still there.

Because it’s so filthy, we’ll simply dive right in and start scraping. Using a new Stanley blade, scrape the fretboard from one end to the other, swooping over the curving fretboard to avoid damaging the instrument. You may also scrape the inlay’s top if you want to.

⚠ To make the color pop, certain fretboards have been stained. In other words, the wood has a thin layer of paint that may be scraped off as necessary. An indicator would be a considerably lighter area where the fingers have worn away on an ancient fretboard. Scraping will reveal a fretboard with intriguing streaks and patterns in the wood. ebony fretboards and low-end student guitars seem to be the most often stained

To avoid skipping the fret top, keep your down pressure mild. To avoid flaws in the scraped surface, don’t let your blade become damaged by skipping over a fret top. You’ll need a new one otherwise.

Use #0000 wire wool on the fretboard to make it uniformly shiny. As an added benefit, your frets will get a light polish as a result of using this product!

⚠ Keep in mind that you should avoid letting wire wool come in contact with your paint, especially on the pickups. Using it will scratch up a glossy surface and cause the resulting dust to adhere to your pickup’s magnets! Remove the guitar’s neck or use broad masking tape to help preserve it.

Do Some Work On Your Guitar

(Credit: Jack Ellis for the photo)
Rub the frets and fretboard from side to side to make them consistent, and then change the direction you’re rubbing to follow the grain of the wood. This will blend in with the grain and cover up the faint wire wool smudges.

Applying some lubricant on the fretboard
Do Some Work On Your Guitar

(Credit: Jack Ellis for the photo)
Lemon oil is good for ebony, pau ferro, Indian rosewood, Brazilian rosewood, wenge, and padauk, while almond oil is better if the wood is very dry, cracked, or thirsty. Because almond oil is heavier and more suited to tougher woods like Ebony, it will take longer to absorb.

For regular use, once every six months is ideal when using lemon oil. While wiping away the extra dirt, lemon oil’s citric component helps to naturally degrease it. Plus, it smells wonderful while doing it.

Our rosewood fretboard has just been lightly scraped, and now it is ready to be nourished with Almond oil.

Use a generous amount of spooge and coat the whole fretboard.

Allow enough time for the oil to absorb into the skin. We waited 30 minutes since the fretboard on this bass was so awful.

Do Some Work On Your Guitar

Remove the extra oil from the fretboard by wiping it clean with a soft cloth. The fretboard will absorb any remaining oil.

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