The fretboard, or fingerboard, of a stringed-instrument is the surface that the strings are held against to change the pitch and produce different notes and chords, whether you’re playing an electric or acoustic guitar or bass, ukulele, or similar stringed-instrument. Why should you keep your fingerboard clean? How exactly do you clean a fretboard? And what happens if you don’t clean your fretboard? Our Guestblogger, Karylynn explains it all in this handy article and reveals that anyone can clean the fretboard of their instrument, no matter their level of experience, and that the hardest part is removing and replacing the strings.

Cleaning Your Fretboard

Why Clean Your Fretboard?

Some parts of a guitar are more vulnerable to wear than others. The strings and fretboard are probably the most sensitive, since to play your guitar at all, you have to hold and slide your fingers up and down the strings and fretboard, so the wood of your fretboard gets covered in grease, sweat, dirt and naturally gets grubby. Since no one wants all of that built-up dirt to affect their fretboard, and replacing a fretboard is no easy job, regularly cleaning it is actually crucial to keep the wood healthy and your fretboard in good condition. If you don’t look after your fretboard at all, then you run the risk of wood becoming discoloured and drying out over time; giving it a raw feel beneath your fingers. In more drastic cases, the frets might start to come loose or the surface of the wood may start to splinter. Of course, it’s also just nice to keep your instrument nice and clean.

Be Careful!

The woods that are most commonly used to make fretboards are rosewood or maple, but you’ll also come across other woods like ebony, padoek, cocobolo, walnut and so on. Note: a lacquered fretboard or maple fretboard should never be treated with oil. Instead of using any kind of cleaning oil, give the fretboard a good rub down with a microfibre cloth or any other soft cloth to remove any dirt. If you want to use some kind of cleaning fluid, then double check that it can be safely used to clean maple, otherwise, you may damage your fretboard.

The Best Moment

The best moment to clean and oil your fretboard is when you need to change your strings. This is because it’s better to apply any oil when the strings have been removed, and rather than removing a perfectly good set of strings to oil up the fretboard, only do it when your strings need changing – otherwise, you’re likely to have a hard time putting the old strings back on. How regularly you oil your fretboard depends on a few different factors. The first is how often you play your guitar, but where you keep your guitar can also play a role, since things like temperature and humidity can also affect the wood of your fretboard. Normally, you would only need to oil your fretboard maybe twice a year since it not only cleans the wood but keeps the wood moisturised and leaves it feeling smooth.

Cleaning Your Fretboard

What Do You Need?

Before you start, make sure that you have everything you need at the ready:

  • Tools for removing the strings (more about this will come in the step-by-step guide below)
  • A cloth for cleaning and polishing the fretboard and for applying oil
  • Cleaning oil for the fretboard (luckily, there are plenty of complete kits to choose from). But, as I’ve already mentioned, never use oil on a lacquered or maple fretboard, just clean it up with a dry cloth!
  • A good fretboard conditioner like mineral or lemon oil. Lemon oil that’s produced specifically for guitars is not the same as ‘pure’ lemon oil and often contains a very low percentage of actual lemon oil – if any at all.
  • A clean and flat workspace. Using a neck cradle can also help support your guitar and put it in the optimum position while you work on it.
  • A fresh pack of strings.
  • A string-winder can be really useful when removing and installing strings.

Get On it!

Now you can get to work!

  1. The first step is loosening all of the strings. This is an important step! If you skip it, you’ll have trouble with the next one.
  2. Once all of the strings are loose, take your wire cutters and snip them in half, somewhere around the bottom of the neck – around the 12th fret.
  3. Now you can completely remove the strings from the bridge and headstock. If you’re working with an acoustic guitar, then you’ll need to carefully remove the bridge pins – a bridge pin puller will help with this.
  4. Before applying any cleaning fluid or oil, it’s a good idea to give the fretboard a good wipe down with a soft, dry cloth. Remember, if you have a maple or lacquered fretboard, this is usually all you’ll need to do! But, if it needs a little extra attention, seek out some cleaning fluid that has been specifically developed for maple or lacquered fretboards!
  5. Now, you can apply a little cleaning fluid to your clean cloth. You’ll only need very little, so make sure not to overdo it. Then work the oil into the wood of your fretboard to give it a good clean.
  6. Wipe away any excess oil with a completely dry and clean cloth, making sure there’s no residue and that the wood is left shiny.
  7. If needed, you can now rub the fretboard down with a little conditioning oil. After the first application is completely dry and fully worked in, you can repeat the same steps as you did above. If you get oil on the frets as well, this won’t cause any harm.
  8. One last tip: since your strings have been removed, you can clean the places you usually can’t reach, like the headstock, the body and the bridge. See this Buyer’s Guide for more information about cleaning all of the other parts of your guitar.

Let any oil you’ve applied fully soak in and that every bit you’ve cleaned is fully dried before you install your new strings. If you’re not sure how to put on your fresh strings, then check out these helpful blogs:

What kind of oil did you use on your fretboard? Do you have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments!

See Also…

» All Guitar Maintenance Gear
» String Winders
» Guitar Tools
» Electric Guitar Strings
» Classical Guitar Strings
» Acoustic Guitar Strings

» Guitar Maintenance: Wood Conditioning, Temperature and Humidity
» How to Replace the Tuners of Your Guitar
» Setting Up a Guitar Amplifier: 5 Tips for Beginners
» How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?
» How to String and Set Up a Floyd Rose Tremolo

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