The strings and other parts of the guitar usually outshine the fretboard when it comes to significance in the eyes of guitar users. However, despite its seeming insignificance, it plays a crucial role in the production of sounds of the guitar. The fretboard is the contact point between the guitar’s body and the notes that you play. Moreover, it is the part of the guitar that usually comes in contact with your fingers and hands. As such, it gets dirtied the most.
3 Types of Fretboards (Know Your Guitar Fretboard)
Since the fretboard gets dirtied more often, you should regularly clean it. Before you clean your fretboard, however, you should figure out the type of fretboard that you have. So, beforehand, you should check the model spec of your guitar. Here are the three types of fretboards:
1) Unfinished Wood Fretboard
As the guitar evolves, the fretboard also evolves. In the past, someone discovered that dense hardwoods were ideal for making fretboards because of their tight grains and massiveness. Thus, the olden guitar manufacturers zeroed in on ebony and rosewood as the ideal materials for the fretboard. Well, the previous guitar manufacturers had a point in choosing these hardwoods, because ebony and rosewood are the hardest and densest woods at hand for the fretboard.
However, the choice of ebony and rosewood had adversely affected the very existence of these tree species. Soon after, lots of ebony and rosewood trees were cut down to provide fretboards for guitars. This led to the scarcity of these woods. Brazilian Rosewood, for example, is already indexed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as belonging to its red list.
2) Finished Board
Another favorite material for guitar fretboard is the maple. It is strong and exceptionally resilient. It is also widely available. The maple wood exudes an iridescent shimmer and features a super-tight grain. At present, most manufacturers make use of maple for the fretboard. They usually spray maple boards with a finish before the frets of the board are pressed in. The chemicals of the finish react with maple, giving the maple fretboard a light stain that gives it a distinctive yellow-gold color. This finish also provides a protective barrier for the wood.
3) Completely Lacquered Board
Another type of fretboard is that with lacquer finish. Some manufacturers have the guitar’s fretboard sprayed with lacquer after the frets had been pressed in. Rickenbacker, for example, and Gretsch do this more often.
Household Items You Can Use for Cleaning Fretboard
There are several types of materials that you can use to clean the fretboard of your guitar. You can take note of these materials so that the next time you clean your guitar’s fretboard, you’ll know the right materials to look for:
1) Vegetable Oil Soap
One great soap that you can use to clean the fretboard is the potassium vegetable oil-based soap. After using this soap, however, you should carefully clean the fretboard because it gets crusty if the soap suds are left out to dry.
Naphtha is a solvent that is used for dissolving oils that are left behind by sweaty fingers. This solvent doesn’t react with poly and nitro finishes. It doesn’t linger for it quickly evaporates without damaging the wood or causing it to expand. However, you must take extra precautions when using it. You should not use it near an open flame. Moreover, you should use a cloth or paper towel when applying it.
3) Acetone or Nail Polisher Remover
Acetone can strip the guitar’s fretboard of finish or lacquer. Hence, you should be very careful in using it. Naphtha, on the other hand, doesn’t react with lacquer. Thus, it is safe to use. Nevertheless, you can use Acetone to remove excess glue or anything that binds or stick to the guitar body or neck. Yet, you should correctly use it as a cleaning agent when dealing with the fretboard.
4) Lemon Oil
You can use lemon oil to treat the fretboard because it can preserve the quality of the wood. You can use lemon oil by putting this oil on the soft cloth. Then, slowly rub the lemon oil onto the wood surface between the frets using a circular motion. The wood will quickly absorb the first application, depending on which type of wood your fretboard is made of.
If your fretboard is made of ebony, it may take a while before the lemon oil can penetrate the wood because ebony is denser. However, if it is rosewood, it would be far easier for the lemon oil to penetrate the wood. Once the first application has dried up, you can again apply another dose of lemon oil using the soft cloth.
5) Music Nomad Guitar Detailer
The standard polish for guitar is the Music Nomad Guitar Detailer. It is made of different solvents mixed with mineral oils. It is excellent for getting rid of filth that gets stuck to the fretboard. You can make the fretboard clean and shining if you use this polish.
Materials that You Should not Use
The fretboard, being made of wood, is sensitive to different types of chemicals. So, you should know, at the onset, the products that are good for cleaning the fretboard. There are products that you should refrain from using to clean your guitar fretboard. You should not use, for example:
Steps on How to Clean the Fretboard of Your Guitar?
To guide you in the cleaning process of your guitar’s fretboard, here are the simple steps that you should follow:
Step 1) Remove the Guitar Strings
To thoroughly clean the fretboard, you need to remove one-by-one your guitar strings. Thus, one of the best times to clean the fretboard is when you’re replacing your guitar strings. Some experts suggest that you remove only half of the strings of your guitar so that you can maintain the tension of the guitar. Some, however, say that you can remove all strings altogether without any effect on the tension.
Step 2) Make Sure that You Protect (with Low-tack Masking Tape) the Critical Parts of Your Guitar
Some particles may lodge into the sensitive parts of your guitar. Minute steel particles may also go everywhere. So, if you are cleaning an electric guitar fretboard, you need to protect the pickups because minute steel particles may stick to the pickups. However, if you are cleaning an acoustic guitar, simply cover the soundhole. Make sure likewise that the other metal parts are covered to prevent small steel particles from sticking to them. You can use low-tack masking tape to cover these parts.
Step 3) Begin to Clean the Fretboard
To clean the fretboard, you should use a fine-textured cloth that will not cause scratches to the wood. A flannel cloth would be great. You can soak this cloth in warm water; then, wring out the cloth. Use a downward movement from top to bottom when cleaning.
The wet cloth should dissolve the surface dirt, but it can’t remove all oily stains or dirt. Don’t let the water dry up on the surface of the wood. Make sure that you dry the surface up before the water dries up.
Step 4) Use Steel Wool
After wiping the fretboard with a fine cloth, you will surely find some leftovers of grime and oily stains on the fretboard. You can use steel wool to remove these grimes and oily stains. You should only use very fine steel wool (0000 grade). If you use something else, you’ll end up scratching the fretboard’s surface. Moreover, you should also use a fretboard conditioner before you wipe the surface with steel wool. You should be gentle with the use of steel wool, especially if your guitar is too old.
The use of steel wool is advisable, especially if your fretboard is made of unfinished maple wood. But if your fretboard is made of finished maple wood, then you should refrain from using steel wool. Instead, you should stick to using fine cloth so as not to damage the finish. One last caveat—do not rub or scrub the fretboard’s surface with steel wool for it will surely damage the surface. Be very careful and stop when you have removed the grimy patch.
Step 5) Remove All the Guitar's Tape
After removing the grimy patches, you should peel off the tape. Be very careful when removing the tape, you may damage the surface if you do it abruptly, especially if your guitar is old. Newer guitars are designed to withstand any damage from tape ripping. But it is better to be on the safe side by being careful with the removal of tape. Once the tape is removed, you can once again inspect the surface for some leftover particles. You can vacuum the pickups of the guitar to ensure that no steel particles are left unremoved.
6) Polish the Wood
The last part of the cleaning process is the polishing of the wood. Woods have natural essential oils. More often, these oils are removed when you wipe the wood with s damp cloth or when you use steel wool on the wood. So, you need to replenish these essential oils by applying a small amount of oil onto the wood. You can use almond oil, mineral oil, or linseed oil for this purpose.
Some leftovers of grime will be simply removed by applying a small amount of oil on the fretboard’s surface. Let the oil soak into the wood for several hours or even for a day before you replace the strings.
Refrain from applying too much oil to avoid an oily fretboard. Make sure that before you replace the strings, the fretboard is no longer oily. Afterward, you can replace the strings.
Cleaning the fretboard of your guitar is a sure way to keep your guitar in pristine condition and good sounding. Dirt and grimy patches can alter the sound of your guitar. Moreover, they may accumulate to the point that they damage the fretboard.
When cleaning your guitar, however, you should do it in a place wherein you have enough space for deep cleaning. Make sure that you have a flat surface to position your guitar safely. Clear the space and make sure that no one will disturb you during the cleaning process. Take your time in cleaning and be very careful not to damage any part of your guitar.