Guitar Care and Maintenance – Cleaning the Fretboard

Have you ever noticed that grunge that seems to build up in the area where your frets are embedded into the fretboard? It is a common problem and can affect the playability of the guitar. This grunge comes from the oils and dirt on your fingers when you are playing and can build up substantially over time. Not only does this build up look bad, but the oils from your skin can actually eat away at the glue that holds your frets in the fretboard resulting in loose, or even lifted frets. Guitar Care is very important.

Guitar Care

Repairs while not extremely difficult can be costly depending on the degree of damage caused. The best way to avoid these costs is to perform regular Guitar Care and maintenance and cleaning of the fretboard and frets.

To do a good and thorough cleaning you will need paper towels, olive oil (or lemon oil), and two “0000” steel wool pads. Depending on what brand of steel wool you buy, it may be called 0000, 4/0 or XXXX. You do not want to use a gauge that is more abrasive than these gauges. The point is to clean, not scratch. You will want to remember that more abrasive numbers go down. Therefore 0, 00, and 000 will all be too abrasive to do this project. You may damage your fretboard and frets leading to a very expensive repair job. You can take Homax 10120000 Steel Wool.

Homax 10120000 Steel Wool

Guitar Care and Cleaning

Once you have these items on hand, you are ready to Guitar Care and clean the fretboard and frets. The first thing you will want to do is remove the old strings and cover the body of the guitar with a cloth or towel. This will prevent steel wool dust and residue from getting into the electronics (or in the case of an acoustic guitar, the soundhole).

Using the first steel wool pad, gently scrub the fretboard between the frets. Pay attention to the area where the frets meet the fretboard as this is where the majority or the grunge builds up. Do not use a lot of pressure as this will cause small scratches in the wood. For cleaning strings you cen take Fender Guitar String Cleaner.

Fender Guitar String Cleaner

Once you have removed the grunge, you can take the other 0000 pad and lightly rub the frets to a shine. Be sure to rub the frets on the long axis only. This usually does not take long, and it can make old frets look brand new. Once the frets are shined up you can use a paper towel to wipe off any leftover residue from the fretboard and frets. Make sure you get it all.

Put a small amount of oil on the corner of a folded paper towel and rub it into the wood of the fretboard. You do not want to flood the fretboard with oil, but you do want to make sure the whole surface is wet. Leave the olive oil overnight, and then wipe the excess off the next day. Leaving it on overnight allows the oil to penetrate the pores in the wood. You can use MusicNomad F-One Fretboard Oil Cleaner & Conditioner 2 oz.

MusicNomad F-One Fretboard Oil Cleaner & Conditioner 2 oz

After you have wiped the excess oil off the fretboard, you can restring the guitar with a fresh set of strings, and you are finished until the fretboard gets dirty again.

How Often Should I Clean the Fretboard and Frets?

This really depends on how often you play and how oily your skin is. I can usually get away with doing this once every six months, but I have known other players that can do it just once a year, and others who have to do it more often. If you keep an eye on the build up you will figure out a good schedule for your particular guitar.

Take Guitar Care and you will find that it will be there for you to play well into the future. Air humidity is the most important indicator for the comfort of your guitar.

Manufacturers, of course, also offer many solutions to make sure that the moisture level of the tool is monitored comprehensively. For example, D’Addario Humidipak System Replacement Packets or D’Addario Acoustic Guitar Humidifier.

D'Addario Humidipak System Replacement Packets, 3-pack


Humidity and guitar care

Guitar Care and maintenance of your guitar is a very important aspect that is often overlooked. Cleaning a guitar on a regular basis not only keeps it looking good, but it also prolongs the life of the parts and components. Today I am going to take you through the cleaning of a guitar that has seen many hours of being played, but has fallen into some neglect in the maintenance department.

The guitar in question is a 1975 Gibson L6-S. The guitar features all original factory installed parts with no apparent modifications. My goal is to keep this guitar in original condition, so I was hoping that I would not need to replace anything other than the strings during my inspection and cleaning.

D'Addario Acoustic Guitar Humidifier

When I took possession of this guitar, the fretboard was the most obvious problem. The light color of the maple fingerboard looked stained with an unappealing black residue. At first I was not sure if it would clean up short of using sandpaper. Which was something I clearly wanted to avoid. The body of the guitar as well as the pickgaurd also showed a build up of dirt. Especially in the edge areas where the pickgaurd and the pickup covers met the body. These are hard places to reach in normal cleaning, so I knew I would need to take my efforts to a higher level.

Neck Before and After Cleaning

I began by removing the strings from the guitar. Sprayed the fretboard with a generous amount of natural D’Addario Lemon Oil. I was not sure if this would work. But I wanted to stay away from solvents as much as possible to avoid damaging the finish. While the lemon oil was soaking on the fretboard I removed the pickguard and control knobs. And lifted the pickups away from the body (without removing the wires). I also removed the bridge and tailpiece. This took less than five minutes at which point it was time to see how the lemon oil was doing on the fretboard.

D'Addario Lemon Oil

Using a soft cloth Fender Dual-Sided Super-Soft Microfiber Cloth I was surprised to see that the black markings easily wiped off the fretboard revealing the natural maple below. In just a few minutes the fretboard made a total transformation in visual appeal. What I had been afraid was staining was simply a build up of dirt. And string corrosion residue mixed with sweat and acids from past players fingers. While this was a relief, it did raise a new concern.

Guitar polishing

When a guitar is played, the dirt, oils, and salts from the player’s fingers are left on the fingerboard. Over time these damaging substances can eat away at the glue that holds the frets within their slots. Given the amount of buildup on this particular guitar. I found it prudent to check each fret to make sure it was still held securely in place. I was relieved to find no problems with any of the frets. So it was time to move on in the cleaning process.

Fender Dual-Sided Super-Soft Microfiber Cloth

Next, I sprayed D’Addario Shine Guitar Spray on the body. I gave special attention to the areas where the edges of the pickguard and pickup covers had been. The buildup of dirt cleaned up fairly easily. I also cleaned the pickguard and knobs and reinstalled them. I spent a little time polishing the chrome which had a dull appearance. The hardest part was the bridge piec. But I was able to get around and between the saddles with a blunted toothpick wrapped in a cleaning cloth.

D'Addario Shine Guitar Spray

Body Before and After Cleaning

As I was getting ready to install new strings. I noticed that I had overlooked the headstock which also showed a build up of grunge. I removed the truss rod cover. And sprayed the headstock with guitar cleaner while being careful not to get it in the truss rod pocket. When I wiped it off I noticed that this build up was a little more stubborn. I had to spray and soak the headstock three times before I was able to completely remove the almost wax like dirt. Cleaned the truss rod cover and reinstalled it.

I finished by installing a new set of D’Addario Pure Nickel strings, and sat back to take in the results of the project. The guitar looked incredible for a model that had seen a lot of playing action for more than 35 years. While it still has some minor dings and scratches, this guitar is in exceptional condition given its age. A good deep cleaning gave it new life. And I will be sure to keep up on the Guitar Care and maintenance in the years to come.

D’Addario Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings

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