One of the commonest materials for using fretboard is maple wood. It gives the guitar an aesthetic look and is also pretty easy to clean if you use the right techniques.
The more you use a guitar, the greater the amount of dirt, oil, and grime it will accumulate. So, how do you clean something as sophisticated (and expensive) as a guitar? Time to find out!
A dirty fretboard can actually mess up your guitar tones, amplitude, and frequency.
Apart from the sound quality, the untidy look also gives off an unprofessional vibe and makes the instrument look cheap and dirty regardless of its cost.
Even if you do not own an overly expensive guitar, you can still make your averagely-priced guitar look like it. Apart from adding some fancy accessories, keep the guitar and its fretboard clean for a nice look.
However, many important questions arise when you are cleaning a guitar’s fretboard- how to clean a gloss maple fretboard? How do you clean the finished maple fretboard?
How do you clean a roasted maple fretboard the right way if you own a roasted maple fretboard? How do you ensure that the maple fretboard’s gunk is clean and all gone? Also, can you clean an unfinished maple fretboard?
Find out the answers to all these questions in the following few sections:
Why is A Clean Fretboard Essential?
While the entire ‘ride hard and put away’ scene seems cool and as ‘rock n roll as it gets, putting a wet, sweaty guitar away without ever cleaning it is not a very good idea.
If you want to keep making the best music and have your guitar last you a few years, keeping it clean is one of the best ways to go.
The fretboard and strings are vital parts of any guitar. These parts have the maximum hand contact, meaning they are at the highest risk of accumulating dirt and grime.
To maintain their original quality, make sure that you clean these parts often. But how do you remove the dirt without damaging the strings and the fretboard, and why is it so important?
Moisture and sweat can combine to completely ruin your guitar’s electronics and look. They cause corrosion, increase the guitar’s susceptibility to damage and breakage, and bring down its value.
The gradual dirt and grime build-up make your strings lifeless and dull. Soon the guitar will only be usable for low-fi tones.
Another thing that will have you thinking about it for months is embarrassment. You do not want a friend, colleague, and especially a fan telling you your guitar looks dirty and rattled or smells bad.
Even if they do not voice their opinion, they might just forget your name and remember you as the ‘stinky guitar owner….’ Now, that is sad, for sure!
One of the biggest problems you will encounter with a dirty fretboard or fingerboard is playing difficulty.
The untidy fingerboard ruins your usual strumming techniques as the sweat and moisture dry up and offer resistance to the strings.
The oils and dirt are also transferred to your string as you play and may even make playing easy tunes a troublesome task.
How to Clean a Maple Fretboard the Right Way
Checking the Essentials
One of the key components to cleaning your guitar the right way is to see what material it is made of.
Does your guitar have a matte finish, or is it raw or glossy? Once you have considered that, move on to choosing the best technique for cleaning it.
Cleaning Unfinished or Raw Maple Fretboards
Usually, raw maple fretboards are composed of unfinished wood. Therefore, they need an oil-based cleaner for their cleaning and conditioning.
Such a fretboard is mostly an oil-finished one. Thus, any oil-based, non-abrasive treatment solution is compatible with the fretboard.
The following are the steps for cleaning a raw maple fretboard:
- Start with choosing a compatible, oil-based cleaner and apply it directly between the frets.
- Now, take a lint-free cloth and carefully clean all the spaces you see. Make sure that you do not damage any of the surrounding strings.
- You may not notice the shine instantly since it takes a few minutes to show. Initially, the treatment solution soaks into the maple and reacts to show up the shine.
- You will most likely see a shine in about 2 – 10 minutes as the maple surfaces become cleaner. The dirt and grime all come off slowly.
- Now wipe the surface with a microfiber or any soft cloth, so the excess oil is removed along with the dirt.
- Once you are done cleaning the fretboard, discard the cloth or wash it before using it again. Using an unwashed cloth may result in a dirtier guitar.
Cleaning a Glossy or Finished Fretboard
Another type is glossy or finished fretboards. These are often the first ones to show dirt accumulation since the dirt and grime reflect off the surfaces.
The real attractiveness of a shiny guitar comes from its gloss. Therefore, maintaining it and keeping it clean is essential.
The good thing about glossy or finished fretboards is that they are easy to clean, and the shine is visible instantly. The finished maple fretboards can easily be treated with standard cleaning solutions made for finished wood.
Please avoid using abrasive materials on the guitar as it can reduce the shiny finish, and use a lint-free cloth, such as a microfiber cloth.
Also, do not forget to clean the guitar’s neck and the fretboard after each use. The glossy guitars are quick to gather and show dirt, keeping them clean for a neat look.
Here are the steps you can follow when cleaning a glossy or finished fretboard:
- Start with removing the strings or loosening them for easy access.
- Run a quick glance over the fretboard and ensure that it has no cracks. If you see any cracks, refrain from using the cleaner as it will penetrate into the wood.
- Next, take the cleaner and spray the microfiber cloth (or any lint-free cloth).
- Do not spray the fretboard directly, as you may penetrate the wood.
- Now begin rubbing the washcloth up and down and along the guitar’s neck.
- If you think the guitar originally had more shine than after you have cleaned it, go for a second cleaning session and respray your cloth.
- Once you are done, discard the dirty cloth or wash it thoroughly to prepare it for the next cleaning session.
How to Clean Maple Fretboards?
While superficial cleaning gets rid of most of the dirt, there is nothing quite like a deep cleaning session.
If you have not cleaned your guitar’s fretboard for a long or have recently used it for a gig and it appears dirty, it is time to remove the strings.
Now removing the strings is a risky option for sure. So, we recommend doing it only if you can safely and correctly put back the strings or if someone can do it for you.
Once the strings are removed, you can reach pretty much anywhere and clean your guitar however you desire.
Loosening the Guitar Strings
Let’s quickly learn how to loosen and remove the guitar strings if you do not know already:
- Turn the keys in a counterclockwise direction so that the bass strings loosen. The treble keys can be loosened by turning them in a clockwise direction.
- Start loosening with the thickest string and work your way toward the thinnest one. The bridge pins can be removed easily with a tool.
- Once the strings are loose, pull them from their respective holes gently.
- After this, remove the guitar’s neck and put it safely somewhere slightly away from the cleaning area.
- Now, you can clean your fretboard with maximum ease.
An affordable way to clean a fretboard correctly and safely is by using vegetable oil soap for it. You can use a microfiber cloth or a paper towel to spread the soil and then start the cleaning process.
We suggest starting at the but and then spreading the oil further up to the 22nd fret.
When you are done putting on the soap, start scrubbing the guitar in circular motions, ideally with fine steel wool. While direct scrubbing with hands is a possibility, it carries a high risk of leaving marks and lines on the guitar.
We recommend not scrubbing directly as this may even push more dirt into the guitar’s fretboard or damage its wooden makeup entirely.
The paper towels or micro cloths offer adequate cleaning without compromising on the guitar’s patterns and wood. Once done, simply discard the cloth or paper towel.
Summary- Keeping a Guitar’s Fretboard Clean
Now that we know the various ways to clean a guitar, let’s go through a quick summary of all that we have learned so far.
- Wash the hands: Start with washing your hands and drying them before you touch the guitar. Though it may sound trivial, it holds considerable importance. Touching your fretboard or any guitar part with dirty, oily hands can undoubtedly add to the dirt and grime.
- Remove the guitar Strings: Ensure that you have formed a clean surface before cleaning. This step requires the removal of the strings so that you can reach all the parts, superficial and deep, without any hassle.
- Clean the guitar’s fretboard: Now, we perform the main step- cleaning. Get your hands on an appropriate, good-quality cleaner that thoroughly treats the guitar’s maple composition without damaging its design or penetrating the wood. Please ensure that you choose the most suitable cleaner for your guitar. You can use fine steel wool to remove the stubborn gunk from Ebony, Rosewood, or Pau Ferro fretboards. Please refrain from using lemon oil directly or on unfinished fretboards. It can be used for some types of fretboards towards the end to rehydrate the body with a clean damp cloth.
- Polish the Body: Once you are done with your thorough cleaning, start with a good conditioner. You can either rub a condition over the fretboard or use a simple polisher to get a clean, shiny look. A dry cloth works best to bring back the shine for satin, matter, and nitro-finish guitars.
- Refresh the Hardware: After the polish, move on to refreshing the guitar’s hardware. You can do this with a small, soft cloth to remove the excess oil or dirt. A suitable option is WD-40 which removes thin as well as thick grime or rust.
- Put the Strings Back: Now that you have a squeaky-clean guitar, it is time to put it back. Ensure that you put all the strings back to where they were removed from. Once done, try playing it again to make sure the tuning is correct, and there is no excess cleaner within the keys.
Steps to a Clean, Pleasant-Sounding Fretboard
Now that we know the best ways to get the cleanest, most aesthetic guitar fretboard, let’s talk a bit about how to get there.
While using the right cleaning products and techniques are necessary, knowing how far you should go is also of great value.
Here is what you need to ensure before starting the scrubbing process:
Keeping the Fretboard Clean
If you want to keep anything clean, where exactly do you start? The basic- touch or handle the guitar’s fretboard with clean hands.
The best way to minimize the amount of dirt that accumulates and limit the cleaning sessions is washing your hands or using a sanitizer before you start playing the instrument.
Most guitar players know that while changing the strings, it is best to give your guitar’s fretboard and neck a good cleaning with the correct treatment products for wood (remember to avoid using lemon oil on the wooden fretboard).
What you can do is wipe the guitar every time you play it, so the strings last longer and sound better.
A myriad of products can help your strings and neck sound and feel better. You can try using the Fast Fret and Gorgomyte from GHS or using a similar product for cleaning the guitar on a regular basis.
The cleaning sessions can become a daily part of your post-gig or practice routine if you do it every day or every other day.
Any product similar to the products mentioned above can be rubbed up and down the strings a few times and then wiped off with a cloth.
If it has been a while since you cleaned the guitar, you might even be shocked at the amount of gunk that comes off.
Most times, the dirt on dark surfaces, such as a dark wooden guitar, may not be too apparent. But once you clean the guitar, you will notice how much dust and other gunk accumulates as we use such instruments daily.
However, once you are done cleaning the guitar and its fretboard, you will see how smooth it feels, and playing it will be even more fun.
Deep Cleaning the Guitar and Fretboard
While superficial cleaning on a daily basis is a good idea, deep cleaning occasionally is an even better one.
The deep cleaning sessions ensure that the gimmick is removed even from the smallest corners and gives you a better, clearer sound, just as if you have gotten a new guitar.
For the deep cleaning sessions, you can get a soft microfiber washcloth that wipes the guitar as well as the fretboard without damaging any keys or the design.
The ideal time for cleaning the fretboard is again when you are changing the strings, as they must be removed before you reset them.
If you do not have a proper cloth, simply out-cut about a two-inches square piece of a soft cloth and rub it up and down with fret wire and the frets.
You can use cleaning products like the Gorgomyte cloth or any product that cleans as well as conditions the maple surface.
Cleaning the Fretboard Appropriate to the Condition
Cleaning is certainly the best way to have your fretboard last you longer and sound better. However, if you wish to go all out, get your hands on a cleaning solution that cleans it deeply and lasts for a few days.
Apart from the treatment product itself, get a conditioner that also has your guitar and its part looking, feeling, and smelling great for a few days post-cleaning.
If not days, you should definitely feel your guitar has had a good wash a few hours post-treatment.
The advantages of combining a solution with your primary treatment solution are that it adds shine to the product and leaves it smooth, and brings out the guitar’s color. With your guitar looking and feeling tidy, you are sure to play a pleasant tune.
Feeling the Difference
If you still have any doubts about whether you should start cleaning your guitar or delay it further, we suggest feeling the difference yourself. All we advise you is to clean your guitar’s fretboard once and see how good it feels.
Your guitar will not feel and look better but also sound better, and you will have to apply lesser pressure to play each string if your guitar has not been cleaned for long.
Furthermore, the regular cleaning sessions will also save you a few bucks on the strings as they will remain more mobile and organized.
Tips for Keeping the Guitar and Fretboard Clean
Here are a few smart tips that you can keep in mind if you want a clean guitar that lasts you long and sounds pleasant:
1. Washing your Hands Before Playing
Is there a simpler way to keep your guitar clean other than keeping your hands clean? The hands are the main part that comes into contact with the guitar.
If you share your guitar with a band or let others play tunes on it occasionally, there is a high chance it has plenty of germs on it. Moreover, avoid getting your strings sounding like rubber bands by washing your hands.
The best way to avoid any exchange of germs is to clean the hands before handling them.
While ideas can pop up into your head any time about new tunes and songs, it is best to avoid playing your beloved guitar with greasy hands.
The number of musicians wondering why they have their fingerprints smudged on various guitar parts is too great to be mentioned here…
Apart from keeping the guitar clean, handwashing also saves you from spending on new strings. However, we strongly advise you not to play your guitar with wet hands.
Please remember to dry your hands after washing and only then begin playing. Another benefit is handwashing is a generally safe practice worldwide that promotes good health.
2. Wiping Guitar Strings
One of the main components of a guitar is the strings. If your guitar’s strings are damaged, it is pretty much worthless.
Therefore, wipe your guitar’s strings every other day for a pleasant-sound guitar. All you need to do is apply a cleaning lubricant that removes any grime and also minimizes the resistance.
Apart from clean strings, the wiping practice will also benefit you as the guitar will play with lesser effort. Furthermore, these cleaning lubricants remove fingertip-induced dirt and dust even a few days after use.
3. Keeping the Guitar in its Case
Anyone who has bought a good-quality guitar knows that they are expensive instruments that must be kept safe.
Make sure that you do not place your instrument’s fretboard in dusty or windy surroundings, and pack it in a case when not in use.
Nothing will protect a fretboard more than a sealed case that minimizes the entry of dust particles into the instrument.
While dust alone cannot do much to the guitar, it may build up within the crevices to affect the electronics and the functionality over time.
Keeping it clean is a great way to ensure that your guitar lasts for years and plays well. Practice regular cleaning sessions and other suitable habits that minimize dirt accumulation with the guitar, its fretboard, and the electronics.
Apart from handling the guitar with clean hands and keeping it in a case, clean your guitar with an oil-base cleaner suitable for wood. Moreover, treat the guitar with a polisher to add to its shine after cleaning.