Cleaning your fretboard

Regular bass guitarĀ maintenanceĀ can mean tweaking your truss rod, but at other times – and too often ignored – it just means keeping the dang thing clean.

And it’s more than just having your instrument look good. A clean instrument will also be a better sounding instrument.

Today we’re looking at how to clean your fretboard.

First of all, and we hate to harp on you about this, but you should really wipe down the fretboard after playing the bass. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

And as we talked about regarding keeping your strings clean, wash you hands before you play. That junk doesn’t just magically appear on your bass overtime, it comes from the dirty, oil, and dead skin from you hands.

When it comes to cleaning your fretboard, the first thing you want to do is wipe the whole thing down with a dry cloth to remove all loose grim and dirt. If there is a build-up on gunk, an old toothbrush usually work well.

To keep the wood of your fretboard healthy it is important to keep the moisture level consistent. Dry wood shrinks, and a shrinking fretboard is no good.

You can use oils to maintain the wood, but you’ve got to be careful. There are quite a few oils marketed specifically to guitar-players, along with other lemon and mineral oils that players use. With the different types of woods and oils, it can be helpful to test out the oil in a inconspicuous location to see how the wood reacts to the oil. If it darkens the wood, and you’re not looking for that, it’s probably best that you test out a different oil.

Be conservative in your use of the oil, rub your fretboard down with it, and give it a few minutes to absorb. Afterwards take a clean towel and rub down the fretboard again to remove any excessive oil.

Jewelry polishing clothes work best for cleaning the frets. You can use different cleaners on the frets, but you have to be careful not to get them on the wood, as they may contain harmful chemicals.

And after you’re done, and your bass’ fretboard is looking grand, remember to keep it that way by washing your hands and wiping off sweat and oil after each use.

20 thoughts on “Cleaning your fretboard

  1. John Caruthers has some really informative stuff on you tube (search Elixir Strings) about maintaining a bass. Between string changes, he recommends 0000 steel wool to brighten the frets and clean the surface grime off the fretboard. I tried it on a rosewood fretboard and it came out great.

  2. No discussion on the differences between looking after an unsealed rosewood board, sealed maple board and unsealed/oiled maple board?

  3. Watch out for ebony boards. I don’t think lemon oil is good for them. Tried it on my fretless with ebony board and voila, cracks after a few months.

    • I wouldn’t recommend using regular furniture polish because most contain petroleum that will damage the finish long term.

  4. Method Almond Oil furniture polish (from Target, which has weird names for its store brand stuff) is great. A little on a simple cloth and you get the gunk off nicely. Rub it off so the wood doesn’t get squishy. I’ve been using it for several years. Smells awesome, too!

  5. Some “sealed” fretboards have wax on them. This is good for traders – the neck looks shiny and more expensive. Not really that good for the wood, as it is sealed. I had to waste a lot of time trying to remove the wax on my Musicman, as the fretboard started showing grooves (rosewood). Soaked it in lemon oil overnight and came out perfect.
    Necks with lacquer just to be cleaned with guitar polish/cleaner

  6. Never, ever, ever ever use steel wool on your guitar. ever… Steel wool leaves tiny particles that can go anywhere. Want to polish the frets? use a fret protector or tape and polish them with fine grit sandpaper. I’m talking 1000 grit and up.

    • I can vouch for that – I used steel wool on the back of my lacquered neck to make it faster, my pickups magnetised all the steel wool debris. It’s a nightmare to get rid of!

  7. Or you could just do what James Jamerson did – use flatwounds, never clean anything, let the funk be part of the Funk, and spend your polishing time polishing your technique.

  8. Cute typo on your part. I have lots of specialized clothes, but I don’t have any “jewelry polishing clothes.” I usually just polish my jewelry in the buff.

  9. Never put any furniture product on an instrument. Besides wax they can contain silica, hardeners, or other materials that can buildup and cause damage. The simpler the oil for fingerboards the better.

  10. Don’t forget, bass strings are usually $20.00 and up – per set . You can make dead strings sound new again by placing them in boiling them in water for 5 mins . Sounds like new . I find you can boil strings about 5 times before they need to be replaced ..

  11. Obviously written by someone who wants to sell you loads of cleaning products. Never had to clean my basses in ten years of playing and they still play and sound great.

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