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Fretboard: Guide for its correct maintenance

How to clean the fretboard of a guitar?

The guitar fretboard is one of the most important parts of our instrument, it is the main contact point for playing, and the base where the frets are placed. In addition, it is the part of the guitar that is most in contact with the hands and, therefore, it is the part that gets the dirtiest and needs the most maintenance.


If we do not clean the fretboard of our guitar, the accumulation of dirt can be transmitted to the strings, limiting their resonance and shortening their useful life, greatly impoverishing the sound of your guitar..


It is important to check the specifications of your guitar model if you have doubts about the type of fretboard and its finish.


We are going to explain in detail how to perform maintenance on the two most common most common masts, natural wood and varnished.




fretboard oil

Necessary materials for neck cleaning:

The following is a list of materials needed to clean the guitar neck and for general maintenance.

Mineral wood oil: Mineral oil is incredibly gentle on wood, nourishes, contains no additives and is inexpensive. You can find it in any department store or buy it online.

Guitar cleaner: Here it is time to recommend our Nitorlack Polish & Cleaner, one of our star products, it restores the color and shine of varnished surfaces without damaging the surface.

Naphtha (Zippo lighter fluid also works): It is a solvent often used to disintegrate oils, such as those left by your fingers on the fretboard. It’s great for cleaning guitars, because it doesn’t react with nitrocellulose or polyurethane finishes, and it evaporates quickly. Just remember to be careful when working with this material (use a paper towel or cloth to apply it, and don’t leave it near any flame). Miscellaneous items: Paper towels, microfiber cloth, ultra fine steel wool #00 for final finishes and fretboard protector.


Acetone or nail polish remover, generic wood cleaners or nourishers (may contain harmful solvents or additives), sandpaper or steel wool other than #00 (may scratch the wood).

Once you’ve gathered all the right materials, find a good place to do the deep cleaning – let’s get to it!

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How to clean a wooden fretboard:

Hard, dense woods have long been used to make guitar fretboard. It makes sense: the ideal is to use the most compact grain and the heaviest wood for the frets.

After a few centuries of design, innovation, guitar makers tend to use two of the most sought-after woods for natural fretboards: rosewood and ebony.

Structurally, they are among the densest and hardest woods available, making them the perfect material for fretboards. But as demand has skyrocketed in the last century, these woods have been overexploited and alternatives to these species are now being sought.

So, whether you have a piece of ebony or generic rosewood in front of you, this process should help you clean the fretboard:

1- Loosen the strings and remove them:

Don’t worry; you won’t hurt the guitar.

2-Remove the neck, if it is bolted down.

That won’t hurt the guitar either. We’re about to run steel wool, oil and all sorts of other products down the fretboard, and this will prevent them from ending up in the neck pickup cavity. If you are working on a guitar with a glued neck, cover the neck pickup with a cloth or masking tape. If you are working on an acoustic guitar, simply cover the soundhole with a cloth.

3- Apply mineral wood oil to the fretboard.

Pour only a thin line from the nut to the end of your guitar’s fretboard and wait a few minutes. This will soften the dirt and make it easier to remove.

4- Remove the dirt.

You can use a credit card or some type of non-scratch plastic to remove the most important dirt. Then use steel wool and immediately start rubbing the wood in small circular motions. Keep rubbing the wood in very small circular motions. DO NOT rub the wood perpendicular to the grain, as you will remove more material from the fingerboard than you want and the surface will be uneven. DO NOT rub the wood in the direction of the grain. If there is a lot of residue on the fretboard, running the steel wool in the grain direction and with longer strokes will absorb more dirt into the wood.

5-Wipe everything with paper towels:

Check that it is perfectly clean.

6- Place the fretboard protector on the frets and rub the fret surface with steel wool:

Metal and wood react differently to dirt. While wood accumulates dirt slowly over time, metal tends to corrode. That’s why it’s just as important to clean the frets as the fretboard. Clean each one with a bit of steel wool, and when you’re done, admire your shiny, gleaming frets.

7- Wipe each fret with a paper towel dipped in naphtha:

The lighter fluid will finish removing any remaining grime. Again, use this material with care: always apply it with a paper towel and keep it away from any flame.

8- Apply a thin strip of oil on the fretboard and spread it gently with a paper towel:

Just a little goes a long way. Don’t overdo it when squeezing the container, because you will get grease all over the fretboard. The fretboard oil is simply to nourish your freshly cleaned fretboard. Pour a strip and spread it out with a paper towel.

9- With a microfiber cloth, wipe the fretboard until it looks like a mirror:

That way, you’ll not only remove any small residue left behind, but you’ll distribute the oil more evenly across the surface of the fretboard. This process is best done by hand rather than with a machine. Polishers are great for flat surfaces, but the fretboard, being curved, requires a little more dexterity to reach the parts around the frets.

10- Vigorously rub each fret with a paper towel:

Putting a little bit of oil on the natural wood is fine, but getting oil on the frets can be fatal to the strings. A microfiber cloth can be used to spread the oil, but a paper towel will absorb what is left on the frets.

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Cleaning the fully varnish fretboard

Another type of neck is the one that is fully varnished. Usually the fretboards are varnished with the frets in place and then the manufacturer removes the varnish from the fret.

Fretboards of this type are the easiest to clean because they are cleaned like any other part of the varnished guitar:

1-Loosen the strings and remove them.

Spray some guitar cleaner on a microfiber cloth and wipe the entire neck: In this case, no oil is needed. When cleaning a fully varnished fretboard, the main goal is to clean the finish itself, not the wood underneath. Do not hesitate to use naphtha if the fretboard has a lot of dirt on it or if any part is very difficult to clean.

In addition to the products we recommend in this article, on our website you can access our complete catalog, where you can find everything you need to customize and tune your guitar.

Cleaning the rest of the varnished parts.

Once the maintenance of the fretboard is done, we recommend you to clean the rest of the varnished parts of the guitar (body, back of the neck, etc.) with our cleaning product, you will easily achieve a perfect shine and cleanliness.

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