I will show you how to easily clean and condition a rosewood or maple guitar fretboard. WIth over 20 years experience as a touring guitar tech, I am often asked several questions about fretboard maintenance. Most questions are about cleaning and conditioning. I hope I can help you out with this info.
A dried out fretboard is a common thing. This is easily fixed with cleaning and conditioning with a small amount of fretboard conditioner oil.
How can you tell if a guitar fretboard needs to be cleaned or conditioned?
A dark colored guitar fretboard like rosewood, will start to fade in color randomly around the fret board(also known as fingerboard). A maple fretboard does not really need conditioned ever because it is a harder fretboard than rosewood. Maple fret boards typically have a finish like lacquer or polyurethane and do not require any conditioner.
Why do I need to condition a fretboard?
A dried fretboard can split and crack. It can lead to the fret wire or binding to come loose. The fretwire may start to feel jagged as you run your hand up or down the neck. This is a sure sign that your guitar is drying out. Plus it looks so much better when a fretboard is clean and conditioned, unless you are into the old, dirty, cracked and broken look. A healthy fretboard will extend the life of your guitar and lower the need of repair and also raising the value of vintage instruments.
What do you condition a fretboard with? Answer:
The best conditioner to use for a healthy guitar fretboard is lemon oil. Lemon oil is keeps a rosewood or mahogany fretboard looking and feeling new. I have some helpful videos on YouTube that show exactly how to apply lemon oil. I currently use Planet Waves lemon oil, but I have used the Dunlop system 65 kit in the past also. There are several other manufacturers who have lemon oil for guitars also. I would not use any furniture lemon oil as it may contain unwanted additives. Here are a few for you to consider.
Why does a fretboard dry out?
A rosewood guitar fret board is not sealed with laquer or polyeurathane so it remains in a porous state. A guitar needs to be kept in 40% to 70% relative humidity. Dry climates where there is low humidity and in cold climates where you heat your house are big reasons why a guitar fret board dries out. There are humidifiers made for guitars that you keep in your case to help keep the guitar are the correct humidity while in storage in the case. Guitar humidifiers are pretty cheap and every guitar should have one in the case... especially for acoustic guitars. Here are a few links to buy humidifiers.
How often does a guitar fretboard need cleaned and conditioned?
A guitar fretboard needs cleaned as you start to see a small amount of dirt or discoloration around your most commonly used frets. A fretboard only needs conditioned if it is dried out or drying out. If you are touring heavy, and doing a lot of outdoor shows, then you probably should condition the fretboard about once every 3-4 months. If you are playing clubs, or just at your house, then it depends on how dry the air is.
How do I clean and condition my fretboard on my guitar?
To clean the fretboard, it is easiest to take all of the strings off of the guitar. However, this is not always the best if you are not an experienced guitar technician because taking all of the strings off a guitar can lead to many other issues with both electric and acoustic, especially if you are dealing with a vintage instrument. If it is not a vintage instrument, there are still other risks with taking all of the strings off the guitar. An acoustic guitar with a pickup under the bridge can seat wrong when restringing causing the strings to have an uneven sound. The truss rod may need to be adjusted again and the bridge may move causing an intonation problem.
Once you have decided to remove any or all of the strings, you then need to clean the fretboard by using several alcohol swabs. One at a time, clean each section of the fretboard thoroughly getting any oil and grime off the board. Then using only lemon oil and a clean dry rag(like a kitchen or bath handtowel}, apply to the fretboard generously and let it set for at least 60 seconds. Then using a dry part of the rag, rub the oil in and wipe clean until the oily feeling goes away. Once I am done with the rag/towel, I put a peice of white 2" gaff tape in one corner and write "lemon oil" on it. Then I roll the towel up so that the writing is on the outside of the roll, and I put it away for the next time so that towel stays clean and is only used for rubbing lemon oil into fretboards.
If you have a vintage guitar, or an acoustic with electronics, then I suggest that you only remove 3 strings at a time. With 3 strings removed, you can clean and condition the top half of the fretboard, then replace the strings and do the same thing on the bottom half.
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At the top of the guitar fretboard, the thing that hold all of the strings in place is called the nut, if the nut is loose, then the strings move around on the fretboard and it needs repaired. To see a helpful article on how to repair a guitar nut click here