Fretboard Care and Restoration

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A lot of times, when guitarists change strings on their guitar, they don’t always think of cleaning the fretboard and conditioning it. In the case of rosewood, ebony, unfinished maple boards or any unfinished wood for that matter, cleaning and conditioning the wood is very important.

Of course there are other factors that you need to consider with regards to the fretboard. For example, the guitar should be kept in a controlled environment to minimize wood expansion and contraction.

In terms of cleaning, many people will use solvents. I do not recommend this as solvents will get rid of gunk, yes, but they will also have a tendency to dry out the wood’s surface. This is a bit of a shock treatment and it can destabilize the wood. I always clean with the same product I use for conditioning the wood.

There are two products that I use for conditioning fretboards that can double as a cleaner.

  • Lemon oil. This is my personal favorite. It has a nice viscosity and wipes off well when done. Regular mineral oil works fine too but it a little thicker.
  • Polymerized Tung oil. I use this when I feel that the wood needs a little more protection. The tung oil will dry and harden forming a very thin protective film. Its has to dry, which can take 24 to 48 hours.

There are 3 steps I follow to condition a fretboard:

  1. I do a first pass with a rag that is wetted with the product and use that to remove and clean the fretboard.
  2. I then carefully wipe down the fretboard, removing as much leftover oil as possible.
  3. Re-apply the conditioner, let it sit for 15mins and wipe off again.

Its simple and completely worth the effort. Your frets will remain seated more consistently, the playing surface will be clean and smooth, which improves playability: The wood will be less susceptible to changes in relative humidity.

For the guitar fretboard that is pictured above, you can see that the wood grain was so dry that the grain ws starting to pop up. I basically took 400 grit sandpaper wrapped around a small block and lightly sanded the board until it was smooth again. I did that between every fret. I followed that up with the usual conditioning of the board and you can see the result below.

 

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