I have had my electric guitar for several years and I noticed that there is some "sweat dirt" on the fretboard of the guitar, so the inlay is less shiny.

I'd like to clean that without taking the risk of damaging the neck's wood or the fretboard's inlay.

As I know it's not a good idea to remove all the strings, I don't know if I should do that when cleaning. (Update: it appears that this is not true, see Bill Cheatham comment below.)

Moreover, I don't trust cleaning "packages" that guitar shops have the habit to sell as they are probably more expensive than regular products I could find in a supermarket.

So I'd like to know what kind of product I should use to clean the neck, what tools etc., and I'd like to know what should be the steps for cleaning the fretboard: removing all strings, remove some strings and cleaning half of the neck, removing the four middle strings, keeping only higher and lower strings....

  • I'm also enclined to think most of the packages sold in music store are costing more for the packaging than for their actual efficiency... I'll be following this question :) – Anonymous Jan 14 '11 at 13:59
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    'As I know it's not a good idea to remove all the strings' — see my answer here: music.stackexchange.com/questions/1511/… – Anonymous Jan 16 '11 at 12:48

If you are talking about the actual fretboard between the frets, you'll need a soft cloth and typically lemon or bore oil, which will help remove the dirt. Along the fret, you'll need some kind of edge, wrapped in the cloth, to dislodge the cruft. Of course, you have to be careful not to scar the wood.

If it's the actual fret you're talking about, protect the fretboard around a fret with some masking tape, get some 000 steel wool and polish it a bit. I've just done a very dirty neck, it's actually very rewarding how shiny they get after so little work! But that situation was quite extreme.

[EDIT adding steps] :

For day-to-day maintenance I would just clean under each string when I change it a bit, and I change only one string at a time, be it a fixed or floating bridge, unless I'm doing something specific, like, say, a yearly or so cleaning.

Alternatively, with a floating bridge you have the option of removing the springs entirely from the claw to have access to the neck (also very useful when working on the electronic).

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    For the 'edge wrapped in cloth', I would recommend a stiff plectrum. – Anonymous Jan 16 '11 at 12:45
  • You're right, I do that with my Jazz III sometimes! – Pif Jan 16 '11 at 14:40
  • Yeah, I meant the fretboard (I don't manage the terms in english ^^), I'll correct the question. – Julien N Jan 17 '11 at 13:32
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    Tung oil also works well for the fretboard, if you have it. – Anonymous Jan 17 '11 at 17:19
  • +1 for lemon oil and edge-wrapped-in-cloth. But please please PLEASE don't use duct tape on your fingerboard! It leaves a residue behind, which undermines the whole purpose of using it while cleaning. Masking tape is a safe choice. – Alex Basson Jan 19 '11 at 11:43

Loathe as I am to just paste an external link; this is the best web advice I have seen; the link contains advice on what to and what not to use regarding fretboard cleaning; it does not cover strings.



Since we're talking about the fingerboard and not the frets, you can safely ignore my other answer--unless you want to know how to make your frets look shiny. To clean the fingerboard you can use a non-abrasive chemical such as Naptha (or common lighter fluid) to get the gunk off the board. After that, I recommend using some mineral oil or guitar honey (highly recommended) to maintain the wood. You don't want the fingerboard to dry out, but the likelihood of this will vary depending on the type of wood your fingerboard is constructed with and how the neck is finished.

Original post left intact to keep the comments from sounding funny:

There's also the option of buffing your frets with some very fine 00 steel wool. If you do this, however, make sure you tape up the pickups so no small metal fragments are attracted to the pole pieces.

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    I would not advise this unless the fretboard is so severely dirty/damaged that other means are unworkable; in which case you may have to be prepared to remove the frets and refinish the fretboard – Bella Jan 14 '11 at 14:39
  • Agreed, there is some risk involved--but it will get the shiny buffed look he's looking for without actually grinding down the frets any. If the frets are very damaged, take the guitar to a luthier for a fret job--don't try and fix that yourself. – Jduv Jan 14 '11 at 16:56
  • Wouldn't very fine steel wool be 000? – Pif Jan 14 '11 at 23:56
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    0000 :) i think – Bella Jan 15 '11 at 1:14
  • When I was doing guitar repairs, we'd use masking tape to protect the sides of the fingerboard, then use the finest steel wool we could get to get rid of the gunk, then finish up with lemon oil. – Anonymous Jan 15 '11 at 5:21

First of all, there's no problem with removing all of the strings at once. Having repaired and setup guitars for many years, I have never encountered a problem. Keep in mind that if you leave the strings off for days, the guitar will need to reaclimate once restrung, so wait a while to do any neck adjustments, etc.

If you have "gunk" on a fretboard, just take an old credit card and scrape it off. It is "easier to hold than a guitar pick, and it won't scratch up the board or the frets.

After doing this, if the fretboard is still dirty, try buffing with a soft cloth (old tee shirts work fine).

You can clean both frets and fretboards with Meguire's polish from the local auto parts store - much cheaper than those small bottles of guitar polish and just as effective. Then for rosewood or ebony boards, you can oil the board as a final step.

I have used 0000 steel wool to clean frets, but I generally don't recommend it. The tiny pieces of steel wool can get into the pickups and short them out. If your frets are so bad that they can't be polished, take the guitar to a pro.


Fastfret is amazing. Does not contain anything that will hurt the fretboard.

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    I know how to google it, but you should provide a link. – Julien N Jan 21 '11 at 11:01

When you replace the strings rub down the fretboard with something like lemon oil.

IMPORTANT EDIT: As rightly mentioned in the comment below, lacquered maple necks shouldn't be oiled. Only unfinished/unsealed necks (usually rosewood, ebony etc) should be oiled.


Just take a soft, thin cloth, and slide it between the strings and the fretboard.

You can then hold the edges of the cloth and clean the fretboard without the strings getting in the way.

Try not to use a cloth that will shred or fray easily as it might catch on the frets and leave threads or fluff behind...

  • That's what I do for regular cleaning (dust,...), but this dirt really need deeper cleaning. – Julien N Jan 14 '11 at 13:44

For a rosewood fretboard, once each year, I remove the strings, put on rubber gloves, use small amounts of lighter fluid as a solvent on the fingerboard and scrub with a soft cloth or paper towel to remove dirt.

Then I use StewMac Fretboard Finishing Oil. Wipe on a generous layer. Wait ten minutes, wipe off the excess. Let it dry for 24 hours and then buff it off again with a soft cloth or paper towel and put the strings back on.

During all this you need rubber gloves and adequate ventillation (for the 24 hours of drying time). Throw away the cloth or paper towels you use with the finishing oil. The fumes are harmful.

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