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I have a Fender Stratocaster with a rosewood fretboard. The wood is fairly porous, and over time I have had something like dirt, dust, or possibly wax build up in the pores of the wood grain. The last time I restrung the guitar, I attempted to clean the fretboard with Kaiser Lem-Oil, and while it looked great while it was wet, as soon as the oil dried it looked like it had possibly even made the build-up in the pores even worse.

It is a little hard to see in pictures, but if you look at the following image you can see it pretty clearly in the higher frets on the right-hand side. Is there a safe way I can clean this and get the wood looking clean, smooth, and dark?

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I use 99% isopropanol mixed with soap water in a ratio of 3 to 1. Isopropanol can be substituted with ethanol, but it has to be pure too (i.e. 99%). Be careful, the alcohol itself and the fumes are flammable. You don't need much for cleaning.

If there's indeed wax on the fretboard, you will first need to use pure hot water, but don't make it too hot or take too long as it's not ideal for the wood. Firmly wipe the fretboard with a rag dipped in the hot water and wipe it dry again. Additionally, you may use a tooth brush to get the pores clean.

Next, wipe the wood with the solution I mentioned. I use a linen cloth for this.

Finally, apply some suitable oil as coating.

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  • This ended up working the best. A slightly wet toothbrush dipped in the suggested solution to clean the board, then drying the board, then a small amount of oil. – Aaron M. Eshbach Jul 22 at 13:29
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There really is no consensus on this matter. You don't really need a clean finger-board. I always thought a dirty fingerboard just attest to the commitment of the player.

Unless you play your guitar after you have just eaten a bag of cheetos it will hardly matter. I have heard some manufacturers use turtle-wax on guitars as to give them a very nice gloss finish coming out of the factory. Carnuba Wax, is especially well in-trenched in guitar folklore

I have heard about people bemoaning the use of auto-wax on guitars, but in reality you're waxing a resin finish. There is no wood involved. So ultimately, use what you like.

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  • I'm sure many people would wear their fingerboard gunk like a badge of honor, and I totally get that. I'm just a little OCD when it comes to keeping my fingers clean and having any dirt or build-up on the part of the guitar my fingers actually touch really bothers me. – Aaron M. Eshbach May 22 at 13:05
  • The dirt on your fingerboard comes from your fingers – Neil Meyer Aug 11 at 13:22
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When I clean my rosewood fretboards I use a pan of soapy water made using dish detergent so that it will rinse easily and I scrub the fretboard in the direction of the grain with a green scouring pad. Afterwards I rinse using distilled water which is soft water and therefore rinses very well. After it is cleaned and dried, I use just enough lemon oil to give it back its color. This works very well for me.

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