How To Clean Rosewood Fretboard (Tips and Tricks)

how to clean rosewood fingerboard
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There’s guitar playing and then there’s guitar hardware and gear. Hardcore guitarists and luthiers will tell you all about it and how the body and components of a guitar improve guitar playing.

Being well-versed with what materials your instrument is made of is a plus when it comes to playing and practicing in different conditions and definitely upgrading your skills whether as a solo musician or if you are part of a band.

One common material use for guitars is rosewood. There are a lot of good reasons why it is so in-demand and we are here to discuss maintenance and care for it should you have an ax made out of rosewood.

Here’s how to clean rosewood fretboard and more tips and advice from the experts. 

Step by step guide on cleaning a rosewood fretboard

These steps are simple you can do them on your own with just basic tools but if you’re uncertain about how to go about it or have the budget for it (for a full setup) then go visit your local guitar tech.

1. Remove your guitar strings

Pretty simple, right? Well, yes, removing your guitar strings before starting work on your rosewood fingerboard will make things easier cleaning-wise.

It’s always advisable that you clean your fretboard in general if you plan to intonate it and change your strings in one go. A fresh batch of strings from 1 to 6 after cleaning your guitar ensures that your guitar will play at its best.

Using a guitar tuner, later on, to restring your guitar together with a string winder would help make things simpler and easier. Doing a full setup for your guitar such as intonating it is a bit complicated and best done by experts.

2. Removing superficial dirt

Best way to clean rosewood fret board

Using alcohol wipes is a good idea to apply first as you clean your rosewood fingerboard. Once you got the strings removed then use alcohol wipes to thoroughly remove any signs of dirt on your guitar fretboard. You have to wipe fret by fret to ensure that dirt and oil are off from every portion of the fretboard.

A best practice is to just wipe your fretboard clean with a microfiber cloth after every practice session or gig. This should remove excess oil, grime, or sweat from your hands that got to your guitar fretboard and this regular wiping habit will go a long way for the wood no matter what type.

You can also top it off with weekly wood or metal polishing even if you have the strings on.

3. Use steel wool to disband dirt deposits

Then, use the finest grade #0000 steel wool for more stubborn dirt. Let your frets shine. If you have inlays on your guitar made from mother of pearl, abalone, or plastic, using steel wool would not be ruinous to your inlays. But please do take note that steel wool is only for rosewood fingerboards. It’s a no-no for maple fretboards.

Apply with gentle and circular pressure with your rosewood fretboard and it should be shiny in a jiffy. Cover your guitar pickups though as we don’t want any steel fibers to get to them. These metal fibers may cause some corrosion once it gets to your pickups.

4. Finishing touches

For a thorough cleaning process, you can then employ the help of lemon oil. Lemon is not only a good cleaning agent because it is versatile and effective but it’s also affordable and smells really nice.

And yes, it would work quite well for your rosewood fingerboard. You apply a decent amount on our fretboard and then let it sit according to the dirt on it. A minute is enough but you can let it sit for say 10 minutes for an awfully damaged or dry fretboard.

After that, it’s time to scrub it. Using an old toothbrush should work because it’s easy to wield and can really get into the crevices of your frets. Brush gently and make sure to remove all signs of dirt.

You may apply another layer of oil on it and let it dry overnight if you want. Stop touching the fretboard so that your fingerprints won’t get to it with smudges and everything. The next morning, wipe it with a clean cloth or paper towel and then start restringing your instrument.

As mentioned, if you play intensely and regularly then you may need to perform this once a month. This wouldn’t really cost you much, as you can see, all things we used you might already have. You just need to invest an hour maybe to perform a nice thorough cleanup and restringing to your instrument.

Jim Dunlop Body & Fingerboard Cleaning Kit (6503)
  • Kit Includes:
  • 1 - Formula 65 Polish (4oz) 1 - Fretboard 65 Ultimate Lemon Oil (4oz)
  • 2 - Polish Cloths
  • Made in the United States

Can you clean maple or ebony fretboards the same way as rosewood fretboards?

Yes and no. You may apply regular guitar cleaning formulas on all of these fretboards but if you want to do a thorough clean then you might want to ease up on maple or ebony as they are much more delicate than rosewood.

When it comes to glossy or finished maple fretboards, please don’t use any abrasive materials when it comes to cleaning them. You may only use lint-free ones preferably microfiber cloths. Once again, dirt can build up on your fretboard or the entire neck if you don’t wipe it regularly after every usage. So make that a habit so it won’t be a problem with maple fretboard soon.

Unfinished or raw maple wood material may need an oil-based fretboard cleaner. Ebony fretboards, on the other hand, maybe cleaned just like your rosewood finger board, it’s not as delicate.

Remember, always use a damp cloth for maple. Otherwise, you may use steel wool and lemon oil for Ebony, Rosewood, and Pau Ferro fretboards.

Check here an interesting video on cleaning rosewood fretboard:

YouTube video

Tips and Tricks on how to take care of your guitar in general

Of course, your fretboard is not the only essential part of your guitar and so you also need to learn how to clean and maintain the rest of its components. Here are a few tips.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Before anything else always make sure to clean/wash your hands before you play guitar. And be sure to dry your hands after washing them before using your guitar.

One, it’s uncomfortable to play the guitar with wet hands, and two, water ruins it, especially your strings and fretboard. Oily, greasy, and dirty hands is a big no-no when handling your guitar. Only people who do not care about their instrument would do so and from that, you ARE NOT a real musician.

This is especially true when enjoying a jam session with friends and you have a cigar in one hand and still play the instrument. Smoke and ash can get to the guitar and ruin it. Also, we know for a fact that we like to bring our guitars out on the beach and play with friends, right? Be wary of using your guitar with salty hands as that will outright break your strings and will cause it to rust.

Polish the guitar body the right way

For glossy guitars then you can just simply use a guitar polish and then a soft cloth to wipe it down. Do this regularly and your guitar will always look shiny and new. Make sure to use a dry cloth afterward to buff out the polished parts.

For matte, nitro, or satin-finished guitars, you may only use a dry cloth as they are much more delicate. WD-40 is a good and versatile formula to use so you may remove thick grime or maybe even rust that has accumulated in the crevices of your instrument. Again, clean the guitar regularly so it won’t have to come to this.

Proper storage and casing for transport

A huge part of taking good care of your guitar is to make sure that it is stored properly and is always secure when transporting it. Especially if you are someone who does a lot of gigs, you have your guitar with you wherever you go.

Investing in a good quality case, soft, semi-hard, or hard casing is recommended. For longer trips that would require road trips or plane rides, you need to make sure to protect your guitar with a reliable hard case.

Also, if you store your guitar, make sure to maybe buy a cabinet for it. or simply a guitar stand or hook where it won’t just be lying around.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you oil a rosewood fingerboard?

Yes, rosewood fingerboards benefit a lot from oil application. But please do take note to not apply full-strength lemon oil on it. Just make sure to use a diluted formula for it to be as gentle as possible to your wood.
Do not in any way use oil for your maple fretboard as that will damage it. Also, the amount of oil that you may apply to your rosewood fingerboard, is your place dry or humid if not then you may just apply a small amount of oil or none at all.

How do you polish a rosewood fingerboard?

As mentioned, steel wool or real fine ScotchBrite will effectively polish your rosewood fingerboard. Make sure to be gentle not to damage it but if you use 0000 steel wool then you should be fine.

How often should I condition the fretboard?

Seeing some discoloration, cracking, dirt build-up, wear, and tear? Then it may be time for cleaning and conditioning your fretboard. Guitarists redress their guitars every 3 months and then cleaning goes with that.
Your instrument may need more cleanups compared to others depending on how much you use it so as they say, play it by ear musicians oftentimes do.

Can you clean a fretboard with strings on it? And what’s the best way to do so?

Yes, you may. But it’s not advisable to put lemon oil on your strings or anything acidic during cleaning and conditioning the fretboard as it might shorten its service life. It would dull them to a point that you’d have to replace them prematurely. You don’t want to waste a perfectly good set of strings.
Sometimes, with your strings on, a regular wipe of a clean cloth should suffice. Polishing it with your standard wood or metal polish should also work.

Final thoughts

Whether you are an amateur guitarist or a professional, you can’t deny the fact that taking good care of your instrument goes a long way. Not all of us have roadies or guitar techs that can maintain our guitars for us, so it is important to know how to do so ourselves.

Luckily for us, taking care of a guitar especially one made out of rosewood ain’t that hard. You just need a few inexpensive and simple tools to do so. What’s important is that we do it regularly and not let our instrument rot.

So be sure to practice more and keep that guitar clean, always.

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