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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bite Size Tips 001 - Fingerboard

Dear Blog Readers,

Guitars have certainly established an important role in our society. Fundamentally, guitar is merely a musical instrument. From a technical standpoint, it is a tool made for a skilled person to perform his tasks, in this case to produce music from the instruments. A hammer is a tool as well. It enables a handyman to perform a variety of work. However, the value attached to a guitar is much higher than a hammer. This should be motivating enough for guitar lovers cum owners to pay some attention to your guitars in terms of caring and maintenance.

At random intervals, I will kick start a series of short postings on practical issues related to our beloved guitars. Abstract theories and technical information will be kept to bare minimum. Hope the series will benefit you over time. Cheers!

The first edition features our guitar fingerboards.

With regards to wood built guitars, the fingerboards are mostly made from a variety of tonewoods, a.k.a. guitar making wood species. The fingerboard has the following functions,

1. Provide additional stiffness to guitar necks
2. Enable fret wires and markings to be determined and positioned
3. Enable players to hold/press guitar strings thus produce various music notes

I don’t think the above list is exhaustive. You may be able to come out with more functions but I think there few are fundamental.

Lets’ talk about fingerboard maintenance; this is one maintenance area that is taken for granted by many guitar players. Fingerboards are often neglected because they are very stable and enduring. As they don’t give many problems, they are overlooked as well. Over the course of time, dirt and grime accumulate on the fingerboard. Some players feel that such “foreign substances” add character to the guitar. I will let you decide on this. We shall get on to topic of cleaning the fingerboard now.

You can use the following items to get it done. I should also stress that these recommended items are not the be-all-end-all items. You can always improvise with other things that may be more effective in many ways. Don't be afraid to try.

Plastic Scraper
Taken from:

Lemon Oil

Micro Fibre Cleaning Cloth

Position your guitar in supine position (well cushioned) and remove the strings as well. Notice the accumulated dirt and grime on this fingerboard. The owner hasn't cleaned it from day zero…

Use the plastic scraper to scrape off dirt from the fingerboard. Exercise care when doing it. You can see grains of dirt falling off from the fingerboard. You can brush away the scraped dirt and wipe the fingerboard with the car polishing cloth.

Polish the fret wire using the 00000 grade steel wool. Use the fingerboard guard to protect the fingerboard. If you are game enough, you can DIY the fingerboard guard using alternate materials, like plastics.

Apply lemon oil the to fingerboard by using sponge or toothbrush

Walah! It is done! Stay tuned for the more!


  1. I would use lemon oil to soften the rosewood. After that I would use steelwool to go through the entire fretboard. This only applies to rosewood boards and I think it's a more efficient way of cleaning. Killing 2 birds at once IMO and would not damage the rosewood board in any way.

    For maple boards, I would use the fingerboard guard to protect the maple (both finished and unfinished) if I were to polish the frets.

  2. Dear Jerry,

    That is pretty true… I do that to my own guitar but when I handle my clients' guitars… touches of delicate and sensitivity are always desired. I tend to stay on the safer side whenever I publish an article. After the steel wool has gone thru the rosewood fingerboard, don't it look pristinely new? A food for thought, I think you are probably experienced however for novices, they might over do it thus leaving deeper scratches on the fingerboard that are observable under lighting of certain angles. Nevertheless, thanks for your personal method! Please keep it coming!

  3. Like everything else, one is very meticulous about keeping things clean. A simple spray down of Finger Ease followed by a polishing cloth usually gets the job done. Once a month, the strings are removed, and a very soft mixture of Simple Green and warm water are made. A cloth gets dipped and wrung until just barely wet, and the fretboard is cleaned using light circular motions. Employing those techniques, one has managed near-pristine fretboards of guitars that have been hers for nearly 17 years now.