How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard (Without Ruining It!)

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If you play guitar as often as we do, your fretboard may start to look like…well, a warzone.

But not to fret! Your dirty fretboard CAN be restored to its original glory.

In this ultimate guide to cleaning your guitar fretboard, we’ll provide the step-by-step instructions to get it looking like new again. We’ll recommend a few specialty fretboard cleaners, but you can also get a clean fretboard with household items, too.

Plus, we’re including tips that will help keep it clean in the future. We even added a few videos at the end so you can see these tips in action (on both electric guitars and acoustic guitars, as well as various finishes).

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Identify Your Fretboard Type

Before you start cleaning your fretboard, determine the type of wood it’s made of. The most common types are ebony, rosewood, or maple. Each requires a specific cleaning approach and materials.

Not sure which type of fretboard you have?

  • Ebony fretboards are known for their dark, dense grain and smooth feel. They’re typically found on high-end guitars and require a delicate touch when it comes to cleaning.
  • Rosewood fretboards have a warm, rich tone and a beautiful grain pattern.
  • Maple fretboards are typically found on Fender-style guitars and have a bright, snappy tone. They’re known for their smooth, glossy lacquered finish.

Step 2: Remove the Strings

To access the fretboard easily, remove your guitar strings. You can either take ’em all off in one go (it’s useful to do this during a routine re-stinging or when you break a string) or do it half and half, to maintain some tension on the bridge- whatever you prefer.

Step 3: Protect Your Guitar

Cover sensitive parts of your guitar, such as pickups and sound holes, with low-tack masking tape to prevent any accidental scratches or damage during cleaning. This will also help keep the filings from steel wool from getting lodged any place they shouldn’t be!

Step 4: Start with a Gentle Cleaning

Use a fine-textured microfiber cloth soaked in warm water to gently clean the fretboard. Wipe it down from top to bottom, then dry it before the water evaporates. For maple fretboards, use a dry or slightly damp cloth.

Step 5: Tackle Stubborn Grime

For any remaining grime and oily stains, use very fine steel wool (0000 grade) and a fretboard conditioner (make sure it’s suitable for your wood type). Gently wipe the affected areas in a circular motion, without rubbing or scrubbing too hard, especially on older guitars or finished maple fretboards.

Step 6: Clean Along the Frets

For dirt between your guitar frets or saddle, dip a trusty a q-tip dipped in warm water to reach every last nook and cranny. Then give it a gentle wipe with a soft microfiber cloth.

Step 7: Condition the Fretboard

Apply a small amount of oil (e.g., almond oil, mineral oil, or linseed oil) to darker tonewoods like rosewood, ebony, and pau ferro fretboards. Allow it to soak in for several hours or even a day before replacing the strings.

For maple fretboards, use a pump polish specifically designed for guitars, like Gibson or Dunlop 65, to maintain a clean and shiny surface.

Step 8: Polish the Hardware

Clean your guitar’s hardware, such as the bridge, pickups, and tuning pegs, with guitar polish like the Boss Guitar Detailer to prevent corrosion. To clean the pickups, use a dry cloth or just a bit of guitar body cleaner, being careful to avoid any liquid cleaners.

Step 9: Clean the Guitar Body

For guitars with a shiny finish, give them a little extra love with products like the BOSS BGD-01 Guitar Detailer or the Dunlop Formula 65 Guitar Polish & Cleaner. And for those of you with a matte or satin finish, opt for a simple but effective dry cloth to clean the body. It’s important to avoid liquid cleaners that can clog the wood’s pores.

Bonus Tip: Baby Wipes

It might sound odd, but for a quick and easy fretboard cleaning solution in between deeper cleaning sessions, grab some baby wipes! Just make sure to pick the sensitive kind without any added perfumes or chemicals. The moisture won’t damage the wood, and it’s an effective way to remove grime from your fretboard using common household items.

How to Keep Your Fretboard Clean (After You Clean It)

Here’s some tips to prevent your fretboard from getting dirty now that it’s nice and clean:

  • Wash your hands before playing: To prevent unnecessary dirt and oils from transferring to the guitar, always wash your hands before playing. This will help maintain the instrument’s cleanliness and appearance.
  • Quickly wipe down the guitar after playing: Use a soft t-shirt or other soft, clean cloth to remove any skin oils, dirt, and dust from the guitar. Make sure to clean the tuning machines as well.
  • Condition every few months: Condition Rosewood, Ebony, and Pau Ferro fretboards every few months with lemon oil to prevent cracking.

7 Things to Avoid When Cleaning a Guitar

  1. Avoid using chemicals that may damage the wood, such as ordinary household cleaners.
  2. Do not use lighter fluid/naptha on your guitar body.
  3. Avoid using 100% lemon oil on your fretboard.
  4. Avoid using wire wool on gloss maple boards.
  5. Use extra care with older, worn maple boards as the polish can seep into cracks and stain the wood.
  6. Avoid using liquid cleaners on Matte or Satin finish guitars.
  7. Do not use excessive oil when conditioning your fretboard.

Complete List of Products Needed

We’ve put together this list of essential products that will help you keep your guitar looking like new. Some are optional, and always make sure to use the appropriate products for you guitar’s finish.

  • Soft cloth (microfiber)
  • Sensitive baby wipes
  • Q tip
  • Very fine steel wool (0000 grade)
  • Fretboard conditioner (e.g Gobi Labs)
  • Lemon oil (remember, NOT 100% lemon oil! Kaiser Lemon is good)
  • Guitar polish (e.g., Boss Guitar Detailer, Dunlop Formula 65 Guitar Polish & Cleaner)

So, there you have it – the ultimate guide to cleaning your guitar fretboard. By following these expert-recommended steps, you’ll keep your guitar in top shape and sounding great.

Below, we’ve compiled a few awesome videos that will guide you through each step of the cleaning process. There’s videos from Gibson, Fender, and Martin here, as well as some fretboard-specific videos we like. Enjoy!


In this video, Gibson’s Master Luthier Jim DeCola shows you how to clean, oil, and condition your guitar’s fingerboard for a smoother playing experience and improved stability. A well-maintained fingerboard not only looks and feels better, but it also prevents the wood from expanding and contracting due to moisture fluctuations.

To start, remove the strings and protect the body of the guitar with a sheet of leather or cloth. Apply fingerboard oil (such as Gibson Fretboard Conditioner or lemon oil) generously to a clean rag and work it into the fingerboard, ensuring it is fully saturated. Let the oil sit for a few minutes to penetrate the wood.

If your fingerboard is particularly dirty, use a toothbrush or synthetic steel wool (such as a white Scotch Brite pad) to scrub alongside the frets and remove any gunk. Remember to work with the grain direction to avoid scratches.

Once the oil has been left to soak in for a few minutes, wipe off any excess with a clean, dry rag. Remove the protective covering and admire your freshly oiled and conditioned fingerboard, now ready for restringing. Your guitar will play more smoothly and be more stable, thanks to the oil stabilizing the wood.



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