Cleaning and oiling your fingerboard is essential to maintaining a healthy classical guitar practice routine.

Here, luthier extraordinaire Garrett Lee walks us through how to clean and oil your classical guitar fingerboard.

1. Inspecting your fingerboard

Does this look familiar?

cleaning and oiling your fingerboard
Gunk. Grime. Gook.

There’s no official name for it, but you’ve probably had it on your fingerboard. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The waxy amalgamation of sweat, skin and dirt is a badge of honor signifying that you’ve put in serious practice time.

While the build-up is not directly harmful to your guitar, here are a few reasons why you might want to invest 15 minutes once or twice a year to clean and oil your fingerboard:

  1. A clean guitar gives you a better outlook on your instrument and playing. You might practice more.
  2. Cleanliness might increase the longevity of your bass strings. Sweat and dirt are bass killers as they corrode the metal windings and dull the sound. A clean fingerboard keeps the perpetrators out of range. For complete preventative medicine, also consider washing your hands before playing.
  3. If you’re in the market to sell your instrument, a better look will earn you more money.

2. Cleaning and Oiling your Fingerboard

If your fingerboard is free of gunk, all you need to do is oil it.

Buy a bottle of mineral oil at the grocery store. With all the strings off the tuners and stuffed into the sound hole, apply some oil on a folded paper towel and wipe it on the face of the fingerboard.

It’s fine to wipe it on the frets. Avoid adding so much oil that it runs over the edge of the fingerboard and down the neck. If it does, simply wipe away the drips with a new towel.

cleaning and oiling your fingerboard

Let the oil sit for about 5 minutes. Using new towels and a buffing action with pressure, wipe away as much oil as you can from the fingerboard and frets. Make sure to reach the corners where the fingerboard meets the edges of the frets.

cleaning and oiling your fingerboard

The results are rewarding:

cleaning and oiling your fingerboard

If your fingerboard has gunk, apply some mineral oil to the corner of the abrasive side of a dish sponge.

cleaning and oiling your fingerboard

Lightly scrub away any build-up, using the oil as a lubricant and solvent. Scrub right up to the edge of the frets.

cleaning and oiling your fingerboard

As described above, wipe away the excess oil and grime with new paper towels. If the build-up is severe, you may have to repeat the process.

3. Look for further issues

Now take a moment to inspect your guitar.

This is the perfect time to do a global inspection of your guitar. Look carefully for things like cracks, separating joints, and protruding fret ends.

In our post "Adding a Luthier to Your Team," we’ll talk about how you can work with your local luthier to remedy these problems.

Until then, we hope you’re feeling inspired to clean up and oil that fingerboard, and get to practicing!

Learn from the best guitarists

Catch up on Gary’s last posts on choosing a guitar case and humidification, and watch out for more luthier insider tips coming to tonebase this month!

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Guitarist

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