Maple fretboards are absolutely beautiful, but to keep them that way, you’ll have to be a bit diligent – dirt, gunk, and other unsightly features can become a lot more apparent on this light-colored wood, and it will continue to build up on it.
Therefore, cleaning your maple fretboard on a regular basis is highly recommended to prevent this and will help your guitar or bass look the best that it can be. This article will share with you some simple but effective steps to clean a dirty maple fretboard, as well as some preventative measures you can take for both finished and unfinished maple fingerboards.
Table of Contents
1. Gather Your Supplies
What you clean your maple fingerboard with depends on whether or not you have an unfinished maple fretboard or a finished one. Here’s what you need for each one:
For Unfinished Maple Fretboards
An unfinished maple fingerboard will feel rawer, drier, and coarse and have a more vintage appearance. They are also easier to get dirty, and without regular maintenance, they will begin to take on a greyish hue.
However, it’s essential to understand that almost every maple fretboard is sealed with something, and these days, it’s very rare to find a production-line guitar or bass that doesn’t have any kind of finish whatsoever.
Nowadays, these “unfinished” maple fretboards that aren’t glossy are treated with oils beforehand to help keep the wood healthy and protected while giving you the appearance of raw wood.
Therefore, to clean unfinished maple fretboards and keep them conditioned, you’ll want to take an oil-based approach to it. Here are some options that are non-abrasive and safe to use on a maple fretboard:
- Mineral Oil
- Murphy’s Oil Soap
- Vegetable Oil Soap
You can also make it easier on yourself and use a product such as Music Nomad’s F-One Oil, which uses a natural formula based on tree and seed oils and is gentle enough for your maple fretboard.
Despite it being a popular option for other types of woods, you’ll want to avoid using lemon oil products on any maple fretboard. Even though you’re not actually using pure lemon oil with these, even formulas designed for guitars that use a very small amount can be too acidic for your maple fretboard.
You’ll need to pick up some lint-free microfiber cloths too. Music Nomad does have a fantastic cleaning kit you can purchase that includes a large microfiber cloth alongside the aforementioned oil, but you can save a few bucks by buying a pack of microfiber towels separately instead and not having to reuse the same one.
Another popular method for cleaning unfinished maple fretboards is to use #0000-grade steel wool pads. It’s incredibly fine and won’t harm your fretboard, but it’s effective enough at removing the gunk that’s stuck to the wood as well as the fret wire.
If you do this, make sure or cover your instrument’s pickups with painter’s tape because any steel wool shavings that fall off can be attracted to your pickup’s magnets. Here’s a good video demonstrating what you need to do if you decide to go this route:
For Finished Maple Fretboards
Cleaning a finished maple fretboard is slightly less involved, and you shouldn’t use any oils on it.
This is because these kinds of maple fretboards will be sealed with a thin layer of coating, which is typically polyurethane or nitrocellulose lacquer, to give it that glossy look. Even some fretboards that appear unfinished may actually have a matte or satin finish applied to them.
This coating will prevent the oil from penetrating the fretboard, and you’ll just be left with an oily mess that’s not really accomplishing much.
These finished fretboards are inherently easier to keep clean because the overcoat will help prevent sweat and oils from staining the wood. However, you will still need to maintain them periodically, but it’s straightforward.
For glossy maple fretboards, a cleaner designed to polish and protect your fretboard will be just fine, along with some lint-free microfiber towels.
However, for those with a matte finish, some products like the one linked above aren’t ideal, or even really necessary, for that matter. In that case, you can use a very damp microfiber cloth to get out most of the dirt or grime.
This method can also work for most finished maple fretboards too, but some good fretboard polish will do a more thorough job cleaning glossy and satin-finished maple boards and making them truly shine.
2. Remove or Loosen Your Strings
To do the most thorough cleaning job, ideally, you should take off your strings as this will allow you to get in the little nooks and crannies around the fret wires.
However, if you don’t feel like replacing your strings or don’t have a set of strings handy, as an alternative, you can loosen the strings enough to where you can move them out of the way as you clean.
But if you are able to remove them, you will be making your life considerably easier when trying to give your guitar a deep cleaning. This is especially true if you happen to have a guitar with a scalloped fretboard since you’ll have to get down deeper into the frets.
3. Start Cleaning!
Now that you have your preparations made, you can actually begin to get to work on cleaning your maple fretboard.
If you need to oil your fretboard, in the case of unfinished ones, apply a light amount of your product to small sections, doing one at a time. Add a dab of fretboard-safe oil to each of the first five frets or so, massage it into the fretboard with your microfiber cloth, and do it to the next group until you’ve completed them all.
Step away for a bit and give the oil some time to dry sufficiently. Usually, 5 minutes or so is long enough, and once that’s passed, simply use another clean microfiber cloth or a dry part of the one you were using and wipe down each fret once more.
For those with finished maple fretboards and are using guitar cleaner or polish on theirs, you can either take a similar approach as the oil or spray or add a light dab to your microfiber cloth each time so you can make sure you don’t use too much of it.
Alternatively, as mentioned before, you can also do a decent job of cleaning your maple fretboard here by using a lightly damped microfiber cloth.
It’s a budget-friendly option, and it does work, but it’s not as effective, especially for cleaning the fret wires themselves.
For people with finished maple necks with dirty fret wires, I’d recommend Music Nomad’s FRINE cleaning kit, which will do a better job removing oxidation from the metal fret wires.
Those with an unfinished maple will be fine using #0000 steel wool on the metal parts if they need to clean them.
4. Change Your Strings
It should go without saying that once you’re finished cleaning your fretboard, you need to either put on some new strings if you removed them. On the other hand, if you choose to keep your strings on, all you have to do now is tune them back up.
Now you can enjoy playing on your gorgeous maple fretboard once more!
Practical Tips For Keeping Your Maple Fretboard Clean
After all of your effort in making your fretboard look good as new, you probably want to know some ways you can keep it looking fresh and prevent it from getting too dirty again.
When handling a maple fretboard regularly, it’s all a matter of taking some basic steps each time you play your guitar or bass.
To keep your maple fretboard looking clean:
- Wash your hands before playing to remove sweat, grease, oils, and dirt from them
- Wipe down your fretboard with a lint-free microfiber cloth after playing
- Store your instrument in a gig bag or case to prevent dust and dirt from settling on it
This advice might seem simple and obvious, but getting into the habit of doing it every time is tricky for a lot of folks.
If you don’t regularly do these things, it shouldn’t be any surprise that your maple fretboard got dirty. Without taking the extra measures, it’s inevitable that that crud will build up on it over time.
Whether you have a guitar with a maple fretboard that could use a cleaning or you’re a new owner of one and want to know how to take care of yours in the future, the advice here will help you safely keep yours looking and feeling healthy.
Always remember never to use lemon oil products on maple fretboards – the ones made for guitars are considered safe for other fretboard woods like rosewood and ebony, but maple doesn’t tolerate it well.
That being said, throughout this article, I’ve recommended a few products that will help get the job done that you should definitely look into having. They will definitely make caring for your maple fretboard a lot easier and will make your instrument something that you’re proud to play each day!