How To Polish & Clean Your Guitar Frets Thoroughly

‍Keeping your instrument in top shape is essential to keep it looking and playing nicely, and one crucial aspect of guitar maintenance is fret polishing. Just like the fretboard itself, the metal frets can accumulate dirt, grime, and oxidation over time, affecting your enjoyment of your guitar!

In this article, I will guide you through the process of polishing your guitar frets and show you what you need to clean them, ensuring that you and your instrument always perform at its best.

Why Is Fret Polishing Important?

Fret polishing is essential for several reasons! 

Firstly, polished frets enhance the playability of your guitar. Having clean frets allows your fingers to glide effortlessly across the fretboard, making it easier to execute bends, slides, and a smooth vibrato.

While it’s debated that polished frets improve the overall tone of your guitar, chances are, if your frets are dirty, your fretboard is as well, and this can certainly affect your tone, too.

If you clean your entire fretboard, you will most likely see tonal benefits by removing grime and improving the health of the wood.

Having a lot of rust, dirt, and dust can also affect your strings, and everyone who has been playing for a bit knows how bad corroded strings can sound. Having this stuff on your fret and fretboard will make it easier to get on your guitar strings and reduce their lifespan.

By keeping everything clean and polished, you ensure that your guitar produces clear, resonant tones and a more comfortable playing experience.

Tools & Materials Needed For Fret Polishing

Before diving into the fret polishing process, it’s crucial to gather the necessary tools and materials. Here’s a list of stuff you’ll want to have:

Microfiber Polishing Cloth

This will be used to wipe down the frets and remove any residue. Microfiber cloths are affordable, and it’s good to have some of these around your home, in general.

Fret Polishing Compound

Look for a high-quality cleaner designed explicitly for frets. This will restore the shine and remove oxidation.

Masking Tape or Fretboard Guards

Applying these will protect your fretboard from accidental scratches during the polishing process.

Ultra-Fine Steel Wool Pads (#0000-grade) or Fret Erasers

These are optional but can be used to remove deeper scratches or stubborn grime. You can learn more about these later on in this article.

String Winder & Wire Cutters

These tools will come in handy if you decide to remove the strings for a more thorough cleaning.

One of my favorite products that can cover basically everything you need to clean your frets and more is Music Nomad’s Total Fretboard Care kit.

It has the fret polish you need, fretboard guards that can fit over different-sized frets, a large microfiber towel, and even a safe fretboard cleaner for the wood. If you’re going to do a complete cleaning – I highly recommend this!

MusicNomad Total Fretboard Care (MN144)
  • F-ONE oil cleans & conditions & protects all unfinished fretboards including rosewood, ebony, Maple
  • F-ONE contains 100% natural oils & is Lemon-Oil free. Petroleum & wax free
  • FRINE Fret Polish revolutionary, petroleum free formulation is designed to clean and polish All Frets safely and quickly
  • 3 GRIP Fretboard Guards with an innovative handle keeps your hands from getting in the way and engineered curved angle contours to all fretboards. 1 each for all small, Medium, jumbo fret slot sizes
  • Microfiber suede Cloth specially designed to work with our FRINE fret Polish. Machine washable

A Step-by-Step Guide to Polishing Guitar Frets

Now that you have all the necessary tools let’s dive into the step-by-step process of polishing your guitar frets:

  1. Prepare Your Guitar

Start by loosening the strings to relieve tension. If you prefer, you can remove the strings entirely for easier access to the frets. Use a string winder to speed up the process if you have one.

  1. Protect The Fretboard

Use masking tape or fret guards to cover the fretboard, exposing only the frets. This will prevent accidental scratches on the wood while you polish the frets.

  1. Apply The Fret Polish

Rub a small amount of the fret polish onto each fret using a microfiber or polishing cloth. Make sure to cover the entire surface of each fret.

  1. Start Cleaning

Using light pressure, rub the polishing compound in a circular motion on each fret. Repeat this process for all the frets on your guitar. You may notice the compound turning black as it removes dirt and oxidation from the frets.

  1. Remove Excess Cleaner

Once you’ve finished polishing all the frets, use a clean section of the cloth to wipe away any traces of the fret-cleaning compound that might have been left behind. 

  1. Clean & Condition The Fretboard

If you removed the strings, take this opportunity to clean the fretboard using a soft, slightly damp cloth and a small amount of fretboard cleaner. Dry off the fretboard with a microfiber cloth to remove any excess cleaner.

  1.  Reinstall Your Strings

Once the frets and fretboard are clean and conditioned, re-string your guitar and tune it to pitch. Your frets should now be shining and smooth, ready for hours of playing.

Here’s an excellent video by InTheBlues that can be a visual aid throughout the fret-cleaning process!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Polishing Frets

While fret polishing is a relatively straightforward process, there are a few common mistakes to avoid:

Using Excessive Pressure

Applying too much force while polishing can damage the frets or scratch the fretboard. Always use light pressure and let the polishing compound do the work.

Skipping Fretboard Protection 

Neglecting to protect your fretboard can lead to accidental scratches and other abrasions. Be sure to protect your instrument before polishing to avoid any damage to the surrounding wood area.

Using The Wrong Products

Make sure to use a polishing compound specifically designed for guitar frets. Using the wrong compound can damage the frets or leave a residue that affects playability.

Not Cleaning The Fretboard

Focusing solely on the frets and neglecting the fretboard can produce less satisfying results. Take the time to clean and condition the entire fretboard for optimal playability.

How Often Should You Polish Your Guitar Frets?

The frequency of fret polishing depends on several factors, including how often you play and the environmental conditions in which your guitar is stored. 

As a general guideline, it’s recommended to polish your guitar frets every few months or so, but you may need to clean them more often, depending on how quickly yours get dirty. 

On the other hand, you may need to do it less frequently if you regularly keep up with wiping your guitar fretboard down with a microfiber cloth after each playing session.

That said, if you notice significant dirt buildup or your frets feel rough and oxidized, it may be time for a polish. Pay attention to the condition of your frets and adjust the polishing frequency accordingly.

Alternative Methods for Cleaning Guitar Frets

While fret polishing compounds are the most common and effective way to clean and polish guitar frets, there are effective alternative methods you can also try:

Fret Erasers

Fret erasers are small blocks of rubberized abrasive material that can be used to easily polish frets without any liquid cleaners. They are available in different grits and can be an excellent option for removing rust, oxidation, and dirt. For more stubborn areas simply use a higher grit. You can find a complete set here:

Baroque Fret Erasers for Guitar, Fret Polishing Cleaner, Frets Polish Tools Kit, Clean Fret Wire/String/Metal, Set of 5 (180& 400& 1000& 1500& 2000 Grit)
  • [EFFICIENT&LONG-LASTING]: Baroque fret erasers are made of natural rubber and emery by a special foaming process. The hardness of emery is greater than that of corundum, so the fret polishing is more efficient and more long-lasting.
  • [MULTIPURPOSE]: Baroque fret polish eraser can solve problems such as fret file scratches, corrosion/oxidation/rust of frets&string. And it is suitable for the character line polishing of most musical instruments, such as guitar, bass, ukulele, etc.

Steel Wool

Fine-grade steel wool, ideally #0000 grade, can be used to remove grime and oxidation from frets. It’s also an effective way to clean unfinished maple fretboards. However, be cautious when using steel wool, as it can leave behind tiny metal particles that may magnetize onto your guitar’s electronics, particularly your pickups.

Additional Tips for Maintaining Your Guitar’s Frets

In addition to regular fret polishing, here are a few tips to help you maintain your guitar’s frets in top condition:

Wipe Down Your Entire Fingerboard Often

Using a clean, dry cloth, gently wipe down the frets after each playing session to remove sweat and oils from your fingers. Doing this can prevent build-up and make future polishing jobs much easier, too.

Avoid Excessive Bending

While bends are an essential part of guitar playing, too much bending can wear down the frets faster due to the metal-on-metal contact. Try to be mindful of your bending technique to minimize fret wear because new frets can be costly!

Keep Your Instrument In A Controlled Environment

Extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations can cause your frets to expand or contract, leading to issues such as fret sprout. Store your guitar in a stable environment with a humidifier or dehumidifier, and monitor your temperature and humidity levels with a hygrometer to minimize these problems.

Conclusion

Don’t let dirty frets hold back your playing. Take the time to polish and clean your guitar frets regularly, and you’ll notice a significant improvement in playability and tone. Your guitar deserves the best care, so why not give it a fret-polishing session today?

By following the step-by-step guide provided to you in this article and avoiding common mistakes, you can keep your frets shining and smooth like a pro. 

Remember to adjust the frequency of fret polishing based on your playing habits and the guitar’s condition. With proper care and maintenance, your guitar will continue to inspire you indefinitely!