Fingerboard Care & Repair

Fingerboard Care

Unfinished Fingerboards

Most fingerboards are not painted. (Rickenbacker and Fender Maple boards are among the exceptions.)

On unpainted fingerboards, using 0000 steel wool is a popular choice. It does however come with downside, lots of tiny hairs shedding and making a mess. Naphtha has also been used, put I personally find it's cleaning properties pretty limited.

I prefer to use Dunlop's fingerboard cleaner. It is sprayed on and does an excellent job of cleaning even filthy fingerboards. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I tried it out on a 50+ year guitar with decades of caked on dirt. I would recommend using it with a disposable rag (I like the blue Scott shop towels).

After cleaning the fingerboard micro fiber cleaning clothes can be used to lightly polish the frets. Steel wool will also do the trick, but again, makes a bit of a mess.

When using steel wool on a fingerboard remember to avoid contact with any painted surface and protect pickups from the wool hair.

After cleaning an unpainted fingerboard, follow up with some fretboard oil to restore some moisture. Let it soak in for a moment and then remove excess with a cloth.

Fingerboards may require oiling periodically (every few months) but I would not recommend a weekly oiling. Fingerboards that are saturated with oil can become greasy which makes them attract dirt.

Painted Fingerboards

Painted fingerboards are cleaned in a similar manner to the finish on the instrument. Remember that nickel frets will turn your cloth black when polishing. Avoid contaminating areas of bare maple with polish or your blackened cleaning cloth.

Fingerboard Repair


Old or brittle fingerboards can turn a simple refret into quite a tedious job. I have re-fretted enough 80+ year old boards to know.

Although chipping is unavoidable on some fingerboards, it can and should be repaired.

This should never happen and was caused by incorrect removal of the frets. Yikes!

chipped fingerboard


Fine line cracks can develop in the fingerboard and stretch a distance of several frets. These are often spotted when cleaning the fingerboard and can be an indication that the instrument is dry and in need of humidity.

If you see cracks develop in the fingerboard make sure the instrument is properly humidified.

After properly cleaning the fingerboard to remove dirt and oil, fine cracks can be filled with wood dust and adhesive. The fill is then leveled and the board is lightly sanded and polished.

See Also: Replacing Fingerboards

Fretboard Care

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