Guitars are supposed to be played – that is a given – but it also means that they will suffer quite a bit of wear and tear, no matter how careful or gentle you are.
The frets and the board itself are the parts which take most of the beating.
Obviously, the frets are under constant friction from the strings. All that grinding can leave the frets in pretty rough shape after a while, especially with a lot of bending and vibrato. You may start feeling like there is sand or something under the strings, making playing very uncomfortable. You can solve that by polishing the frets with a very fine steel wool. It’s a good idea to protect the board with tape before starting.
All you have to do is polish the frets to remove the rough surface. That can be made into another post later, so let’s move on.
In some cases the string can eat up the fret and form a few “dents”. This is totally normal as long as it doesn’t cause severe buzz or stops the note from sounding. There’s a point where a fret leveling may be a good idea, but generally if it’s playing well, there’s no need to overthink it. Heavier string gauge or an iron-tight grip on your playing hand may be damaging the frets faster, so keep that in mind as well (you don’t really need to hold down the string like it was a struggling animal. In theory, you only have to make it touch the fret with as little pressure as possible).
Here’s my #1 Les Paul, for example. This is result of hours of playing and abuse (and I doubt I’ll need a refret soon – maybe just a small fret leveling – it is still playing like a dream anyway)
Now, to the wood.
A good Rosewood board may look beautiful, but it is also completely vulnerable to the dangers of the environment (as opposed to a maple board, for example, which most of the time is protected by a coat of lacquer). If you don’t take care of it, the board will gradually dry up, start to crack, and shrink. Not only that, but also all the dirt from your hands, peeled skin… Everything you can imagine will start building up between the frets and inside the wood pores. Things can get pretty nasty – and even affect the playability of the guitar – so it’s a good idea to clean things up from time to time and make sure your board is always hydrated.
Enough talk. Let’s get our hands dirty!
This is a 1999 Gibson Les Paul Classic I bought recently. It was very fine overall, but a tad filthy, so first thing I did when I got it home was tear it apart and clean every inch of it.
As you can see, the board was quite dirty and greasy. To fix that, I used:
- a very fine steel wool
- a toothbrush
- a bottle of fret Doctor (just a few drops of it really)
- a small cotton cloth.
OK. First thing I’m going to say is that there are many different methods to do this. This is the way I do, but I’m sure people will have results just as good with different tools and whatsoever, so this is just a small example. I’m not a professional luthier either (yet), but this is a pretty simple thing that I believe every guitar player should know.
I have to stress that the steel wool will scratch your fretboard if you run it against the grain. It will be a bit diffitcult to get the cleaning done next to the frets, and it will be even harder down the neck where the frets are closer to each other, but you have to be patient. As long as you always follow the grain, it will be fine.
With the toothbrush, clean all the dirt left by the steel wool and the stuff you got out of the wood.
Some people clean the board with alcohol instead of the steel wool.
That works too, but the alcohol will dry up the board, so make sure you oil it right afterwards.
If you think it’s not good enough, you can apply it one more time.
Just make sure you don’t overdo it. Too much oil makes the wood too soft. It should not be applied too often either, just once every few months. If you oil the board too often, it might get so soft the frets will come off.
Leave it for a while and the wood should absorb most of the oil.
Use more Q-tips to remove the excess.
After everything is done you can wipe the guitar down with the cotton cloth to make sure there’s no dirt left anywhere.
Guitar strung up and ready to rock. These pictures were taken on the following day.
It amazes me how different the guitar looks with the board clean and oiled. It really plays like butter too.
So, keep your fretboard clean to enjoy your instrument to its fullest!
I will look killer as well.