JAMES COLLINS
Before tackling this course, you should be comfortable with all the material from How To Change Guitar Strings

In this course James Collins walks us through every aspect you need to know to keep your fretboard well maintained and playing smoothly. We look at cleaning and polishing both rosewood and maple necks, including polishing the frets.

Summary: Why clean the fretboard?

So why clean your fretboard? Simply put, the cleaner your fretboard, the better the guitar will feel to play and the longer your strings will last. You may have never even thought about cleaning the fretboard of your guitar but, once you do, you will immediately feel the difference and never look back! Dirt builds up quite quickly, so James recommends trying to clean the fretboard every time you change your strings.

Equipment: What tools do you need?

There are three useful tools at this point, the first is a string winder to help you quickly remove the strings. For the actual task of cleaning the fretboard you will need:

1. Wire Wool

2. Wood Oil Soap

3. Scotts Shop Towel

James recommends using 0000 wire wool rather than a more typical 000 as it is slightly finer. The 'Scotts Shop Towel', which is the blue towel you see James using to clean up the neck, works great as it doesn't tear and you can just throw it away when you are done.

Checklist: Cleaning the fretboard

  • 1. Remove the strings and place a bit of masking tape onto the neck pickup
  • 2. Place a small amount of wood oil soap onto the wire wool
  • 3. Start washing up and down the fretboard. You may need to do this twice, depending how dirty the board is.
  • 4. Be sure to go up and down the fretboard rather the across the board as you may damage the grain.
  • 5. Use the Scotts shop towel to wipe away the oil soap and dry up the board.

Summary: Why polish the frets?

Polished frets not only look great, they feel it too. This is something you will only fully appreciate when you pick up the guitar to play it. Bends will be easier and overall you'll get far more enjoyment playing your instrument. As with all the maintenance we are doing, this can be done every time you change your strings.

Equipment: What tools do you need?

There are two tools you will need to properly polish your frets.

1. Fret Guard





The fret guard is there to protect the wood on the neck from getting tarnished or scratched by the micro mesh papers. This is a preferable choice at this level to taping up every single fret as this is far more hassle and a pain to do regularly. These are available at any luthier supply stores.

2. Micro Mesh Papers





These are essentially very fine sanding papers. Exactly how fine they are, is measured by their grit rating. The higher the number, the more fine the paper. Standard sandpaper would typically be around 120 grit, whereas these papers go up to around 12000 grit! You should start with 1500 grit, then, as a good guide, work your way through 2400, 3600, 8000 and finally 12000. The 1500 will even up the frets and give them a nice shine. As you go finer and finer, you start to seriously polish the frets getting them into perfect condition.

Summary: Checklist

Once you have all the equipment we spoke about in the previous lesson, we are now ready to start polishing frets. To give you a clear walkthrough guide, here is your checklist:

  • 1. Place the fret guard on the fret and pull it to the radius of the fretboard (wrap it so it slightly curves with the neck)
  • 2. Take your 1500 grit micro mesh paper and polish from side to side on each fret
  • 3. Don't take too long on each fret and try to do it evenly
  • 4. Once you've done all frets, take the next micro mesh paper (2400) and repeat the process
  • 5. Repeat this process all the way up to 12000 grit

By the end of this process, you should have even, shiny frets that your strings can glide over. This will improve how your guitar plays, meaning you will more than likely play it more! This massively helps to keep you progressing as a guitarist, so it's 100% worth it.

Summary: What's different?

Compared to how we clean rosewood necks, the main thing, and a crucial point to note, is that we don't want to use wire wool on maple fretboards. Instead, you should use just the scotch shop towel (as we looked at in the first video) and a pump polish.

Equipment: Pump Polish

Pump polish is a non harmful polish that is made specifically for guitars. There are a lot of brands out there that you can choose from as well as the Gibson pump polish. The important thing here is that you do not use household cleaners and polishes as they may contain silicon which could damage the finish.





IMPORTANT!

If you have a maple board that has a cracked finish (common on more vintage instruments), we would recommend not using any sort of pump polish. If the polish gets into the crack, it can stain the wood. Instead of using the polish, simply use the towel to wipe over the board. Cracks will be fairly obvious, and if you are unsure, simply take it to a professional guitar tech.

Checklist: Cleaning the board

The process of cleaning is then very similar to the rosewood board, so here is the checklist to follow as you clean:

  • 1. Remove the strings and place a bit of masking tape onto the neck pickup
  • 2. Spray a small amount of pump polish onto the scotch towel.
  • 3. Start washing up and down the fretboard. You may need to do this twice, depending how dirty the board is.

Summary: Which grit to start?

As we discussed in the previous fret polishing section, you typically start at 1500 grit. However, this guitar is regularly maintained and therefore is already in pretty good shape on the frets. James therefore kicks off at 2400 grit, then quickly jumps up to 8000 and 12000. This is important to note as you can see how the process gets quicker, the more regularly you maintain the fretboard.

Checklist: Cleaning the board

Just in case you didn't quite pick it up the first time round, here is the checklist for polishing the frets. If you need to see this in more detail, step back to Fret Polishing Part 1 then move onto Part 2.

  • 1. Place the fret guard on the fret and pull it to the radius of the fretboard (wrap it so it slightly curves with the neck)
  • 2. Take your 1500 grit micro mesh paper and polish from side to side on each fret
  • 3. Don't take too long on each fret and try to do it evenly
  • 4. Once you've done all frets, take the next size micro mesh paper (2400) and repeat the process
  • 5. Repeat this process all the way up to 12000 grit

By the end of this process, you should have even, shiny frets that your strings can glide over. This will improve how your guitar plays, meaning you will more than likely play it more! This massively helps to keep you progressing as a guitarist, so it's 100% worth it.

Ready to move on – remember to check out every lesson in this unit first – then try the next unit...

Cleaning Guitar Electrics

In this mini series James Collins walks us through how to maintain the electrics in your guitars. There are some basic principles to learn which you can then apply to a range of guitar styles, as James walks us through.