The proper cleaning and conditioning of your instrument is critical to its health. Over the years, I’ve seen many extreme cases of guitars that were permanently damaged from neglect. Without proper care, a guitar will lose value and eventually become unplayable. However, it’s not difficult to clean and condition a guitar—it simply takes a little time and effort. And that’s a worthy investment: Keeping your instrument in top condition will save you a lot of money in future repairs.
The issues. Before we discuss how to clean and condition a guitar, it’s important to understand where the potential problems lie and why we need to address them.
Fig. 1. A clean, well-condition fretboard just begs to be played.
Two important components to clean, condition, and humidify are the fretboard and bridge. This is crucial because they are typically made of unfinished or untreated wood. Maple fretboards are an exception because they have some type of finish and therefore just need to be cleaned, but not conditioned. Rosewood and ebony fretboards and bridges must be cleaned and conditioned to prevent sweat and dirt from damaging the wood. A clean fretboard not only looks great (Fig. 1), but it feels great under your fingertips.
Fig. 2. Not only does fretboard gunk look unattractive, over time it can damage your instrument.
As we play, dead skin cells, sweat, and dirt build up on the fretboard and collect around the frets. Not only is this unattractive (Fig. 2), but the moisture, acids, and salts in sweat cause the wood around the frets to deteriorate. This can cause dry rot in the fretboard, which results in loose frets and very expensive repairs.
Fig. 3. These frets have become corroded through neglect.
I can always tell if a fretboard hasn’t been conditioned when I examine the frets. This is especially noticeable when I’m doing a refret. After I remove the old frets, I can see nasty gunk on the tangs and green corrosion all over the fret wire (Fig. 3).