How To Clean A Guitar Neck: Your 101 Guide

Published Categorized as Care and Maintenance, Guitar Care Tuning Restringing

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A grimy, sticky guitar neck can make playing difficult and unpleasant. Over time, dirt, oil, and grime build up on the fretboard, causing strings to buzz, mute, or even break. Cleaning your guitar neck regularly is essential for smooth playability and preventing long-term damage. This guide will teach you how to clean guitar neck using common household items: how to safely remove dirt and debris without damaging the wood or finish. With just a few minutes and basic supplies, you can restore your guitar neck to like-new condition.

how to clean guitar neck

Table of Contents

What You Need

Cleaning your guitar neck properly relies on having the right supplies. Start by gathering a few key materials:

  • Cleaning Cloth: Use a soft, lint-free microfiber cloth to gently wipe away dirt, oil and grime without scratching the finish.
  • Guitar Polish: Apply a non-toxic guitar polish formulated for instruments. Gently rub it in to lift away built-up grime and restore luster. Wipe away residue with a clean cloth.
  • String Cleaner Spray: Clean metal guitar strings while you work on the fretboard. A specialized spray dissolves buildup and leaves a protective barrier.


Before cleaning your guitar neck, some preparation is required to protect the instrument and optimize your workspace. This process allows you to thoroughly clean the neck while minimizing any damage risk.

1. Removing and Storing Guitar Strings

First, take off your instrument’s strings using a string winder. This gives full access to the neck and prevents moisture damage during cleaning. Carefully wind up and store any usable strings in resealable bags. Label them by gauge and brand.

Make a note if any strings seem corroded or worn. Those should be replaced rather than reused next time. Additionally, wiping down the strings separately with isopropyl alcohol removes built-up gunk. Let them air dry fully before bagging.

2. Preparing Your Work Surface

Clear ample table space and lay out some protective material. A soft towel protects from scratches. Wipe down the surface to remove any grime or spills. Ensure proper lighting as well – cleaning a dark fretboard takes sharp eyesight.

You may also want additional materials nearby like rubbing alcohol, Q-tips, a polishing cloth and backup strings. Organize the area so supplies are easily reached once cleaning starts. A prepared workspace makes the job faster and prevents accidentally misplacing important guitar components.

3. Other Considerations

Before getting started, plug in your cordless drill and install a soft polishing brush attachment. Let any cleaning solutions you plan to use come to room temperature – cold liquids can damage wood finishes. Acclimate your guitar to the room as well if coming in from extreme outdoor temperatures.

Cleaning the Fretboard

Keeping your guitar’s fretboard clean is crucial for maintaining the playability and tone of your instrument. Over time, dirt, grime, and oil from your hands can build up on the fretboard, potentially causing issues. Follow these steps to safely clean your fretboard:

  1. Gather Supplies – You’ll need a few key items:
    • Fretboard Cleaner – Use a cleaning solution formulated specifically for maple, rosewood, ebony, or other fretboard wood types.
    • Soft Cloths – Have multiple lint-free microfiber cloths on hand. Dampen one with fretboard cleaner. Use another for buffing.
    • Fretboard Conditioner/Oil – Nourish the wood after cleaning with a natural fretboard oil or conditioner.
  2. Remove Guitar Strings – Take all strings off first for full access. This also prevents potential damage from liquids.
  3. Clean One Section at a Time – Work on only a few frets at once, cleaning and drying before moving to the next section.
    • 4-5 Frets Max – Focus your effort in a tight area, using precision techniques before shifting down the neck.
    • Dry Thoroughly Between Sections – Carefully wipe away all cleaner before it can soak into the wood, dulling the tone.
  4. Apply Fretboard Cleaner – Dip your cloth into the solution, then gently rub the area using medium pressure:
    • Along the Fretwires – Wipe each fret, applying extra pressure to stubborn areas of grime buildup.
    • Between the Frets – Use a dry corner of the cloth to wipe cleaner residue off the fretboard wood after soaking for 10-30 seconds.
    • Avoid Excess Moisture – Take extra care to prevent liquid from pooling around the fret ends or electronics.
  5. Buff and Recondition – After the area is cleaned, polish it with a dry soft cloth and apply fretboard oil/conditioner if desired:
    • Buff to a Low Luster – Gently rub the dry cloth back and forth until any cleaner haze disappears.
    • Let Air Dry Further – Allow 5-10 extra minutes between sections for any lingering moisture to evaporate.
    • Apply Conditioner Sparingly – Put 2-3 small drops directly onto a cloth, then massage into the woodgrain to nourish and protect.

Repeat this careful cleaning process for each short section until you’ve covered the entire fretboard. Then restring your guitar and check for any playability/tone issues. 

How to Clean Rosewood, Ebony & Pau Ferro Fretboards

Rosewood, ebony, and pau ferro fretboards each require specific cleaning methods to keep them looking and playing their best. Follow these tailored tips:

Cleaning Rosewood

  • Wipe down the rosewood fretboard using a lint-free cloth dampened with warm water. This lifts away dirt and debris.
  • For stubborn grime, use a drop of dish soap diluted in the water. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Every 3-4 cleanings, apply a conditioning fretboard oil containing lemon or orange oil. This nourishes the wood.

Caring for Ebony

  • Dab on a small amount of fretboard cleaner formulated for ebony wood.
  • Gently scrub across the frets and wood grain using a soft horsehair brush.
  • Buff to a low sheen with a dry microfiber cloth.

Pau Ferro Maintenance

  • Pau ferro requires less frequent cleaning than rosewood or ebony.
  • Wipe it down with a dry cloth every 1-2 weeks to remove dead skin cells and grime that can accumulate.
  • Every 2-3 months, apply a conditioning fretboard wax to protect the woodgrain.

How to Clean Maple Fretboards

Maple fretboards require special care since they have a thinner protective finish than rosewood. Start by removing the guitar strings to prevent damage. Then, mix a solution of warm water and 2-3 drops of plain dish detergent in a bowl. Dip a soft microfiber cloth into the mixture, then gently scrub a small section of the maple fretboard using light pressure. Carefully wipe away all moisture before it penetrates the wood.

After cleaning 3-4 frets, use a dry corner of the cloth to buff the maple until it shines. Check for any remaining dirt in the fret crevices. Repeat the cleaning process on another section, continually drying as you go to prevent warping. The delicate maple finish lacks the oils of rosewood, so avoid using conditioners or polishes which could damage the wood over time.

Cleaning the Back of the Neck

Dip the cloth into polish and gently rub it along the neck back using light, circular motions. Let it penetrate grimy areas for 20-30 seconds before wiping away.

After the polish, grab the soft brush and gently scrub any remaining dirt or sticky residue. Take care around more delicate sections like binding or inlay.

Finish by using a dry cl oth to buff the neck back and bindings to a brilliant, low-luster shine. Check for any leftover polish in crevices near the fret ends or neck joint. Removing all residue prevents future grime buildup.

Cleaning the Headstock

The headstock is prone to grime and dirt buildup over time. Start by:

  1. Wiping down the front and back with a dry microfiber cloth to remove any loose dust particles. Pay close attention to the crevices around the tuning machine posts where debris often collects.
  2. Spraying a small amount of guitar polish onto a clean section of the cloth. Gently rub the polish into the finish using circular motions. Allow it to penetrate grimy areas for 20-30 seconds before buffing away residue. Take care not to get any liquids into the tuning posts or truss rod cavity.
  3. For stubborn dirt, use a soft-bristle electronics brush. Dip just the tip into rubbing alcohol and lightly scrub contaminated areas in the direction of the wood grain. Avoid scrubbing too hard on logos or delicate sections.
  4. Finishing up by using a dry corner of your cloth to remove any remaining cleaner haze or polish. Frequently switch to new areas as the cloth gets dirty. Check side angles with a flashlight to ensure all residue has been eliminated from crevices. Removing it all prevents future buildup which can corrode parts over time.

How To Clean a Guitar Body

Keeping your guitar body clean and polished is key for maintaining its look, feel, and tone. Follow this step-by-step process for safely caring for your instrument’s finish.

Gather Supplies

You’ll need a few items:

  • Microfiber polish cloth
  • Guitar body polish formulated for your guitar’s specific finish
  • Additional soft, lint-free cloths

Prep the Body

Before polishing, wipe away any loose dust or debris with a dry soft cloth. This prevents particles from scratching the finish during polishing. Pay extra attention to textured areas that collect grime.

Apply Guitar Body Polish

Put a dime-sized amount of polish on your microfiber cloth. Gently rub it into the guitar body using small circular motions. Allow it to break down dirt and oils for 30 seconds before buffing clean with a dry corner of the cloth.

Take Care Around Binding/Inlays

Use a light touch when polishing these more delicate areas to prevent damage. Consider skipping polish here entirely, instead of wiping gently with a dry cloth.

Remove Residue

Flip your cloth frequently and fold it to reveal clean areas for removing polish residue. Check side angles with a flashlight to ensure complete removal, preventing future buildup.

Condition Textured Areas

For textured guitar finishes like checkerboard binding, consider applying a conditioning oil after polishing to nourish the crevices. Use sparingly and remove any excess.

Storing the Guitar

After polishing, install a humidifier in the guitar case to protect its finish from cracks and check during storage. Maintain 45-55% relative humidity.

How to Clean Guitar Strings

Keeping your guitar strings clean is essential for maintaining good tone and extending string life between changes. Start by gathering a few key supplies:

Guitar String Cleaner

Use a spray-on cleaning solution specifically formulated for guitar strings. These break down oil, grime and corrosion without damaging windings or metals.

Soft Cloths

Have multiple lint-free microfiber cloths on hand. You’ll use one for applying cleaner and another for buffing.

String Winders

A good string winder allows you to quickly remove all strings at once for thorough cleaning access.

Start by taking off each string and wiping it separately with a cleaner-soaked cloth. Allow it to penetrate built-up gunk for 10-20 seconds before gently polishing it clean. Check closely for any remaining grime packed into crevices or windings – go over these spots again if needed.

Once all strings are cleaned, wipe down the entire fretboard area with a dry cloth before re-stringing. This step removes any excess moisture and debris, preventing future corrosion on frets or hardware. Your strings will now feel smooth, intonated, and resound brightly.

How to Clean the Fretboard on an Electric Guitar

Cleaning an electric guitar fretboard has unique considerations compared to acoustics. Start by removing the strings to prevent liquid damage during cleaning around electronics. Use a microfiber cloth dampened with a special fretboard cleaner formulated for maple or rosewood. Unlike acoustics, carefully work around wiring, knobs and input jacks to avoid corrosion issues over time. Gently scrub the wood grain in 3-4 fret sections using light pressure. Check for debris near fret ends. After the entire fretboard is cleaned, rub in a conditioning oil to replenish the wood, then re-string and test tonality. Schedule cleanings every 2 months as oils quickly accumulate.

How Do I Keep My Guitar Clean?

Keeping your guitar clean should become part of your regular maintenance routine. Developing good habits and tips for daily care protects its look, feel and tone over years of playing. Here are some best practices:

  • Wipe Down After Playing – After each session, use a soft dry cloth to remove fingerprints, skin oils and debris from the strings, fretboard and body. This takes just a minute and prevents buildup.
  • Clean Strings Weekly – Over time, residue accumulates on windings and metals, dulling tone. Use a spray-on cleaner weekly to remove grime and oils.
  • Monthly Fretboard Cleaning – Over a month, sweat, skin cells and oils penetrate the fretboard wood. Gently clean it monthly using fretboard cleaner and cloths.
  • Body & Hardware Polishing – Every 2-3 months, use a body polish and microfiber to restore shine and remove grime from crevices. Follow with a fretboard conditioning oil.
  • Change Strings Regularly – Replace your strings every 3-6 months depending on play frequency. This maintains bright tonality.
  • Store Properly – Keep your guitar in a hard case with a humidifier when not playing to prevent drying and finish checking.

Wrap Up

Keeping your guitar properly maintained is crucial for both playability and tone. Following a regular cleaning regimen removes damaging grime buildup and protects the delicate finish. Tailor your methods to the specific woods and metals, using quality cleaners formulated for musical instruments. The small time investment pays off by extending string life, preventing fret wear, retaining resonate tone, and keeping your guitar looking its best for years of enjoyable playing. Caring for your instrument shows dedication to quality musicianship.

How To Clean A Guitar Neck: FAQs

What can I use to clean my guitar neck?

There are a few good options for cleaning your guitar neck. A soft, lint-free cloth slightly dampened with a small amount of lemon oil, fretboard cleaner, or light detergents like Castile soap can help remove dirt, oil, and grime from the fretboard without damaging the wood or finish. Always avoid using abrasives or excess liquid.

Can you use alcohol wipes on a guitar neck?

While alcohol wipes may seem convenient for cleaning, it’s best to avoid using them on your guitar neck. The alcohol can dry out the fretboard woods, possibly leading to cracks and damage over time. Instead, use small amounts of guitar polish, lemon oil, or other gentle cleaners with a soft cloth to keep your guitar neck looking great. Go easy on liquids to prevent warping.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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