How to Clean & Polish Guitar Frets

Published Categorized as Care and Maintenance

Looking to get a leg up on your competitors? Want to learn how to polish guitar frets like the pros? Why is it so important to polish guitar frets anyway?

All this and more today as we explore the ins and outs of the importance of polishing guitar frets.

Introduction to Fret Polishing

There’s no doubt that a clean guitar is a longer-lived guitar, and there’s an argument that cleaner frets are better for tone (although that one’s a little less cut and dry). Want an even better reason to buff up those frets, though? Nice shiny frets are, simply, a pleasure to play on (that goes double if you like to bend strings).

A little fret polishing should be part of everyone’s regular maintenance routine. You don’t need to go crazy and it doesn’t need to take hours a week – a couple of minutes every now and then can work wonders!

Incidentally, if you’re wondering how often you should do this or any other sort of maintenance, it’s a bit hard to say since every player is different. The best advice is to keep an eye on your fret condition – when, for example, you change strings – and you’ll soon get a feel for how long you can go between clean-ups.

Frets don’t rust or even corrode much but they can get tarnished, which can make them feel a little ‘gritty’ to play on. Unless it’s been a long time between cleanings, however, a quick polish will generally have them shiny in a jiffy.

Tools and Materials Needed for Fret Polishing

Cleaning and polishing a guitar fret requires a few materials to effectively get the job done. Basically, we will need the following materials to clean and polish a guitar fret:

  • Soft cloth
  • Guitar fretboard cleaner (optional)
  • Fretboard Oil (lemon oil, optional)
  • Steel wool (0000 grade)
  • Sandpaper (600, 1200, 2400, 3600, 8000, 12000 grits)
  • Polishing compound
  • Microfiber cloth or polishing cloth.

Using these materials, we can effectively clean and polish our guitar frets. As a result, we will keep it in top playing condition.

D'Addario Accessories Lemon Oil - Guitar Fretboard Oil - Guitar Accessories - Removes Dirt, Grease, Build Up from Instrument - Conditions to Resist Dryness - Extends Fretboard Life

Step-by-Step Guide to Polishing Frets

Now, let’s follow these steps carefully to avoid doing any damage to the guitar:

  1. Remove the guitar strings – we’re going to need to be able to access the frets, after all.
  2. Add fret polish to the cloth, squirting a small amount of the Frine polish onto the microfibre cloth. You don’t need a lot of stuff; try to add no more than a pea-sized amount.
  3. Use the correct-sized fret guard on the 1st guitar fret – choose from the three sizes of fret guard as there will be one that fits your fret wire. You want to choose the one with the slot that has the tightest fit over the fret.
    • If you don’t have a fret guard, you can use the traditional method of taping the fretboard with some masking tape.
  4. Rub the polish onto the guitar frets – apply the polish to the fret and quickly rub up and down using a small amount of force. The focus of our polishing is going to be the entire fret – including the sides. Most of the focus will be on the top, which is the most visible part, but don’t neglect the sides.
  5. Wipe away the polish – using the same amount of pressure that we used to apply it, wipe away the newly dirty polish. Using a cloth or rag, buff vigorously back and forth to reveal a lovely new shine on the fret.
  6. Continue the procedure on all remaining guitar frets – Depending on your guitar, you might have 22 or 24 frets on which to repeat the above process. From around the 20th fret, the fret wire may become thinner, and the fret guard struggles to sit flush between narrow frets.
    • As the strings are off, this is probably an opportunity to clean the fretboard.
  7. Restring the guitar – if you’ve worked the full length of the neck, and have hit every fret, making sure to do double passes if needed on particularly dirty guitar frets, then you can admire the final result.

Troubleshooting Common Fret Polishing Issues

Steel wool is the traditional choice for the job of polishing frets and it does a great job at it. However, it does ‘shed’ and leave tiny shavings and slivers of itself behind. If you use steel wool, you need to be careful. Vacuum really well afterwards and whatever you do, don’t rub any wool residue on your guitar body because it will scratch it.

Steel wool comes in different grades. You’ll want the finest grade which is 0000. Don’t use any other grade.

Because your pickups have a honking-great magnet inside, they will grab any steel wool shavings that come near. This isn’t good so cover up your pickups really well before you start.

The abrasives used in this process are not very rough but it makes sense to protect your fingerboard (particularly if it’s maple). You can use some low-tack tape (stick it on your shirt first to remove some stickiness) on either side of a fret but that’s a bit more time-consuming. If you decide to use tape, beware of lifting the finish along the frets on a finished maple board or at the edges of any fingerboard.

Fretboard guards are useful. They’re really thin metal strips with a cut-out for the fret. They’re handy if you plan to do this job regularly (and you should).

Post-Polishing Fretboard Care

After we have completed buffing the frets, we should use a clean cloth to apply some oils to the fretboard. The oil should be commercial fretboard conditioning oil specifically designed for the purpose.

Conditioning the fretboard in this way will also help us prevent the fretboard from cracking. For this reason, be sure to apply the conditioning oil evenly and avoid applying too much, for too much oil can cause the fretboard to become slippery for good.

Commercial fretboard oils are the best way to clean our guitars as they are often manufactured and sold by well-known luthier companies. Through well-grounded research, these guitar manufacturers produce products that will not damage their customers’ guitars, and, as a result, most of their products are reliable.

The most common fretboard oil sold by these guitar companies is lemon oil.

These oils are not pure lemon oil but mineral oils or neutral oils. These oils are pretty good conditioners for the guitar fretboard. though, they may have a small mix of real lemon oil. However, is usually yellow due to the artificial coloring used to boost the look of the product.

Do not use any other oil on your fretboard if you don’t want to damage it. These commercial solutions are prepared to safely clean the fretboard. They are safe, cheap, and last, unlike lemon oil for furniture which features far more lemon and citrus concentrate.

Jim Dunlop 6554 Dunlop Ultimate Lemon Oil, 4 oz.

Benefits of Regular Fret Polishing

Over time, dirt, grime, and rust can accumulate on our frets. This dirt causes them to feel rough and makes it difficult to play. As a guitarist, it is important to have smooth, responsive frets on your instrument.

Polishing the guitar frets is an important aspect of maintaining and improving the overall quality of an instrument, a process that helps to remove any dirt, rust, or grime that may have accumulated on the frets over time, leaving them feeling smooth and responsive.

So, by cleaning and polishing our frets, we can improve the overall quality of your instrument. We can also ensure that your frets are smooth and responsive. A clean fret keeps our instrument sounding and playing at its best and ensures that it will last as long as possible.

Conclusion: Ensuring Optimal Guitar Performance Through Fret Polishing

Smooth and responsive frets depend on well-polished guitar frets, and that is the major reason we need to know how to polish our guitar frets.

Indeed, the importance of smooth and responsive frets cannot be underestimated in playing the guitar. Of course, we can only achieve this if our frets are clean and smooth.

As we all know, the frets can get dirty and rough. So, we need to clean and polish it properly.

If our guitar frets get dirty, rough, and rusty, we don’t need to worry. The reason is that we can easily polish our guitar frets and bring them back to life. This is achievable with a little bit of time and effort.

Hopefully, you have been able to learn something today about just how important it is to have a clean and polished fret!

FAQs How to Polish Frets

What do you use to polish frets?

Steel wool is the traditional choice and it does a great job at polishing. However, it does ‘shed’ and leave tiny shavings and slivers of itself behind. If you use steel wool, you need to be careful. 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.

What sandpaper to use to polish frets?

Start with 220-320 grit depending on how much material needs to be removed. Finish with standard 400-grit sandpaper, using double-stick tape to hold it to the block.

How often do you need to polish guitar frets?

A little fret polishing should be part of everyone’s regular maintenance routine. You don’t need to go crazy and it doesn’t need to take hours a week—a couple of minutes every now and then can work wonders, though.

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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