The Cook Trio

How to Clean Ebony Fretboard?

This guide will teach you how to clean ebony fretboard the right way.

Regardless of being a slender piece of hardwood fixed on the neck of your guitar, the fretboard is among the vital components of your guitar. It’s a point of contact between the guitar’s body and the notes you play, hence a solid foundation for the frets.  

 What’s more, it’s the section of the guitar that your fingers touch the most; thus, it gets dirty often. So, when it comes to cleaning Ebony fretboards, it’s more about what to avoid than what to do. Even though people have different opinions on how to adequately clean ebony fretboard, there are things you should avoid and some that are highly recommended.  

 So, before we delve into the multi-step guide on how to go about it, let’s first look at a few pointers on what to do and what to avoid; 

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    Cleaning ebony fretboard - Do's and Don'ts

    Here are a couple of vital materials for cleaning your fretboard and all-purpose guitar maintenance. Plus, all these products are extremely affordable.  

     Vegetable oil soap  

     Vegetable oil soap, precisely one that contains potassium, is exceptionally gentle on your fretboard. On the other hand, ensure to clean all of it, as it might harden if you leave it on the fretboard for a long time. This will leave a “soap spot” on your fretboard.  

     Naphtha/zippo/Ronsonol lighter fluid 

     Lighter fluid, Naphtha, or mineral spirits come in handy in breaking down oils and all the other debris your hands leave on the fretboard. The reason it’s ideal for cleaning your fretboard is that it won’t react with nitro finish. Moreover, it evaporates swiftly without expanding the wood. However, be careful when using it; utilize a cloth to apply it, and keep it away from an open flame.  

     Guitar detailer 

     A guitar detailer contains mineral oil and several solvents; hence it’s great at removing all sorts of dirt and debris from the fretboard. Plus, since it’s a standard guitar polish, it gives it a clear polish. Most guitar polishes will get the job done, regardless of the brand.  

     Fretboard oil 

     While all fretboard oils will come in handy, there’s a difference between various brands in terms of viscosity. On the other hand, this should only be an issue if you’re dealing with a vintage.  

     Other items  

     In addition to the items mentioned above, you will require soft cloth, paper towels, several fretboard guards in case they get lost, and #0000 steel wool.  

    What to avoid when cleaning an ebony fretboard

    How to clean ebony fretboard

    Now that you know what to use when cleaning your fretboard, let’s see what you shouldn’t use to avoid ruining your fretboard: 

     Nail polish remover/Acetone 

     As mentioned previously, Naphtha is an excellent choice since it won’t react with the guitar finish. On the other hand, Acetone is explicitly manufactured to remove that type of finish or lacquer. It’s a great choice to utilize for removing glues or binding from the guitar neck or body. Nevertheless, it should never be utilized to clean fretboards.  

     Wood polish spray/pledge 

     Typically, lemon oil is perfect for ebony fretboards, particularly to restore the dark polish to the wood in the event that it dries out. Nonetheless, aerosolized wood polishes, including pledge, have solvents that could ruin the guitar’s finish.  

     While household products might come in handy in cleaning your guitar, at times, it would be best to use the products precisely manufactured for this purpose. 

     Any steel wool except the #0000 

     Despite the manufacturer, ensure you check the gauge of the steel wool you choose. Go for “superfine” or “#0000” steel wool which you can buy from the local paint shop or hardware store. Don’t go for the coarse products you use to clean your utensils.  


     There are different theories on when and how often you should clean your fret board. At times, people better like the feel and shape of the guitar neck but dislike the finish. Sandpaper is helpful if you’re looking to remove the finish on the fretboard.  

     All the same, this is the sole reason you should go for sandpaper. It’s extremely abrasive for cleaning purposes. For instance, an 800-grit will establish valleys and hills on the fretboard; hence, go for #0000 steel wool.  

     Upon gathering all your materials, find a suitable place for cleaning your guitar. It would be best if you had a spacious flat surface. Declutter the workbench, and get ready to begin.  

    How to clean ebony fretboard

    Ebony wood is a dark, dense, and tough wood that makes excellent fretboards. Besides, you want the heaviest wood and tightest grain to play the frets. After several centuries of innovation, design, and love for guitars, modern guitar manufacturers go for either of these two best hardwood options for fretboards: 

    • Ebony  
    • Rosewood  

     In terms of structure, these woods are among the hardest and most dense woods, making them perfect fretboard material. However, due to the high demand for guitars, they have been overcut. That said, here is how to clean your fretboard: 

    Remove the strings

    If the neck is bolted, remove it carefully. You’re now supposed to use steel wool, oil soap, and all cleaning materials mentioned above to clean the fretboard. Removing it will hinder the cleaning material from staining it.  

     On the other hand, if you have a guitar with a set neck, use a dry cloth or masking tape to cover it. Again, if yours is an acoustic guitar, take a cloth and cover the sound-hole.  

    Apply one cup of vegetable oil soap

    Spread a thin strip from the nut to the 24th or 22nd strings. Using the super fine steel wool, instantly begin scrubbing the fretboard in a circular motion. This soap will become sticky fast; thus, it’s essential to begin scrubbing immediately after pouring it. Avoid scrubbing against the grain since it will scrap out more material from the fretboard than necessary, resulting in an uneven surface.  

     Moreover, don’t clean with the grain, since if there is a lot of dirt on the fretboard, long steel wool scrubs against it, pushing the dirt more into the ebony wood. When using vegetable oil soap, the most suitable technique is to scrub in a circular motion, accessing the debris on the wood but not creating hills and valleys in the process.  

    Wipe the vegetable oil soap

    Using paper towels, wipe off all the soap. Place the fretboard guard on the frets, and clean the surface of the strings using steel wool. Wood and metal react inversely to gunk. Even though wood builds up dirt gradually, the metal usually corrodes. Therefore, it’s crucial to clean the fretboard along with the frets.  

     Clean them all using the super fine steel wool, then wipe each fret by dipping a dry cloth in Naphtha. This will eliminate all debris that might have been left behind. Meanwhile, be careful when using lighter fluid and don’t use it close to an open flame.  

    Apply fretboard oil

    Next, spread a thin fretboard oil coat on the ebony fretboard using a paper towel. Scrub it off, and don’t spread too much of it. Using the microfiber cloth, scrub the fretboard to wash out any remaining dirt and spread the oil evenly throughout the fretboard. This oil is supposed to be a polish on your now clean fretboard. Apply a bit of it and scrub using a soft cloth.

    Wipe off the fretboard oil

    Now, using a microfiber cloth, wipe off the fretboard oil. This will wash off any debris left and disburse the oil throughout the fretboard. To achieve the best results, do it by hand instead of a machine. Typically, buffers won’t achieve as good results as hands when it comes to flat surfaces, though they’ll work excellently for radiused ebony boards.  

    Wipe the strings 

    Lastly, you have to wipe every fret using a paper towel. A tiny amount of fretboard oil on ebony is a good thing. On the other hand, fretboard oil on the strings will do irreparable harm to your strings. While a microfiber comes in handy in spreading the fretboard oil on the surface, a paper towel absorbs it.  


    Now that you’re done cleaning, it is time to condition the fretboard. There are numerous products for conditioning; for example, some manufacturers recommend lemon oil, while others say to avoid lemon oil.  

     Moreover, some prefer raw linseed oil, though some people might find its smell unpleasant. However, linseed oil is an excellent option if you don’t mind its smell.  

     Lastly, there’s a group of people who don’t think conditioning is necessary. They claim that humidity control is the way to go. That being said, once your fretboard is dry, it would be best to condition it.  

    How to condition ebony fretboard

    Regardless of the conditioner you go for, don’t apply in excess amounts. Apply a small amount and spread using a paper towel immediately. After applying, don’t leave it for too long. Again, ensure the oil doesn’t get inside the frets, particularly if you use too much conditioner.  

    FAQs of cleaning ebony fretboard

    How frequently should I clean ebony board?

    Cleaining ebony fretboard

    The frequency relies on you and how often you play your guitar. If you play it less than an hour daily, you’re less likely to leave as much debris as someone who plays their guitar several times a day.  

     On the other hand, if you normally wipe the guitar once you’re done playing, you might not require cleaning the fretboard regularly. Therefore, it’s an excellent idea to always have a clean, dry cloth with you whenever you’re playing to wipe the board after you’re finished.  

     Another great idea to keep your fretboard clean and avoid washing it frequently in the process is to wash your hands before using your guitar. This way, you’ll prolong your fretboard’s lifespan and keep it clean. 

     So, if you’re doing all the above to keep the fretboard clean, you will only have to clean the fretboard after the fourth re-string. The most important thing to keep in mind is to clean the fretboard without a hurry, use the proper materials, and condition it as necessary.  

    How frequently should I condition the ebony fretboard?

    Like most things regarding ebony fretboard maintenance, conditioning will depend on how often you use it and your circumstances. For instance, if you reside in an environment with low humidity, you might require conditioning your fretboard more frequently. Again, go for either lemon oil or linseed oil, depending on the guitar manufacturer`s recommendation. 

     Here are the recommendations for conditioning your fretboard: 

    • Each time you get new strings  
    • Twice every year  
    • After two or three months  
    • Annually 
    • After every 2 years 
    • When it looks necessary, though this might be too late  
    • Never (if you play often, your hands will keep the fretboard conditioned) 

    Why should I clean my ebony fretboard?

    Cleaning fretboard comes with multiple benefits; most guitar players simply take their guitar, play it, and return it to their bags, only to play it the next day and never really take care of it. This way, the instrument won’t be working as well as it should. So, is it really necessary to clean your fretboard? Yes, here are the advantages it comes with: 


     Cleaning ebony fretboard makes playing your guitar as well as moving your fingers on the fretboard more convenient. It is easy to distinguish a properly-maintained guitar from one that hasn’t been adequately cared for.  

     It hinders damage to the strings and fretboard. 

     When playing your guitar, you tend to sweat, and this hand sweat moves from the fret to the fretboard and eventually builds up on the fretboard. Besides, its common knowledge that sweat comprises salts that can impact the strings` efficiency or make the fretboard crack or decompose.  

     It saves you money for repairs. 

     Once you clean your fretboard, you prevent damages that might have happened due to lack of cleaning.  

    Other benefits include; 

    • It comes in handy in keeping your guitar tidy and attractive  
    • It boosts your guitar’s lifespan and robustness 

    Conclusion of how to clean ebony fretboard

    Well, there you have it, how to clean ebony boards. Take your time and gather all the necessary materials, then make time and clean your fretboard. While it sounds somewhat easy, it’s a matter of patience and focus. Also, make sure you use the right products to avoid ruining your instrument. However, don’t forget to have fun! 

    Simon Mattav

    I am the owner of The Cook Trio, a three-piece band that has been performing in the Chicago area for over 10 years. I have a passion for music – everything from guitar to songs. I graduated from the music University of Chicago! My passion is writing songs about my life experiences, feelings and emotions through different genres. My inspirations are some of today’s popular songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez among others.

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