Clean the body of the bass

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Marc Piane, Mar 11, 2006.

  1. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Over time finger oil and dirt has built up on the body of my bass where I touch it to set it down and such. My old bass had a hard varnish finish and I wasn't really worried about what to use to clean it. My current main bass is a Shen Willow. What should I use to clean it?
  2. mdurell


    Mar 9, 2006
    Boulder, CO
    I might get flamed for suggesting this but in the guitar world (and I know these are different beasts) if you can't get it with a lightly dampened cloth (remember to wipe any moisture away with a dry cloth IMMEDIATLY) a bit of quality saliva usually does a very respectable job.

    I think the biggest issues are what NOT to use. Stay away from anything with silicon in it and leave furniture polish to your coffee table.

    Always apply whatever cleaner you use to the cloth and wipe on the instrument never applying it directly to the finish. If in doubt test the solution in a hidden or not so noticable part of the finish first.

    I would imagine that leaving the acids and solvents found in all that finger grime isn't very good for the finish so even if spit isn't ideal it's got to be better than leaving that stuff hanging around.

    Just my 2 pennies worth. I'm curious to hear what the luthiers have to say.
  3. There are quite a few instrument cleaners and polishes out there. I use kolsteins' cleaner.
  4. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    I've mentioned orange oil before- REAL orange oil, which you can get at places like Rockler. There are a lot of products labeled "orange oil" or "lemon oil" that are mineral oil with scent. I find this removes gunk and dirt and doesn't harm the finish or leave residue.
  5. Anon2962


    Aug 4, 2004
    Balistol gun oil, petz cleaner or walnut oil are all good.


    Aug 26, 2005

    Yeah, well, I recommended the same thing six months ago, based on many many years of using a product called "Howard's Feed N Wax" and was pummelled and crucified by several horror-stricken purists. It does wonderful things to old (and new) basses. It has some orange peel and some beeswax and a small amount of natural carnuba....It will make most surface scratches and blemishes disappear without damaging a finish or removing any desired patina. I've used it on all 5 of the basses I've owned in my lifetime with good results and zero damage to the various oil and lacquer varnishes. The "newest" bass I ever owned was a 1961 Kay I owned for 30 years, and the oldest is my prized 1860 Bohemian flatback....It worked great on both and I'm still liberally slathring this stuff on the old flatback. Its the consistency of snot and a little goes a long now I'll just duck my head down once more and wait for the shoes to fall......:bag:
  7. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    In my workshop have a tin of very efficient paint-stripper, and the main ingredient is orange oil.

    My friend who is a geologist uses orange oil in large quantities to clean up industrial spills.

    It might not affect shellac or spirit varnish but it will probably do something to an oil finish. I suppose that's why some might recommend caution ...
  8. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Personally, based on my woodworking experience of about 30 years, I would never use any kind of soap, oil, wax or gunk of any kind to "clean" or -- heaven forbid -- "feed the wood".

    But I'm not going to pummel on anyone. Let people do what they want.

    Bottom lines:
    • watch out for gunk that can build up (any kind of hell-bound furniture polish usually but I also strongly dislike wax for this reason)
    • watch out for stuff that can dissolve your finish

    Just to clean up the smudges so my too-shiney bass looks OK on stage, under lights, I use a soft cloth slightly dampened with water to remove the smudges then I use a dry cloth to buff a bit. Guess what? After that procedure what you see is what your finish really looks like.
  9. I got the first two tips from the instrument repair shop at IU-Bloomington head, Tom Sparks. The last one I found out on my own:

    For the body:

    With a micro-fiber cloth, apply a dab of MacGuire's auto polish (big black bottle, blue-green tint to the polish) to the instrument and rub in a circular motion. If there's rosin or other nasty gunk, pour some ground pumice stone onto a sheet of paper and dab a tip of the cloth that has some polish on it into it. Don't use too much mind you as pumice stone is rather abrasive and you don't want to remove the varnish.

    You may be thinking it's crazy, but it was done to my bass and DAMN does it look fine! The car polish really makes my bass shine and it's very kind to the varnish. The cool thing too is that you can pick up the micro-fiber cloths for about $5-10 from Target or a similar store, a big bottle of the polish for under $20 from a standard car shop, and the pumice stone from your local hardware store for a couple of dollars (no more than $5). Have fun and take before and after pictures. You won't believe the difference.

    For the fingerboard:

    Apply some (not the whole bottle now) baby oil to a clean cloth and rub that puppy down. When I do this I loosen two strings at a time and pull them to the side so as to get as little oil on them as possible. Again, if there is some tough grime, dab the cloth in some pumice stone and rub it out! Not only will your bass thank you for this act of kindness but your bass will smell as clean as a baby's butt. If that doesn't attract the ladies then I don't know what will... Of course, people do tend to look at you funny if they figure out it's your bass. Whatever though, your fingerboard is squeaky clean! Enjoy it!

    For the strings:

    Apply rubbing alcohol to a clean cloth (put the cloth on the end of the bottle, up-end, repeat until you have a nice working surface) and rub the strings down. Make sure you get both the top and bottom of the strings! For the bow area feel free to wrap the cloth around the string with your fingers and move up and down. When they're clean you should get no resistance. Wipe the strings again with a clean section of the cloth, wait a few minutes, then get back in there and make them dirty again! You should notice right away a much cleaner tone and perhaps that nice bow-change sound that comes with a clean instrument.

    Hope this helps, have fun cleaning your dirty grimy bass! Mine hadn't had a good cleaning in about 7 years when I did it last... boy howdy is it happy now!
  10. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Orange oil- d-limonene- is not a "main ingredient" in paint strippers that include it. It serves a secondary purpose, to help keep the removed paint from rehardening and adhering. The main stripper in these formulations is typically dichloroethane.

    It won't soften a polymerized oil finish- well, it might, if you leave it on in liquid form for a very long time- but will help emulsify oil spills, which is why it's used in cleanup.

    I've been using it on my guitars, mandolins, my fiddle and my bass for many years with no ill effects.
  11. D McCartney

    D McCartney crosswind downwind bass

    Aug 1, 2005
    Tacoma WA
    This is on the NS website.

    "FINISH: Needs to be kept free of accumulated rosin and dust. Wipe regularly with a clean cotton cloth, preferably slightly misted with clean water. Only polishes without silicones or oils should be used, as those materials can penetrate into minute cracks and open seams, preventing adequate future re-gluing. Oz and Guardsman polishes are safe to use."
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Okay, a related question - what should one use to clean residual FINGER FUNK off of an ebony fingerboard? I usually use the "cloth and water" method, but I sure like the feel of my board once a luthier gets done dressing it...I know that they put some kind of oil on it to shine it up ('cause I can smell it), but I have no idea what that substance might be. It's also (once dried, of course), a great feeling under the hands.

    Apropos of nothing, I had a couple of lessons with pianist Lynne Arriale back in the day, and she used to clean the piano keys with lemon juice - sometimes actually wiping an actual lemon slice on the keys and then wiping them off. This was also a great feeling under the hands. Anybody got any good (and safe) tips like this for fingerboards?
  13. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Yeah fingerboards are different -- that's a big chunk of essentially unfinished wood (yeah I know it's been exquisitely dressed and has had some oil and stuff applied to it but it doesn't have a hard-cured film finish on it -- that's what I mean) that we all rub and abrade our fingers into for hours and hours and hours on end. Unsightly and unsoundly gunk builds up.

    I'm ashamed to say I usually scrape the gunk with a fingernail while I'm standing around at a rehearsal waiting for the singers to get their harmonies nicely set up and blended.

    The lemon thing sounds interesting and I can't see how it would damage anything. It's a great grease cutter. Some of us still do dishes by hand -- if you're one, put a slice of lemon in your rinse water and listen to those dishes squeak.

    Anyway, I'd be interested in the pro answers to MISS CHRIS FITS' extremely practical question. The fingernail thing is gross.
  14. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur

    Mar 22, 2000
    New Joisey Shore
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music
    I've used a good quality furniture lemon oil on mine, both slabs and URBs. Roger Sadowsky recommends boiled linseed oil for his slabs, so I bought a can at the hardware store-- it works very well and there's enough for your use as well as your grandchildren.

    Both have seen use on grungy used ebasses I've bought and they do a great job. Usually it's a matter of rubbing it in with a clean cloth until grunge-free, wiping the excess off, letting it dry for a bit and then rubbing any remainders off with a clean cloth until I no longer pick up any residue. Just did a used 80's Gibson slab with an ebony board I picked up and it looks new now.

    JUST TO BE CLEAR-- I am referring to the FINGERBOARD, the subject of Chris' message, NOT the body!
  15. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Be careful about getting any oil or cleaners in the cracks of the Bass or the edges where the top and back join the ribs as well as around the neck block area. Glue will not stick to oil!

    I have used a special polish I have used on basses but am very careful around the cracks and edges. I have been recently informed that I should only use a clean damp cloth to wipe down the bass as the cleaners will not blend into the finish and will only become a dirt trap or affect the glue joints in the future.
  16. Linseed oil was the standby for a long time, but, I agree, a little goes a loooong way. I found it a little too oily for my taste, so I use mineral spirits and 0000 steel wool to get the gunk off. I know what you mean, Chris-I love that "just cleaned" feeling on my fingerboard.
  17. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Linseed oil -- especially so-called "boiled" linseed oil -- is a curing oil. That means it changes state chemically (I'm no chemist, as mje can probably well tell by now) as it dries and becomes a solid film. Even though you may not see this "film" on the surface, it's there in the first couple of millimeters of the wood's surface. I'm not saying that's a problem, I'm only pointing out a fact about linseed oil (and tung oil and a few other oils, too.)

    Mineral oil, on the other hand, is a petroleum distillate and is definitely not a curing oil.
  18. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Correct. It has additives- metallic oxides- to speed polymerization. (In the old days they actually did boil the oil to start the polymerization).

    Every "Lemon furniture oil" I've ever looked at is just mineral oil with some lemon scent added. (Check the MSDS- it'll say "hydrocarbons with scent added".) They're often sold with a claim like this one I just found: "Premium grade lemon oil nourishes, rejuvenates and preserves sealed and unsealed wood..." which leaves you wondering how it "rejuvenates" <em>sealed</em> wood ;-) You can save a lot of money by using plain mineral oil, which is a perfectly good gentle, non-reactive cleaner.
  19. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    You folks who wipe down the board with any kind of oil: do you do this with the strings on? Any oil get on the strings? I hate it when the strings have any kind of slippery gunk on them -- I'd rather live with gunk on the board, personally.
  20. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur

    Mar 22, 2000
    New Joisey Shore
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music
    No, either no strings on (usually), or they are loosened and out of the way. I'll either use a piece of loose plastic or pull off a long piece of kitchen plastic wrap to completely isolate and protect the strings from the operation.