Cleaning and polishing frets and board

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Stagelab, Aug 23, 2020.

  1. Stagelab


    Dec 26, 2015
    Brooklyn, NY
    I picked up an old Squier strat and I want to use it to learn basic guitar setup and repair work.

    First steps are to clean the board, get rid of the green rust on the frets, and polish the frets.

    is this the best game plan? Watched some videos and saw a lot of variation.

    - remove strings
    - put masking tape over pickups
    - gently apply #0000 steel wool across the board in between the frets to clean the wood
    - use a credit card with a slot to expose just the frets one at a time and run the steel wool over the frets lightly
    - use a magnet to pick up any loose metal from the steel wool
    - then using credit card apply 1500 grit sandpaper to frets
    - then still using the credit card, apply a metal polisher to the frets with a cloth
    - apply a light amount of lemon oil with a cloth on the fretboard in between the frets and let dry

    which oil and metal polished do you recommend?

    and any tips on how to clean the inlays? Looks like there’s rust on them too.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Aug 23, 2020
  2. testing1two

    testing1two Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
    That neck appears to have a residue from some other oil product combined with dirt and funk. Here's a simple method that works:
    • Remove the neck.
    • Go outside and scrub the fingerboard and frets with 000 steel wool followed by 0000 steel wool. Make sure to wipe off all the steel wool fibers before going back indoors.
    • Clean the neck with lighter fluid (naphtha) on a paper towel.
    • To fully mirror-polish the frets you should mask off the fingerboard and then do the fret polish by whatever method you like (Micro Mesh abrasives, Fret Erasers, Dremel tool with polishing compound, or just a quick buff with Simichrome or Flitz metal polish).
    • Unmask the fingerboard
    • Wipe on a light coat of whatever fingerboard oil you like (Music Nomad F1 is fine if you want a guitar-specific product; Boiled Linseed Oil or Howard's Feed & Wax, or Johnson's Paste Wax are great if you want something from the hardware store).
    • As soon as you wipe it on, wipe off as much as you possibly can. It should not soak or linger. It's not "nourishing" or "hydrating" the wood, it's just making the surface look pretty.
  3. ihixulu

    ihixulu Supporting Member

    Mar 31, 2000
    South Shore MA
    Don’t use steel wool anywhere near the pickups. Can’t stress enough step one in above post by @testing1two: remove the neck from the body!
    Gilmourisgod likes this.
  4. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    fwiw, no steel wool and "magnets" near the pickups.
  5. Vodyanoi


    Mar 24, 2020
    Wide masking tape is fine, if you take extra care to cover the pickup body as well as every crevice around it.

    Just remember not to remove it before applying another wide layer on top of it (some more around it wouldn't hurt either) to secure every little steelwool particle that is already trapped on the original tape, under the influence of the magnetic field.

    It works wonders if you don't want to remove the neck for some reason.
  6. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    There just isn't anything you can do with steel wool that can't be done as well with the various grades of Scotchbrite pad, and it doesn't leave microscopic particles of rusting steel all over everything.
    dwizum and ihixulu like this.
  7. spufman


    Feb 7, 2005
    Central CT
    All very good advice above. For oil, I've personally grown to favor woodwind bore oil after trying a bunch through the years. And a a very fine 3M polishing paper works well for me as a final step.
    MonetBass likes this.
  8. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    Be careful when buy/using woodwind bore oil. Over the years more and more companies are marketing that stuff; most of it is nothing more than mineral oil. For the really gullible, it is even touted for hard rubber and ABS clarinets. If you have doubts don't use it. Mineral oil inhibits the absorption of other oils
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2020
  9. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    fwiw, on heavy funk removal i'll use a dremel with a nylon bristle wheel run at a moderate (30~50%) speed. then onto jewelry polishing pads from eurotool.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2020
  10. Stagelab


    Dec 26, 2015
    Brooklyn, NY
    thanks. I’ve never read about using 000 steel wool. Any risk of damaging the board? I planned on using 0000 only.

    Do you mean I should clean the fingerboard with the lighter fluid paper towel? just a small amount of lighter fluid? What’s this for?

    I have some Dunlop lemon oil for the board.
  11. Stagelab


    Dec 26, 2015
    Brooklyn, NY
    do you mean the green and yellow scouring pads?
  12. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    The green ones are too coarse for fret cleaning, the grey ones are about perfect. The white ones are very fine for polishing. Here's a chart comparing grits. White works out to around 1000 grit, grey more like 600-800.
    66 Auto Color: Scotchbrite Grit Equivalency Chart
    You can vary how aggressively they cut by how hard you press too.
  13. testing1two

    testing1two Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
    000 steel wool is still very fine so there is no risk of damaging frets or the fingerboard. There are scotchbrite equivalents (gray pads and white pads) but as much as I want to like them, they simply don't work like steel wool so I have stopped using them (except for one thing: they are great for scuffing up the finish on the back of the neck to make it satin).

    Naphtha is a mild solvent that is good for general cleaning and degreasing. It's safe for guitar finishes so you don't have to mask off anything. Just put some on a paper towel and lightly scrub off any dirt or residue on the fingerboard. It evaporates fairly quickly. Some states (like California) don't sell naphtha but the workaround is that it's also sold as lighter fluid. In fact some people actually prefer the smaller lighter fluid bottle with the squeeze nozzle.
  14. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    3M pads are so handy for guitar work, they're even sold by stewmac:

    3M Scotch-Brite Pads |

    I have found them to be a revelation in terms of versatility, ease of use, and lack of mess. They can act as a carrier for solvent, polishes, or wax besides being used on their own. They don't leave bits of magnetic rust behind, loose or embedded in your project. They don't stick to pickups or risk damage to electronics. And they can be conveniently cut to size and shape - for instance, if you're scrubbing the fretboard itself versus the frets, or some other spot where there's an inside corner (like, along the edge of the fretboard where it meets the body, etc) it's really handy to have a pad-like material that can be cut to a straight edge to ride alongside the fret or corner, versus just a shapeless gob of steel wool.
    Gilmourisgod likes this.
  15. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    have a gander at these guys:

    after roughing off the funk with scotchbrite and removing the bulk of the offending substances one way or the other, these things will make frets look like mirrors and work well against tight edges.
  16. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Those do look useful!

    And I love having a set of micro-mesh pads, since they're also super versatile, especially if you want to get a specific exact level of gloss, since you can just work through the colors and stop when you get there.

    For the frets themselves I usually tape off the fret board and use a wool pad in a dremel and green polishing compound.
  17. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    you gotta try these pads. no taping, no compound, no dremel, no follow-up cleaning. ten seconds on a decently prep'd fret and you're done. i don't have any examples right now or i'd post a pic. finish quality would be where a "ruby" rouge buffing compound would be.

    they do load up fast and do not like any moisture/fluids, etc.. at all, but they're all i use for final fret polishing.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2020
    dwizum likes this.
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