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Removing smell from Rosewood fingerboard

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Nov 22, 2012.

  1. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    I have a bass with an unfinished rosewood fingerboard. The bass has a hardshell case, which carries a very strong musky odour to it. Now I have the case locked, empty, and filled with baking soda that will remain in there for a couple more days.

    The bass is sitting out in the open and on a guitar stand, and has been for the last week. I used some Murphy's oil soap on the finished wood and the smell is gone from those areas, but the rosewood fingerboard still smells. I have a bad feeling that the stench has seeped into the raw wood by a substantial amount.

    I've either read bad or good things about lemon, mineral, or linseed oils - it varies strongly from person to person. I've always been kind of on the "leave it alone" side of the coin, but I need to do something to get rid of this smell. Anyone know of anything I can do to get rid of the odour?
  2. ma4rk


    Jun 28, 2012
    Sydney, Australia
    Try wiping down with some metho & then apply some Lemon Oil
  3. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Lemon oil or Orange oil may help to remove the smell, I would give it a good alcohol or acetone rub down first. This may do the trick. Then apply lemon oil, walnut or tung oil to rehydrate the surface.

    The story about lemon oil drying out the rosewood is a falacy spread by people that have no idea what "lemon oil" is.

    Most citrus oils are nothing more than a simple dressing oil with an added citrus scent. Usually linseed oil of some type, so don't be afraid to wipe your fretboard with it every month or 2 to remove excess grime and re hydrate the surface. Usually clean with alcohol then wipe with on of the oils noted above to clean and dress the rosewood.
  4. I am not a luthier, but I have experienced a lot of problems with a house I bought recently. It must have been a smoker's parlor for a long time and even the wood windowsills stank badly of old nicotine and tar - even after repeated washings with normal commercial cleanser soaps and water. The smoke residues are chemically basic, amine-based odorants. I looked into a bunch of odor remover patents and found that successful chemical removal of odor required you to know whether the odor-causing compounds are acidic or basic. I found that a solution of 4% citric acid in water with an non-ionic surfactant (a type of soap) reacts with amines and the odor in old tobacco smoke. I sprayed it on and let it penetrate the wood (which was about as porous as rosewood). True to the patents, the citric acid solution permeated the wood and neutralized the odors. I waited a few days and wiped the surfaces with clean water later to remove citric acid residues.

    I do not know what your stink is coming from. If it is sweat it could be acidic and in that case I would try baking soda solution with some surfactant. The surfactant is needed to get efficient permeation into the wood. I don't think baking soda (which is basic) will do much to reduce old tobacco odors :-(

    I appreciate what the previous poster said about what he thinks most citrus oils are, but he is not strictly correct. Lemon oil and other citrus oils (the ones I buy anyway) are usually extracted directly from citrus peels - though I could see where some cheap knock-offs might be composed of the things he describes. Anyway, true citrus oils also probably work with amine-based odors for the same reasons I describe above. Be careful because citrus oils also contain organic solvent-like compounds (terpenes - i.e. turpentine) that could potentially damage any nice finish.
  5. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    Linseed oil hardens or becomes sticky over time- lemon and orange oil are just mineral oil with lemon or orange scent. I would also hesitate to use acetone next to any kind of finish- it takes almost not time of contact for it to start dissolving most finishes. The denatured alcohol, I would agree with unless the finish is shellac. Naptha would be a good, safe choice.
  6. Real lemon oil is not the stuff that people buy in large bottle to polish furniture with. Real lemon oil will actually dissolve styrofoam and is useful for removing gummy residues - like glue from labels.

    I don't see how alcohol or any other organic solvent will effectively remove smell adsorbed into the grain of the wood. My bet is the smell will come back unless you chemically neutralize it.
  7. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Firstly most people do not buy real lemon oil, and if they do, it is still not going to damage or "dry out" the rosewood.

    Second, the use of alcohol to clean wood, is to remove the top layer of grime and oils/wax. The surface oils are what will usually retain the odor. By cleaning the surface with a de oiling/ de waxing compound will help to decipher what is holdng the smell.

    As for acetone, Yep, it can harm a finish, but if you are careful and approach it with common sense, this is not a danger. I have used Acetone on fretboards of finished instruments for bad grime at fret edges for years. If you handle it like an idiot, expect that type of result.

    Naptha is also a good suggestion, but it is becomming harder to find since the moritorium on Naptha in the United States, and not knowing the OP's location, it's hard to recommend.
  8. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    I live in Toronto, Canada. Don't know where to find Naptha, but I will try to find it. Whatever I'm doing is only going to go on the fingerboard. But I think Basslice's comments seem right, that I have to neutralize it. This weekend I will vacuum the baking soda out of the case, and see if the smell is gone. If it is then at least I'll have some clue as what side of the PH scale the odour is coming from. I bought the bass used, and it has been on it ever since. It is either smoke, but it smells a lot more like a general musky odour. The bass was 10 years old and had the original strings on it, and needed some serious intontation work. I kind of feel like it was sitting in someone's basement for several years.

    Anyways, I will refrain from doing any work on the fingerboard until I see what happens to the case. If the baking soda does remove the smell of the case, how should I proceed to remove the smell from the fingerboard?
  9. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings
    You shouldn't use Murphy's Oil Soap. There are chemicals in it which could dry the wood. Builders such as Alembic recommend Pure Lemon Oil. You can get it at any bath and body store. I have used it on rosewood and ebony fretboards for years and never had any problems.
  10. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    I only used Murphy's oil soap on the finished parts of the wood, which are coated in a thick layer of poly. I did not use it on the fingerboard at all, and was very careful not to.
  11. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    If it has a thick poly finish, using Murphy's or ANY cleaner that's specifically for wood will do nothing good for it. OTOH, it won't so anything bad, either. You could just as well use Windex or Fantastic.

    If the fretboard stinks and you want to get rid of the smell, you first need to find out what will remove it. Slightly dampen a cloth with water and wipe it- if a bunch of stuff comes off, it's water-soluble and if nothing comes off, it's soluble in oil, acid or solvent. A little water won't hurt it- soaking it and leaving it for a long time will, but that's not what you're trying to do. I have used Martin guitar cleaner for decades- it's like water and has done no damage to any of my guitar necks that are bare- I don't make it wet, just slightly damp. On painted surfaces, it doesn't matter- it's not going to soak in. If you really hate the smell, use warm water and add a drop of bleach or possibly vinegar- that won't hurt the wood either, but it may darken it- some woods react with chemicals but it's not going to do any damage. Wood is mostly cellulose and resins- once harvested, it needs no nutrients because it's dead but it may need some kind of wax or oil because repeated wet/dry cycles with water causes rot, as well as highly acidic sweat from hands. "Feeding" the wood in a piece of furniture comes from marketing departments and is unnecessary. Using a finish seals and protects but changes the "feel", so it's often left bare on a fretboard. This isn't a problem if the player's hands don't deposit a lot of gunk or if the wood naturally has a high resin or wax content. The problem with using strong solvents is that these resins and waxes will be removed in the process and that's what makes the wood vulnerable to rot.

    Once the rosewood is clean, you can seal it with tung oil (usually a little tung oil mixed with boiled linseed oil), lacquer, Danish oil or whatever. BTW- rosewood isn't so "open-grained' that this could really penetrate deeply and it is one of the woods with a higher oil content. Woodworkers have used various oils on hand tools for hundreds of years and they survive just fine, with the type of oil being determined by location- they used what they had. One type that's sold by the Lie-Nielsen tool company is camelia oil, for the handles on their hand planes and chisels.
  12. Again, I want to stress that I am not a luthier and I do not want to give anyone advice that could hard their instruments. I AM a player and a chemist with over 30 years of experience in both fields.

    My frustration and sensitivity to residual smoke has led me on a mission on how to safely get rid of this stuff - also now known as Third-Hand Smoke. The tar, nicotine and other stinky things in tobacco smoke permeate anything that is porous - fabric, wood, paper, etc. They then condense inside of these things and slowly evaporate and come back out - that is the stink. It can take forever for these compounds to naturally dissipate because what we perceive as stink is a tiny amount of these compounds and they have a small vapor pressure.

    Soap, alcohols and other solvent can remove stuff from shiny, non-porous surfaces, but they do nothing about deeper deposits. I have an old amp that after warming up, still smells like the bars I used to play in 20 years ago!

    As far as the current problem, I would look into a new case because if it is smoke, I don't think you will never get it out of the fabric and foam. As far as the bass, I think you can get it out with a combination of the techniques mentioned above. Work carefully and don't damage your bass!
  13. Muziekschuur


    May 25, 2009
    Just simple bee wax and a clean cloth can clean any fretboard. The smell maybe inside the roundwound strings tho...
  14. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    Okay, I appreciate everyone's help so far. I have not vacuumed the case out yet, so I am unsure whether the baking soda helped.

    If it does work, then I know the odor is a base, and as Basslice suggested I will use baking soda with a surfactant. I quickly read up and on surfactants, but it listed about half of the surfactants today are soap and the others are some lengthy named chemicals. Basslice, could you recommend a surfactant that I could purchase in a store that would mix well with baking soda that would work for me? Also, if baking soda works in the guitar case, then what should my process be for my unfinished neck? I'm assuming to wipe it down with naphtha, then clean with the baking soda/surfactant solution, then applying some sort of finish. I assume tung oil would be a good choice. Does this seem good?

    If the baking soda does not work in the case, then I guess I need something acidic. In which case, at this point, I would clean it with naphtha, then lemon oil. Would I need to apply tung oil, or another finish, after the lemon oil? Also, if I believe the issue is basic in its properties, how I should I clean the guitar case, should I just mix lemon juice with water and brush it on, lightly, and let it dry?

    Also, 1958bassman, you mentioned that I should determine if the issue is water soluble or soluble in oil, acid, or solvent. Once I determine this, how should I proceed if it is water soluble and how should I proceed if it is not?

    Thanks everyone.
  15. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    Actually, I realized that Basslice may be correct about the odour being too deep into the foam and fabric of the case to get it out. He mentioned smoke, but I truly think this odour may be just as stubborn as smoke, so I'm not certain if the case will lose the smell with baking soda, whether the smell is acidic or a base. I can throw out the case, but I still will need to know how to go about the neck. I will vacuum out the case either tomorrow or monday, as well as wipe down the fingerboard with water and post my results, and wait for further assistance.

    But is there anything I could do to determine the PH level of the odour on the neck? I feel like, and correct me if I'm wrong, that there's something that I could wipe on the neck and it will change colour and that colour will determine if it's an acid or base. I know there are strips like that for fishtanks, is there anything like that in liquid form?
  16. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Lighter fluid is pretty easy to come by in Toronto. It is mostly naphtha.
  17. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    I know baking soda removes odors but what would it do for the bass? Also, you mentioned that if it removes the odor from the case, it's a base- as in, it neutralized whatever it was? Baking soda IS a base- I thought that an acidic odor would be removed by a base and vice-versa.

    Have you tried leaving a dish with vinegar inside? That can remove odors, too. If the baking soda doesn't work, maybe the vinegar will.

    If the contaminant is water soluble, use a water-based cleaner, if it's acid soluble, vinegar should work, if solvent dissolves it, use the weakest solvent. I have used skin oil to remove glue from tape- if you can remove some of the stuff that smells using that, mineral spirits should handle it and not damage the finish as ling as you don't leave it wet for too long.

    Have you tried leaving the case outside, so the fresh air can carry some of it away?
  18. The vinegar vapor might help on the case. I would not try it around the bass as the acid could star corrosion of internal electronics and strings. Give it a treatment and let it air out afterwards.

    As far as non-ioninc surfactant, I bought a bottle of Tergitol (Dow Chemical Co,) through a chemical provider (Sigma-Aldrich). It is not a regulated chemical and you can buy it. It is not cheap, but I was using a lot of it. I think I bought about 100 mL for about $30. I use it as a 1% solution in water., so 100 mL will make 10 liters of solution. Although Tergitol is in many off the shelf household cleaners, it is not something that you can find in a hardware store pure.
  19. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    Sorry, I meant if the baking soda removes the odor, than the odor is acidic. Then yes, I would need bases to remove the acidic smell and vice versa.

    Thanks for the tips with vinegar in the case, I will try that if baking soda does not work in the case. Also, thanks about the tips about if it's soluble in water, acid, etc. I will try water first and go from there. I will post results. I may just mix water and vinegar together and see if that works if water itself fails to do anything. If water works, I'll get that Martin guitar cleaner as it seems to be water-based, based on what you typed earlier.

    I have tried leaving it outside, but only for an hour, while I sat outside with it, and that was too short of a time to do much good. Unfortunately, my house has a very open backyard, and is feet away from a busy sidewalk, so leaving it outside unattended for several hours or even days would not work unless I don't mind it getting stolen, LOL. Plus this apparently works the best on a bright, hot summer day, and living in Toronto prevents this for another several months.

    As for the vinegar on the bass, I was planning on taking off the strings, and being very careful with not to drop the water/vinegar solution on the rest of the bass. Also would there be an effective and safer ratio of vinegar to water, or would lemon juice and water be safer? Also, is there a ratio that would be good?

    Thanks about recommending Tertigol. Do I need to buy it pure, or is there something more readily available that would contain it, as well as baking soda, or another Tergitol mixture that may be safe to put on a bass neck?

    Thanks guys, again.
  20. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto