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Satin Poly Maple Fretboard Finish - Maintainance

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Feb 14, 2016.

  1. So, the next bass I'm looking to buy has a satin, catalyzed polyurethane finish on the maple neck and maple fretboard. This is a pretty modern looking bass, and I want to keep the maple fretboard looking as if it is brand new for years to come and never discolour as some vintage basses/guitars do.

    I've read that naptha is good for cleaning these satin poly finishes, but I'm not sure about maintaining it and keeping it durable to protect the wood beneath.


    I'm also unsure if the greying seen in these old maple necks is from the absence of finish and discolouring of the wood, or if the finish is still protecting the wood and it's the finish that's actually discoloured. Anyone know for sure?

    Looking at this photo, it seems like the discolouring is occurring where the fingers would touch the finish, and it seems (to me) that the oils in the fingers would be more likely to discolour the finish than to break it down, but I'm far from an expert in finishing.

    Anyone have any tips?

    Thanks in advance.

    P.S. The photo from above is from a verified, vintage 1956 Strat. This is not a relic'ed neck.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2016
  2. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    I believe the discoloration in that neck is the finish having worn through and dirt and skin oils getting into the actual wood grain, you can see the grain more clearly because of it. Finish wear or discoloration doesn't do that.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  3. Aah, that's a great observation, and I do believe you're right. On a second look, it also sort of looks like the dirt areas are in fact grooves, going below the finish into the wood.

    Does anybody know of a way to maintain the finish to keep it clean and durable? Or is it more typical to keep it clean and touch-up the finish (or refinish the neck completely) as needed?
  4. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    The gray spots on that neck are where the finish has worn away. We know this for certain because it is almost impossible to have any kind of staining like that on top of a finish. That's why the finish is applied at the factory.

    In the late fifties Leo saw his necks on television sporting the wear marks. He did not like what he saw and thought it a poor advertisement for his instruments. He immediately started using rosewood fingerboards.

    Catalyzed poly finishes need to be wiped off occasionally. Otherwise, they're pretty much bulletproof. Naphtha will take care of the heavy gunk. But if the finish is wiped after every use there will be little to no build up.

    If a poly finish is showing that kind of wear, it's a technique problem. It's not a "what kind of chemical?" problem.
    mech, quickfix and Matthew_84 like this.
  5. Thanks!

    So, is it the heavy gunk and finger oils that break down the finish overtime?

    If the fretboard is occasionally cleaned with Naphtha every string change (which I usually do every 4 months or so), would the finish remain durable and protect the wood for decades to come?

    I also agree with your last paragraph. My technique is fairly clean and I doubt my fingertips touch the board in between the strings, but keeping the back of the neck clean is a concern for me as well. I would wipe down the back of the neck with a dry rag very often though.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2016
  6. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    No! Poly is nearly bulletproof.

    Yes! Poly is nearly bulletproof.
    The back of the neck is also coated in poly. As is the body. Hence, nearly bulletproof.

    Unless usage is to include impact tools or sharps, there is nothing to worry about here.
    mech and Matthew_84 like this.
  7. Thanks for your help and reassurance!

    I trust what you're saying, but I'm a little confused... If finger oils / gunk does not deteriorate the finish, what would cause the fretboard finish to be worn away as it is in the photo above?

    Was the old Fender finish a different finish than a catalyzed poly finish?
  8. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Aggressive technique, particularly string bending by pushing down into the fretboard rather than across. You don't see that pattern nearly as much on basses.

    Oh and yes, old Fenders were lacquer, a much more delicate finish.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  9. Aah, that makes a lot of sense! I had to use a guitar neck to show the aging I was talking about because it wasn't as apparent on bass necks.

    Thanks for all of your help guys!
  10. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Either that, or a previous owner never trimmed their fingernails! :eek:
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  11. hqdefault.jpg
  12. That picture is of a guitar's neck. Not a bass.
    The skinny strings, string bends, cheap nitro finish of the day, all contribute to that manky looking fretboard. Yes, the finger oils and gunk also contribute to the nitro finish rolling up and disappearing.

    Poly is nearly bulletproof...as has already been said.
    Bajo Clarkko and Matthew_84 like this.
  13. stevensivak


    Dec 24, 2014
    It's patina and there is nothing that can be done about it
    except a refinish... Not just gunk but oxidation of natural
    wood... look at every single piece of wood that has been outdoors
    without a finish on it....
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  14. Rayjay

    Rayjay If that’s even my real name..

    Sep 27, 2014
    Lahaina, Maui, HI
    Older Fenders had nitro finishes in the boards and necks. They are fairly fragile and wear off, which is when the discoloration begins.

    My EBMM neck has an oiled finish and it stains pretty easy. I like how it looks, but after it gets to a certain point, its easy to clean with Murphy's Oil Soap.

    Now, poly finished necks are really solid. I have a Am St P with a poly neck. If they are exposed to extreme temp changes or a lot of sun or stage lights, they can develop cracks (which I also think is cool looking). With a ton of playing and a few decades, and esp roundwounds and esp with harder metals, they will wear down a bit. But under normal conditions with minimal stress, they'll last a super long time. You can wipe down and keep them almost pristine. You can even clean with Windex - just use a small amount ON the cloth instead of spraying the board (to protect from fret spouting).

    In many years from now, if this happens, simply have the neck stripped, cleaned, and re-finished to keep that pristine look.
    Shaunpski and Matthew_84 like this.
  15. Herbie Chesnutt

    Herbie Chesnutt Guest

    Mar 19, 2010
    Wake Forest, NC
    In many years from now, if this happens, simply have the neck stripped, cleaned, and re-finished to keep that pristine look.


    Yeah, if he plays his bass so long and so hard that he busts through the poly finish, good chance he won't care what it looks like by then. It will basically be an extension of himself. Imperfections and all.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  16. Jamvan

    Jamvan The Bassist Formerly Known As Meh Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2014
    Sting's '55 P bass has this aging/wear on the neck and I think it gives it some wicked mojo.

    image.jpeg image.jpeg
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  17. I agree. His bass looks great, but I have a few OCD tendencies, and keeping my basses looking brand new is one if them.
    Jamvan likes this.
  18. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    then you'll be fine with an american standard or most any other modern instrument. it's all poly, the neck is as thoroughly "encapsulated" as the body, you can clean it off with regular guitar polish and not worry about it.

    (sting's vintage P is again also nitro, that's what happens to it after years and decades.)
    Matthew_84, Shaunpski and spaz21387 like this.
  19. I can't agree more. The photo posted by the OP is of a nitrocellulose lacquer finished fretboard and is apples and oranges compared to poly. I have a '96 Am Std Strat with the poly/maple fretboard and the only issue with that was when some poly flaked off when getting fret work done (a known problem with those year group of Fenders). It has not worn otherwise. I agree that it would take years of (really) aggressive playing to get that look.

    Any fretboard is subject to dirt and gunk, so I'd suggest washing hands prior to playing (if you're not already doing that). My guitar player borrowed my Strat and left some pretty good gunk on it--which all cleaned off. The satin will eventually start to be worn smooth and get a little shiny (not a big deal to me). Avoid water to clean--can undermine the fretwork. As stated, naptha should work fine. Finally, enjoy! No issues with my other poly necks. Good luck!
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  20. RumbleMan3


    Apr 14, 2018
    I personally... LOVE that look! I love the look of maple necks when they wear like that.

    I’m curious do maple fretboards with gloss poly finishes wear like this too?

    Does it take longer than maple with no finish... or do they just don’t wear like that at all?

    I’d love if mine wears like that over time! :drool:
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