Conditioning the Fretboard
Tip #1: Conditioning the Fretboard
The author wishes to remain anonymous. I have never tried this method, consequently, I do not endorse it either. However, the author says he has had excellent results from trying this. I prefer the traditional methods of treating my fretboard using lemon oil, or my favorite, Guitar Honey. I think that there are potential risks in the method described hereafter, but that's just my opinion. If you decide to try it, you do so at your own risk.
Conditioning the fret board is something that many people don't think about, they usually just change their strings and go about their business. Some people may go as far as to put some lemon oil on the board, but many ignore it. Frets will also tarnish over time and again some people just leave them. Conditioning the fret board involves polishing the frets to remove the tarnish and restore a mirror-like shine and smoothness to them, and to condition the wood of the fingerboard.
The first thing to look at is the finger board and what to use. The problem with some oils is that they don't dry, and because of this they may eventually soften the wood over time, plus many times it will feel oily to the touch long after it was applied. At the same time, an oil that dries or evaporates isn't really doing the job of adding moisture to the board. Old world Furniture builders and gun stock makers would use "Tung oil" to finish the wood. The great thing about Tung oil is that it dries slightly on the harder side so it doesn't stay oily, yet it 'seals in' the moisture of the board. The added plus is that the added hardness of it helps protect the board from minor wear, brings out the beauty of the wood for a great look, and may brighten up the tone.There are two ways to use the Tung oil, one for the novice, and one for the VERY experienced. Tung oil can be found at stores that sell wood finishing products. To polish the frets, there is "Nevr-Dull magic wadding", which can be found at automotive stores or even motorcycle shops. The Nevr-Dull is a treated wool that comes in a can. All you do is tear off whatever size piece you need. Once you have the Tung oil and the Nevr-Dull, here is what you do. This DOES NOT apply to a maple fret board as these are usually cleared or sealed in some way. There are some who have unfinished maple neck and boards that have been oiled, but this is more for Rosewood and Ebony. The fret polishing part is good for ALL fingerboards.
1.)Remove the strings and any other hardware that may fall off (Tune-o-matic style bridge and tail piece for example).
2.) Remove any dirt build up on the fingerboard. A SOFT toothbrush does a great job for removing dirt from the pores and dirt that gathers along the fret wire. You want the finger board super clean.
3.) Tape off the finger board so only the fretwire is showing ( try not to tape the neck, only the board).
4.) Take a small piece of Nevr-Dull and doing ONE fretwire at a time polish the fret length-wise for about 30 seconds and then buff it with a dry soft cloth to see how it looks. If it is like a mirror, you are done so move on to the next fret. If it is still dull or has tarnish, just repeat the polishing with the Nevr-Dull and buffing with the soft dry cloth until it shines. By this time the wading will be turning black , so use another section of the wad.
5.) When all the frets are done and gleaming, remove the tape and buff the entire board and frets with a soft lint-free cloth (an old cotton T-shirt will work) so there are no traces of the Nevr-Dull left on the frets or board. Make sure there is no lint also.
6.) Take a small piece of lint-free cloth and put a SUPER small amount of the tung oil on it. (Practice on a scrap piece of wood first to see how this stuff works and to see just how a little goes a long way). Rub the finger board ONE fret at a time with the oil working in small circular motions until the entire fret has been treated. You DO NOT want to get this on the finish of the guitar, so make sure its not getting on the sides of the neck. If it does wipe, it off quick. It won't hurt the finish but the longer it stays on, the harder it will be to remove. The MAIN objective is to rub the right amount on the board until the excess goes away. You do not want to put a finish on the board, you only want to treat it, so use a small amount and rub until the 'shine' goes away leaving you with a smooth satin look to it. Again, keep it off the sides of the neck and keep wiping it off the fretwire( that you just polished). Once you have worked your way down the entire board AND if
you did the job right, you should be left with a nice evenly treated fingerboard with NO EXCESS anywhere on the guitar, and the board will have a deep look to it. Take a dry soft lint-free cloth and go over the sides of the finger board and the fretwire to make sure only the board has the oil on it. Let it sit for an hour before you restring it and enjoy!
For Advanced Tinkerers
I have seen some people including myself 'wetsand' the fingerboard using the Tung oil and starting with 1000 'wet or dry' sandpaper working on up to finer and finer paper. What this does is removes the left over tooling and roughness that is sometimes found on the board, inlays and the fingerboard surface of the bindings. As you are sanding, you are smoothing the board and microscopic particles of wood are depositing themselves into the pores of the wood, so its own material is filling the grain. This leaves the rosewood board with the feel of Ebony.
The other advantages are less open pores for dirt, and smoother inlays and bindings. Some have even went as far as using the sandpaper to 'break' the sharp edge on the bindings of new guitars to give it a more broken in feel, but this is done BEFORE using the oil on the board and the wet sanding process. The result of all this is a beautiful smooth looking and feeling fretboard.
1.) When using the oil ALWAYS wipe the sides of the neck with a dry cloth before moving on to the next fret. This will insure that you DON'T have any oil where it doesn't belong. Also whatever route you choose, ALWAYS wipe off the fret you finished to remove the excess.
2.) If you plan on going the 'wet sanding' route, cut the paper into strips that are 2/3 narrower than the fret you are working on and use the 'shoeshine' method of keeping the paper taut and alternate the direction of your strokes FOLLOWING THE RADIUS OF THE FINGERBOARD. You DO NOT want to alter the radius. The fine sandpaper is too fine to cause you any trouble but you DON'T want to fall asleep at the wheel. The other alternative is to use light finger pressure on a small piece of sandpaper and use small circular motions with light pressure, but finish up with your strokes in the direction of the grain. Also, make sure you
keep the right amount of oil on the board so the paper doesn't become dry. Every few minutes or so, wipe off the area and check your progress and move up to the finer sandpapers as you go along. For the smaller frets you may need the strips of sand paper. This is mostly for VERY experienced people, but those with GOOD common sense will attempt it. If you do not trust in yourself DON'T try it. You can do a trial run on a total junker as practice.
3.) I have seen people NOT tape off the finger board while using the Nevr-Dull on the frets and board. If you have open pores in your board, the Nevr-Dull will leave white deposits in them that can be hard to remove. The SOFT tooth brush will usually get them out, but it can be a pain. The up-side to doing it this way is that the never dull will actually lift the dirt out of the pores as the deposits are removed. The down-side is, if you have deep open pores, you may find yourself with a sharp needle picking the deposits out. It is way safer to tape up the board. I haven't seen a board that I couldn't get the deposits out of, but it is way time consuming.
4.) Try REAL HARD not to hit the fretwire with the sandpaper, better yet, DON'T hit the fretwire with the sandpaper. If this happens, and once you are done with the oil, let it sit until the next day, and then re-tape off the board and re-polish the frets with the Nevr-Dull, then you would only have to remove the tape and buff out the frets and board with the soft cloth, and then re-string it.
5.) DO NOT use the Nevr-Dull on ANY other hardware. It will KILL gold plating, and I'm not sure about nickle. The wool that they use in Nevr-Dull may be too abrasive, and may scratch any plating as well.
6.) Good luck!
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