[tech] How-to: Fretboard Care

Discussion in 'The Sevenstring.org Workbench' started by Regor, Apr 27, 2006.

  1. Regor

    Regor Double Edge FTW Contributor

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    I decided since I had to restring and work on my guitars before my next gig, I'd take some pics and make a write-up here for anyone who hasn't done this before, or for people looking for tips. If you're going to use this, please read through the entire thing first, incase there's a step I mention later that would have helped to know sooner.

    Supplies:
    3/4" Blue 3M Painter's Tape
    Steel Wool (I use 0000 grade)
    Paper towels
    Fretboard conditioning media (I use Dunlop's System 65 Fingerboard Care Kit: 01 - Cleaner & Prep / 02 - Deep Conditioner; others use Lemon Oil)
    Guitar (in my case, an Ibanez RG7420MC)

    Optional (for dying the fretboard):
    Duct Tape
    Eraser
    Dye (others have used Fiebing's Saddle Dye, I used Tandy's Pro Dye)
    Gloves (rubber/latex/nitrile)


    1. REMOVE ALL STRINGS - If you have a floating trem and don't want to remove the trem, you can put something under it to prevent it from flooring itself into the trem cavity. I use a wad of duct tape that was folded over itself several times to increase it's thickness. (I should have taken a pic of that piece, I'll edit this later) I needed to clean mine anyways, so I took it off the body of the guitar after I removed all the strings, which gives us this:
    [​IMG]

    2. TAPE IT UP - Next step will be to clean the frets, but before you can do that, you gotta protect the wood. I go a bit overboard on this step, because it'll save you more 'clean up' time in the end in my opinion. So I start off with the blue 3M tape (because anything more is too sticky, anything less won't stick well enough), and run a strip down the length of the neck on each side covering the side of the neck. It doesn't have to be one continuous piece. You can do it in sections if that's more comfortable for you. Next, put pieces of tape over the wood in between the metal frets themselves. (Here, you can either cut the 3/4" tape, or they also sell 1/4" tape, when you get to the higher frets. I use the 1/4" cuz it's quicker than cutting the 3/4" tape). As I put the strips on, I don't fold the excess over the backside of the neck, but rather I leave them hanging for now. You wanna make sure you're not leaving any wood exposed, as you'll be scraping it with the steel wool next. Also, the steel wool will leave dust behind, which can get all over your pickups, which is bad! So you can either tape them up, or tape some paper towel over the pickups. Anything to protect it (I do both). When everything's protected, I put sheets of the paper towel under the neck and hold that in place with the excess sides of the tape strips (this helps to keep the steel wool dust off of the tabletop, and makes for easy clean-up). Then, one final strip again along the sides of the neck to make things nice and neat(remember, you're going to be rubbing with steel wool, so you don't want the tape coming off due to the friction). And it should end up looking like this:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    3. POLISH FRETS - Easy as it sounds. Take a wad of your steel wool, and rub them frets 'til they shine! I like to wear a rubber/latex/nitrile/whatever glove when doing this, as the dust is fine and gets everywhere. But that's just my neat freak side showing. As you can see, the frets on the right are unpolished, the frets on the left are polished. I work from the 1st fret down the board, but it doesn't matter.
    [​IMG]

    4. CLEAN UP - Ok, so you're done polishing the frets to a shiny buffing. So you just have to peel the crap off now. Simple as it sounds, but the more care you take, the less work it is. I will use a strip of tape and basically tack it over sections of piled up steel wool dust, and get the majority of what I can off like that. Then you can grab the long strips down the side of the neck, and as you lift them, they'll pull the tape from between the frets off. As you can see in this pic, the tape will pull some dirt and crap off the fretboard with it, and you might see some stripes left in a couple of the frets. Don't worry about this, as it'll be gone by the end.
    [​IMG]

    5. CLEANER & PREP - At this stage, it's time to bust out the Dunlop Cleaner & Prep bottle. The bottle itself has an applicator on it. It's an alcohol-based solvent, which helps to lift the dirt and grime out off the wood. Apply it and let it air dry. Then I'll take a wad of paper towel and wipe the wood. Then, depending on how nasty the board is (I do this about 1x every 6mo. - 1yr.), you can do a couple of rounds of this. Once this is done, you can move on to the next step if you're going to dye your fretboard, if not, skip the next step.
    (ignore the duct tape on this pic if you're not dying the fretboard)
    [​IMG]

    (OPTIONAL) - DYING THE WOOD - So on The Dark Wolf's advice, I used duct tape to protect the neck of the guitar from overspills. Ran a line down on either side of the neck, taking great care not to get any folds in it where the dye can drip thru. BE MATICULOUS! The dye is very strong! Also I taped the nut and the very bottom of the fretboard, so as not to leak into the pickup or pickup cavity. You can dye the sides of the guitar's fretboard as well, but I didn't care to take the chance of the dye bleeding, since you can only see the edges up close anyways, so who cares? (If you care, I apologize) Wear gloves. I pour a small amount of the dye in a plastic Dixie cup. I used a cotton applicator (little cotton ball on a metal handle - I'll take a pic of this later). You don't need to soak the ball, as only a little bit will get the job done. Dab it into the dye, and start to apply to the fretboard. After letting the dye set in, you'll wipe off the excess later, and since the frets are newly polished, the dye will come off with minimal effort(thanks again to TDW for the tip!) You can use an eraser to clean up the dye from the inlays (thanks to Dendroaspis for the tip!) Here's the before & after:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    6. CONDITIONING - Whether you've dyed the wood or not, at this point, you'll want to take another wad of folded paper towel and wipe/buff off the excess cleaner/prep fluid and/or the dye. This helps to reduce the amount of crap that'll rub off on your fingers when playing. Do this a couple of times if the first time rubbed off a lot of stuff. Then I take the Deep Conditioner bottle and apply to the wood. Let this soak in a while (I usually will let it sit ~30-1hr). If your first application soaks in completely, add more. You want the fretboard to soak it in to the point where it doesn't saturate with any more. This will help to make the wood look like it was just cut from the tree again. After it's taken all it can, take more paper towel and wipe/buff off the excess fluid. You can also do this step more than once if you feel like it. If you compare this pic with the one above, you can easily see how dull the fretboard looks on the above image (after the dye, but before the conditioner) and how shiny this one is:
    [​IMG]

    7. RESTRING - Put your strings back on and enjoy your new clean fretboard!

    Here's a couple of before/after pics for reference.
    [​IMG][​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    (Again, here you can see how nicely the fretboard shines after conditioning)

    Here you can see the difference between my RG7420 on the left, and my RG7621 on the right.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  2. Elysian

    Elysian Banned

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    such a happy fretboard :agreed:
     
  3. Donnie

    Donnie Forum MVP

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    Looks good. :yesway: I may try dying the fretboard on one of mine tomorrow.
    Where do you get the dye at?
     
  4. Shannon

    Shannon Lord Super Awesome Contributor

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    Great job. ;)
     
  5. The Dark Wolf

    The Dark Wolf Contributor

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    Good job. Awesome tutorial, Rog. That dyed fretboard looks top-notch.

    Rep points for you. :yesway:
     
  6. Regor

    Regor Double Edge FTW Contributor

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    Thanks guys. Glad you like it. I figured I'd just do my part to help make the forum a better place, even though it's pretty awesome as it is. I woulda put it in the 'Workbench' forum, but I'm too impatient to 'submit' it to Chris first.

    My brother had the dye... he does leatherworking stuff. You can get the dye from a leather store, or maybe even a boot store. I'd have used the Fiebings, but he only had brown, not black.

    I'm doing my RR1 tomorrow, but it's got an ebony board, so there's no need to dye it. But after that, I've got the RG7621, an MF-207, and that new RR-7 to try it out on. When I've perfected the technique, I'll do it to my RG2127X (But since that's my babied guitar, I'd better not screw it up!)
     
  7. The Dark Wolf

    The Dark Wolf Contributor

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    Stew Mac also sells it. It's where I got mine, and apparently, the preferred medium for dying fretboards. Luthiers and shops even use it to darken up ebony boards, I've heard.

    Here's a link, Donnie.
    http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Finishi...ints,_and_stains/Black_Fingerboard_Stain.html

    [​IMG]

    Rog, the 2127 would look SO bad-ass with a black board.
     
  8. Regor

    Regor Double Edge FTW Contributor

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    And it'd look even better with an ebony board with sharktooth inlays. But alas, I wouldn't trust anyone to do that kinda work on it. So it'll get a dye-job when I feel comfortable with doing it. (and i'd do the sides of the fretboard too)
     
  9. Mind Riot

    Mind Riot Devoted seven stringer Contributor

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    I actually usually do a fret polish like that every time I change strings, guess I have pretty corrosive oils in my hands because they always need it.

    I just either blow off or vacuum the steel wool particles instead of trying to catch them with tape, and after I use the steel wool on the frets I finish up by hitting them with a Q-Tip dipped in Brasso metal polish. This really goes the last distance in making them smooth and shiny, but it's probably not necessary, just something I like to do. I feel I should also mention that wearing a rubber glove is a good idea whenever you're using the steel wool even if you're not finicky like you. It's an abrasive, whether on the surface you're working or your fingers. I didn't use a glove the first time I did this, and it took the first couple layers of skin off my thumb and forefinger, and they were pretty sore and tender for a week or so until it came back.

    I lemon oiled my old Ibanez RG7421 and my old Hamer five string bass, but my Schecter hasn't needed it yet and I've had the thing for a year and a half. It seems like it has some kind of sealer on the rosewood or something, because it's still dark and smooth. If I had a lighter colored rosewood board around I'd definitely think about dying it, yours looks great! But both my acoustic and my Schecter have really dark boards, and my other two are maple.

    I still find it surprising that so few guitarists seem to know how to do this, it just seems like standard maintenance to me. I see really good guitarists with nasty, gritty frets and guitars that just haven't been cleaned in general in months or years all the time. And it feels so much better to play on new strings and just polished frets! I cringe when I pick up most guitars in a store, the frets are just nasty.
     
  10. Jarrett

    Jarrett Metal Wolf Contributor

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  11. abyssalservant

    abyssalservant Ascaris

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    My poor guitars . . . I feel bad . . . I have the urge to clean and dye . . .
    *runs home and hugs guitars tightly*
     
  12. Regor

    Regor Double Edge FTW Contributor

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    What happened to my pics??
     
  13. tonyhell

    tonyhell DELETE ME

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  14. Regor

    Regor Double Edge FTW Contributor

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    Pics are back up and working! Sorry everybody!
     
  15. Randy

    Randy Ooh, Degrasse Tyson-son Super Moderator

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    No prob. Thanks for a great tute!
     
  16. Kotex

    Kotex Trippin' balls

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    Thanks for this!
     
  17. soldierkahn

    soldierkahn BAD MAMMA-JAMMA Contributor

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  18. Regor

    Regor Double Edge FTW Contributor

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    Yeah, I've already read that. I've got a section in mine about dying too. I've done it on 4 guitars now. ;)
     
  19. Apophis

    Apophis Banned

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  20. FortePenance

    FortePenance SS.org Regular

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    just read this. Cool stuff man!

    You know the fret polishing cloth in the System 65 kit, is it a good substitute if you don't have any steel wool?
     

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