When you become a musician, cleaning your guitar frets is something that you will have to learn in order to keep your guitar looking and sounding healthy.
Having nice clean guitar frets are also much nicer to play on than ones that are dull and built up with grime and sweat, so only spending a few minutes every now to clean and polish them is very worth it
What Are Guitar Frets?
If you are new to playing guitar then you are probably wondering what guitar frets are, and what makes them so essential that you have to clean them regularly?
Essentially, guitar frets are the strips of metal or nickel, brass, or alloy that are embedded up and down the guitar’s fretboard, taking up most of what is called the neck of the guitar.
When you press one of the guitar strings down on a fret, it changes the vibration of the string resulting in specific notes.
Even though the strip of metal is technically the fret, it is the part on the fretboard underneath the fret that is referred to as the fret.
To help explain this, picture the position that is between the nut (the little piece separating the fretboard and headstock) and the first fret – that is called the first fret.
Therefore, the second fret is the space between the first and second fret etc.
By moving your finger placements up the fretboard in the direction of the guitar’s body, each fret will raise the pitch of the note by a semitone or half-step.
On the 12th fret, one full octave is represented above the pitch of the open string.
Why They Should Be Cleaned And Polished
It is important that you clean your guitar because it will help it live longer and clean frets will produce a better tone than those that have been neglected.
You will also likely be able to feel the difference when playing once you have cleaned and polished the frets as it will feel much smoother.
You don’t need to go overboard with the cleaning and polishing of the frets but adding it into your regular maintenance for a couple of minutes will sometimes go a long way.
It is hard to say exactly how often you should clean and polish your guitar frets as it depends on things such as how often you play the guitar, how it is stored, and the materials used in its construction just to name a few.
The best thing for you to do is keep an eye on the condition of the frets and when you change strings, you will be able to have a better idea of how long the frets can go without showing signs of needing a clean.
It’s not that frets corrode and rust over time, but they do get tarnished which makes them feel a bit gritty to play on and your strings will probably let out a sharp twangy sound sometimes when they are pressed onto them.
How To Clean And Polish Guitar Frets
Before you do anything else, the first thing on the agenda is the removal of the guitar strings.
This is an important step because it will make it much easier for you to get into the frets accurately and thoroughly.
Once you have removed the strings, you can begin to gather all the tools that you may need for cleaning and polishing.
A toothbrush is a great little tool to help you scrub within the smaller areas without having to apply a lot of pressure as guitars should be treated with gentle care.
If you do not have steel wool, a toothbrush will definitely suffice, and you won’t run the risk of leaving little bits of fibers on the guitar as well.
Fretboard conditioner is another great thing to pick up either online or from a music store. Just apply a bit of it to the fretboard before carefully rubbing it in with the toothbrush.
Once you have done this all along the frets on the fretboard, you can start polishing each of the frets and paying extra attention to the immediate side of the fret.
The best things to use for polishing your frets are either flexible polishing papers or micro mesh pads which you can find either online or at a music store.
It’s worth getting some fret guards to place over each fret as you clean and polish them as it will protect the rest of the fretboard from scuffing or product stains.
When you have cleaned and polished each fret, get a damp kitchen towel or jay cloth and quickly go over the fretboard to pick up any leftover debris, making it look as good as the day you bought it.
If you used steel wool to clean and polish the frets, it is a good idea to give the fretboard a vacuum afterward to pick up any stray fibers.
Cleaning Other Parts Of The Guitar
The amount of dirt that your guitar builds up will depend a lot on the environment that you play the most in, and for how long.
If you perform a lot at the weekends or in the evenings in hot bars and venues then your guitar is probably building up more grime and sweat than others.
Sweat does not mix well with the guitar because it not only makes it look worn and tired but also causes the lacquer to wear off, resulting in irreparable damage to the fretboard.
Sometimes, the sweat can even reach the hardware and electrical components of the guitar and that’s where rust becomes a problem.
However, do not let this put you off from practicing and playing your guitar as much as you want.
If you are in a well-ventilated room and practice for around one to two hours a day then you will not have to clean your guitar as often.
So, you just have to think about your own circumstances and how your guitar is coping.
Cleaning The Guitar Body
Get a moist jay cloth and move down the length of the instrument. Be careful to rinse the cloth thoroughly frequently though so that you do not spread the dirt around the guitar.
Move the cloth in a circular motion throughout the guitar for best results.
You might come across some stubborn spots on your guitar that just won’t budge no matter how much you wipe at them with the cloth.
Things like smudges and fingerprints will require a bit of moisture to get rid of.
Even huffing on your guitar like you would on a window should be enough to remove them but if it’s not, then you can use a small amount of gentle detergent mixed in with water.
Follow this with a dry cloth to get rid of any streaks.
Cleaning The Bridge
The bridge is the part of the guitar that is underneath the soundhole and acts as a support for the guitar strings.
Cleaning the bridge of the guitar is much like cleaning the fretboard, and you can use the same method of using a damp jay cloth or kitchen towel and wiping it down to remove dirt, dust, and grime.
Do not be afraid to get your toothbrush back out to scrub away stubborn spots. If you find that a toothbrush is still a bit too big to get into the small spaces, you can also try using a pipe cleaner.
Cleaning The Tuning Keys
The tuning keys are the keys on the headstock of the guitar at the top of the neck. They are used to loosening and tighten the strings by turning them and therefore tunes the guitar.
To clean these keys, a dry cloth and a small spray of glass cleaner will do the trick.
Cleaning The Pickups
If it is an electric guitar that you are cleaning, you will also have to clean the pickups which are located on the body of the guitar where the soundhole would be on an acoustic guitar.
Pickups can get a bit dirty especially if you play a lot, but they are easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
Sometimes, rust can become a problem on pickups, and to get rid of it, you will have to unscrew the pickup and remove it from the guitar.
Once you have done this, clean the pickups with a rust-dissolving agent. Then you can put them back on the guitar and use a clean, dry cloth to wipe them dry.
Polish The Finish
It is said by some guitar experts that you should not polish your guitar too regularly as the polish can build up which may look nice but can lead to the sound of your guitar being dampened.
Therefore, if you wish to polish your guitar, make sure to use a polish that contains pure carnauba wax and has no petroleum products or solvents.
Once you have found the right polish, spray a bit of it onto a clean cloth and use it to gently wipe your guitar.
If the finish of your guitar is satin, it is best not to buff or polish it as it will only make it look blotchy. This also goes for vintage guitars.
How To Keep Your Guitar Clean
Now that you know how to clean each part of the guitar, you are probably wanting to know how to prevent your guitar from getting dirty in the first place so that you don’t have to worry about this as often.
Well, you’re in luck because there are some ways that you can keep your guitar cleaner for longer, and they are only small changes that can go a long way.
Wash Your Hands Before Playing
The first thing you can do is wash your hands every time before you play your guitar. A lot of musicians already do this, and they will tell you how much of a game-changer it is.
Eating greasy food and transferring that onto your strings is a recipe for building up grime and making your guitar strings sound like rubber bands.
It also leaves smudges and fingerprints everywhere which is not a good look.
You will likely have to remind yourself to do it for the first few times but once it becomes a habit, you will save a lot of time and money on replacing your strings.
This does not mean that you pick up your guitar as soon as you’ve washed your hands, waiting for 10 or so minutes afterward will ensure that your hands are dry.
Keep Your Guitar Stored In Its Case
As pretty as guitars are, it is better for them to be stored in a guitar case instead of mounted on the wall, even if it is a beautiful vintage.
Leaving your guitars out will lead to a build-up of dust and even though it’s not as detrimental as sweat, it can still make its way into the many little crevices of your guitar which affects the functionalist and electronics of the guitar over time.
Therefore, a guitar case is the way to go. If you have a very valuable, high-end guitar then it is recommended to use a hard case as it will offer more protection than a gig bag.
A gig bag is best for those who take their guitar to gigs and events and are looking for something lightweight but still have plenty of padding.
Wipe The Guitar Strings
Finally, wiping down your guitar strings is very helpful for extending their lifespan.
You can get specialized cleaning lubricants to use on the strings to get rid of grime and sweat which will make them look and sound fresh.
It will also leave them feeling smoother on your fingers and will even help remove the dirt and dust from the fretboard.
Cleaning and polishing your guitar frets is not that big a task as long as you keep on top of it as over time it will cut down the money and effort that you will need to put into it.
You don’t need any fancy tools and equipment other than a toothbrush, fretboard conditioner, and polishing paper or micro mesh pads to add that extra shine.