A clean bass is a happy, well functioning, great sounding, long lasting, high performance bass.
As a bass player and musician it can’t be stressed enough the value of keeping your instrument clean and well functioning. Since all of us aren’t James Jamerson who was a firm believer in never changing a thing about his bass – including the grime and gunk that was left on it – it’s just good practice to keep our instruments in good, functioning condition and having a great fretboard cleaner is the best place to start.
Cleaning your bass goes without saying. The benefits of a clean instrument speak for themselves. Sounds better, feels better in your hands, protects it from excessive wear and threat of damage. Like any of your other worldly possessions, cleaning and simply applying routine maintenance to them is something that should be made a habit of either by yourself or by a local guitar shop or expert if you want to outsource the process.
Depending on who you ask, each bass player will have their own take on what it the best way to clean the fretboard. Some swear by lemon or orange oil products and a T-shirt rag saying that that is all you need to get the instrument clean, others say oils are bad – polymers are the way to go. Some will spend tens of dollars to keep their bass clean, others hundreds of dollars to keep it clean, claiming certain oils in the fretboard affect the tone that significantly.
Most commercial cleaners out there will in no way break your bank and are usually pretty easy to come by. With the most expensive cleaners I’ve personally seen around 10 dollars for a tube’s worth, that’s about as much as one can expect to spend. As for what to clean it with, most of the time a used cotton T-shirt or shop rag will do but there are always premier wiping tools for those who want them.
Of course when it comes to guitar maintenance, opinions will vary and opinions will have very little hard consensus among what is “good” and what is “bad” among products.
A newcomer to the world of bass guitar might feel overwhelmed by all these options and find it difficult to discern for themselves what works and what doesn’t. Moreover, depending on how much clean you want can open up a whole new series of opinions about what you should use and what you shouldn’t use.
To clear it up right now, here’s what will guaranteed ruin your fretboard:
WD40 or any kind of “water repellant” or “lubricant”.
Steel wool if the gunk is very “light” into your fretboard.
Any kind of hardcore wood treatment solution that might be better suited for furniture then for a guitar neck.
Ok, great – now that we’ve gotten those out of the way. And if you’re a bass player who plays pretty consistently and wants your bass functioning well and playing well for the next show, these are the 3 products for you to check out.
Check These Fretboard Cleaners Out
1. Gerlitz GEGHO Guitar Honey Fingerboard Oil
Gerlitz’s Guitar Honey is considered one of the more high end ways to treat your bass’ neck compared to something like a lemon oil or wipe. The Honey does have a lot going for it particularly if you’re someone who uses basses with dark-wood fretboards including ebony and rosewood. Compared to lemon oil, lemon oil doesn’t offer as much of a deep clean to the fretboard and instead more of a “surface remover”.
Lemon oil in most cases is great for removing dust and providing a new shine your fretboard rather than offering a deep clean into the grain of the wood. Moreover, lemon and orange oils doesn’t don’t provide much of a moisturizing component and their effects are worn away shortly after playing. Guitar Honey on the other hand conditions and cleans without the drawbacks, use less and longer lasting. The conditioning effect in cleaners helps to keep the wood supple and responsive. DiAddario actually has a free PDF that better explains fretboard conditioning and the value of it.
Application is pretty straightforward: spray a few spritzes onto the fretboard and gently and consistently buff into the fretboard.
Again – if you’re someone who plays a lot of rosewood fretboards, this would be something worth considering.
Fantastic for dark woods
Excellent reputation for quality and long lasting effects
Easy application because of the spritz bottle
Can be difficult to find (I believe Guitar Center is the only carrier or online)
Lemon wipes and lemon oil are another product to consider if you’re interested in a quick clean to get you going the night before your next show.
Like I mentioned above, lemon oil does have it’s drawbacks. If you’re looking for a deep, deep cleaning to your fretboard, then lemon oil might not be your thing. But that doesn’t mean that lemon oil is in any way insufficient in cleaning a bass guitar fretboard.
Lemon still does break up tough grime and grit and remove dust with ease and leave the fretboard shining and clean although just for a shorter period of time (days versus weeks with the tougher stuff).
Personally, I’m not that die hard of a stickler for a product when it comes to cleaning my bass. For me, Pledge Lemon wipes get the job done just fine, the grime and dust is removed and leave a nice lemon scent afterward. Job finished. And I can store a pack of wipes neatly into my gig bag for quick use. Never know when you’ll need to freshen up.
Usually very cheap whether in oil or wipe form
Easy application in wipe form – just buff the frets!
Can be easily found at a Lowes or Home Depot as well as Guitar Center or Sam Ash
Equally good for maple, light wood, rosewood and dark wood fretboards
Can lighten dark woods if applied too aggressively
Not your best choice if you’re looking for a long lasting shine and deep clean
Ernie Ball Wonder Wipes are among the most consistent names you’re likely to see when looking for products to clean your fretboard with.
Wonder Wipes are a unique product in this list for a number of reasons. The first being that the wipes come in a finite amount in their own case. The wipes only come in a wipe form and not in any kind of a spray bottle or oil bottle. Second only 6 are provided in a box. Whether or not the latter point is a selling or breaking point for you, it should be made known that you’re only getting a handful of wipes with your purchase.
But what wipes these are! Reviews from major names in gear suppliers and consumers alike have been remarkable for the wipe’s ability to condition the neck as well as clean it though a unique combination of jojoba (an oil commonly found in skin moisturizers), linseed and orange oil (a common furniture color and texture rejuvenator).
Very affordable (only ~5 dollars for a box).
Very effective in achieving the deep cleaning ability of Guitar Honey without any of the spray.
Easy to get a hold of (usually stocked at a major guitar store like Sam Ash or Guitar Center).
Only 6 (that is my personal opinion, but my first feeling was that there should be more in a box).
“But How Often Should I Clean My Fretboard?”
Though there’s no hard and fast rule to when you should and should not clean your fretboard. Ideally, a wipe down after a practice or a show is a good habit to get in, but here are some parameters to help you:
4-6 weeks or when you change strings
After a practice or show
These are three of the cleaning solutions that I’ve had experience with personally and can testify for their abilities or not and this post is me:
Providing my insights to you in a clear, neat way and
Try to cut through the noise and thousands of opinions around the Internet that can confuse and paralyze a first time buyer on what to use to clean their fretboard with.
If you’re on a budget and want something you can pick up at the local hardware store that will do you just fine, go with the lemon wipes.
If you’re in the market to splurge a little and find something a little bit more “guitar-centric” with qualities and additives that are focused explicitly on guitar, go for the Gerlitz, or the Ernie Ball wipes. Either way, you’re on the right track to getting that bass clean and well-maintained.
And once you have your wipes, you’re probably going to want to know how to clean your bass guitar’s fretboard properly, right? Well, check out this video for some help and tips: