Darkening a rosewood fretboard.
May 19, 2006 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I have a 1997 Telecaster Plus with a rosewood fretboard that I'd like to darken up a bit.

This is the guitar. I've heard of people using shoe polish to do this but that seems a little extreme. Have any of you done such a thing to your guitar? What would be the best way of darkening the fretboard w/o compromising the adhesives. Google isn't turning up much on the subject so any ideas are appreciated.
posted by KevinSkomsvold to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
 
Anything you put onto the fretboard is going to change the sound and playability of the instrument. Furthermore, anything you put on the fingerboard will eventually be worn away by the action of the strings. I warn strongly against using shoe polish, as this gunk up your strings, stick to your fingers, and cause a general awful mess. Also, if you are planning to keep this guitar as an investment over the next several decades any changes to the stock finish will wreck its resale value.

I advise against it, but if you must, stick to an oil-based finish for durability and ease of use. I imagine that Tung oil would work best, but boiled linseed oil would probably work well, too. There are a wide variety of different styles and tints to choose from. It will take at least a week to dry and will probably stain your fretboard markers if you aren't careful. Depending on how much you play and what kind of strings you use, it will require refinishing in as little as six months. Make sure to carefully mask off the back of the neck and the body of the guitar, as any spills over will also cause a mess.

Follow the directions on the bottle, can, or jug of the oil of your choice. Seek out a good woodworking shop and ask the guys behind the counter what they recommend. After you are done, polish any excess off the frets with steel wool. Expect to change strings more often.
posted by leapfrog at 3:12 PM on May 19, 2006


Just buy a new neck from Warmoth with a darker fretboard. It will likely make your guitar play better anyway, and if you ever want to sell the guitar, you just put the old neck back on, and it will be all nice and unworn for the buyer.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:28 PM on May 19, 2006


Just looked at your guitar. The fretboard looks just as I imagined it would: kinda dusty/dry looking. The color is there in the wood already but you just need to freshen it up a bit with oil. (I think Gibson has condtioning oil.) The photo doesn't show it, but I bet where your fingers make contact the wood is shade darker.

And that's about how much oil you want to use on the rest of the board- very little! It's perfectly OK to condition the fretboard and bring some color to it, but unless your only using it as a prop (probably not) don't do anything drastic.

Besides, that's a nice guitar.
posted by snsranch at 4:48 PM on May 19, 2006


Play it. A lot. The oils from your fingers will eventually darken the wood quite nicely. An honest darkening.
Nice Tele, btw.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:33 PM on May 19, 2006


Thank you, thank you leapfrog!

Thanks for the conditioning oil suggestion snsranch. I hadn't heard of that and it sounds like it would do the trick.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:09 PM on May 19, 2006


I love guitar questions: Here are some products. Scroll down for fretboard conditioners.
posted by snsranch at 7:31 PM on May 19, 2006


Why is that a Telecaster Plus and not a Nashville Tele? Is it the (ack!) Lace Sensor pickup? Replace that now, if it is a (puke!) Lace Sensor (I can't make it put in the pic).

Anyhoo, tung oil may be your best bet. Or go with an Allparts birdseye/ebony neck if you want to splurge and store the original neck.

(1997 is to late for a lace sensor. What is that pickup?) Is that binding? Pretty. Coil switch? Me want!
posted by sourwookie at 12:26 AM on May 20, 2006


Sourwookie. That is a lace sensor. Actually (if I'm not mistaken, all three of them are). Here is a maple neck version of the same guitar. I love the LS pickups.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2006


Yeah, lace sensors have a lot of potential -- some sound really amazing, but you have to know what you're doing in terms of setting the guitar up, amp settings, etc. I'm not really sure why they always seem to get such a bad rap. You can do all kinds of cool phasing tricks and switching with them, and the closer you put them to the strings, the louder they are.

I mean, they'll never be Fralins, Duncan JB's or Burstbuckers, but they're not supposed to be. One of my guitars has a mixed bag of lace sensors in it, and as unhip as it is, when guitarists hear it, they always remark that it has the best tone of any guitar they've ever heard. And I don't think it's because of my playing . . .
posted by JekPorkins at 4:57 PM on May 20, 2006


if lace sensors are good enough for jeff beck, they're good enough for sourwookie!
posted by quonsar at 11:42 AM on May 21, 2006


That's a pretty Tele.

Strongly disagree on the tung oil. Keep that crap far, far from your fretboard.

Dan Erlewine uses boiled linseed oil for this, but I don't like the way it gums up and makes a shiny surface over the wood. I like lemon oil for this. Cheap lemon oil is usually synthetic fragrance and naphtha, that's not what I mean - find some kind of hippy dippy aromatherapy shop and pay a little extra for a small bottle of organic lemon oil made by expeller-pressing the skins of lemons.

The next time you change strings, pause after the old strings are off. Take a q-tip and apply the oil to the fretboard, letting it soak in. Try to keep the millimeter or so of board next to the fret completely dry and free of oil. You do not want to lubricate under the fret where it's seated in the board; that will eventually result in a lifted fret that needs to be reseated, and that's a drag.

Get all the excess oil off with a rag before you put the new strings on. If you haven't done it, now's a good time to use Nevr-Dull to polish up the top of your frets. Mask the board off with a piece of tinfoil with a fret-sized rectangle cut off it, so you don't get Nevr-Dull solvent onto the fretboard.

I do not believe you will be able to detect a difference in tone before and after this process.

Or, if this seems like too much trouble, spray a rag with Lemon Pledge and just wipe the board down. The results aren't quite as nice but they're surprisingly good.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:01 AM on May 22, 2006


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