Should I Get Rid of the Crap on My Guitar?
March 17, 2007 3:58 PM   Subscribe

What is this gunk on my fretboard? [grody pictures linked within]

I've been playing this thing for something like fifteen years, and I've never even thought to clean the frets off. I figure the stuff is "finger leavings" or something, and I always though it was kind of neat, because you can see which parts of the fretboard get played on the most. My girlfriend thinks the stuff is gross, though. Here are two pictures.

So my questions are: will it change the tone of my guitar for better or worse to get rid of this stuff? Do I even need to get rid of it? How? Thank you!
posted by interrobang to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yeah - it's dirt and grease that accumulates over the years. Whenever I change my strings, I clean that stuff off with a damp rag, and sometime use a little pledge. I can't imagine that it'll hurt the sound to be rid of it.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:10 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: Sorry, but that is nasty. I get that crap on my guitar also but I guess I must clean it at least now and then because it never gets to that proportion.

It is not going to hurt the tone of your guitar to wash it off.

I'd scrape with something plastic, like a pick even or something. With small amounts I use my fingernails. I use a damp sponge which I immediately dry off to get any remaining residue. I am sure they make some product especially for it, but it's probably a ripoff.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:13 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: Upon looking into this a little further, this guy says avoid waxy polishes (like pledge) and use only certain types of furniture oil. I've never noticed a problem in the 5 years I've owned my guitar, but I don't play that often or that well.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:14 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: Man that is gross when you take a good look at it...

Yeah, and *ghasp!* I touch it every day!

I'm still wondering, though, if I need to get rid of it.
posted by interrobang at 4:16 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: Perhaps if your girlfriend thinks you should, it would be a good idea :)

I honestly wonder what on earth that stuff actually is. Science project in the making.
posted by DMan at 4:19 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All right, I'll scrape it off. But I'm going to put the stuff in a specimen bottle and label it. Thanks for the advice, everyone.
posted by interrobang at 4:23 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: It's oil from your fingers mixed with dirt. And disgusting. Man, I hope your fretboard is the only part of your life you let go that way.

Use a credit card to scrape away what you can, and then follow chrisamiller's link for the right solvent to get the remainder.

If were you I would save all the scrapings, put them in a bag labeled Son House, and scam it off on some ebay sucka.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2007

wow, great minds think alike, other kinds of minds take it that extra step
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:27 PM on March 17, 2007

Yeah, my husband is a guitarist and is horrified by those photos. Definitely get rid of it if you care for the instrument at all.
posted by stefnet at 4:42 PM on March 17, 2007

Wow. I've had a dirty fretboard, but nothing like THAT.

Scrape it off, and wipe the fretboard down down with rubbing alcohol or something (on a q-tip) to get the last bit of residue off.
posted by mrbill at 4:49 PM on March 17, 2007

But I'm going to put the stuff in a specimen bottle and label it.

Don't do that. It's a gateway to the inevitable: One day you'll have a prize collection of biohazard toenail shards in a large baby Aspirin bottle, and only blind grandpa will want to hang with you. (True story.)
posted by Listener at 4:50 PM on March 17, 2007

My god. Change your strings and clean it.
posted by fire&wings at 5:14 PM on March 17, 2007

Leave it alone if you want your tone to stay the same. The way you feel about your instrument is certainly going to affect the sounds that you make with it.

Of course, there's every chance that cleaning it up will make you feel better about playing and improve your tone, unless you're deliberately going for the grungiest sounds you can make.

To me, what's on your fretboard is the equivalent of fifteen years' worth of stuck-on boogers unexpectedly discovered under a co-worker's office chair.
posted by flabdablet at 5:40 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: Awright, I'll clean it, I'll clean it!
posted by interrobang at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2007

Looks like the same gunk (sweat & dead skin cells) you get accumulated on computer mice and games console joypads. My friends and I always used to refer to it as "hand cum".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:14 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: The technical term is "schmunda." Serious. Look it up.
posted by sourwookie at 6:25 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

We can't take your word for this, interrobang. You gotta post followup pics of a clean guitar or it's moot, moot!
posted by cgc373 at 6:33 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: Will do. I coincidentally bought some new strings two days ago, I just haven't put them on yet.
posted by interrobang at 6:40 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, and I've always heard that it was bad for an acoustic guitar to take all the strings off at once--is that not true? It would sure make cleaning it easier.
posted by interrobang at 6:42 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: There's a few AskMe questions about restringing. (Search for "guitar strings.")
posted by cgc373 at 6:48 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, that thread is perfect.
posted by interrobang at 6:49 PM on March 17, 2007

Dr. Stringfellow Lem Oil.
posted by starman at 8:15 PM on March 17, 2007

When I worked in a guitar shop in high school, we would use a straight razor blade to scrape off the gunk (only on rosewood fretboards though, so you're fine). Just be even in pressure and then apply some lemon oil product for fretboards. You can apply a good amount of pressure too, it won't hurt things. It should look great after that.
posted by Sreiny at 10:10 PM on March 17, 2007

It's fine to take all the strings off at once. My Martin's action is great. I play it for hours nightly and know this instrument well. I've never noticed any change in the action over years of removing all the strings completely every week or so.
posted by wsg at 11:17 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: Caveat - I'm assuming that the same goes for guitars as it does for violins. Someone pipe up if it doesn't!

My viola fingerboard is made of solid black hardwood (ebony). I use alcohol on my fingerboard and strings to remove build-ups of gunk. Cheap perfume works (but stinks), cheap brandy likewise. I just use rubbing alcohol. DON'T use it on the main body of the instrument. I find it makes my tone clearer.

Advice for violins etc is to never remove all the strings at once, because there's a sound post inside which is held in place by the tension applied by the tightened strings. But if wsg says it's ok then it probably is, for guitars.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:46 AM on March 18, 2007

As a side note, I certainly hope your band's name is "Finger Leavings."
posted by Bud Dickman at 6:21 AM on March 19, 2007

Damn, that's one dirty guitar. After cleaning a rosewood fretboard, I apply some boiled linseed oil to protect the wood from drying out. (since all that oily goodness from your fingers will be gone...sniff)
posted by pj_rivera at 9:27 AM on March 19, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, it's clean now. Whee! Unfortunately, after the complete string-removal, one of the frets no longer works.
posted by interrobang at 12:37 PM on March 19, 2007

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