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FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / A PSA about fingerboard oil/grease



Oct 28th, 2017 07:08 PM   Edit   Profile  

I started a refret today on an old Jackson that I was dreading because the fingerboard looked pretty oily. Oh boy was I in for it...

As I heated the frets to take them out, oil bubbled up around the frets and pooled on either side, enough of a pool that by the 12th fret, one pool would be big enough to join the pool from the next fret. Once I got them out, blotted the oil with a tissue, and I put my hook into the slots, and each one was filled with grease like someone had just poured it in there. I'm not sure what it was, but I'm guessing one of those string lube products. It was clear, and a consistency a little bit thinner than 3-in-1.

For those not in the know, this is bad. Superglue fixes become near impossible because the glue just slides around the top instead of ever going down into the wood. The slots don't like holding the frets at all, either. Not only does it make it too greasy to grip the frets, but it also mutilates the end grain. Imagine taking a board and soaking the end of it in oil, and then using that end to hold a piece of metal in place. It was near impossible to sand, because even a very coarse sand paper just glided across the top. Once I could get it to bite, it plugged the paper almost instantly.

To clean it up I started with naphtha, but didn't get very far and didn't want to be huffing that for too long. I switched to a simple green solution and toothbrush, vacuuming and blowing out the slots regularly to avoid drenching the poor instrument. I also had it sideways in a bench vice so the water would (mostly) flow out of the slot. It worked pretty well, but the worst spots were still the end grain inside the fret slots, and I didn't want to keep getting water in there. I made a baking soda and mineral spirits paste and packed it into the slots leaving it for a few hours, then cleaned that out, using some vinegar to react off the baking soda (don't want that in there when I apply glue later). The board was pretty wet, so it is going to sit for a couple days before I return to it. I likely won't try another round of cleaning, but we'll see how it accepts glue when I get back to it.

I have a few hours labor into just cleaning up after the grease that is lost, and I will probably lose more since I'll have to clamp & glue the frets most likely, and that is quite time consuming.

I've seen similar problems when people go absolutely nuts with lemon oil, but not this bad.

My guess is that this guy got into a vicious cycle with the cleaner/grease. The caked on stuff was super sticky, so he likely kept reapplying it when the old stuff was gooey, when he'd have been better off just cleaning it. Also, your fingerboard doesn't need perpetual oiling. Use a good wax and you'll need to do it once a year at the very most. A fingerboard made of a naturally oily/dense wood doesn't actually NEED any anyway, it is mostly just cosmetic.

Please, please don't do this to your guitar!

Love, Funky K

Contributing Member


the downtime
Oct 28th, 2017 07:38 PM   Edit   Profile  

Good perspectives, brother.

I've worked on guitars that belonged to players who hose down their fingerboards with Fast Fret (and similar goop). Replacing frets in oil-soaked wood takes three times longer than normal because cleaning the wood is a laborious process.

The best way to remove oil from any wood is repeated cleaning with MEK, but that will dissolve many guitar finishes, so that's out.

The thing that's worked best for me in the past is low-odor mineral spirits: I gently scrub it into the wood with a worn-out toothbrush, wiping often.

Then I lay on a thin layer of Fuller's earth (it's a super-absorbent clay powder, available in art-supply shops). I leave the neck in a warm location for a few days. The powder sucks most of the oil out of the wood. Brush it off, vacuum with a brush, and clean once more with mineral spirits and the toothbrush, and let the neck dry.

Naptha works a bit better, but the work time is very short because it evaporates so fast. Mineral spirits is better because its persistent.

Contributing Member


This space intentionally left blank.
Oct 28th, 2017 07:43 PM   Edit   Profile  

I’ve seen guys use Fast Fret and the like in copious amounts. Now I see the downside.



Oct 28th, 2017 09:20 PM   Edit   Profile  

the fuller's earth sounds interesting... sounds similar to what I was doing with the baking soda.

What got my to try the baking soda was seeing that trisodium phosphate was heavily recommended for degreasing raw wood, but I didn't want to be handling TSP on a guitar... that stuff is a bit too nasty. It seems TSP's primary mechanism is that it is extremely alkaline, and that helps draw out oils apparently...? I do know when I tried TSP on the hearth around my woodstove in VT it took off creosote like it was magic marker.

This one definitely would be beyond the mineral spirits, as the naphtha was not really touching it all that much. It was seriously soaked in. I was honestly very impressed with how well the simple green worked. I wonder if cutting simple green with a solvent instead of water would work better next time...

Contributing Member


the downtime
Oct 29th, 2017 08:07 AM   Edit   Profile  

Simple Green is water-based, but the emulsifiers in it allow oils to integrate with it. I don't know if it's a good idea or not to mix 'em. It's worth a try; it might work great.

Similar to mixing Ballistol (a petroleum-based firearms cleaning agent) with water to clean black powder firearms. By itself, it doesn't work so well. With water, though, it dissolves built-up burned powder in a jiffy.



Oct 29th, 2017 01:11 PM   Edit   Profile  

Funky, Question #1: Have you called the guy up and had him come over to see what you're dealing with?
And, have you advised him that there may be extra costs involved due to the extra work you're doing?

"A fingerboard made of a naturally oily/dense wood doesn't actually NEED any anyway, it is mostly just cosmetic."

Somewhere a few years ago I read this. Makes sense. I lightly lemon oil my rosewood (as well as unfinished maple) fingerboards maybe once a year. And in reality, probably don't really need to do so.

Oil remover: I'm as far from being an expert on this stuff as you can get, so I'll just ask the question. There is this stuff called "Purple Power" or similar "purple" based named cleaner/degreaser that you can buy at auto parts stores. It sure cuts through grease/oil on engines and chains. It will also dry out and flake the snot out of your hands if you use it to clean them, too.

Have you tried it or thought about it? (Once again, I ain't no expert.)

(This message was last edited by ejm at 03:24 PM, Oct 29th, 2017)

Contributing Member


the downtime
Oct 29th, 2017 01:23 PM   Edit   Profile  

You have to be careful with solvents an caustic agents around wood finishes. Many will soften or dissolve nitro. Some will attack acrylics and polys.

Always test in an inconspicuous area, such as the closet where the water heater is :o)

Contributing Member

Broke Down

in the Brassicas
Oct 29th, 2017 01:29 PM   Edit   Profile  

^And shake well before use :-)

Moderator Emeritus
(with many stars)

NW Pennsylvania

Oct 29th, 2017 09:45 PM   Edit   Profile  

I go absolutely nuts with lemon oil.

Have been since the '70's.

Neener, neener.

Contributing Member


the downtime
Oct 30th, 2017 06:11 AM   Edit   Profile  

But we're talking about using it on a guitar.

Nanny nanny boo boo!

Contributing Member

New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Oct 30th, 2017 08:21 AM   Edit   Profile  

Luckily I haven't run into this. Sounds like a real nasty mess

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Oct 30th, 2017 09:58 AM   Edit   Profile  

I work on a friends AmDlx Strat with maple board from time to time. He is a Finger Ease user. Huge amounts and he rarely if at cleans his guitar.

There are dark green stains from this stuff (and sweat) wicking under the finish from the fret slots. Majorly ugly fretboard. This goo and his funk packs up on the side of the frets. Each time I service his guitar I clean it up......No fun at all.

He's starting to run out of meat in the frets and will be buying a neck if it needs frets. I won't attempt to pull them.



Say what one more time!
Oct 30th, 2017 07:32 PM   Edit   Profile  

I use finger ease sparingly on humid summer gigs. Light spray and wipe down.

I know a little bit about some of these solvents and they can be be very damaging to some of these woods by drying it out too much. You have to adjust the chemicals you use based on your environment. I've lived in hot dry deserts and humid locations.

Contributing Member

Pueblo, Co

illegal is a sick bird....
Nov 1st, 2017 04:41 PM   Edit   Profile  

I do not use anything but there was a time when I used lemon oil because it is good for ALL woods.

The problem I had was the stink it left on my fingers and the neck stunk too. Stink, Stank, Stunk. I sold that guitar last year and don't miss it. Isn't that finger ease stuff just kerosene?


Paris, France

It's just a guitar, not rocket science.
Nov 3rd, 2017 08:33 AM   Edit   Profile  

Some manufacturers now advise against using lemon oil. Here's why...

"There are dark green stains from this stuff (and sweat) wicking under the finish from the fret slots"

Green gunk is a tell-tale sign of copper corrosion. Frets are made of "nickel silver", which is actually an alloy of copper, tin, and zinc. Lemon oil is midly corrosive. If people use large quantities it seeps under frets and over time eat into the fret tangs.

When Ernie Ball developed their "Wonder Wipes" fretboard conditioner, they chose less the corrosive orange oil over lemon oil for this very reason. (BTW, the wonder wipes are very cool; wipe on and buff off with paper towels, I can clean and condition 6 to 10 fretboards with a single "wipe").

(This message was last edited by DrKev at 10:36 AM, Nov 3rd, 2017)



Nov 4th, 2017 08:26 AM   Edit   Profile  

Alright, updates.

I finished the instrument early this week. After letting it sit over the weekend it was slightly greasy still, so I went at it with a toothbrush and naphtha. I got out a bit more grease and also some film left over from the simple green. Once that dried, there were still some tell tale signs of grease - it would look dry for about ten minutes and grease would start to leech up the grain and reappear. I decided to call it and proceed with the refret. There wasn't a lot of chip gluing/filling to do, but what I did worked okay. The glue didn't wick as well as it usually does, but it worked. It held the frets just fine; what helped was that I was putting in a fret with a giant tang, so there was plenty of biting surface.

Once I finished it up and lightly applied a more appropriate oil, it looked like new, though I'm sure plenty of that oil still resides in there.

I gave it back to the customer, and asked what he'd been using. Apparently it is GHS Fast Fret spray, and he "never picks up a guitar without spraying a bunch on it". He insists it just gets too sticky to play otherwise. I strongly suspect he got himself into that trouble by gooping it up with oil, not liking the goop, and thinking the problem was not enough oil instead of too much. He just laughed at me when I tried to tell him how awful this fingerboard was, so I'm not sure if any lessons were learned. :/

ejm: I didn't call him to charge extra. I didn't want it to seem passive aggressive, though I did tell him how much extra work it was. I also checked out the cleaner you linked. It seems like an approximate competitor to simple green. From the reviews I read, it is potentially a bit more corrosive, so I'd need to test it on something first, though my guess is that it is roughly the same and the corrosion was user error. The other benefit I'd see is that some users had skin/breathing reactions to one brand more than another... so, while it is good that both brands exist for that reason, I have had no problems with simple green (a big part of its appeal to me) so that is one reason why it may not help me.

If I had to do this again, I think I'd start with the simple green and end with naphtha, since those were the stages that worked best. The simple green part meant getting it very wet, but if you're attentive enough you can do it without damaging the instrument. I have super fine toothbrushes (Nimbus) which got into the fret slots very nicely. This has more to do with my dental hygiene philosophies than guitar repair, but it worked out well in this case.



He's dead, Jim!
Nov 5th, 2017 12:20 AM   Edit   Profile  

If you run into this a lot, seek out a gun repair product called "Old Fashioned Whiting" form a company called Brownell's:
"Quickly Draws Excess Oil Out Of Gun Stocks

Simple “paint-it-on, brush-it-off” process literally draws soaked-in grease and oils out of any oil-finished or oil-soaked gun stock. Especially useful on military stocks. Same method as described in the traditional gunsmithing books and just as effective now as then. Just make a thin paste of Whiting and methanol or TCE, acetone, or toluene and paint it onto the stock, then brush if off after it dries and darkens with oil. Warming gently speeds process. Repeat if needed; raise dents, sand and finish as usual."



Nov 10th, 2017 10:25 AM   Edit   Profile  

Which brings up another question (just thinking out loud): Why do people use Fast Fret or similar to begin with?

I can think of two reasons.

If it's the BACK of the neck that is sticky, they can de-gloss it using one of a thousand methods that have been discussed here over the years. Sandpaper, snading pad, steel wool, etc etc etc. No oil/spray required.
If this is the case, then there is no reason to spray it on the fret board side.

If it's the FRETBOARD and particularly the strings being sticky, there must be something else that can be used to accomplish this without oiling things up. Baby powder or chalk like they use in pool halls or something? I dunno, maybe someone will have a better idea.

If they think the actual fingerboard is hanging them up, the question then becomes: Are your fingers at any point actually touching the board anyway? Probably not, especially when you start using larger frets, and ESPECIALLY not if the board is scalloped.

Of course there is another reason: They're hallucinating and *think* that it helps.

FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / A PSA about fingerboard oil/grease

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