Safely cleaning the fingerboard?

October 17, 2007 at 02:38 PM · Subject has it....

Replies (27)

October 17, 2007 at 03:48 PM · I've always wanted to use orange peel.

It's good to try removing crud without any kind of moisture, simply rubbing with a soft cloth. If that doesn't work...

Use a quick wipe of alcohol (slightly damp) on a cotton rag. Work quickly, since you don't want to wet the wood more than necessary (potentially raising the grain). I'd actually recommend denatured alcohol, since it evaporates faster than rubbing alcohol (right?), but beware of dripping it onto the top. After all grime has been removed, I like to follow up with a very small amount of oil.

It's much easier to clean a fingerboard with the strings off, but if you don't want to take them off, just floss a strip of cloth between the strings and wood. It's a good idea to put a rag under the fingerboard, to protect the top while cleaning.

Using alcohol on lesser quality ebony (and dyed wood) will lift some of the color.

What if you raise the grain? You can always knock it back with 600 grit sandpaper. Again follow up with a super small amount of oil. I've even used car rubbing/polishing compound to finish a fingerboard, when someone was obsessed with achieving a perfect sheen.

October 17, 2007 at 03:45 PM · I use pre-injection swabs, available from chemists, behind the counter. The ones I use are made by Sterets.

The chemist might assume that you're a drug addict when you ask for them, but they're perfect for the job! They are quite small, there are numerous invidually wrapped wipes in the packet, and are ideal for cleaning the fingerboard and strings.

October 17, 2007 at 05:22 PM · As the use of alcohol is such a widespread habit at this point, my comment will probably not be heeded by many, but:

I do not recommend the use of alcohol for the cleaning of the fingerboard surface or strings. When a board is dressed, it is most usually finished with a drying oil (linseed, tung, etc.). Cleaning with an aggressive solvent (like alcohol) will tend to dry out he board and open the pores (decreasing the time it takes to attract more crud)... and if you slip or drip, the solvent will remove the instrument's varnish faster than one can react.

I know, I know. Someone is thinking: "I've been doing it for years without making a mistake". I have plenty of photos of touch-up jobs where the owners said the same thing.... until they sheepishly brought in their damaged fiddle.

Removal of small amounts of rosin can be more safely accomplished with less invasive solvents or manually (fine 3M pad, etc.). Care is still required. If the build-up is too serious to take care of by yourself, see your repair person.

October 17, 2007 at 04:36 PM · Those pre-injection swabs are cheap and available at almost any grocery store or drugstore on the shelves. The only problem I ever have is explaining the injection syringe for filling the Planet Waves case humidifier.

October 17, 2007 at 04:40 PM · It's always hard to cater to a large audience with this kind of advice. What is safe, what isn't safe.

If you're going to use a solvent on your violin, use it sparingly. The amount of solvent required for this job is almost nil (or nil, depending on your point of view).

Jeff... What less potent solvent would you recommend? (The mild abrasive seems like a good logical suggestion.)

October 17, 2007 at 04:46 PM · Jeffery, that is interesting. Should linseed oil be applied to the fingerboard regularly? Would Hill polish work?

Also, "Pores" are the holes in wood, skin, etc. "Pours" is what the violin makers do after a long arduous day in the shop! (Insert smiley face here)!

October 17, 2007 at 05:00 PM · There was a previous thread about Hill Polish here... has the same impact as alcohol.

October 17, 2007 at 05:42 PM · Ian;

The least invasive solvent (starting with water) is what I'd suggest. I rarely go beyond mineral spirits.


Thanks... I knew something looked wrong with that word (pours), but my mind was elsewhere... I've corrected my error in the post... and do plan on pouring later this evening! :-)

I oil the fingerboard as part of the process when I'm cleaning an instrument (regular maintenance) in the shop, but the strings are usually off... If regular maintenance is sought by the player, doing the job themselves is probably not necessary. It's a bit harder for a player to get at the board with the strings on, but I suppose it would be possible. If anyone tries it, wipe ALL excess oil away and remember to give it enough time to dry.

I stay away from Hill polish for many reasons... one of which is that it seems to be a rosin magnet on any surface it's applied to.


October 17, 2007 at 05:57 PM · Thanks for the information! Cheers!

October 17, 2007 at 08:34 PM · Jeffrey,

Thanks so much for being brave enough to add your post despite strong suggestions to use alcohol. I probably would have done so (being a newbie) till your post. It's annoying that there doesn't seem to be an ideal 'quick fix' cleaner other than the 'elbow grease' rag method. (The pre-injection swabs were particularly tempting!) I don't want to ruin my precious new fiddle though. Thank you all for posting!

October 17, 2007 at 09:42 PM · I would tend to agree with Jeffrey, if you do use alcohol, use it sparingly, much like drinking alcohol (bad joke). If you have plain gut strings on, definitely do not use rubbing alcohol, it will eat away the string. I clean my fingerboard once a month with alcohol when I change the strings.

October 18, 2007 at 12:37 AM · I think the trick is ,from years of experience,to not get fixated with having a squeaky clean fingerboard.I find if I can't shift smoothly and my fingers "jutter'along the fingerboard,then clean it .If they dont then just leave it(but brush it off with a clean dry cloth after each practise).

This is just like my post about polishing and cleaning the instrument.Get it done professionally twice a year and leave it at that!

October 18, 2007 at 12:41 AM · Well you do want to clean it every once in a while. Build up really happens when you 1) don't wash your hands, and 2) don't wash your hands after rosining the bow. So what I do is i just get a little bit of rubbing alcohol and take of all the excess using either paper towel or any of the sort, then place some tissues(kleenex type mainly cause it's the perfect size) under the fingerboard so it covers from bridge up, then swab the fingerboard. It works really well.

October 18, 2007 at 02:14 PM · Again from personal experience,if you use alcohol anywhere near the varnish you will eventually have contact with the varnish and the results are pretty awful(been there,done that!!)

Jeff,what about using a small amount of plain,unscented soap (like "Lux") to clean the fingerboard?

October 18, 2007 at 11:08 AM · I have always used perfume to clean my finger board .... I suppose since I don't do it very often I guess I haven't SEEN any negative results .... of course the smell is very nice ....

October 18, 2007 at 01:49 PM · I understand the desire to keep the instrument clean, as I am about as OCD, anal retentive as they come, (you should see my office, it's so tidy it's almost offensive). However, I have heard that "fiddle" players never clean there instruments. Is it just us violinists that are that persnickity about cleanliness?

October 18, 2007 at 03:48 PM · "Jeff,what about using a small amount of plain,unscented soap (like "Lux") to clean the fingerboard?"

I never tried Lux, but I do use a very mild detergent on occasion for some cleaning applications. It's part of the stepping up process I described in an earlier post. For varnished surfaces, there are some restoration waxes available that work rather well.

October 18, 2007 at 09:57 PM · Thanks everyone for the excellent insights--I've approached this from several angles and find everyone's inputs helpful.

Actually, the only reason, I think I'm a little OCD with this is first the strings health. And come to think of it, though I only use shifts on an early intermediate level at this point they are fine and fluid. But it's like the arching motion of the curved bow, if you can see 'it' it's too much? RE: topic...

I wipe'r down after every session--to the point of making sure I want to play when I pick'r up a little. But time, on the upper neck/parts---.... RE: Dirt or something.... Besides the fact that she's a spoiled creature--and knows it.

October 19, 2007 at 02:14 AM · I used to use alcohol - rarely more than a few times a year, applied with a Q-tip, with the violin thickly covered. Then I discovered PETZ rosin remover. It's just as effective, and much safer. Great for bows, too.

October 19, 2007 at 02:14 AM · Thanks Raph--hope life is good!. Having just cleaned my strings with the same (alcohol), I'm leaning in that direction for my fingerboard.

October 19, 2007 at 04:56 AM · I had a friend in school who used to put almond oil on her fingerboard. She was a wonderful violnist, but I'm not sure where she got that idea. Have not tried that myself though...

I also had a girlfriend a long time ago who was SURE I was a drug user because she saw my bottle of rubbing alchohol (for my fingerboard and chinrest) near my bed. I guess she thought I was lying in bed "shooting up" with all my druggie violinist friends on the weekends.

October 19, 2007 at 07:09 AM · I like your first friend better.

October 19, 2007 at 04:30 PM · I remember using Xylene many years ago to clean off rosin.It did an excellent job and didn't harm varnish whatsoever.Anyone else ever try it?

October 19, 2007 at 04:46 PM · Everybody used to use xylene in the old days till they found out what a carcinogen it is. We used to use Bestine on cruddy finishes in the guitar shop because it didn't harm the finish but that was lacquer and it also is bad to breath or absorb. They make eyeglass cleaning pads called wipe and clean that have just enough achohol and detergent that they won't drip has anyone tried them?

October 19, 2007 at 04:57 PM · Well, my entire family is mainly nurses or teachers--I should be able to come up with something--hopefully not a carcinogenic! ;).

October 19, 2007 at 08:48 PM · Yes... xylene is a very dangerous solvent. If you were worried about alcohol eating away at your violins top, xylene is ten times worse.

It was mentioned previously that using alcohol on your strings is a bad idea, even synthetic. There are organic orange liquid cleaners - much safer to use (just tried last night - check ingredients list), again sparingly. I've always been able to clean my strings with a dry cloth.

October 19, 2007 at 08:45 PM · I didn't know it was a carcinogen.....thanks for that!

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