Fingerboard polish that won't show finger marks

February 9, 2019, 5:30 PM · I've heard a lot of different methods for polishing a fingerboard (mineral oil + steel wool, toothpaste, shellac), but they all give a candy apple shine for about two days and then get horrible splotches under the fingers.

I don't care for sheen so much as I do just for resilience. Anyone know the trick (NOT going vegan)?

Not gonna use poly either, Paul.

Replies (17)

Edited: February 9, 2019, 6:43 PM · What is your objective?

I've never polished a fingerboard. I wash my hands before I play. I've played for 80 years. My fingerboards are not "stained' or blemished in any way by my fingers. My fingerboards are all ebony.

February 9, 2019, 8:11 PM · I guess if you don't have wet paws like me, it's not an issue. Sadly, I do get marks on my fingerboard and dark spots on my strings.
February 9, 2019, 9:03 PM · It is remarkable how much dirt is trapped in fingerboards, even when they don't appear dirty. Here is what I do to clean and restore an ebony fingerboard:

1) Clean the board thoroughly using Simple Green sprayed on a white microfiber cloth. Wipe well with a with a clean water-damp microfiber cloth to remove any residual Simple Green. Then dry really well with a clean microfiber cloth.

2) Let dry for several hours or overnight.

3)Wipe very carefully with a tiny amount of mineral oil on a clean microfiber cloth. Just enough to let the board get coated with a very thin layer of the oil.

4) Let sit for 30-60 minutes.

5) Wipe off excess mineral oil well with clean microfiber cloth until board appears dry. Then wipe down very well with a clean water-damp microfiber cloth.

6) Dry well with a clean microfiber cloth.

Note that each one of these steps is like a polishing step. "Wipe down" really means rub very well for a few minutes.

I have found that splotches are cause by not getting all the dirt out in Step 1 or not getting all the excess mineral oil off in Step 5. Also, some boards soak up a lot of oil, so I occasionally repeat Steps 3-5.

I have never used polish. On rare occasions, I have used India ink to blacken a poor quality ebony board.

Edited: February 9, 2019, 9:37 PM · What you want is to *clean* your fingerboard. "Polish" implies either that you want to leave some kind of coating that will protect your fingerboard from absorbing moisture or grime, or that you want to use an abrasive on it to make it shiny.

When you say "not gonna use poly," honestly I have no idea what you mean or why you would have called me out on that point.

What George Huhn recommended sounds reasonable to me.

February 11, 2019, 11:01 AM · Alcohol pads, squeezed out. Gets the dirt off and dries very quickly. Good for both strings and fingerboard.
I'm not sure why mineral oil is necessary. No luthier has ever mentioned it. I'd assume that oil that gets in string windings will make them die faster.
February 11, 2019, 3:27 PM · While I have heard music critics comment on many things about a performance, I have not yet heard one comment on the sheen of a fingerboard. ;-)
February 11, 2019, 3:30 PM · Simply because the great soloists' fingerboard are always spotless. If Hilary Hahn turned up on stage with a filthy, nasty, wet fingerboard, someone would notice.
Edited: February 11, 2019, 4:32 PM · Actually, you'd be surprised at how much grime is trapped inside fingerboards! It can actually contribute to the blackness of the board. Plus the oils coming off of fingers are absorbed by the wood.

When you clean a fingerboard you are removing both dirt and accumulated oil. As you wipe down a fingerboard with a white microfiber cloth and Simple Green, you can see the dirt accumulating on the cloth. So you need to keep using new areas of the cloth until you are not seeing any more dirt coming off. You may also start to see sections and streaks of ebony start to lighten as the oil and grime are cleaned off.

The mineral oil adds oil back to the wood to restore the black color and help to preserve the wood. It is important to let it absorb into the wood for a bit, and then use damp and dry microfiber cloths to remove all residual surface oil. That takes some time.

An clean ebony fingerboard that is properly treated with mineral oil will not be shedding oil onto finger tips or strings because it is absorbed into the wood. But it does help to make the board more water resistant to absorbing sweat and grime.

I keep alcohol away from my violins entirely. It is not good for cleaning strings (it is actually bad for strings), and it will pull oils out of the fingerboard without adding anything back. Furthermore, a drop of alcohol on varnish can do a lot of damage.

Just my experience and opinions.

February 11, 2019, 7:41 PM · I agree with Scott. I've been using alcohol to clean strings, fingerboards, and chinrests for decades with no problem. I cover the violin with a towel that goes up under the fingerboard, and very carefully squeeze out any excess alcohol from the cloth I am using to wipe so that there is no possibility of a drip contacting the varnish.
February 11, 2019, 8:55 PM · Alcohol! Use the pre-packaged wipes that they put in first aid kits, you can buy a box of them at the drugstore and it will be enough to last for years. They don’t drip and have just enough alcohol, and you can carry them in your case.
February 11, 2019, 8:58 PM · Remember though that Cotton's finger tips sweat sulfuric acid!
February 11, 2019, 9:26 PM · Alcohol should only be a problem if your fingerboard is stained to make it black, not if the wood is naturally black. Of course you must be careful not to drip alcohol on your varnish. The pre-packaged wipes (or "prep pads") are inexpensive. They can also vary in wetness and some of them drip a lot. Also you want to avoid wipes that contain anything but alcohol and water ... avoid detergents, fragrances, etc.
February 11, 2019, 9:45 PM · I just wad a cotton handkerchief and hold it over the mouth of a bottle of rubbing alcohol. One quick turn upside down and immediately right side up is all that is necessary. Obviously I do this part well away from the violin, and I make very sure that there is no possibility of dripping from the cloth.
Edited: February 11, 2019, 10:24 PM · Cleaning strings with alcohol shortens their useful life.

Scientific experiments have shown that alcohol dissolves the rosin and it soaks into the string, which will deaden the string. The best way to clean strings is just to wipe the string with a dry microfiber cloth, which removes 90% of the rosin from the surface.

Alcohol doesn't mix well with driving or violin strings.

Reference here:

February 12, 2019, 12:29 AM · The article doesn't actually say that. It speculates that alcohol modifies the string away from it's theoretical design, but does not prove that this shortens their useful life, or show any evidence that the tone of the string is impaired according to player standards.
Edited: February 12, 2019, 5:03 AM · I use alcohol but not the wipes that have bene mentioned up thread.

The stuff I use comes in a glass bottle and I put a few drops on a microfibre cloth and use this to clean the strings and fingerboard. I use the dry end of the cloth to wipe it all off afterwards.

I don't do this very often. Most of the time a quick wipe down with a dry cloth is more than sufficient.

Edited: February 12, 2019, 6:22 AM · @Michael Darnton

The article shows photographic evidence that alcohol causes rosin to soak into strings after even one application. The article states that:

“Just this one single cleaning action sees the thinned rosin penetrate not only between the two winding layers but also into the entire fibre core. Cleaning strings with alcohol is possible but we do not recommend this method if you want to maintain your string's sound quality for as long as possible.”


“We do not recommend cleaning with alcohol.”

Furthermore, they state:

“The fresh rosin build up can be removed completely with a microfiber cloth quite easily. If the strings are cleaned daily then no other care should be needed.”


“About 90% of the build-up has been removed quite easily. Some of the fused rosin has not been removed by microfiber cloth.”

I am not sure how one could draw the conclusion that repeatedly infusing the fiber core with with rosin would NOT have a dampening effect on the string and shorten its life.

Furthermore, because the study also shows that a dry microfiber cloth removes all fresh rosin and 90% of old rosin without damaging either the string surface or the core, I am not sure how one could make the argument that cleaning strings with alcohol has any possible advantage.

But myths and old habits die hard.

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