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How to Clean a Bass Guitar

2 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Maintaining a Bass Guitar

No matter how careful you are, your bass guitar is bound to collect battle scars. You need to know how to properly clean a bass guitar if you want yours to last for years to come. If you play your bass regularly, it needs to be cleaned regularly, and each part of the bass requires specific cleaning methods and materials.

The first step in cleaning your bass is to wash your hands. Really! The finish on the wood and hardware shows every fingerprint. So the least you should do is keep those fingerprints clean.

The body and neck

You need to clean the body of your bass very carefully. You can polish the finish with a clean cloth (such as an old sweat shirt), but use guitar polish (available in a spray bottle at any music store) instead of furniture polish.

  1. Apply a squirt or two to the cloth and work it into the fabric.

  2. Rub your bass down — work on the body (front and back) and the back of the neck.

The hardware

The tuning heads, bridge, and strap pins are all considered hardware — that is, all the brass and metal parts attached to the wood except for frets and pickups. Just rub the hardware down with a dust cloth to keep it shiny. If the hardware is really dirty, use a mild brass polish from the supermarket. Just make sure you don't get the cleaner onto the wood.

The pickups

The pickups accumulate a lot of dust. Use cotton swabs to clean the area where the wood meets the metal of the pickups.

Whatever you do, don’t use any liquids to clean them. Pickups are magnetic, and they can’t deal with liquid. The liquid can cause them to short out, making it necessary to replace them. Of course, getting new pickups every four weeks is one way to keep them clean.

The fingerboard

The fingerboard consists of two major parts: the long wooden strip on the front of the neck and the metal frets. Because these two parts are made of very different materials, each needs to be cleaned in its own special way.

The fingerboard can be cleaned only after removing your old strings — before restringing.

  • The wood: The wood on the fingerboard is prone to drying out. To restore the wood to its original luster,

    1. Get rid of any dirt using a dry cloth.

    2. Place a few drops (no more than five) of fingerboard oil (which you can get from your local music store) on a clean cotton cloth and work it into the wood.

      Let the oil dry thoroughly before rubbing down the fingerboard again to remove any excess oil. Apply oil to the wood every other time you change the strings. The wood absorbs fingerboard oil easily.

  • The frets: Polish the frets with an inexpensive jewelry polishing cloth that has polish already soaked into it (available in any supermarket).

When polishing the frets, don’t use the kind of abrasive jewelry polish that you have to pour out of a bottle. It's too rough on the wood of the fingerboard.

The strings

Your strings take the most abuse, so they also need to be cleaned. Whenever you finish playing, always wipe the strings with a dry cotton cloth. But it is important to do a deeper cleaning on a regular basis.

  1. Let a couple drops of rubbing alcohol soak into the cotton cloth.

  2. Put a moist section of the cloth between your index finger and thumb and pinch one string at a time.

  3. Rub the cloth up and down along the string’s length.

    Proper string cleaning technique.
    Proper string cleaning technique.

Don’t get any of the alcohol on the wood; it’ll dry it out.

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