How To Clean And Polish a Banjo Fretboard? (Step By Step)

If you play the banjo, you know how important that fretboard is. It’s the thing that gives you the ability to play different chords and notes on your banjo.

When it comes to keeping it in great shape, however, things get a little bit complicated.

Cleaning a banjo fretboard can be tricky. The smooth finish of the maple or ebony makes any dirt or oils stand out more than usual.

Luckily for you, we have all the tips and tricks for keeping your fretboard clean, healthy, and happy!

A Banjo Fretboard Gets Dirty Over Time

If you’ve had your instrument for a while, there might be some gunk built up on your fretboard from playing every day over the years.

It’s common to see built-up oils and natural oils from your hands touching it so much.

Both of these substances are bad for your fretboard because they break down its natural oils and cause damage over time.

A dirty Fretboard can also cause your fingers and the strings on your banjo to smell bad.

How To Clean a Banjo Fretboard

There are four steps to cleaning a banjo fretboard:

  1. Take the strings off
  2. Scrape off the worst gunk
  3. Clean the fretboard with some solvents
  4. Polish the banjo fretboard

Here are the four steps in some more detail:

Take The Strings Off

The First Thing you want to do is take the strings off your banjo. So that when you go to clean it they are not in the way.

Scrape Off The Worst Gunk

Sometimes, a fretboard can be so mucky that you can physically scrape stuff off with your fingernail.

This might be true if you’ve never cleaned your fretboard or because you might have purchased a used banjo that has never been cleaned. The reason doesn’t matter, getting it cleaned up is the point!

What you’re looking to do here, is to scrape the worst off without damaging the fretboard or frets.

Use something like an old credit card or a flexible guitar pick. It has to be something that is slightly bendy, hard enough to scrape but not hard enough to scratch.

This also means that you don’t have to put a lot of pressure on and you don’t want to use a corner.

Scrape in the direction of the neck length (with the grain of the wood). Just try to remove the worst with this method. This is not the final clean-up and polish.

Clean The Fretboard with some Solvents

Once you’ve got any major gunk off, you now need to get the fretboard and frets really, really clean. The best way of doing this is to use Naphtha or Mineral Spirits and some kitchen towels or lint-free cloths.

Do not use ethanol/alcohol as this is too harsh. Make sure that you’re not close to a fire (or smoking) whilst you are doing this and it’s probably best to do this outdoors.

Just put some Naphtha or mineral spirit on your cloth and rub away the dirt, frequently changing cloth or parts of the cloth. These should then be thrown away after use as you won’t be using them again.

Be sure to get right into the fret edges with this (both sides), you can use your fingernail behind the cloth to get into that corner or dig out your old credit card or banjo pick again.

Polishing The Banjo Fretboard

Finally, use your guitar/banjo polish of choice to give the whole fretboard and the frets a really good shine. Apply the polish and use a clean kitchen towel or cloth to buff it up.

Be sure to buff both in the direction of the neck for the fretboard as well as along the frets to make them gleam!

Note, for roasted maple necks use the same method, and once in a while apply a new coat of gunstock oil if you are confident that it was used originally to seal the neck.

You may also want to use the finest wire wool (0000) to gently polish the fretboard prior to applying new coats of gunstock oil.

If you do use 0000 finest wire wool, I strongly advise covering the guitar pickups with some painter’s tape to avoid micro-particles of the wire wool being captured by the magnetic poles of the pickups.

By polishing your banjo you’re making sure that the fretboard doesn’t dry out and deteriorate over time. Another way of making sure your banjo doesn’t deteriorate over time is by storing your banjo the right way.

A great polish I use is this: MusicNomad F-ONE Fretboard Oil


That is all you need to clean and polish your banjo fretboard! The process is simple.

First, you want to take off the snares from the banjo. After that scrape the worst gunk off the fretboard with something like a credit card. Then you want to clean the fretboard with some solvents and to top it off you want to polish it with some oil.

Enjoy your fresh and clean fretboard!