Higher-end guitars have a fretboard and neck that are not finished with a conventional finish. The examples vary between maple, roasted maple, wenge, ebony, rosewood, etc., and it is not uncommon to have either the fretboard or the entire neck with an oil, wax, or shellac finish.
The conventional finish offers excellent protection against the elements, but one has to be extra careful with unfinished neck guitars. The most famous example that comes to mind is the MusicMan Axis with a roasted maple neck, as many of these guitars have a simple oil coating on the roasted maple neck. So here we’ll discuss how you should take care of your expensive guitar with an oil, wax, or shellac finish.
How to Care for an Oil or Wax-Finished Guitar Neck?
Renewing the finish every couple of years is essential for an oil or wax-finished guitar. It can be done more often, depending on the conditions you use it in. While you may think these finishes have more cons than pros, please consider that an oil/wax/shellac finish gives you superior sound characteristics, and the trade-offs are worth it. The upside of these finishes, besides the superior sound characteristics, is that these can easily be repaired.
If you have an unfinished neck guitar and have used it for a while, you’ve probably started seeing discolorations in the neck. To start fixing this, first “wipe” it down (read: carefully but thoroughly scrub) with 0000 steel wool to remove any accumulated dirt. It does not matter if the neck changes color slightly, as you want to remove as much of the gunk from the neck as possible.
Afterward, simply apply a new coat of oil/wax. You can buy the materials needed locally in your local hardware store for refinishing oil-type finishes. You can choose which type of oil you want as long as it does not stain the wood. I suggest you use linseed oil, cold-pressed olive oil, or tung oil, as my experience has shown these have the best results and are industry standards. Mind that a small bottle of oil (50 ml) will last you for a long time.
When refinishing wax-based finishes, you can use your chosen oil as an undercoat to get the wood grain to pop out, and after thoroughly wiping the oil, you can apply the wax. I suggest you use paraffin-free high-quality furniture wax to refinish your wax-based guitar neck.
You can make your wax finish paste using 50 grams of natural beeswax and 50 grams of turpentine; put it in a jar, wait for it to dissolve, mix well, and it is ready! If you make it by yourself, this blend will last a long time, as it takes a minimal amount of wax paste to refinish an entire guitar.
How to Care for a Shellac Finish Guitar?
When using a shellac finish guitar, it is crucial to avoid any contact with alcohol and the guitar. Shellac dissolves in alcohol, so you are risking ruining your shellac guitar finish! To clean your shellac finish guitar, you only need a slightly damp cloth to wipe the dust and grime away, repeating with a dry towel.
However, it is wise to ask a professional for help repairing a shellac finish. The beauty of shellac is that it is the simplest finish to repair, as new coats easily bind with old coats.
Pro Tip: Always play your guitar with clean hands and have a cloth ready to wipe the guitar and the strings before and after playing – it will help you keep a clean guitar for longer!
That’s it for now; please stay tuned for further updates and advice from the GS Handcraft luthier workshop, and please email us with your questions!