Finished Guitar Necks

by | Jan 15, 2014 | Lessons, Repairs

On every guitar I’ve ever owned, the first order of business is to sand away any sort of finish on the back of the neck.  I can’t handle playing any other way.  Finished necks feel sticky, slow, sweaty, dare I say shitty (if nothing else, to keep the “s” train moving).

I’ve heard some manufacturers say they finish their necks (at least with an oil) to prevent warping.  If I remember right, G&L used to refuse to sell a maple neck without a heavy lacquer on the back of the neck.  They did the same for their maple fretboards.  Warmoth used to make you agree to some sort of a waiver to get an unfinished neck.

This reasoning troubles me.  Sure, people who keep their instruments stored in extreme conditions are likely to have problems – but they would no matter what the finish is like.  If you have a 2 piece neck with some sort of hard wood as a fretboard, plus a good truss rod system – you should be in good shape.  Saying that this is not enough, makes me think you’re cutting corners in the materials and production process.

Others say it’s for maintenance.  Unfinished necks get dirty and nobody wants to take care of that.  Well through the magic of internet archives, I found a great resource from Peavey that is 15 years old. (or was it used to have an article from EVH’s tech around the same time, that gave essentially the same advice.  

August 1998

Greetings, everyone, and welcome to the WOLFGANG REPORT. This column will be dedicated to covering the many facets of the latest Edward Van Halen signature series guitar, the Peavey EVH WOLFGANG.

My name is Dan, and I will be your host on this journey into the realm of the Wolf. I work in the music retail industry at a full-line shop in the midwest, where I do instrument sales in addition to being a guitar technician. I have also played guitar for about fourteen years and am a huge Van Halen fan.

Every week here, you can find commentary covering a different aspect of the Wolfgang; we will leave no stone unturned. In addition, I will be fielding your inquiries on the Wolf, from set-up tips and features to questions about construction. When possible, I will also present any significant updates about the Wolfgang’s availability, or any other breaking news – like new finishes, or other options.

I welcome your questions and comments. Enjoy!

The Wolfgang Report has just celebrated its first anniversary here on the Official VH site! Before I get into the topic at hand, I’d like to thank all the WGR readers out there for a great year of correspondence and viewer feedback — your participation helps make this job a blast. Many thanks also for all the kind words that have made their way to my inbox… I appreciate them all.

Now, let’s talk necks!

I receive mail from Wolfgang owners on a steady basis asking how to best care for their Wolfie’s neck and fingerboard. Having done even further research on the subject, I wanted to take the time to share a couple of great tips with you which will help keep your guitar’s neck in prime shape.

Since the Wolfgang’s neck is totally unfinished, some regular maintenance is required to get rid of all the dirt and residue left behind that results from routine playing. Although I’m sure there are many procedures that can get the job done, I feel these two techniques really produce the best results.

Technique #1 — For lighter or more frequent cleanings:

There’s a great product on the market called Endust (that specific brand name, which comes in a red can — don’t use Pledge or any other substitute!!!), which is a no-wax cleaning spray specifically designed for use on fine furniture. I have used the product for several years with outstanding results on different varieties of rosewood as well as ebony, and most recently on my own Wolfgang. Before endorsing this product here, I contacted Endust’s parent company, Kiwi Brands Inc., to ensure its safe use on unfinished wood surfaces like the Wolfgang’s maple neck. I discovered that Endust leaves behind no residue, and is completely free of fluorocarbons; it’s mild cleaning formula is primarily alcohol-based; and that it’s only other ingredients besides the little bit of fragrance (which disappears completely) are all-natural, citrus-based oils. This is a perfect combination of ingredients for cleaning your Wolfgang’s neck, which you will see more details about as you read further.

In a nutshell, It’s a great, safe way to clean and condition your Wolf’s neck and fingerboard at the same time!

MY instructions for use on the Wolfgang (somewhat contrary to the directions on the can) are:


2) Spray a small amount onto a clean, soft, dry cloth, spraying from a few inches away, NOT directly onto the wood like the can’s instructions describe. Doing so lets the propellants from the can disperse, in addition to evenly distributing the citrus oils rather than having them accumulate in certain spots. Also, you have far more control over application when using a cloth, and there’s no need to completely saturate your Wolfgang’s neck — you will get big cleaning results with relatively small amounts of the product.

3) Clean the neck and fingerboard thoroughly… and don’t leave any excess behind. Obviously, this works best during a string change, when you have some open fingerboard space and clean strings to work with.

This technique is great for more regular cleanings, and should last for three weeks to a month depending on how much you play.

Technique #2 — For SERIOUS cleaning:

(Editor’s Note: ***This technique is reserved for those of you who have some experience with guitar maintenance. I don’t recommend that novice guitarists employ this cleaning procedure; if you’re not totally comfortable with performing the steps detailed here, don’t proceed! And, as always, don’t be afraid to seek assistance from a qualified experienced player, or preferably, a guitar technician. Read the directions carefully!***)

I recently contacted a guitar service department guru at Peavey to get the current scoop on what the fine folks down south do to clean the Wolfgang’s neck. As some of you may remember from a previous Wolfgang Report, they recommend using isopropyl alcohol as the best cleaning agent to de-grunge the guitar’s neck and fingerboard. Although this works very well, I’d like to now add some additional steps that will yield primo results… and remember, these come straight from the company. (Again, this procedure works best during a string change… for more info, consult “Re-stringing the Wolfgang” from the Past Reports section for my advice on Wolfie re-stringing.)


1) Apply a small amount of isopropyl alcohol to a clean, soft, dry cloth, and apply evenly to the Wolfgang’s neck and fingerboard, working in one area at a time until it cleans up nicely. Take a look at the cloth regularly to see how much junk is being removed from your neck (amazing, isn’t it!?!), and re-apply a small amount of alcohol to another clean area of the cloth, and repeat as necessary.

2) Using some 0000-grade steel wool (nothing heavier!!! 000-grade steel wool is a tad too coarse, and will likely scuff your frets!), go over the back surface of the neck first, rubbing in long, even motions covering the area from the guitar’s body to the headstock (just make sure to stop your motions short, before reaching Eddie’s signature on the back of the headstock).

After about 20 to 30 strokes (approximately) covering the length of the neck , you should be ready to go to work on the fingerboard. **Take great care not to scratch the Wolfgang’s body when using the steel wool!!!**

3) Using a fresh chunk of steel wool, go over the Wolfgang’s fingerboard parallel to the frets, again using a steady, even rubbing motion. Start at the beginning of the fingerboard and work your way up to the last fret (this step will also polish the frets nicely — bonus!). Make sure to evenly cover the areas of fingerboard in between and close to the frets for optimum results.

You’ll also want to have another clean dry cloth handy to wipe away the fine, powdery wood residue that results from steps #2 and #3 before proceeding to step #4.

4) Once all that powder-like residue has been thoroughly cleaned away from your neck and fretboard, you’ll need to apply some lemon oil to the areas you have just cleaned (I use D’Andrea lemon oil, personally… it’s good stuff). Take in hand yet another clean cloth, sparingly apply some lemon oil to the cloth, then administer to your neck and fingerboard. Try not to get any oil on the finished areas of your Wolfie like the body or headstock… if this happens, be sure to wipe it off completely. Rub the neck gently with the cloth until you obtain a clean, dry luster. Make sure to leave no oily residue patches behind.

Technique #2 is a bit more work, but it certainly is worth all the trouble! And, it’s not the sort of thing you’ll need to do every couple of weeks… once or twice a year is just fine, again, depending on how much playing time you log.

Happy cleaning! And, as always, feel free to e-mail me should you have any questions.

Take care,

– Dan

I’m happy to say, Endust is still wax free and does an amazing job cleaning your dirty neck and keep it smelling lemony fresh.

As for getting your neck bare to begin with?  It’s not hard at all!

If you’ve got actual paint on the neck, there are numerous citrus based paint strippers out there that I am fond of.  I think Citri-Strip is the latest one you can find at all the big box stores.  My belief is it’s easier on the wood, and I’m less afraid of letting it just sit on there for a while.  Please remove your neck before applying any sort of paint remover – If you skip that step, don’t blame me when things turn out bad.

After the paint is gone (or if you have an oil/lacquer finished neck) I start with 150 grit sandpaper and do fast/light motions to get the finish off.  Use actual paper (not blocks) so you can form it to the shape of the neck.  Go progressively finer from there.  I’ll usually do a round with 200-300 grit, and one with 400 grit.

Finish things off with the cleaning steps given by Dan above.  That will get any remaining bits of finish off and leave you with a nice silky smooth bare wood neck.


So what say you?  Do you like paint on your necks?  Oil?  Nothing at all?  Debate away in the comments.