You roll out of the car dealer’s lot. That new car smell wafting through the air. If you could bottle this smell, as well as the smell of a newborn baby, you‘d be a gazillionaire!
Sadly as we know that new car smell lasts just a few weeks. Everyday getting less and less noticeable until it smells like you (or McDonalds...haha). And just as the scent of that new car smell is waning away, so is the cleanliness of both interior and exterior of your new car. So we all know that we have to wash and vacuum our cars to maintain them. Hopefully every week, but for some, at least once a year! As we have to maintain our vehicles to keep them in tip top shape, so too must we clean and maintain our ukulele—and not once a year either!
Learning how to clean a ukulele is an essential skill every ukulele player should know how to do. Cleaning your ukulele is one of the most important aspects of proper ukulele maintenance other than your typical strings changes and weekly wipe downs (full gloss ukulele are major finger print magnets).
Over time, with regular practice, your ukulele will naturally accumulate dust, sweat, grime, and corrosion. If not properly cleaned, your ukuleles overall performance may suffer. And if you want your ukulele to last a lifetime, then it is crucial that you clean it properly to ensure longevity. You remember seeing that old man down the street wiping and waxing his car under his garage. That car was probably at least 25 years old and still running like a dream! Your ukulele can play like a dream in 25 years with the right amount of commitment and care.
How to Prepare Your Ukulele For Cleaning
Before you start cleaning your ukulele, there are few things you’ll need to do in preparation. Start by choosing an area where you will work on your ukulele. Choose a well-lit area to do the “examination”. When we play and practice we are sometimes unaware of things happening to the ukulele. Corrosion on the frets, gunk build up on the fret board, and dust blanketing the on the headstock and gears. So finding a place with good lighting will help you find the areas that need the cleaning.
You can choose to place the ukulele on a desk, workbench, or even your lap. When working on your ukulele it’s best to have the neck propped up at an angle at the nut. This makes it much easier to access the tuning pegs and other parts of the ukulele. It just makes the ukulele a lot easier to handle.
I would also recommend resting your ukulele on a padded work mat to ensure that you don’t damage the finish. When you’re working with a ukulele, you’ll be lifting up, flipping over, and handling it a lot, so it’s important to make sure you don’t create any scuffs or scratches. And in the case you accidentally drop your ukulele, it will fall onto something soft. Ukulele dents are pretty impossible to fix, so this is important.
Organize Your Workspace
When cleaning the ukulele, it helps to have ample room to move and neatly organize your tools and cleaning supplies. You do not want to worry about your ukulele sliding, falling or banging into anything. So, clear your work desk or bench, clean off all the dust and gunk and then place your ukulele on the table. Arrange all other supplies right next to it.
What you will need:
A micro fiber towel
Music Nomad’s premium ukulele care kit
0000 Super fine steel wool (for super corroded frets)
Painters tape (once again for super corroded frets)
Damp paper towel or vacuum.
Wash your hands before handling your ukulele. Just in case you been snacking right before.
Remove the strings
Once you have your station and all the necessary tools and products for cleaning set up, remove the ukulele strings. Removing the strings is crucial as you do not want them to come into contact with cleaning products. It also makes cleaning your fretboard a lot easier.
Here’s a pro tip: we highly recommend conducting your thorough ukulele cleans when you change your strings.
How to Clean The Ukulele Fretboard
The ukuleles fretboard is subjected to the most wear. A ukulele fretboard requires cleaning once or twice a year. Excessive dust and sweat build-up can cause permanent damage to your ukulele if not properly cleaned. Usually, when sweat buildup dries up, it evaporates and dehydrates the wood, leading to cracking, which can form permanent marks.
After taking off the strings it’s important to use painters tape to tape of the sides of the fingerboard. You will be using oil that can stain the neck if they have a matte finish. Also you will be using steel wool so you don’t want to risk a polish to the neck as well. After you’ve masked the sides of the neck, your ready to go!
First, take a small piece of 0000 super fine steel wool, about the size of dime, and gently go over the frets. This will take off any corrosion that built up over time. This will bring back the the shine and smoothness to your frets. Try and keep the passes over the frets. When your done, using a damp paper towel, or vacuum, remove the fine pieces of the steel wool. This will help clean and prep for the next step.
Next we will use Music Nomad’s premium ukulele care kit. The kit comes with F-One Oil fretboard conditioner , body cleaner, and a cleaning cloth. Taking the bottle of the F-One Oil, drop a small bead of oil between each fret. Then with the cloth, you just rub the oil into the fretboard. Be sure to rub up to the frets to get complete coverage. If you get some on the frets don’t worry. It won’t damage them. When your done, remove the painters tape from the neck.
Next we will clean and wipe down the body, neck, and headstock. Using Music Nomad’s body cleaner, first spray some on a separate microfiber cloth. Remember not to use the same cleaning cloth that was used to clean the fretboard, we don’t want to apply oil to the body. After you’ve sprayed the body cleaner on the micro fiber cleaning cloth, wipe down the body of the ukulele. This cleaner works great on both satin, matte, and full gloss finishes. Apply the same process to the neck and headstock. When you’re finished, restring your ukulele with a new set and your ready to go! You won’t smell the new ukulele smell, but it will feel like butter! (Not actual butter, but silky smooth, but not like real silk... you get the picture... haha!)
And that’s it! Do this everything 6 months (or whenever you change your strings) and your ukulele will look and feel amazing. Now keep in mind your still encouraged to wipe down your ukulele every week (and if your Jake Shimabukuro, you will wipe/massage your ukulele before you play because it opens it up and helps it sound better). Seriously, that last part is true. Jake actually wipes and massages his ukulele. Whether it helps it sound better is unknown, but it’s Jake!
My hope is that you clean and maintain your ukulele. Who knows, maybe you and your ukulele can experience a 50 year anniversary!
Keep jamming and aloha!