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Raw and Smooth or Sticky and Safe ?
by Michele Christopher
Raw and Smooth or Sticky and Safe? A quick and dirty guide to guitar necks
Have you ever walked out to an old wood deck that hasn’t been taken care of very well? The wood is splitting and splintered. It’s spreading out from years of water and gunk expanding and contracting inside all of its pores and grain. Well, if you play a guitar with an unfinished neck you are chancing doing the same thing to it.
When you play your guitar, you are transferring oil, dirt and anything else that’s on your hands onto your guitar neck. On a finished neck, this grime builds up on the surface creating a sticky residue. On an unfinished neck, this gunk works its way into the grain of the wood and over time can cause warping, cracking and splintering.
So, what do you do?
You could always play a well-finished neck – the kind found on most Gibson and Gibson knock-off guitars. I play on such a neck. To be honest, it’s not my favorite. My earliest playing experiences were with Ibanez and Jacksons who both sport a lot of unfinished necks. But, having witnessed firsthand what can happen to an unfinished neck, I was happy to have that extra protection.
If you have a guitar with a deep finish, the most important thing is to always have a polishing cloth with you. Wipe down that neck often. The extra polishing will help keep the playing surface smooth and free of grime.
Some necks appear to be unfinished, but actually have a satin finished neck. This is a coat of lacquer that’s been textured. It’s not exactly smooth, but it doesn’t hinder you’re playing either. At first, it doesn’t seem to stick to your hand or anything. The problem with this finish is that over time, the grime from you hands will build up in the textured finish and you’ll begin having the same problems that you do with a finished neck. The problem with this textured finish is that cleaning it is far more difficult than a clear, flat finish. Sometimes, a polishing cloth won’t get the gunk out very well and a cleaning solution may have to be used. Be careful and make sure to only use products that have been specifically manufactured for instrument cleaning. You can damage the finish or your instrument if you use cleaning products that are intended for other thing, such as furniture polish.
If you have an unfinished neck, there are a couple of things you can do. The most important thing to do is to use a polishing cloth after every time you play. If you have sweaty hands, use the cloth often during play. When you notice that the grime is building up, you can sand your neck lightly with a small-grained sandpaper. This will remove most
Personally, I think the best option is to use a light coat of Tung Oil. Tung oil is a wood finisher that is made up of pure tung oil and varnish. You can use very light coats on your guitar neck that will leave an almost satin-like feel to it. Over time, the finish wears, all you have to do clean the neck and re-apply another light coat of finish. Of course, you still have some of the problems with gunk forming, and you’ll still have to keep that polishing cloth handy, but to me, it’s the best balance between a raw and finished neck.
In the end, it all comes down to what’s important to you. How long do you plan to keep the instrument? What is your personal preference?
If you’re playing a $200 - $500 instrument, it may not be that important to you, but if you’ve dropped over a grand on a new guitar, you probably want to protect that investment.