Polishing and Cleaning A Bass
Here at the String Emporium (bass specialists) we often get calls
or questions regarding how to clean and/or polish a bass. While we
are hesitant to give specific details on any customer's bass (over
the phone) without seeing the actual instrument, we can give
generalized, safe cleaning and polishing guidelines so that players
wanting to upkeep their bass, will not do any harm.
So here are some generalized guidelines on what one can do:
First, never use furniture polish that you can buy in a spray can
at the grocery store. These often have ingredients that can
really damage the varnish or finish on your bass. The first
major ingredient in these products, is alcohol. While yes,
some really good violin/bass polish products offered at good violin
shops have alcohol in them, they tend to contain way less than what
you will find in a can of "Pledge".
Alcohol is a major ingredient in French Polish, and other
varnishes. It also can be so strong that it can quickly melt,
desolve or smear a totally fine and perfect varnish finish on any
violin family instrument.
Buy some ready made polish that is strictly made for violins or
related instruments. As bass players, we all know that we have
to cover a lot more 'square footage' on our basses than violins and
so these small (not inexpensive) bottles of varnish can get used up
pretty quickly on a bass. Still though, in this case it is
better to be safer than sorry!
How to clean a bass. Before you even take out your polish,
your bass must be clean! Make sure all of the rosin residue on
the top and sides are removed. Not doing this, you will just
make a huge mess smearing around half melted rosin and your bass top
will turn out to be one blurry, sticky top.
We use Kolstein cleaner (it's probably 95% Xylene), but is a
light red color. This is strong stuff and one sure not to do
this indoors if possible. Otherwise, should be a well
ventilated area! Use rubber gloves and good paper towelling.
I fold the paper towel in quarters and re-fold it unitl all the
clean surfaces on the towel are used up (dirty) which I then throw
away and grab a new sheet. Use lots of new paper towels rather
than a rag. The rag again will just build up and re-distribute
the dirt rather than remove it.
Optimally, I like to clean a bass that is really 'gooped up' on
one day and then polish it the next. You be the judge, but for
a bass with lots of build up, by cleaning and desolving that rosin,
you are also softening up the very top surface of your varnish (!)
yikes!! So by waiting until the next day, it gives your
varnish a chance to harden up again so that when you again put a
polish on the bass, you won't harm it by softening it yet again.
Folks, this is what 'polish' does: It softens the very top
surface of your varnish so that it is like new again. A "new"
varnish has ingredients that shine when fresh and polish
refreshes the old ingredients. This is why one has to be super
careful: There are a lot of stories out there of players that
liked keeping their bass (or any other instrument) so polished and
that they did it so often, that they actually removed so much
varnish it eventually needed to have someone re-varnish the
instrument. A quick way to de-value a nice bass as well!!
Some points do's and dont's:
- clean the varnish first in a well ventilated area (fan) or
outdoors so that you won't be breathing in the vapors
- use paper towels, with rubber gloves and replace the paper
towels often so that you won't just be smearing around dirt and
- don't use too much pressure (softened varnish..right???),
but just a little to get the goop off without bothering the
- depending on how much you might have 'heated up' your
varnish in the cleaning, see if you can finish with the polish
the very next day or two later.
- use a good polish and not store bought spray can
- polish your bass when you know that you can leave it in the
room (without the cover on it!) for sometime, at least one day.
Why? Sometimes you can polish (and heat) up your varnish so much
that when you put the cover on it, the varnish can be so soft
then that the nylon fabric from the cover could have a reaction
and leave a lasting impression on your bass