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Cleaning an upright bass

We are often asked: How to clean an upright bass?  Generally speaking and depending on the bass, the dirt, the age and type of varnish, there are a few good, (safe) ways to clean an upright.  First, one should NEVER use a commercial furniture spray polish or wax on a good bass. Why not?  These furniture polish sprays mostly have alcohol and other type of solvents that can thin the varnish, or damage it in other ways.

Next, ask yourself what kinds of debris you are cleaning off.  We sometimes get a double bass that seems as though it has never been cleaned, and has a think layer of rosin stuck on top of the finish, primarily accumulating around the bridge area and top of inner ribs (called C-bouts).  Other basses, maybe because the player hardly ever used a bow, would just have dirt from handling or on top of the shoulders. 

While every bass is different, we like to start with a mild cleaner that will dissolve rosin and dirt.  The strongest cleaners, (with lots of Xylene) work great, but can actually take some varnish off with it!  (Yikes!!!).  Many don't realize that this is why some of these cleaners work so well is that they "heat" up the varnish so much (to dissolve the rosin) that they can take a thin layer of varnish off with it as well. Some basses actually have had to be re-varnished because the owner cleaned and polished so often.  This is rare and should teach of us to wipe off our basses more often.

We like to use a product called Citri-solv which you can either find in the supermarket, or at any Home Depot.  Always try an isolated spot (like underneath the bass near the endpin) to make sure your varnish can handle this ok.  Also, use a good paper towel.  Pick out a 6" square on your bass and lightly clean off the rosin, rubbing lightly and with the grain if at all possible.  When the paper towel is dirty, throw it away and use another one.  This way, you will not be spreading and smearing rosin all over the bass with a dirty rag.  Clean, remove, then throw the paper towel away and repeat.  Often after a cleaning, you will always have to add some nice, oily polish back on.  (I personally like Kolsteins and another one to get is Weishar's violin polish. (It costs more, but still pretty decent knowing that this is safe for some very expensive violins!)  The Weishar's comes in slightly smaller bottles and will not last as long as a bottle of the Kolsteins.  Kolstein also makes a decent cleaner, but it is pretty strong.  Use this when the rosin is really thick or very sparingly, in a well ventilated area.  Don't be tempted to use too much at once.  Use a little bit, clean, then go over it again gently if need be.

Pick a spot (preferably out doors) and in a shaded area.  This cleaning stuff can smell up the whole house and anything that makes you dizzy, cannot be good! Whether you realize it or not, the skin absorbs these chemicals, so use rubber gloves.  I prefer the tight surgical type that you can find at Costco or Home Depot.

Last (but not least) after you clean, and re-polish your bass, don't just put the bass cover on it if you can help it.  Try and leave it for a few hours.  This way, if any spots of the varnish are 'warm' or soft to the touch your bass cover won't then leave an imprint on it.