Olive Oil For Fretboard? (read this first)
Before we get to the olive oil question, here’s a question to consider; Why oil the fretboard? Many people say (when questioned) that the reason they oil the fretboard of their guitar is to prevent the wood from drying out. Which will, over time, cause it to crack, split and in extreme cases cause the frets to fall out.
If you look at this logically, once the wood has dried out, soaking it in oil, which acts as a moisture barrier is counter-productive. Guitars are predominantly made from wood and wood can become damaged, even warped if kept in the wrong conditions. But that’s a humidity issue.
Guitars should be kept at a humidity of between 40 to 50% this will prevent any damage to the wood including the fretboard. Too much humidity is worse than too much dryness but both are bad.
Maple necked guitars have lacquer applied to the fretboard as a seal, these definitely don’t need oiling (from a moisture point of view). But many darkwood guitars don’t have sealed fretboards which means they’re exposed to the elements including too much moisture or conditions that are too dry.
Using Oil To Clean & Maintain The Fretboard
Are we saying don’t ever use oil on the fretboard of your guitar? No we’re not, what we are saying is use the correct type of oil, use it for the correct purpose, use it in the correct manner and at the correct time.
Our fingers carry natural oils, dirt, dust, sweat and a whole host of other undesirables that get transferred to the fretboard of our guitars.
Add to that the remnants of your dinner, greasy chicken, burgers, ketchup, mustard, sauce, you get the picture. Over time that stuff will mess up your strings and fretboard and it needs to be removed.
How Often Should You Apply Oil To The Fretboard?
Most guitar manufacturers recommend applying oil to the fretboard every six months to remove any sweat dirt and all that other nastiness and keep the strings sounding fresh and the wood looking sharp.
Can You Use Olive Oil On The Fretboard?
There are a few schools of thought on olive oil, firstly if you do use olive oil on your guitar it should be extra virgin olive oil because that’s the best and in theory will do less damage. The flip side of the coin is you should never use olive oil on a guitar at all.
The argument is olive oil, like other culinary oils will go rancid over time. Now, rancid oils can cause illness if consumed, and will give off an odour that’s not particularly pleasant but does that harm the fretboard? According to some, rancid olive oil can cause the wood to rot, strings to rust and the frets to fall out.
We have found no actual evidence for any of this apart from as the olive oil ages, it can form a sticky substance that isn’t too good to play through. On the whole, we wouldn’t recommend using olive oil on your favourite or best guitar. If you’ve invested a heap of money on an instrument it’s best to invest another couple of quid on a decent guitar oil.
Can You Use Cooking Oil On A Guitar Fretboard?
Cooking oils have been designed to cook with, not remove dirt, dust and grime from fretboards. Using any type of cooking oil will eventually lead to the fretboard being in a worse condition than it was when you started. It will collect dirt, dust, dead skin and just about anything else which will all stick to the fretboard.
Can You Use Coconut Oil On The Fretboard?
Coconut oil will last longer than other types of oil but eventually it will decompose and then it will attract dirt and dust. Plus coconut oil is a solid at room temperature which would make it difficult to work with.
Can You Use WD40 On The Fretboard?
WD40 is designed to be used on metals, it might be ok for use on guitar strings (if you can stand the smell) but we wouldn’t recommend it for any of the wooden parts of your guitar.
Can You Use Vinegar On The Fretboard?
Vinegar is an acid, we would never put any acid onto a prized instrument. Plus, even if it was safe, why would you want your guitar to smell like a bag of chips?
What Oils Should You Use On A Fretboard?
There are a number of oils that are perfect for using on guitar fretboards including;
The best oils for use on a fretboard are mineral oils. Which is good news because mineral oil is cheap and readily available at any hardware store. 5 litres costs around £15.00 and you will need around 5 to 10 drops to finish your fretboard which means buying any more than ½ litre will probably last longer than you will.
Mineral oil is the main ingredient in baby oil, in fact, baby oil is mineral oil with added fragrance but we would recommend using pure, unfragranced mineral oil. Mineral oil is alkaline as opposed to olive oil which is acidic.
Bore oils are primarily made for use on woodwind instruments but work equally well on wooden guitars. They are made from a mixture of seed and tree extracts, 100% natural, organic, and contain no alcohol, or water.
Lemon oils are often too strong for use on guitars, and should only be used sparingly. We would recommend using a proprietary guitar lemon oil product like Dunlops Lemon Oil (often called Fretboard 65).
These can be used for treating guitar fretboards of all kinds except maple or rosewood. They clean, condition and protect from future grime, moisture and sweat.
What About Guitar Oils?
Some of the guitar manufacturers and string makers produce their own fretboard cleaning and maintenance oils. These are usually mineral oil based but with added ingredients such as a fragrance etc. Use these oils sparingly to ensure the long life of your guitar.
Check online for various brands and types, some of the more popular include;
- RotoSound Lemon Oil
- Dunlop Fretboard 65
- D’Addario Lemon Oil
- MusicNomad F-ONE
- Ernie Ball Wonder Wipes
- Dunlop 6524 Fingerboard Cleaner
- GHS Fast Fret
- Other brands are available
What Should Be Used To Clean Guitar Fretboards?
We would always recommend staying away from all vegetable oils, woodworking oils, WD40, grease or anything other than a proprietary fretboard cleaner. Any of the ones on the list are safe, or search online or instore. Never use any homemade cleaning products on your fretboard and if in doubt, leave it out.
How To Use Oil On A Guitar Fretboard
You will need; A soft microfibre cloth and a proprietary fretboard oil.
- Remove Guitar Strings
To access the whole area of the fretboard you will need to remove the strings from your guitar.
- Remove Any Surface Dust With A Soft Cloth
Using a cloth that will not leave any fibres behind, wipe the fretboard to remove any surface dust, dirt or sweat.
- Use A Minute Amount Of Oil
Drip a miniscule amount of fretboard oil to one corner of a clean soft cloth and apply to the fretboard. Avoid getting the frets wet (this is why we use a small amount of oil so we can control it better).
- Allow To Soak In
Follow the instructions on the bottle for how long the oil should remain on the fretboard.
- Remove any traces of surface oil
Using a clean, dry cloth, gently buff the wood until all residue oil is removed and the fretboard appears clean and shiny.
- Replace Strings
We find this is the ideal time to replace our old guitar strings with a new set.
Frequently Asked Questions
The only oil we recommend you to use on your fretboard is mineral oil.
It depends on what the fretboard is made from, maple and rosewood fretboards should not be oiled.
You can use baby oil on your fretboard. Baby oil is just a mineral oil with added fragrance.
You should oil your fretboard every six months.