Best Oil for a Guitar Fretboard – Keep Your Guitar in Pristine Condition

Regularly cleaning your guitar is the most important thing you can do to maintain its tone and playability (as well as, of course, it’s appearance).

The fretboard is the most sensitive part of the guitar – the ‘nerve centre’ if you like – and is the most important area of the guitar to look after. When the fretboard isn’t treated, over time you risk inflicting long term damage on the resonance and quality of your guitar. Fretboards are obviously made of wood, and wood contains oils which are important to maintain the life and strength of the fibres within it. When wood becomes dry it goes brittle and breaks – this natural deterioration of wood is the reason you’ve got to keep your fretboard well oiled. If you don’t, over time your fretboard will naturally deteriorate.

Your fretboard gets a beating more than any other part of the guitar – picking up dirt, grease and perspiration from your hands. Using an oil is the only way to go to maintain long term health of your guitar.

picture of telecaster being cleaned

In this article we’re going deep dive into fretboard oils: what they are, how to apply them, and some of our favourite products on the market. Here’s the products we’ll review if you’re curious, otherwise read on.

At a Glance: Best Oil for a Guitar Fretboard on the Market

PREVIEW PRODUCT FEATURES

Music Nomad MN105 F-ONE Fretboard Oil Cleaner and Conditioner

Music Nomad MN105 F-ONE
  • Made of natural oils
  • Safe to use on unfinished fretboards
  • Cleans as well as conditions
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Gerlitz GGH Guitar Honey Fingerboard Oil

Gerlitz GGH Guitar Honey
  • Good for exotic woods
  • Non greasy
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Roche Thomas Bore Oil, 2 Oz.

Roche Thomas Bore Oil
  • Leaves you with a nice smooth finish
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Music Nomad MN702 Bore Oil Cleaner and Conditioner for Wooden Bore Instruments, 2 oz.

Music Nomad MN702 Bore Oil
  • Free from lemon extracts, water, petroleum.
  • Cleans and conditions
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Jim Dunlop 6554 Dunlop Ultimate Lemon Oil, 4 oz.

Jim Dunlop 6554 Dunlop Ultimate Lemon Oil
  • Good value
  • Easy to apply
  • Spreads really well
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Planet Waves Lemon Oil

Planet Waves Lemon Oil
  • Cleans as well as conditions
  • Lightly scented
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Kyser Lem-Oil

Kyser Dr.Stringfellows Lem-Oil
  • Handy spray applicator
  • Non-oily
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Peavey Lemon Oil

Peavey Lemon Oil
  • Cleans as well as conditions
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Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.

This is what we’ll cover…

What is Fretboard Oil?

Fretboard oil is an either natural or manmade substance that is applied to a guitar fretboard to preserve it’s longevity.

Benefits to the Guitar

Conditions your fretboard

Applying oil conditions your fretboard and gives it a protective layer which stops moisture soaking into the wood; preventing cracks or chips. In extreme cases excessive drying of the wood can cause the frets to move. This stops any of that happening.

Gives Your Guitar ‘Year Round’ Protection

As the seasons pass you know your most priced possession (after your kids, or that Lamborghini in your driveway) isn’t going to present you with any surprises next time you pull it out the case. Depending where you live, certainly in the northern hemisphere the change from summer to winter and back again can wildly change humidity levels.

Improves Resonance and Tone

If you bought your guitar new, you’ll know the feeling when you first got it home. It was pristine, wasn’t it. Over time, the wear of tear of constant use and sweaty, greasy hands on it has a negative impact. We seem comfortable changing strings regularly, but tend to forget about treating the fretboard itself. It will sound better for it, trust me.

Retaining Your Instruments Value

You’ve spent however much on your instrument, if you’re anything like me you’ll want it to retain its value (and hopefully go up). Like buying a car and never cleaning it (then wondering why it’s covered in rust), you need to take care of your guitar just the same. The fretboard is the part of the guitar that needs most attention, and anyone buying it from you will want to study the fretboard for any signs of stress.

Peace of Mind

The final benefit is a simple one: peace of mind. If you’ve spent a load on your guitar, you want it kept in tip top condition. Giving your guitar its just reward in terms of care and attention will preserve its life, plus you’ll stop worrying about it.

How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard

First of all you need to remove your strings, you can’t apply oil to a guitar with strings still in place.

Place a small amount on another clean rag or towel and rub it into the fretboard.There will be an oily residue but don’t wipe it up just yet. Let it set for a while to really let the oil soak in. Leave the fretboard for a few minutes. After the wait, grab a clean rag and rub off the oil. Keep going until you don’t see any more streaks of oil or pools gathering at the base of the frets. The wood will now have absorbed the replacement oil and all excess will saturate it.

The trick to using any of these oils is to use them sparingly. Just a few drops on clean rag – or preferably a microfibre cloth to avoid strands of material coming off. Its always better to apply the oil to the cloth first, rather than pouring directly on the wood. This helps with getting an even application of oil. A small amount it all you need to clean and entire fretboard, you’re not looking to soak the wood.

With some elbow grease, start rubbing the fretboard in a circular motion. This will buff the oil, causing it to shine. This will increase the wax finish of your guitar neck and also restore it to the original look. Small circular motions work best.

Pro-tip: once you’ve cleaned the guitar don’t put the strings back on straight away. Especially if it’s been a few years since your fretboard has been treated, leave it and come back to it in a couple of days.

Buying Guide – What to Consider When Buying Fretboard Oil

Types of Oil

Fretboard Oils come in a few varieties. You have natural mineral oils, lemon oils and oils made from petroleum distillates.

Lemon oil, being citrus based, naturally has a high acidity content – acidity happens to be a really good cleaner, hence why many people like to use it to clean (especially dirty) fretboards.

There’s one exception: don’t use nay of these oil on fretboards made of maple wood. Maple acts like a sponge and will saturate the neck. Only use oil on Rosewood or Ebony fretboards.

How Often Should I Oil My Fretboard?

I’d suggest one maybe twice a year. There’s no harm in adding small amount every time you change strings, but don’t overdo it. Once or twice a year is ideal.

Can’t I Just Use a Household Wood Cleaner?

Definitely not. Household cleaners are almost entirely water, and that’s precisely what you’re trying to protect your fretboard against. Don’t take shortcuts with your guitar, the cost of a bottle is negligible compared to the price of most guitars. You may have lemon oil in your kitchen cupboards that you use for pancakes. DO NOT attempt to use that kind of lemon oil on your guitar either. It will ruin it.

Can Oils be Used for Cleaning Other Parts of the Guitar?

Both the non-lemon and lemon oils we look at in this article are used for treating your guitar fretboard. And only your fretboard. For the rest of the guitar there exists other products.

Round-up & Mini Reviews

 

1. Music Nomad MN105 F-ONE Fretboard Oil

Music Nomad MN105 F-ONE Fretboard Oil Cleaner and Conditioner

Starting with the very popular F-One Oil by Music Nomads, it gets rave reviews whoever you talk to. Most notably it’s free of any lemon extract. Is lemon oil a bad thing? Depends who you speak to. Some think lemon oil, due to its acidity is bad for your fretboard in the long run. I can’t claim to have had any issues with lemon oil at all, and I know many people who swear by it.

PROS

  • Made of natural oils
  • Free of lemon extract, if that worries you
  • Safe to use on unfinished fretboards: rosewood, ebony and even maple
  • Cleans as well as conditions

CONS

  • Some claim it doesn’t have the softening effect that lemon and mineral oils have

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

2. Gerlitz GGH Guitar Honey Fingerboard Oil

Gerlitz GGH Guitar Honey Fingerboard Oil

Guitar Honey Fingerboard Oil by Gerlitz is a firm favourite by many a guitarist and professional. Containing petroleum distillates, you need to take a bit more care handling it, but don’t let that take anything away from the product. It rocks. It gives your fretboard a really good layer of protection and isn’t greasy or slimy. Gerlitz is also suitable for exotic woods such as Hawaiian Koa or Ziricote.

PROS

  • Great for dark woods, especially rosewood and ebony fretboards
  • Good for exotic woods

CONS

  • Contains petroleum distillates

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3. Roche Thomas Bore Oil

Roche Thomas Bore Oil, 2 Oz.

Bore Oil, if you’ve never heard about it, it a popular (but less well known) fretboard oil and good alternative to lemon oil. Used a lot by classical instrument musicians to protect their wind instruments, Bore Oil is made up of ultra-refined tree and seed oils.

PROS

  • Leaves you with a nice smooth finish

CONS

  • Doesn’t leave a shine (or sheen) like some products give you

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4. Music Nomad MN702 Bore Oil

Music Nomad MN702 Bore Oil Cleaner and Conditioner for Wooden Bore Instruments, 2 oz.

Our second Bore Oil on the list is from Music Nomads, the people behind the ever popular F-One Oil (see above). I felt this had to make it to the list as it’s a cleaner and conditioner, in contrast to the Roche Thomas Bore Oil above. Like many Music Nomad products, it seems to press the buttons of many musicians.

PROS

  • Free from lemon extracts, water, petroleum.
  • Cleans and conditions

CONS

  • None to mention

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5. Jim Dunlop 6554 Dunlop Ultimate Lemon Oil

Jim Dunlop 6554 Dunlop Ultimate Lemon Oil, 4 oz.

Now we come to the lemon oil in our list. Lemon oil seems to split the opinions of guitarists like nothing else (well, maybe the best guitarist of all time :-). Known colloquially as ‘Fretboard 65’, this is one of the best lemon oils you can get your hands on – assuming you’re in the camp that likes to use lemon oil . This product is a everything you’d want in a lemon oil – good applicator at the top, smells good without making your guitar smell like a floor detergent.

PROS

  • Really good value
  • Easy to apply with the applicator
  • Spreads really well and doesn’t feel remotely greasy once you’ve applied it

CONS

  • Is a conditioner only, not a cleaner too like the other products on our list

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6. Planet Waves Lemon Oil

Planet Waves Lemon Oil

Second on our list is a lemon oil from planet waves, part of the D’Addario family of brands. Like the Dunlop above, Planet Waves have created a reliable lemon oil that applies easily to your fretboard and leaves a smooth finish and light lemony scent. In addition to conditioning, it is also cleans your fretboard so serves as an all-in-one product.

PROS

  • Cleans as well as conditions
  • Lightly scented, not too overpowering

CONS

  • 2 Oz bottle is quite small compared to the other lemon oils on the list

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

7. Kyser Dr.Stringfellows Lem-Oil

Kyser Lem-Oil

Kysers Dr Stringfellows Lem-Oil wins the prize for best name alright, and turns out the oil is pretty great too. Non-oily, with a great spray nozzle, it polishes, protects and preserves your fretboard really well. It is not a cleaner too though, like other products on the list.

PROS

  • Handy spray applicator
  • 4 Oz bottle

CONS

  • Just conditions – no good if you also want a cleaner

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8. Peavey Lemon Oil

Peavey Lemon Oil

Our final lemon oil is one from Peavey. Doing everything you’d expect from a lemon oil, it also cleans as well as conditions your fretboard. The size of the bottle is on the small side (2 fl. oz) compared to other similarly priced products.

PROS

  • Cleans as well as conditions

CONS

  • 2 fl. oz bottle size relatively quite small
  • Quite expensive for the size

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Summary

You can’t go wrong with any of these five oils (or they wouldn’t be on the list).

For a non-lemon based product, I’d probably opt for Music Nomad’s F-ONE Fretboard Oil. Cleans, conditions and leaves a great finish.

For a lemon based oil, I’d opt for the Planet Waves product from D’Addario. Although it’s only a 2 fl. oz bottle, it cleans as well as conditions so you’re saving money there. Plus the oil itself is great quality.

 

Featured image source: Roadside GuitarsCC BY-SA 2.0

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

2 thoughts on “Best Oil for a Guitar Fretboard – Keep Your Guitar in Pristine Condition”

  1. Another vote here for Music Nomad’s F-One oil. I’ve used just about every oil on this list (and a couple that aren’t), and the F-One has become my favorite. It’s all I use now. An added bonus is that you can use it on maple boards too (though I usually don’t).

    Nice roundup!

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