The guitar fretboard is the most sensitive part of the guitar (whether acoustic or electric) and the most important area to take care of. As well as regular polishing to remove sweat, dirt, and grease, it needs oiling every so often to keep it topped up with essential oils.
In this article, we’re going deep dive into the best product for doing this. Here’s a quick glance of them if you’re in a hurry.
At a Glance – Best Fretboard Oils on the Market
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This is what we’ll cover…
Table of Contents
- What is Fretboard Oil?
- Does My Fretboard Need Oil?
- When to Use Lemon Oil?
- How Often Should I Apply it?
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Fretboard Oil
- So, Which Should I Choose?
What is Fretboard Oil?
There are four main types:
- natural mineral
- petroleum distillates
- bore oil
- lemon oil
They’re all solutions that are applied to the fingerboard to protect it against moisture, sweat, alcohol, and grime. In essence, they provide a protective barrier, and it helps in general with maintenance.
As well as protection against all those nasties above, applying oil will condition the tonewood and stop it drying out. What are the consequences of it drying out?
Well, in extreme cases, the wood can crack and your fret wires (the bits of protruding metal) can loosen.
But enough with the scaremongering. That’s probably not going to happen.
A well-maintained fretboard definitely makes the guitar nicer to play, and no doubt improves speed and playability, as well sustain.
Does My Fretboard Need Oil?
It depends on two things:
- Firstly, which type of wood yours is made from (see below).
- Secondly, where you live. If you live in a very arid, desert-like place you should undoubtedly use one of these products, as well as keep humidity levels at the correct level as much as possible.
Dark Woods – Rosewood, Ebony, etc.
You can use any of these oils on dark, ‘unfinished’ woods such as rosewood and ebony. ‘Unfinished’ means there’s no lacquer finish on it, and has a dull, matte look to it.
Maple fretboards usually have a hard, lacquered finish on them so they actually don’t need oil. It will have no effect, and could even harm the lacquer. If you have one made of maple, a simple wipe down with gentle cleaner will suffice.
If your fingerboard is made from an exotic wood such as Hawaiian Koa, or Ziricote, then products made of petroleum distillates such as Gerlitz Honey (see below) are a great option. If you want to play it really safe, try Music Nomad’s F1 which is 100% natural mineral-based, so it won’t harm your wood.
When to Use Lemon Oil?
There is plenty of controversy about whether you should or shouldn’t use lemon oil. As an acidic solution, you need to go easy with this stuff. It’s used as a cleaning agent, so you only need it if yours is filthy and needs a really good scrub.
Let’s say you buy a used guitar that’s never had a clean, or your own ax has gone unloved for years. In that case, lemon oil is a great cleaning solution. For a newish guitar, it’s total overkill. A simple conditioner is all you need to keep the grease and grit at bay.
Note: make sure you don’t use a household cleaning product such as Lemon Pledge. These things are water-based and the last thing you should be using.
How Often Should I Apply it?
It depends on what you’re using. If you plan to use lemon oil, as it’s such a strong solution don’t use too often. If you’re using a mineral-based conditioner, then little and often is fine. Just don’t go overboard with it. Once or twice a year will suffice to keep it nicely oiled.
Can I keep the strings on while I apply it? No, you shouldn’t. You need to use these solutions when you change your strings.
There’s no harm in applying a bit every time you change them, indeed some argue it preserves the life of your strings as well, so it’s a win-win.
Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Fretboard Oil
Music Nomad MN105 F-One
F-One uses all-natural ingredients, so you needn’t worry about synthetic damage or residue on your instrument. There’s no wax included and it’s also free of lemon, making it safe for all kinds of finishes. The natural oils work to clean as well as conditions, refreshing the wood and giving it silky-smooth playability.
This oil comes in a small, 60ml bottle with a slow-drip release. You don’t need to make any extra effort not to spill it all over the place. It’s pretty reasonably priced and one small bottle will last a long time.
F-One is the perfect option for those who like to keep things natural.
- Made of natural oils.
- Free of lemon extract, so it’s safe for all kinds of wood.
- Cleans as well as conditions.
- Doesn’t have the softening effect that lemon and natural minerals have.
If you want to give your fretboard a serious clean, you’re going to need more than just oil. This 5-piece kit gives you everything you need.
As well as a bottle of the F-One (see above), you get a tube of Frine Fret Polish and 3 contoured fretboard guards (small, medium, and jumbo fret slot sizes) so you can give your fret wires the ultimate makeover.
In addition, they include a quality machine-washable microfiber suede cloth, that won’t leave shreds of cotton all over your fretboard.
Gerlitz Guitar Honey
This one contains petroleum distillates, so you need to take a bit more careful handling it, but don’t let that take anything away from this product. The petroleum distillates work to thoroughly clean and protect, but this honey should be used sparingly, to ensure that it doesn’t prematurely wear out your fretboard. It does provide a really good layer of protection, though.
The solution is neither greasy or slimy and it can be sprayed on straight from the bottle. The bottle’s around the same size as the F-One solution, and it’s similarly priced. This honey is suited to dark woods including rosewood, ebony, as well as more exotic woods. It will restore the silky smooth playability like your guitar was brand new.
It will suit people who have dark wood that’s prone to moisture, sweat, alcohol or general grime. This liquid will clean it up thoroughly and keep your strings and fingers clean as well. It’s not suited for use on a maple neck.
- Great for dark woods, especially rosewood and ebony.
- Cleans as well as conditions.
- It comes in a spray-dispenser bottle.
- It contains petroleum distillates.
- Not suitable for maple.
Bore is a popular (but less well known amongst guitarists) oil and a good alternative to lemon-based substances. It’s used a lot by classical instrument owners to protect their wind instruments and is made of ultra-refined tree and seed oils.
Like the Guitar Honey, its best applied to dark woods such as rosewood and ebony and it also should be used sparingly, to eliminate the risk of damage/wearing out of your wood.
It comes in a bottle the same size as the Honey and the F-One liquids and is easy to drip out through the small drip release. There’s no lemon in this, so it’s safe and the liquid has been filtered to eliminate impurities and residue.
The Roche Thomas Bore will suite guitarists who require a nourishing liquid to maintain and encourage smoothness across the wood. It will be less suited to those looking for something protective against grime.
- It leaves you with a nice smooth finish.
- It contains no lemon oil.
- Suited to classical instruments as well as guitar.
- Doesn’t leave a shine (or sheen) like some products give you.
- It’s unsuited to maple.
Music Nomad MN702
Another bore product, this time from Music Nomads. This bore oil is a cleaner and conditioner that’s free of lemon, water, and petroleum, so you don’t need to worry about damage or unwanted residue.
It comes in the same sized bottle as all the rest, at a similar price and has a drip release, making it easy to work with. As well as cleaning and conditioning, it protects your guitar from cracking and, like the Roche Thomas bottle, is suited to instruments beyond the guitar.
It’s made entirely of natural minerals, which nourish the fingerboard and restore the smoothness from when the instrument was brand new.
Music Nomad’s Bore Oil will suit those who are looking to lengthen the life, whether it’s rosewood, ebony, maple or something else. It might not be suited to those looking to produce a shininess or to protect their board from grime.
- Free from lemon extracts, water, petroleum.
- Cleans and conditions.
- Suits maple, rosewood, and ebony.
- Not overly protective against grime.
Dunlop Fretboard 65
Now to the lemon oils. Known colloquially as ‘Fretboard 65’, this is one of the most popular lemon-based substances. It comes with a good applicator and smells great without making your guitar smell like a floor cleaner.
Jim Dunlop’s 6554 comes in a slightly larger bottle than those we’ve already looked at and requires an applicator (included) to be applied effectively. Once applied, it removes grime and leaves a protective layer to prevent another layer from forming.
The cleanliness leaves it feeling brand new and has the added benefit of a fresh, lemony smell.
It will suit those who get grime on their fretboard and want to wash it away quickly and easily. It’s less of a conditioner than some of the other bottles, so it might not be right for those who are looking for something to simply nourish their wood.
- Great value and a large bottle.
- Easy to apply with the applicator.
- Spreads really well.
- It won’t be effective with maple.
- It lacks the conditioning qualities of some more advanced oils.
Like the Dunlop above, this one by Planet Waves is another good lemon oil cleaner that applies easily and leaves a smooth finish and light lemony scent. It cleans away grime and also conditions, and prevents against drying and cracks.
It comes in a small, 59ml bottle and is very affordable. This cleaner and conditioner should be used sparingly, on rosewood or ebony to reduce deterioration and keep your guitar playing like new. It also has a fresh, lemony scent.
The D’Addario lemon oil will suit those with a rosewood or ebony fretboard, who wish to keep their frets clean and protect their boards from drying and cracking. It will be less suited to those looking for something to encourage shine or long-lasting protection.
- 2-in-1 cleaner and conditioner.
- Lightly scented, not too overpowering.
- 2 Oz bottle is quite small compared to the other lemon oils.
- Unsuitable for maple.
Kyser Dr.Stringfellows Lem-Oil
Kyser’s offering polishes, protects and preserves really well. It’s not designed as a cleaner, unlike other products on the list, but is designed to keep the fretboard lubricated to give it a longer life.
This oil comes in a 4 oz bottle that has a handy spray applicator, making it easy to apply as well as good value for money. It adds a satisfying smoothness, which can help you to play smoother as well as faster and it also cleans, despite not being marketed as a cleaning product.
It will suit those wishing to keep the wood lubricated. It will be less suited to those looking for a heavy-duty cleaning product, although it does work to remove dirt.
- Handy spray applicator.
- 4 Oz bottle.
- Lubricates to enable longevity.
- It doesn’t clean as well as some others on the list.
- Unsuitable for maple.
Peavey Lemon Oil
Our final lemon oil is from Peavey. This one works well as a cleaner and conditioner. It contains petroleum distillates, so it needs to be used sparingly but this does give a protective layer against grime, sweat, and dust.
It lubricates the wood and can be poured via its small drip-release onto a cloth before you rub it in. The size of the bottle is on the small side (2 fl. oz) compared to other similarly priced products, but this does make it nicely portable.
As with other lemon-based products, it’s unsuitable for use with a maple.
The Peavey lemon oil will suit those looking for a cleaner and conditioner. It won’t be suited to those who are looking for something gentle, as it contains petroleum distillates as part of its protection against grime.
- Cleans protects and conditions.
- Easy to apply.
- It offers long-lasting protection.
- 2 fl. oz bottle size relatively quite small.
- Quite expensive for the size.
- It contains petroleum distillates.
So, Which Should I Choose?
The first decision you’ll probably need to make is whether to go for a lemon-based or a non-lemon based product. This will depend on whether you want something that’s suitable for maple or not.
If you’re going for lemon oil, the Peavey product offers 3-in-1 functionality but can be harsh and needs to be used with care, whilst Jim Dunlop’s and D’Addario’s products clean and condition but don’t work as effective protectors. The other lemon-based oil: Kysers is mainly a conditioner, rather than something you’d use to clean or protect your fretboard.
If you require or would just prefer oil that’s not lemon-based, but want to keep things as natural as possible, Music Nomads’ F-One or Bore Oil products might be better for you. F-One will be best if your priority is to get a silky-smooth finish, whilst Bore Oil is more likely to increase the life of your guitar.
Roche Thomas also does a Bore Oil that’s very similar to Music Nomads’ product and will suit those who also play orchestra instruments as it’s popular amongst clarinetists and string players. It will also be ideal for those who wish to avoid any unnecessary shine, as this keeps anything that’s originally matte in its initial state. Whichever of these oils you choose, we hope that it helps you to enjoy your guitar to the max for a long time.