Applying oil to fretboard - rant! ;)

old goat

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Well, of course you wouldn't want to moisten the inside of an acoustic - that's absurd. The sides need to retain their shape and the wood needs to maintain its integrity. A fretboard is a different story. You're not asking a fretboard to contort, work with bracing and fight tension the same way the back and sides of an acoustic guitar need to.

I've been using lemon oil to condition rosewood fretboards since the early 80s, on an irregular basis. I haven't had any problems one way or the other - no fretboards have dried out & cracked due to nothing being applied, no fretboards have unseated frets or separated from the neck, or suffered any ill effects due to having been somehow "over-hydrated" by one occasional application of lemon oil. I see it as no different than applying lemon oil to your woodwork or furniture once in a while or wax to your car. It looks nice. If I lived in a desert climate, I suppose it's possible that it might help prevent cracking, like applying lotion to your hands on a dry winter day.

It's very important to finish both sides of a piece of wood to maintain stability. You want both sides of a board to absorb or release moisture at the same rate. Otherwise one side expands and contracts faster than the other and the wood warps. This is woodworking 101. So why are the insides of hollow bodied guitars not finished? Because a) it would be too hard to do, b) the various parts of a guitar, including the bracing, stabilize each other, and c) the wood is thin enough to prevent moisture content gradients. Nonetheless, sometimes hollow bodied guitars fall apart, and moisture instability is one of the reasons. That's why the owners of fine acoustic guitars try to maintain them in a stable humidity.
If you did manage to oil the inside of your guitar it would have no adverse effect on its integrity.
Oil will do nothing to help hydrate wood in a desert climate. Hand lotion is mainly water, not oil.
Oiling your woodwork and furniture is not the same as oiling an unfinished fretboard. Unless you have handmade oil finished furniture (I do) your furniture and woodwork has a film finish. The polish doesn't go into the wood. All it does is make the furniture shiny for a brief time. Oil is a reasonable finish for furniture that isn't going to get hard use, but it has to be renewed periodically --mine is way overdue--and it will wear off quickly if the piece is handled a lot, like a guitar neck or fretboard.
 

Mark Robinson

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You don't have to do anything, but you can do whatever you want. I play my guitars a lot and the fingerboards get dirty even though I wash my hands before I play. So about once a year or so, I clean the rosewood boards with either naphtha, or just rub a bunch with the classic old English lemon oil, which is not "old", not "lemon" and not " English". If the board looks chalky or uneven, I'll use the dark"scratch cover" product or even Briewax, which is beeswax and other crap, with what smells like xylene. That will help fill porous boards. It all works. I've yet to damage a guitar with any of it. Some of my rosewood boards have survived 30 years of my assorted unnecessary treatments.
 

jfb44

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625
Just ask/use what the violin luthiers use. Who knows they might know something about how to "oil" fretboards.
 

jcs

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8,093
valid point

also fine, naphtha is the go-to stuff for dissolving 'finger cheese". the argument is just over whether adding some kind of oil afterwards accomplishes anything.

unless you're eddie VH, that maple board is fully finished like the rest of the neck (and the body) and thus oil is pointless anyway.
I don't play my maple board guitars a lot so I've never had a lot of any gunk...being arthritic and diabetic, I wash dishes a lot to warm up my hands and sort of exercise them but my hands tend to be almost "too clean" compared to many players I know.

I need to get some naptha....though i rarely (if ever) clean my boards more than once...I tend to sand the board down some with 1000 grit than 2000 grit, then 0000 steel wool (frets as well)...then a bit of mineral oil.
 

benxiwf

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Clarinets are pretty universally oiled inside the bore on occasion to help them to not crack. This has been pretty well accepted for a long time. I don't think lightly oiling on occasion has adverse effect.
 

jcs

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I've wondered about the 50's Fender maple boards that obviously have the finish worn off the boards and the tendency of more players that own these guitars to never clean the boards.

I am guessing the finger oils are basically keeping a film of oil on the maple boards where the finish is gone?
 

Rocco Crocco

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2,507
Lemon/mineral oil doesn't clean anything. It pushed the dirt around. Clean the board with naptha or Murphy's Oil Soap, then use oil to condition it.

OP why do you care so much about what other people do to their stuff? Can you post one story about anyone who experienced negative consequences while using a fretboard conditioner in moderation?
 

Rocco Crocco

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2,507
I've wondered about the 50's Fender maple boards that obviously have the finish worn off the boards and the tendency of more players that own these guitars to never clean the boards.

I am guessing the finger oils are basically keeping a film of oil on the maple boards where the finish is gone?
Maple (and ebony as well) has a very tight grain and will not absorb any oil. It is also much more durable and thus doesn't need any special care.
 

jcs

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Maple (and ebony as well) has a very tight grain and will not absorb any oil. It is also much more durable and thus doesn't need any special care.
True...although I have a solid maple table that has some water stains....its from the 50's (I think) so it has to be some sort of factory finish that is porous.
 

fuzz_factor

Silver Supporting Member
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I hit it with a slight misting of Guiness, EXTRA Stout via spray bottle, then Iapply a thin coating of Jergens with a q-tip. I got all the tonez.

But seriously, I use a Gorgamyte cloth on my rosewood boards about once a year. Gets that sucker clean, the frets nice and smooth, and darkens/evens out the look of my board. It's freakin great! Steel wool and ax wax, lemon oil does just fine too. I like my Geet feeling silky smooth and so fresh and clean. To each their own though.

Just curious... When I used a Miracle cloth (pretty sure it's exactly the same as Gorgamyte) for the first time, it turned pretty black after wiping the frets. If I hit the fretboard with same part of the cloth that touched the first, a little of the blackness seemed to wipe onto the fretboard. It wiped right off, but I'm wondering if you have that problem? Do you mask the board off and do the frets first, or do you just wipe the everything at once.
 

VaughnC

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Just ask/use what the violin luthiers use. Who knows they might know something about how to "oil" fretboards.

Well, violins don't have frets. And, if you analyze how frets are held in place and the effects of softening the surrounding supporting structure with oil can be, that's where the concern is. So, if you keep oil from wicking under the frets and into the slots where the end grain drinks it up, you'll probably be ok. If you've ever refretted a guitar with an over oiled fretboard and seen how easy the old frets come out maybe you'd understand.

General consensus though is that, due to the molecule sizes involved, oiling a fretboard is purely cosmetic and doesn't help it in any way. But, it's your guitar to do with as you see fit ;).
 
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JPF

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Just curious... When I used a Miracle cloth (pretty sure it's exactly the same as Gorgamyte) for the first time, it turned pretty black after wiping the frets. If I hit the fretboard with same part of the cloth that touched the first, a little of the blackness seemed to wipe onto the fretboard. It wiped right off, but I'm wondering if you have that problem? Do you mask the board off and do the frets first, or do you just wipe the everything at once.
I believe Miracle Cloth and Gorgomyte are the same. I use the latter, and had the same experience you did. What I do now is use one small square inch to clean each of the frets, and use a fresh square to then clean the fingerboard in between the frets. No worries...
 
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jcs

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Well, violins don't have frets. And, if you analyze how frets are held in place and the effects of softening the surrounding supporting structure with oil can be, that's where the concern is. So, if you keep oil from wicking under the frets and into the slots where the end grain drinks it up, you'll probably be ok. If you've ever refretted a guitar with an over oiled fretboard and seen how easy the old frets come out maybe you'd understand.

General consensus though is that, due to the molecule sizes involved, oiling a fretboard is purely cosmetic and doesn't help it in any way. But, it's your guitar to do with as you see fit ;).
Makes a lot of sense.
 

4styx

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Will an oiled fretboard vibrate as freely as an un-oiled one? Does it matter to you?:dunno
 

Tone Loco

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Well, violins don't have frets. And, if you analyze how frets are held in place and the effects of softening the surrounding supporting structure with oil can be, that's where the concern is. So, if you keep oil from wicking under the frets and into the slots where the end grain drinks it up, you'll probably be ok. If you've ever refretted a guitar with an over oiled fretboard and seen how easy the old frets come out maybe you'd understand.

General consensus though is that, due to the molecule sizes involved, oiling a fretboard is purely cosmetic and doesn't help it in any way. But, it's your guitar to do with as you see fit ;).
So due to the molecules involved oil is purely cosmetic when it comes to wood.
And it can soften wood.
 

VaughnC

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19,116
Will an oiled fretboard vibrate as freely as an un-oiled one? Does it matter to you?:dunno
If the oil is a very light surface application and doesn't work its way into the fret slots, I can't imagine it having much effect on vibration. However, if the wood is saturated and enough to loosen the frets, that would have to have some effect. Enough to hear?...maybe, maybe not...but why take the chance if there's no benefit to oil?
 

VaughnC

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19,116
So due to the molecules involved oil is purely cosmetic when it comes to wood.
And it can soften wood.
Yup, if you're trying to block moisture, due to the molecule sizes involved, oil isn't very effective.
 

rsm

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I heard Quentin Tarantino has a method for vintage Martins. o_O

never oiled any fretboard.
 

jcs

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I think I used Tung Oil on a Kramer Strat with RW board many years back (which I still own).

The thought was the Tung Oil would seal the porous rosewood to be much like maple.....seems like we had discussion about this on some of the forums many years back.
 

badhorsie551

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2,142
I have never oiled any of my guitars fretboard.

Theres alot of myths when it comes to guitars. Its hard to seperate whats true and what information is out there to pay for a service or product.
 




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