How to oil a rosewood guitar fretboard

Written by lisa wampler
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A well-oiled rosewood fretboard is essential to protecting your guitar's neck and its overall value. If a fretboard becomes too dry it can cause warping and cracking. Protecting your guitar's fretboard can be accomplished with very little effort. Preventive maintenance is the best insurance for any instrument.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Lemon oil approved for music instrument application
  • 2 clean cotton towels
  • Toothpicks
  • Blue painter's tape

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  1. 1

    Remove the strings from your guitar, alternating from the low E string to the high E string to prevent uneven tension on the neck, which can cause permanent neck warping.

  2. 2

    Mask off areas that you do not want oiled with the blue painter's tape. This includes any areas that are in contact with the fretboard that are hard coated with a polyester or nitrocellulose finish and any plastic parts like guitar pickups and truss rod covers.

  3. 3

    Wrap part of one cotton towel around your index finger and place the tip of your finger into the lemon oil container to lubricate the towel. This should be enough to cover about 25 per cent of the fretboard. A little can go a long way. The object is not to soak the fretboard but to lightly coat it.

  4. 4

    Apply a coat of lemon oil to the fretboard using damp towel, making strokes parallel to the frets. Your finger will allow you to add pressure to the fretboard to loosen any dirt that has accumulated. Pay attention to the fret wire. Dirt builds up along the edges of fret wire, so it's important to make sure the board is oiled in those areas. When you run out of lemon oil on the towel, repeat step three. When you've oiled the entire fretboard let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes.

  5. 5

    Clean along the edges of the fret wire gently, using the toothpick. There is little risk for damage, as the toothpick is made of a softer wood than your rosewood fretboard. The goal is to clean off built-up dirt in the edges of the frets that cannot be reached with the towel.

  6. 6

    Wipe off the fretboard with the unused clean towel. The towel should be completely dry and you should use some downward pressure to ensure that you are getting the excess oil and dirt off the fretboard.

Tips and warnings

  • The fretboard will have a new shine. However, it should not look wet to the touch. If it still looks wet, you should continue to wipe off the fretboard.
  • The fretboard will often purge unneeded oil for the first hour after application, so wait for a while before replacing your strings.
  • On some vintage guitars using any tape, even painter's tape, can cause the finish to separate from the wood when removing the tape. You should use your best judgment on using tape if you think this could be an issue.
  • Make sure that the lemon oil, or a substitute, is safe for use on your guitar.

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