Serious musicians understand the importance of maintaining and caring for their instruments. For guitarists and bassists, fretboard care is a top priority. The type of wood a fretboard is crafted from determines what kind of care is appropriate. Untreated woods like ebony, rosewood, koa and mahogany benefit from oiling. Maple -- and other varnished fretboards -- should be cleaned without oils.
Linseed oil is the most trusted oil for cleaning and polishing an untreated fretboard. It conditions and preserves the wood without causing any adverse chemical reactions. Most highly respected commercial fretboard cleaning products contain contain linseed oil as a primary ingredient, though many guitarists prefer instead to use straight linseed oil. Regardless of which type of product you choose, always work with small amounts of oil at a time, and rub the oil into the wood following the direction of the grain.
Concerns Regarding Lemon Oil
Lemon oil is often recommended for use on fretboards, but it should not be used on untreated woods. Lemon oil and other citrus oils contain d-limonene, which is a strong solvent capable -- over long periods of repeated use -- of loosening the bindings and trim on a guitar. Furthermore, most lemon oil products contain silicone or waxes that leave residues behind on the fretboard.
Furniture polishes often contain lemon oil, waxes, detergents, water and petroleum distillates -- all of which are detrimental to the life of an untreated fretboard. However, once a treated fretboard has been cleaned, a fine spray of furniture polish is acceptable. It should be understood that using polish on a treated fretboard does not benefit the wood, but simply adds luster and improves the smoothness of the surface.
In the search for the perfect fretboard oil, musicians have tried just about anything. Mineral oil, olive oil, baby oil, orange oil and even motor oil have all been tried and lauded at one time or another. While mineral oil is likely the safest of these alternative choices, all contain agents, solvents or additives that can cause more harm than good for your fretboard.
Cleaning Treated Fretboards
While treated fretboards do not need to be oiled, they still need to be cleaned from time to time. Many musicians and luthiers recommend using a 000-grade steel wool pad to scrub the neck thoroughly, followed by a buffing with a clean, natural fiber rag. Afterward, a small amount of high-grade furniture polish may be used to enhance the shine and sleekness.
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