How to Care Guitar Fretboard? Natural Essential Oils

Hello there,

In this article, I would like to talk about fretboard/fingerboard oils, cleaners and maintenance products in the market. I would also like to introduce you to a new concept in this product category: 100% natural essential oils!

I assume many of you (including me) have used or are still using guitar fingerboard/fretboard cleaners, conditioners and maintenance products by the big corporate companies.

Lemon Oil is not what you think!

Hydrate” and “Lemon Oil” by Planet Waves had been my go-to products for almost a decade. I’m not saying these products are completely terrible and immediately hurt your instrument. But what I am saying is that these are actually the same petroleum-based products that are sold to you with some marketing strategies.

Around 2006/2008, I was heavily using Planet Waves Hydrate. Once again, I was restringing my guitar (rosewood fingerboard) and cleaned it with Hydrate. After I removed the excess Hydrate on the fingerboard, I left it for a half-hour or so. When I came back to my room to restring my guitar, I noticed the fingerboard almost puked all of the liquid. I can not be sure and am not claiming that it did something bad to my guitar but it led me to research these products.

After long hours of research, I found out that there were already way pickier people than I could imagine! There was always a single question people were questioning.

“If it’s lemon oil, you should be able to toss it in your salad and still be alive! Would you do that?”

The answer was always no because there was a clear warning on the bottles! This is your generic warning about chemical products that may cause serious problems if you swallow them!

Planet Waves Hydrate!
They never claimed to be natural!

So what do we have to pay for a hydrating agent and a bottle of lemon oil if they were all the same? It’s simply a marketing trick.

Did you ever feel like you were doing something really refreshing to your instrument because, by the time you have opened that bottle of lemon oil, you would smell the fresh lemon, citrus tones?

Well, I did, until I started researching this topic!

So if you think that the bottle of lemon oil you get for a couple of bucks are made of lemon peel extracts, you are totally wrong!

This is why I wanted to publish this article back in the day and inform people out there.

This article was first published in 2013 when I used to have access to an essential oil company. There I had the chance to really understand what is natural and what is not!

One of the methods to produce 100% natural essential oils is cold-pressing. Cold pressing is a very traditional method in which you would smash peels, seeds, leaves into a paste then push it through filters to extract the real essence. In this company, I witnessed the end product and noticed it still contained some paste and the oil itself.

We would then separate it and end up with 100% natural essential oils. Here’s a picture of a mixture of different essential oils that we made for testing purposes.

Natural Essential Oil Mix
100% Natural Essential Oil

Do you see any similarities with the “lemon oil” you bought for yourself? I bet you don’t! It’s way thicker, dense and smells like nature!

There’s a single fact you should know about off-the-shelf products:

They are petroleum-based oils with added synthetic lemon essence which is called d-limonene!

Testing On Wooden Cutting Board & Wooden Spatula

In order to be sure it would not harm the wooden surfaces, we wanted to create a couple of samples with different oils made of dominantly lemon, orange peels, oregano, mint leaves and grape seeds, and apply them on a wooden cutting board to see the immediate effects.

Here are some test results! First, we prepared some blends with 100% essential oils. We tried them on a wooden spatula first, then on a 30 years old cutting board.

Natural Essential Oil Mix
Wooden Board and Spoon Test

As you can see four darker strips were formed, just worked perfectly! This cutting board was quite clean and dry.

However, these blends not only managed to get some deep-seated dirt off but also retained the original colour of the wood and darkened it!

You can also see the lighter strips that indicate the degraded colour of wood whereas the darker areas represent conditioned and retained state.

Note that we just used a couple of drops for each strip!

I know you’re asking for an actual test on an actual instrument! There you are!

We tested our blends on a Korean made Cort guitar which was abused and never taken care of!

Believe me, this guitar had no cleaning and conditioning or even restrung for the last 4 years!

The strings were actually rusted and breaking like glass!!! You’ll see what I mean in a second.

Abused Guitar Fingerboard Test

Please note that this is the most hardcore test ever! This was actually a very lucky moment because I had a friend who never touched, maintained and played this instrument for about 4 years!!!

Attention!

You should never allow your fretboard to suck this much dirt and rust. If you’re such a player, I suggest you give away your instrument! Shame on you!

Abused Cort Korean Made Guitar
Do you think it will work on a fretboard like this?

As mentioned before, you would never allow your instrument to develop this much dirt and rust as it might do serious harm both to your fretboard and your health!

In addition, even if you used commercial products by “trusted” brands, you would have to spend so much time removing this kind of dirt.

So we did the same, applied a bit more than usual and did that twice!

We also used an old toothbrush to scratch the sticky dirt built up in wood for four years!

Here are the results of our first attempt!

Some Progress in Cleaning Korean Made Guitar
Start to shine already?

As you can see, it was not completely clean but it was a huge improvement comparing the initial images! After our first attempt, we applied another coat and got some more toilet paper!

Almost Done!
Hungry for moisture!

We also waited for some time to let those active ingredients do the cleaning. I think this is impressive! It just worked perfectly for the worst situation of a fingerboard I have ever seen! Believe me, I had cleaned my fretboards many many times, but this was the worst one!

Notice how it darkened the fretboard a bit and removed the dirt and rust, our blend has also some conditioning essential oil which helps fretboard woods prevent getting dry a lot!

After I restrung the guitar, I took some photos in daylight in order to show how perfectly our blend worked!

Impressive Results!
Can you believe it?

I was really satisfied with the results but I wanted to go on my Ibanez AR300RE which have been excessively abused for a couple of months and finally decided to restring it. Let’s see!

Ibanez AR300 Dirty
This is the maximum dirt that can happen to my instruments!

As you can see, it could be OK for a couple of weeks more, but it started feeling kinda hardened because of my abusive playing and it’s also summer here now.

I used an old toothbrush to soften the dirt and also an old pair of socks to clean that off. After 5-10 mins of hard work, here are the results!

Ibanez AR300 Clean!
Loving it!

Notice the darkened texture of beautiful rosewood 🙂 I restrung my guitar with a set of Elixir Anti-Rust 11 – 49 and there you are! It’s ready to rock again!

Ibanez AR300 Clean and Restrung!
Just like a piece of chocolate!

Wait, I can not make my own essential oils! What I am going to do?

I know, not everyone can access a manufacturer and make their own mixture of essential oils. But there’s still hope! During my service in the musical instruments industry and also my time as a bedroom guitar nerd, I had tried many products and looked for similar attributes with 100% natural essential oils.

You can actually buy real essential oils that are optimised and made for guitar/bass fingerboards!

According to my findings, there are only 2 off-the-shelf products that have the same characteristics.

The first one I used for many years was MusicNomad F-One Oil. Unfortunately, it’s only available at Amazon, but it’s still valid!

 Music Nomad MN105 F-ONE Fretboard Oil Cleaner and Conditioner.

Please visit Amazon to read over 400 reviews on this product!

It actually goes off in time and you will see how dense and how natural it feels and smells. So I would definitely go for this one and never use any other products if you can not reach essential oils in local stores!

Additional Recommendation for Guitar NERDS!

Recently, I have discovered and tested Sandberg Fingerboard Oil, just released an article on this product too. With the help of my personal experiments and experience with guitar fretboard cleaning/care agents and oils, I strongly believe Sandberg Fingerboard Oil also features 100% essential oils. Please see my review below!

Sandberg Fingerboard Oil Review

Conclusion

I hope you have found this article helpful and insightful. As I have mentioned above, this was published back in 2013. So you are actually reading a constantly updated and optimised set of information based on very long-term, real experience.

Here in this article, I am not claiming that synthetic products will damage your fingerboard immediately, however, there’s no way we can be sure about this. I don’t know anyone who has been using these products on the same guitar, regularly for the last 30 years.

So for this reason, I prefer to stay with natural essential oils. I’m sure you will also like them and use them for many years. Wish there was a way to transmit how these real oils smell for a long time on your instruments!

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Hopefully see you in the next articles, thanks for your time and all the best!

*These brands of oils can be used on rosewood, ebony and pau ferro fretboards. It’s not recommended to use these on maple fingerboards!

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Osman