There’s a wide range of fretboard oils on the market nowadays. And it’s never been easier to pick a great conditioning oil for your maple fretboard.
Just a few droplets of these oils will rehydrate dried out fretboards. But, have you ever wondered why most of these products all profess to be ‘lemon oil’?
You see, you’d be forgiven for thinking that only a super-duper specialized fretboard lemon oil product can go on your guitar. And, what’s more, that all Maple Fretboards need a conditioning oil to protect them from cracking. But, nothing could be further from the truth…
In this post, you’ll discover what really makes up the key ingredient in fretboard oils (hint: it’s not lemon oil). We also dive into the big difference between Maple Fretboards and Roasted Maple Fretboards. And you will find out why this difference matters when it comes to applying any conditioning oil to them.
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Is Lemon Oil Good For Guitar Fretboards?
If you’re talking about pure lemon oil, (the kind squeezed from the lemon rind), then no. This pure form of lemon oil is incredibly acidic, so much so that it can hurt certain guitar finishes.
And, in extreme cases, it can disintegrate the very glue keeping frets in place.
However, when it comes to guitars, lemon oil products aren’t actually made from pure lemon. Instead, they are made from a pure refined version of mineral oil, one so filtered that it’s been classed as food grade safe (i.e. it is consumable).
This non-toxic version of mineral oil is made from petroleum distillate. And fretboard oils mostly contain this refined ingredient. A few drops of lemon oil are simply thrown into the recipe to add aroma to otherwise scent-free mineral oil.
And What Exactly Is Mineral Oil?
The type of mineral oil we’re talking about here is pure 100% food grade mineral oil, the kind you can get from any local pharmacy. This is the non-drying non-toxic version of petroleum distillate, that’s often used for sealing cutting boards.
This oil is used for conditioning dry fretboards specifically because it does two things;
1). Mineral Oil Doesn’t Dry
If wood isn’t sealed, (as in it has been coated by a durable film), then it is susceptible to cracking.
So, to prevent this from happening, we apply a little oil to it. This oil ‘hydrates‘ wood by preventing it from absorbing moisture, and acts like a natural tree oil by coating wood fibers.
A non-drying oil does not dry, and does not cure or harden. So, it can be reapplied regularly without building up resin on the surface.
2). Mineral Oil Doesn’t Go Rancid
As a petroleum-sourced oil, mineral oil doesn’t run the risk of going off. This is something that can happen if you apply an unrefined culinary oil onto any wooden surface.
Related Post: Is Olive Wood Good Enough For A Cutting Board?
OK, So Can You Use Mineral Oil On A Maple Fretboard?
It depends on the exact type of maple wood.
You see, you can get guitar fretboards in two general types of Maple wood; Maple and Roasted Maple.
Maple Wood Fretboards:
Maple Fretboards are made from regular maple timber. They haven’t been put through any kind of special treatment to make it more durable. Which means that this type of Maple wood needs a sealant to protect it. Otherwise it will easily dry out, and crack if enough water vapour (ie humidity) gets into it’s grain.
So, most Maple fretboards are finished fretboards. And what this means is that the fretboard has been coated with a permanent sealing finish (such as Tung oil, Tru oil, or Polyurethane).
These permanent sealing finishes will fill in wood pores, and solidify into a moisture resistant coat. And this coat is so solid that a conditioning oil cannot get past it (or sink into the wood grain).
So, don’t use conditioning oils on finished fretboards. All that’ll end up happening is that mineral oil will sit on the surface of maple, leaving the fretboard too greasy to play.
Roasted Maple Fretboards:
Roasted Maple is a more durable version of regular Maple wood. That’s because Roasted Maple has been put through a heat-process that virtually caramelizes natural Maple timber.
As a result, Roasted Maple looks much darker in comparison to regular Maple lumber. However, Roasted Maple is much more moisture-resistant and stable as a result of this heat-process.
So, fretboards made from Roasted Maple are left unfinished, as they aren’t as vulnerable to moisture-damage as regular Maple fretboards.
However, unfinished Roasted Maple fretboards will still need a conditioning oil treatment every 6-12 months (to prevent them from completely drying out). Especially as this particular type of wood doesn’t have much natural tree oil to protect it (like say Rosewood).
How Long Should You Leave Mineral Oil On A Roasted Maple Fretboard?
If you simply want to condition a fretboard (and not seal it), then you need to be fairly stingy with that oil. The aim of a conditioning oil application is to ‘moisturize‘ the wooden surface with oil, not to saturate it.
If you were to saturate maple wood with mineral oil, it would take around 5-8 minutes for it to sink right down into the grain. And it would leave very little oil behind on the surface.
However, you should apply only a tiny droplet of mineral oil between each fret. And then rub each droplet right into the fretboard, wiping away any oil still left on the surface.
To Wrap Up, Here Are The 3 Key Takeaways From This Post…
- 1). You should not use pure lemon oil on your guitar fretboard. Instead, use 100% pure food grade mineral oil.
- 2). If your Maple Fretboard is finished, (and has a durable sealing coat covering it), it does not need a conditioning oil to prevent it from cracking.
- 3). But, Roasted Maple Fretboards are often left unfinished. In which case, apply a little bit of conditioning oil to them every 6-12 months (or whenever you start to see cracks appear).