What Can You Use As A Rosewood Fretboard Finish? (Revealed!)

If your guitars fretboard is unfinished, that means it won’t have a coat of varnish or oil finish to protect it from drying out.

And if left unsealed, wood will begin to crack and split. Plus, it could even start to discolor as a result of direct UV sunlight.

Now, you’ve probably heard all about the importance of applying a wood finish to seal and protect timber.

Still, while you don’t always need to add some sort of wood finish to a fretboard, it’s probably wiser to do so than not… especially if you want to keep your guitar in tip top condition.

Related Post: Can Tru-Oil Really Finish And Protect Your Maple Fretboard?

But, when it comes to rosewood fretboards specifically, what kind of wood finish should you use to seal them?

When it comes to rosewood fretboards, they are a special case, because they don’t need a finish. In fact, they don’t even require regular oil conditioning either. That is because this particular type of wood is already densely filled with natural oils.

But, what can you do if your unfinished rosewood fretboard begins to show signs of wear? And you’ve started to notice little fine cracks appearing across it?

Well, in this post, you will learn how to rehydrate and condition worn-down rosewood. You’ll also learn exactly why you don’t need to typically seal rosewood.

Plus, we reveal why you should ditch those expensive fretboard lemon oils (and why you should use this alternative oil product instead)…

What Can You Use As A Rosewood Fretboard Finish? (Revealed!)

This post may contain affiliate links to products that we receive a commission for (at no additional cost to you). Learn more here.

Should You Put Finish On A Fretboard In General?

It depends on the type of timber.

Most fretboards will need some type of finish to help protect and preserve the wood they’re made from.

For example, Maple fretboards are almost always finished, since Maple wood can rot and decay quite easily.

Related Post: Can You Put Tung Oil On Maple Wood (For An Effortless Finish)?

But, when it comes to Rosewood, this wood type is incredibly rot resistant, since this highly oily wood is so naturally water-repellent.

How Do You Finish A Rosewood Fretboard?

Ideally, you don’t finish it. Leave it unfinished, and simply maintain it by conditioning the fretboard with oil as and when needed.

What Can You Use As A Rosewood Fretboard Finish? (Revealed!)

Can You Varnish A Rosewood Fretboard?

Two of the most popular sealers for fretboards are varnish and oil finishes. But, if you do decide to finish rosewood, an oil-based varnish should stick and stay.

However, water-based varnishes will have trouble doing the same. That is because the natural oils in this hardwood will prevent water-based varnishes from sticking and staying.

In other words, if you use water-based varnish on rosewood, don’t be surprised if it starts flaking off again.

Do Rosewood Fretboards Ever Need A Finish?

Rosewood fretboards don’t need a finish. But, in certain circumstances, it might be worth applying one. For example, in very dry desert-like climates, rosewood can dry out sooner rather than later.

So it would be a good idea to apply a finish onto rosewood in this instance. Especially as a wood finish would help seal those natural oils in.

Related Post: Don’t Use Walnut Oil On Your Guitar Fretboard (Use This Instead)

Should You Oil A Rosewood Fretboard?

Yes, you should, but you don’t need to oil it as frequently compared to other types of fretboards.

An unfinished maple fretboard would need oiling every six months to keep it hydrated. However, a rosewood fretboard only needs oiling every 12 months.

Ideally, oiling this fretboard every 1-2 years is best practice, (although it may not even need to be oiled that frequently).

However, always stay on the lookout for any cracks or splits, or other indicators of drying-out. And the moment you spot any, give that fretboard an immediate oil treatment.

Related Post: Should You Really Use Rosewood To Make A Cutting Board?

What Do You Use To Condition A Rosewood Fretboard?

You need to use what is referred to as a ‘non-drying’ oil. Non-drying oils are oils that don’t cure and harden. And they rarely dry-out completely.

The best non-drying oil for fretboards is 100% food grade mineral oil. Rub this stuff right into wood to enhance worn-out timber from the inside out.

However, be stingy when you apply this stuff – you only need a few droplets to make a big impact.

rosewood fretboard finish

Can You Use Lemon Oil On A Rosewood Fretboard?

Don’t use pure lemon oil. Lemon oil will bleach-out the fretboard.

Fretboard oil products that are listed as ‘lemon oil’ are actually just mineral oil with a few lemon oil drops added for the aroma.

Now, you can use pricey fretboard oil products on your guitar. However, you’re better off simply going straight to the source – using pure mineral oil – as it’ll work just as well.

Related Post: Deciding Between Lemon Oil Vs Tung Oil For Your Fretboard

Can You Use Olive Oil On A Rosewood Fretboard?

Olive oil might rehydrate wood, but this particular non-drying oil will quickly go rancid. And once rancid olive oil is soaked deep into your fretboard, next to nothing is going to get it out.

So, stick to mineral oil. Mineral oil doesn’t go off or turn rancid.

Can You Use Linseed Oil On Rosewood?

Linseed oil, (and its fast-drying counterpart, Boiled Linseed Oil), is what we would refer to as a ‘drying oil’.

What this means is that not only will these oils dry, they will also cure and harden – going through a chemical change that turns them into a durable resin coat.

This type of oil – even if you do apply it incredibly thinly – can start to build up. And if applied repeatedly, (i.e. every six months), then linseed oil can begin to build-up as it gathers around the frets.

So, do not use drying oils, (like Linseed oil, Tung oil, Teak oil and the like), to condition your rosewood fretboard.

To Sum Up, Here Are The Main Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Rosewood is naturally oily enough that it doesn’t need a sealing finish.
  2. However, rosewood will still need a conditioning oil treatment every 1-2 years to keep it hydrated (particularly in very dry climates).
  3. In which case, use 100% pure mineral oil to condition your rosewood fretboard.


Ebony vs. rosewood: experimental investigation about the influence of the fingerboard on the sound of a solid body electric guitar (researchgate.net)