Ebony Fretboard Care: How to Look After Your Ebony Fretboard

Published Categorized as Care and Maintenance, Guitar Care Tuning Restringing

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ebony fretboard care

When it comes to Ebony freboard care it’s more about what not to do than it is about what to do.

Whilst there are a lot of differing opinions in how to care for your ebony fretboards (from owners of guitars with ebony fretboards and luthiers who use ebony), there are some definite no-nos.

In terms of what you can do – there a few options to help to protect, prolong and recover the life of your ebony fretboard.

Table of Contents

Option #1: The Minimalist Approach

Some guitarists are advocates of the do very little approach.

This school of thought maintains that if you clean your hands before every guitar session and keep your guitar in a humidity controlled environment, then you don’t need to do any kind of maintenance for your ebony fingerboard.

They believe that:

  • The oils in your fingers are enough to keep the ebony oiled
  • The cleaning of your hands will keep it clean
  • The proper humidity will prevent it from drying out or becoming too wet

it’s not recommended to try this approach unless you play your guitar a lot – so that it’s getting the benefits of the oil in your fingers.

And this approach very much relies no a humidity controlled environment and a good clean hands habit.

Option #2: The Active Approach

Others believe that there is a need to clean and condition any fretboard that does not have a finish on it.

Generally speaking acoustic guitar fretboards don’t have a finish on them. In fact usually only maple fretboards do and they are almost solely in the realm of electric guitars.

Ebony guitar fingerboards don’t have a finish on them, just the bare wood.

Therefore, in the active approach, an ebony fret board needs to be cleaned and conditioned regularly to keep it in good condition.

Both Approaches

Both approaches agree on one thing.

Your ebony fret board needs to maintain the right amount of moisture and cleanliness. The difference lies in how you achieve that.

What Could Happen to My Fretboard if Not Properly Cared For?

Learning how to clean fretboard of your guitar is very important. Knowing the right approach is crucial. Some approaches might work in different circumstances, depending on your day to day habits and environment.

What’s clear is that you, in one form or another, need to care for your fretboard. Or else it could develop any one of the following issues:

  • Cracking
  • Chipping
  • Mold
  • Loose frets
  • Fading
  • Reduction of sustain

How to Clean and Condition Your Ebony Fretboard

If you do decide that you want to actively condition your ebony fingerboard or if you tried the Minimalist approach and ended up with one of the issues above, then there are some things to consider when you clean and condition.


cleaning an abony fretboard

Some say to clean with a damp cloth and a small amount of soap.

Others say that a moistened cloth is enough and not to use soap.

Whether you choose to use soap or not is a personal thing. I personally don’t like the idea of it and like to stick to just a damp cloth or paper towel.

Whether you use soap or not – make sure that your cloth is only very slightly damp – you don’t want it very wet. And if you do use soap, only use a very small amount. Less is more here.


linseed oil
Linseed Oil: By Micahandreadeleon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There are different products that different people recommend and different guitar brands also recommend different products for their guitars.

For example, some brands say to use lemon oil for guitar – whilst others, like Martin, warn against lemon oil (saying that the acids in the oil can speed up corrosion of frets and strings and can affect the finish of the guitar).

Others recommend linseed oil. Some really don’t like the smell of this oil. I think linseed oil is a good option if you don’t mind the smell – just make sure it’s raw linseed oil.

Again, some say that no conditioning is needed at all – and that humidity control is the best thing you can do. However, if you already have a dry fretboard you’ll need to condition it somehow.

There are of course many products out there made to condition fretboards. I don’t advocate any one in particular but you can see some of the different options below:

  • Lizard Spit
  • Fret Doctor
  • Planet Waves Hydrate Fretboard Conditioner

No doubt there’s others – but those are the one’s that come to mind.

How To Condition

No matter which conditioner you choose to use – if you choose to use any – make sure you don’t use much.

Just a very small amount should be applied and then it should be rubbed off with a clean paper towel straight after it’s been applied. Don’t let it sit on the fretboard for too long.

And be careful not to allow the oil to get under the frets (which shouldn’t be an issue if you’re careful to use just the slightest amount and wipe it off straight away).

How Often Should I Clean?

I try to clean my fretboard after every time I change my strings.

I usally clean the frets at the same time (using very fine grade #0000 steel wool) – click here for more on cleaning your guitar).

After cleaning the frets and wiping off any excess steel wool bits (hint: use a fridge magnet and a post-it note to collect any bits of metal from the steel wool you might have missed) then I just wipe down the fretboard with a very moist cloth.

How Often Should I Condition?

Like everything when it comes to ebony fretboard care, there is debate on how often you should condition. And it will somewhat depend on your own personal circumstances.

If you live in a very low humidity environment and you don’t have good humidity control going on then you might need to condition more often.

Recommendations for conditioning range from:

  • Every time you change your strings
  • Every two to three months
  • Twice per year
  • Once per year
  • Once every 2 years
  • Only if it looks like it needs it (sometimes damage is already done then though)
  • Never (your fingers will keep it conditioned if you play it enough)

Personally I condition once per year and it seems to do the job well. However, how often you condition depends on your own personal circumstances and your own beliefs in how often your fretboard needs it.

You can see some discussion on conditioning your ebony board here.

Thanks for Reading

I hope this post has helped you to learn more about caring for your ebony fret board. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a one size fits all answer and there’s a lot of contradictory advice.

You might never do anything to care for your fretboard – like in the minimalist approach – or you might choose to be more active than that.

If you do take the minimalist approach you need to make sure you keep your guitar in a humidity controlled environment, play your guitar regularly and always clean your hands before you play.

If you can’t stick to these things (I know I don’t!) then it would pay to clean and polish your fretboard on a regular basis. Personally I clean once every 2 to 3 months and condition once per year but others do both at different intervals.


Should you oil an ebony fret board?

Ebony is a dense and oily wood that naturally repels moisture. Though if your fretboard is dry, you’ll need to condition it. Just a very small amount should be applied and then it should be rubbed off with a clean paper towel straight after it’s been applied. Don’t let it sit on the fretboard for too long.
And be careful not to allow the oil to get under the frets (which shouldn’t be an issue if you’re careful to use just the slightest amount and wipe it off straight away).

When should I condition my ebony fret board?

Remember that ebony is a dense and oily wood, so excessive conditioning or over-application of products can have adverse effects. It’s important to use conditioners sparingly and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Should I use lemon oil on my ebony fret board?

Using lemon oil or any other type of oil on ebony can lead to a buildup of oil that can make the surface sticky or slippery. It can also darken the wood excessively. Remember to use sparingly, or use a conditioner for ebony.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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