Is Lemon Oil for Guitar Fretboard Solution safe? ANSWERED

Published Categorized as Care and Maintenance, Guitar Care Tuning Restringing

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I doubt we have all, at some point or other, been sucked into a tense debate with a fellow friend and musician about the benefits and downfalls of lemon oil fretboard solution, and if we have not, then we certainly wish we had!

There are ever more products of this ilk by the day, appearing just about anywhere you can buy anything on the internet and in just about every guitar store you are likely to enter.

Thus, today, we will be elucidating the various key points in the great debate on the use of lemon oil fretboard solution in an attempt to preserve the sanctity of your dear guitar’s fretboard.

Lemon Oil Fretboard_Six String Acoustic

Why Clean a Fretboard in the First Place?

Guitars, like almost anything made from wood, are sensitive things, and the climes they live in can affect them dearly. Rapid or unprecedented changes in humidity or temperature, or moisture of all kinds, can have a detrimental effect over time. That’s right; it’s not just electronics that play up when exposed to water!

Alarm bells ought to be ringing for those who are in any way familiar with gigging or simply attending concerts. You would be hard pressed to find a venue outside of the Western classical sphere that doesn’t regularly host the glistening brows of musicians of all varieties throbbing before the white-hot floodlights.

This same sweat so artistically accentuated by the lighting will, over spans of time, wriggle into just about every orifice of the guitar, compromising the wood, metal, and electronics.

Other than perhaps the surface hardware, this wear is nowhere more prevalent on the guitar than on the fretboard. The fretboard bears the brunt of the clammy appendages each time whomever decides to play, embedding dried skin in the cracks, pickled by sweat which oxidizes and corrodes and wears the wood thin by default. This can be a particular issue for the rosewood fretboard, which, unlike the maple or ebony fretboard, is more often than not left untreated. Thus, lacking in lacquer or protective finish which might layer it up from such damage. This is, however, where the lemon oil fretboard solution is supposed to come to the rescue!

The Consequences of Not Cleaning the Fretboard

Learning how to clean the fretboard of your guitar is crucial. There will be a gradual rusting and corroding of the guitar’s frets over time, as they are exposed repeatedly and without a break to the corrosive and damaging elements present within dead skin and sweat, and left to bear these two elements without a clean.

This can also result in warping and cracking of the rosewood fretboard and neck entirely if left unchecked for a considerable period of time in an overly humid environment, exposed at length to these harmful and easily avoided elements.

The rosewood fretboard, by its very nature, is almost always untreated with protective layers or lacquer of any kind, besides whatever base layers are acquired in the process of constructing, manufacturing the guitar and making sure it is ready for the world. Thus, it is particularly susceptible to these kinds of contaminants which, without such a protective layer, gnaw slowly and gradually at the fretboard layers… Which can have potentially existential implications! If left to its own devices, these detrimental effects will eventually leave the guitar in such a state as to render it unplayable.

Frets, dealt so firmly into the guitar’s fretboard, are very arduous to replace if rendered rusted or broken. In fact, you are almost certainly going to have to consult a luthier or guitar technician, who will either offer you some guidance or will otherwise offer you some options to repair the frets.,ll of which are going to set you back a considerable amount of your hard-earned cash.

Since this is the advice of a specialist, the prices even for a consultation can be rather expensive, so simply putting in the time at this stage and learning how to clean your own guitar with a lemon oil fretboard solution now will no doubt spare you having to offload a whole load of money in the long run.

This money is better spent elsewhere, no? Where you can use it to further develop your musical ambitions with new equipment or professional lessons, or perhaps even to purchase yourself a treat not related to music.

How Not to Need Lemon Oil Fretboard Solution

No doubt you have come to this article looking for a definitive answer on the in’s and out’s of the lemon oil fretboard solution, though I must insist that, before we go on and get right into it, we should discuss some methods that you might use to even prevent needing to use it in the future.

If you tend to your guitar’s needs and wants as they arise, then there ought to be no real need to splash out on such solutions, and certainly nowhere near as much as you might otherwise.

Room Temperature

This is something we ought to privy with all instruments – no exception with guitars of all varieties, though this can take a particular toll on the fretboard, of course.

A rosewood fretboard, especially, untreated with varnish, lacquer, or polyurethane, is not sealed from the contaminant elements previously mentioned. This means that the fretboard overall remains in a porous state, almost alive, which is of course wonderful for tone but means it is far more susceptible to the outside elements.

This state means that, much as with a lot of kinds of trees and plants, a fretboard will require a certain atmospheric ambient environment of humidity in order to thrive in its prime. For a rosewood fretboard, for example, the ideal is for this environment to be as humid as possible, ideally peaking in the 70% range, though at least and no less than 40%.

It is in drier environments that the fretboard and the guitar, in general, suffer. So, taking steps to keep the room in which you store your guitar humid or storing your guitar in a case is bound to keep your guitar and its adjoining fretboard in good shape for as long as possible.

Clean Hands

What with the seemingly impending apocalypse at the end of each passing day as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, I would hope that all those reading this are sanitizing the requisite number of times per day and at the requisite points and after the usual activities, making sure to do so before and after entering each and every social space.

Unless you have a particular skin condition or another related ailment that is going to cause you some grief, you really can’t wash your hands enough at the present moment. And I hope that the current pandemic affecting everyone worldwide has gone some way to outlining just how easily undesirable germs can spread between us and how effective proper hygiene can be in preventing them from spreading.

Thus, a tip that is going to save you acres of money and time later on, as well as potentially your life, is to wash your hands before you play!

It is indeed far too easy to fall prey to succumbing to the urge to play your guitar on impulse when you’re truly feeling it. However,  washing your hands of any contaminants and grease beforehand goes a hell of a long way to reducing how regularly you need to do a thorough clean with lemon oil fretboard solution.

Not only this, it can even reduce how often you might need to change strings, for they can become coated with stray dirt, grime, grease, and other related contaminants when you don’t properly wash your hands before playing and fall into the compulsive behavior of not doing so regularly.

For all its benefits, washing your hands can do more harm than good in some instances. For example, if you do not adequately dry your hands after washing them and before playing the guitar.

It is the very same process of oxidization and rusting that occurs from sweat and dried skin that can be just as easily provoked. However gradually, by hands that are still moist from washing, so do make sure your appendages are adequately dried and preferably wait at least five minutes, for no matter how dry they may seem on the surface, there will likely still be moisture imbibed within the deep of the skin.

The Lemon Oil Fretboard Debate

So now that we have elucidated a few preliminary facts, we can begin to discuss our primary point of concern, homing in on the central area of contention for today’s article: is lemon oil good for the fretboard or not?

You would think, seeing as you can buy this product in just about any guitar store you are likely to come across, and especially considering this product is specifically designed for this purpose, that there would only be one answer to this question, but you would be surprised.

So, are Lemon Oil Fretboard Solutions Good or Bad?

Sadly, the answer is not quite as binary as we might hope. There are instances where lemon oil fretboard solutions can be very good for a guitar’s fretboard and can do it a world of benefits, giving it a new lease on life when it might previously have been left in the dust with no hope of coming back.

Likewise, there are instances where lemon oil can be incredibly bad for a guitar’s fretboard. Sending it over the edge where it was previously holding on for dear life, or to send it to this edge if it was previously in not so bad a condition.

The main difference lies in what kind of lemon oil fretboard solution we are talking about. At one end of the spectrum is the purest full-strength lemon oil, pressed directly from the peels of actual lemons, whose acidity levels will no doubt be through the roof. On the other end of the spectrum will be products with a far more diluted amount of lemon oil in the ingredients. Or in some instances with no lemon oil whatsoever, the name simply being used as a placeholder to grab the attention of the consumer and not much else.

Pure Lemon Oil Fretboard Solution

So, on the first end of the spectrum, we have a pure lemon oil fretboard solution, either derived 100% from the pressed peels of lemons or another percentage thereabouts. This will sometimes be labeled as an essential oil, likely because of its inherent purity regarding the source ingredient. In this form, it is very harmful to the guitar and its adjoining fretboard.

The effect is very intense, despite just being the oil of a fruit. In this pure form, it can cause the fretboard to dry out, having the complete opposite effect to the rehydration that is intended, sucking the fretboard of all moisture until it begins to crack and warp, just as it might if exposed for an extended period to an environment whose humidity is simply too low to cater for the fretboard.

This is especially the case for a rosewood fretboard, which is more often than not left untreated with additional lacquer, so it is, in some important sense, still alive, and should be treated as such.

For, if exposed to this pure form of lemon oil repeatedly or in higher doses, it can rapidly cause the breakdown of any of the adhesives holding all of the various parts of the fretboard together. Including those which bind the frets to the guitar’s neck and those regarding the binding (if indeed your guitar has any).

This kind of pure lemon oil is incredibly potent. It can be helpful for removing this kind of adhesives (if this is your aim) or for removing tough stains, grease, and grime. It is even used to sanitize surfaces in some instances, the citrus acting as a fierce destroyer of undesirable bacteria.

So, it is fantastic for cleaning hard surfaces that are not porous and are thus not going to absorb much if any of the oil, meaning it is very much not good for a guitar’s fretboard whatsoever.

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Lemon Oil Fretboard Products

Thankfully, most manufacturers of guitar products have heeded these words and perfectly understand the potentially harmful effects that pure lemon oil fretboard solutions can have on a guitar’s sanctity, and have thus designed products whose lemon oil content is specially brewed so as to ensure the safety of your guitar’s fretboard.

Said products are not likely to feature very much lemon oil whatsoever, owing to the previously aforementioned potency, which can render your fretboard into a shell of its former self. Most of the chemical basis for these products is in other mineral oils – pretty solid and cheap solutions for the cleaning of your guitar’s fretboard.

You might be wondering just how, if there is such a small amount of lemon oil in a professionally manufactured fretboard cleaning solution, the product is so yellow. Surely this is as a result of a considerable amount of lemon oil within the mixture, no? No, for this is usually added after the fact, so the color is more stylistically consistent with the name of the product, and that is about it.

In fact, some such solutions contain no lemon oil whatsoever, containing only the mineral oils mentioned above with an additional lemon scent and yellow coloring added so that it is more in line with the name.

The minuscule amount of lemon oil that might be added to such a product will only be for the removal of dirt and grease, and grime, while all of the other mineral oils imbibed within will ensure the fretboard is looking sparkling and ship shape, moisturized and rehydrated and ready to party!

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are somewhat wiser about the various key points of the great lemon oil fretboard debate and thus more informed so that you can make your own decisions on it in the future. Will you opt for lemon oil products entirely devoid of lemon oil, or will you walk on the wild side and let the lemon oil trickle all along the length of your throbbing fretboard? Let us know in the comments below!

FAQs Lemon Oil Fretboard

Is lemon oil good for your fretboard?

This of course very much depends on what kind of lemon oil you are referring to. If you are indeed referring to a purer form of lemon oils, whose purity is primarily derived from cold pressed lemons with very little else added into the mixture, then this will be the very opposite of good for the sanctity of your fretboard.

If, however, you are referring to blends of lemon oil specifically formulated for guitar fretboards, whose main ingredients of mineral oils overshadow the presence of lemon oil by a considerable amount, then this will do your guitar a world of good, removing dirt and grease and grime while simultaneously moisturizing the fretboard so that it can feel just like new.

How do you treat fretboard with lemon oil?

Once the fretboard is free of dirt and other contaminants, use lemon oil to condition the neck and fretboard. This will need to be real lemon oil, specifically formulated for guitars, as certain other types, like those used to polish the furniture, contain additives that can harm a fretboard.

This is not to say that lemon oil for guitars isn’t entirely destructive. It can, for instance, deaden the action of your strings if it comes into prolonged contact with them, so err on the side of caution if you intend to keep all or some of your strings on the guitar while cleaning the fretboard.

Apply lemon oil liberally to any cloth and rub it into the fretboard, taking time to nurture each fret individually. Leave the lemon oil to soak into the fretboard for up to fifteen minutes, depending on the condition of the fretboard. For instance, if it is particularly dry, warped, or cracked, you will want to leave the oil soaking for longer, and vice versa.

How long should you leave lemon oil on fretboard?

The length of time you leave the lemon oil on the guitar’s fretboard will largely depend on how dry, warped, or cracked said fretboard is. If, for instance, the fretboard is in a particularly bad condition, then you will want to leave the lemon oil soaking in and moisturizing its surface for longer, up to fifteen minutes, preferably.

If, on the other hand, the fretboard is in better condition and you are enacting upon it a more routine soak, then you will want to leave it on for a shorter period of time, down to a minute or so. Anywhere between one to fifteen minutes will do, left up to your discretion based on the wear of the fretboard.

What oil should I use on my fretboard?

The ideal oil to use on guitar fretboards is lemon oil, though there is a very marked difference between the different kinds of lemon oil available to you. Purer lemon oil solutions, such as those that might be used in cleaning, are to be avoided at all costs.

The qualities that make them so good at removing tough dirt and grime, as well as sanitizing certain environments, also make them incredibly harmful to a guitar’s fretboard, sucking the porous surface of all moisture which can lead to warping and cracks and can even, in larger doses, wear out the adhesive that keeps the frets attached to the fretboard.

However, if you buy lemon oil fretboard solutions specifically formulated for guitar fretboards, you should not have a problem; the amount of lemon oil is so small as to be rendered impotent aside from removing dirt and grime on the fretboard’s surface.

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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