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carol m

Putting oil on the fretboard

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carol m    64

My new second hand guitar has a fretboard that looks faded and dried out - no cracks or anything - but I really want to put some double bass oil - one used to live here - to make it look nice and also dark. Less old and dried out looking (don't even think of going there!). It's former home was somewhere obscure in Queensland.

But, the guitar sounds good at the moment and I read recently that if you put oil on the fretboard you should use only a minimum amount and wipe off any excess straight away, but they didn't say why. Do people think that drying out the fretboard is a good thing and also improves the sound?

I do realise that guitars tend to improve their sound with a lot of playing, but the theory behind that is that the sound waves affect the wood/grain of the guitar top to adjust to the sound wave vibrations and this improves the tone over time.

I've occasionally put oil on all my acoustics' fretboards in the past, and including the sound board on my classical, and I don't think it's harmed the tone - it's difficult to know though. Does anyone have any views on why you have to be careful if you want to put oil the fretboard?

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karcey    42

Because it makes the fretboard, then the fingers, then the strings, greasy. A wipe over is all you need to keep the timber safe. You never let it pollute the strings. You wouldn't have done that anyway, would you?

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mattz196    15

Firstly and most importantly , there is nowhere obscure in Queensland

Secondly, I would think but am no expert a dry as in never ever oiled fingerboard is not a good idea , like most timbers it will get cracks eventually.

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karcey    42

OK. Let's cut to the chase. Timber needs to be fed occasionally to avoid being dried out, or it will crack and warp. We don't want that. Strings can collect dust and oil and grease and crap from our hands and wherever, and they become dull. You've read that story from the bloke who told us how to wash our strings to extend their lives by getting rid of all the dirt? Yes I thought so. So when we oil the fretboard we make sure there's just enough oil for the timber, but not enough excess to get all over the strings. I know what you're going to say next. How does oil affect a string? Well it's not so much the treble strings, because steel or nylon, they'll wipe clean. But the wound strings get a build up of crap in the little grooves and this changes (dulls) the sound of the string. So there you are. Keep the timber healthy, keep the strings dry and clean, and you've got the best chance of getting the best output from your instrument.

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carol m    64

Once again Karcey comes up with the goods - thanks for your wise words. Do you have views on putting oil on the soundboard? The double bass oil was for all of the wood as far as I know. Maybe I should phone The Bass Shop which is where the oil was bought, and ask them their views on how and where to use it.

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mattz196    15

I think it very unlikely your sound board would not a have lacquer of some kind on it Carol, I wouldn't oil it, the oil will just sit on the top and all it will do is leave nasty oil stains on your clothes.

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carol m    64

I have oiled all my acoustic guitar soundboards at one time or other, (except the one with a high gloss finish) and the oil does go in. I only wipe off any residue, which isn't much. I've oiled the classical one quite a few times because, for years I thought that was what you should do. It's only now that I read what other people recommend - well that's not true really because I've never seen anyone say you shouldn't do it - that I'm wondering if it's good or bad or doesn't make much difference. That guitar sounds fine to me so I don't think it's done it any harm, but obviously I don't know what it would have sounded like if I hadn't done it.

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i use a wood conditioner made for guitars, generously on the fretboard during string change and a good wiping before the new strings go on. seems to darken the rosewood a bit but only temporarily. does a good job cleaning up the frets ect. though. wich reminds me, off to the local shop for some strings today! the only harm i would think would come from anything not designed for the purpose, so to be on the safe side i use gibson guitar conditioner which specifically says safe for the entire guitar including the fretboard. i've used it for a couple of years now on satin and lacquer finished guitars.

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carol m    64

But is a wood conditioner an oil based product Kenneth? The oil I use smells like furniture polish and makes the fretboard wood darker and less dry.

We also have a bottle of stuff called Wax and Grime Remover from The Bass Shop which I've never used - it's a thin yellowish liquid that smells evil (but not like a spirit based product of any sort) and is not oily. I assume that's for if/when your frets and fretboard get full of gunk - which mine never do, of course. :smartass:

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But is a wood conditioner an oil based product Kenneth? The oil I use smells like furniture polish and makes the fretboard wood darker and less dry.

We also have a bottle of stuff called Wax and Grime Remover from The Bass Shop which I've never used - it's a thin yellowish liquid that smells evil (but not like a spirit based product of any sort) and is not oily. I assume that's for if/when your frets and fretboard get full of gunk - which mine never do, of course. :smartass:

you know carol, i'm not sure if it's oil based or not, doesn't say. here's a link http://www.gibson.com/en-us/Divisions/Gibson%20Gear/Accessories/Instrument%20Care%20Products/

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carol m    64

Does it look, feel or smell oily?

Those products look like a marketer's dream come true - two different polishes and a conditioner and a special cloth - are they very expensive? I expect they are. I think I'm going to phone the shop where my products come from on Monday and ask them what their views are.

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Does it look, feel or smell oily?

Those products look like a marketer's dream come true - two different polishes and a conditioner and a special cloth - are they very expensive? I expect they are. I think I'm going to phone the shop where my products come from on Monday and ask them what their views are.

nope they actually smell better than my cologne! and yep thats a good idea, i may research this a bit also. i don't mind paying a little more if it takes the worry out and i've had the same bottle for a year or so. doesn't take a lot... :winkthumb: found this, an interesting read, this stuff darkens your board which i think was your original question.. http://www.beafifer.com/boredoctor.htm

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karcey    42

Soundboards? Hmmm. OK. I've never thought of that before. But here's an argument starter.

The timber on the whole guitar should be protected against absorbing sweat or oil or dirt etc. A piece of raw timber will be stained just by handling it. So I would guess that every guitar soundboard would have something on it already. Who said that? Matt. I'm with him. The soundboard will probably have a thin coating because the maker wouldn't want to change the vibration characteristics of the cedar or spruce or whatever. Too thick a coating would possibly make for duller sound like a pl****d top. (Laminate I should've said, but I'm feeling a bit rough this morning.)

How to test? Well a spot or patch of anything, including water or oil, that can get through to the grain of the timber will immediately change the colour of the timber. May only be temporary, but will definitely darken. So if whatever you apply to the soundboard doesn't show as a dark area, it may as well not be there because it's not reaching the timber. It might clean, but won't condition.

Fretboards are much thicker, and glued to the neck are less likely to move. But they still require cleaning and sealing, which is why we use a product on them. Guitars with painted fretboards need nothing more than cleaning to get rid of the crud from our hands.

I bet Skinny could set us straight on this with his knowledge of timber.

These are just my thoughts, and my experience is limited. Waiting for more input from others.

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carol m    64

That's an interesting article Manta, but the only problem is, he's trying to sell you his stuff, so although he may be right about a lot of things, he's always going to be biased, so who knows whether to believe him or not. Those before and after pics are exactly how my fretboards look after application of my Bass Oil - bringing them back to how they looked when new.

And the oil does absorb into the wood of the soundboards I've tried it on: the classical which has a gloss finish, a Tanglewood spruce top with a 'natural satin' finish (pale), a Seagull S6 (cedar top) but not my Takamine high gloss cedar top. It does darken the colours slightly, but it's more of a bringing out the colour of the wood (to my eyes anyway) and I prefer the richer look of the guitar after I did it, particularly the very pale Tanglewood natural satin finish which now looks less anaemic but is still quite light.

I'm always confused by guitar manufacturers recommending 'Polish' for the sound board - they usually say it's to clean them - but are they oils, or do they add shine, do they really clean (why?) or are they just another way to sell more product? And what about Wax that I sometimes see for sale for the sound board?

I can see I'm going to have to phone a few guitar techy people next week. I'll probably get a range of views so wide it'll only complicate matters, but it might be interesting to see.

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That's an interesting article Manta, but the only problem is, he's trying to sell you his stuff, so although he may be right about a lot of things, he's always going to be biased, so who knows whether to believe him or not. Those before and after pics are exactly how my fretboards look after application of my Bass Oil - bringing them back to how they looked when new.

And the oil does absorb into the wood of the soundboards I've tried it on: the classical which has a gloss finish, a Tanglewood spruce top with a 'natural satin' finish (pale), a Seagull S6 (cedar top) but not my Takamine high gloss cedar top. It does darken the colours slightly, but it's more of a bringing out the colour of the wood (to my eyes anyway) and I prefer the richer look of the guitar after I did it, particularly the very pale Tanglewood natural satin finish which now looks less anaemic but is still quite light.

I'm always confused by guitar manufacturers recommending 'Polish' for the sound board - they usually say it's to clean them - but are they oils, or do they add shine, do they really clean (why?) or are they just another way to sell more product? And what about Wax that I sometimes see for sale for the sound board?

I can see I'm going to have to phone a few guitar techy people next week. I'll probably get a range of views so wide it'll only complicate matters, but it might be interesting to see.

yep, everyone is biased in some ways. there's always two sides to everything except most peoples opinions. which is why i prefer to drive in a straight line and hit a few bumps than in circles "trying to avoid every one". this stuff has tons of great reviews which is about as good as it gets without actually trying it, which i haven't. let us know what you come up with, a better, cheaper alternative can sometimes be a good thing. :smilinguitar:

i'm thinking too much of anything probably isn't good, any softening of the wood could cause frets to raise ect. ect. just a thought..

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carol m    64

I rang the store where our Bass Oil came from and the guy said, more or less -

He doesn't use that oil anymore, but it has a tiny amount of solvent in it and he used to use it to clean fingerboards - not to condition the wood because of the solvent. What he uses now to clean fretboards is Baby Oil plus metho, wipe clean and then buff with a buffing tool.

For conditioning wood he uses Fear Watson China Wood oil. He didn't really want to have an opinion on whether or not to put it on the soundboard, but that's what he uses on fingerboards that are dried out.

Fear Watson China Wood Oil

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carol m    64

To be honest, I don't know Matt - could be either, but it's not bad is it - I couldn't have come up with that one if I'd tried, Well spotted. I did it twice which points to the Freudian slip option.

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karcey    42

The more we get into this, the wider the options become.

Baby oil! That's a product I hate, particularly for its name. A petroleum product, about the same as liquid Vaseline and on a par with diesel fuel. Why anyone would ever consider rubbing it into their kids is beyond me. I have a theory about applying products to skin, and that is, If you wouldn't eat it then don't rub it onto your skin.

I've always believed that a wood product is best served by a wood based oil. I love linseed. No, I don't rub it on my skin even though I'm old and gnarled.

But considering the man and his baby oil, if it takes many years to actually do any harm, then it doesn't really matter. That's if it does any harm anyway. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe I'll never live long enough to find out. So maybe we could just use Vaseline (petroleum jelly by its other name). Wouldn't be as messy as oil. Works a treat on leather.

Back to the soundboard ... I'm not going to stick anything on my soundboards that could change the density, resonance or character. I reckon the person who built the thing chose a particular grade of timber and I'm unlikely to improve it by saturating it with something aftermarket. But that's only my feelings.

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carol m    64

I agree Karcey - baby oil? Is he mad? He was talking about the fretboard though and was extremely doubtful about putting anything on the soundboard.

Some people are very rude about Linseed oil Karcey -these are quotes from Kenneth's link above:

  • "countless opinions are heard in favor of skin oil, "nose" oil (a variation of skin oil), Linseed oil, Walnut oil, Rose oil, Almond oil, Tung oil, Olive oil, conventional bore oil (most are only mineral oil), baby oil which is really perfumed mineral oil, 3 in 1 oil, salad oil, WD40 (talk about smell), sewing machine oil, Castor oil, gun oil...the list is seemingly endless
  • Linseed oil is more like a varnish than an oil. Because it forms a continuous film, it seals the surface of the wood like a varnish, but oils of plant origin may later slowly penetrate down to the wood. It can take years. It comes in many forms. The stuff from a hardware or art store is a paint variety, boiled or raw. Both of them stink. If you insist on Linseed oil, get the food grade from a health food store. This grade doesn't smell so bad. After multiple applications, nothing can penetrate it. Bear in mind that, if a board is treated with Linseed oil, it will eventually turn black. Linseed oil oxidizes over time, turning black in the process. That is why so many Rosewood boards of the 50s and 60s no longer look like Rosewood
  • Tung oil is also a varnish that forms a continuous film.
  • Petroleum based lubricants behave like mineral oil, don't penetrate the wood, and prevent future absorption. Most contain solvents that can potentially damage some adhesives.
  • Lemon oil (no lemon it) is the most often-recommended product for fingerboards, but it is less than ideal because it contains waxes which cause it to stay partially sticky and actually attracts more dirt."

Does anyone else like the smell of WD40? (And ether). I wouldn't put either on a guitar though. I always blame my mother for weird stuff like that - which works for me (my free tip for the day).

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karcey    42

That sounds like the linseed I know and love. Preserves forever. Dispute the black reference though. I have a box I treated with linseed back in 1974 when I made it. Still beautiful, and will outlast me. Don't get me wrong though, I don't use it on my guitar.

At the end of the day, individuals have to decide exactly why they want to put something on their fretboards. Is it for appearance, or cleaning, or preserving for that matter? Maybe there isn't a single product that does all jobs. Could it be that if we do nothing, then the guitar will last forever anyway? Or at least until GAS brings us a better one!?

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