I have an ESP Ltd H-101 fm and the fretboard seems to be drying (maybe?) Can I use coconut oil on the fretboard instead of lemon oil or other oils specifically used on fretboards?

Also what are the uses or advantages of periodically oiling the fretboard?


6 Answers 6


I would not want to put coconut oil on any of my fretboards (or any other part of my guitar). Coconut oil is great stuff with many beneficial uses. Guitar maintenance is not one of them. One unique property of coconut oil is that it tends to begin to solidify at the temperatures that are most optimal for guitar storage.

Lemon oil is a recommended product for fretboards because it is light and evaporates quickly. You don't want to leave a sticky or gummy residue behind on your fretboard ever because it could attract dirt and grit and grime which could contribute to fretboard wear.

It is generally recommended to oil your fretboard sparingly (maybe once per year) and some folks never oil their fretboard. You might be amazed at how much oil your fretboard gets from your fingers (one reason to clean your fretboard more often than oiling it).

As others have said, you should clean your fretboard prior to oiling. I use a fine nylon scouring pad like the one pictured below. It will not scratch the wood but will remove most of the grime.

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When cleaning your fretboard, remove all of the strings. First clean the gunk from around your frets using a wooden toothpick to gently remove it from the sides of the frets. Never use anything metal on the wood or you might scratch the wood. Then wipe off the remaining gunk crumbs with a soft cloth. Next use removable painters tape to protect all the wood between the frets and lightly polish the frets with very fine (ooo) steel wool. After removing the tape use the scouring pad pictured above to clean any remaining gunk and dirt off the fretboard to prepare it for oiling.

To oil your fretboard use pure lemon oil. DO NOT use Lemon Pledge or anything with wax in it or any other chemicals that could harm your fretboard! Even some products labeled as guitar fretboard oil may contain harmful ingredients. Read the label.

Apply the oil to a soft cotton rag and gently rub it onto the fretboard. Then immediately wipe it off! You don't want it soaking in where it might loosen the frets or penetrate to the glue holding the fretboard to the neck.

Many folks never oil their fretboard and have never had a problem. It would not hurt to lightly oil your fretboard (as described above) once a year.

  • +1 on pure lemon oil suggestion. I think you'll find a lot of repairmen and luthiers suggest it just because of it being synonymous with non-maple guitar fretboards. When I do it (every 3-6 or 12 months) I do let it sit a bit, but nothing drowning. You'll notice parts where the wood will soak it in a lot more than others. I wipe the excess off after 1 or 2 minutes without any problems.
    – user6164
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 19:47

I'd shy away from anything not prescribed. One can use olive or linen oil to great effect on untreated wooden tables or breakfast plates: it gets sucked up in unbelievable amounts and then partly cracks and thickens, preserving the wood and making it impervious to stains.

However, olive oil is acidic which would be bad news for frets and strings. And most importantly, all those unbelievable amounts have to go somewhere: the wood ligaments sucking up all that oil swell up a bit. And the one thing you don't want a fretboard to do is change geometry in any manner.

So if the surface for any reason at all is to be retreated, you better use an agent that is close enough in its properties to the original agent that it cannot cause substantial additional change.

So you go by the prescription, whatever it may be. No point in saving a dollar and needing $200 refurbishing afterwards. If your fretboard is to be treated with whale lubber, curse your bad luck and make sure that nobody can see you buying the harpoon.

At any rate, the advantages of "periodically oiling" will be the same as with breakfast plates: your finger fat does not cause irregular staining of the surface. It's conceivable that the fingerboard does not "play down" as fast, but then you have lots more area and quite less force than with a violin, and most of the force is on the frets anyway. So while a soloist violin fingerboard may need replacement after decades, those for guitar will likely last quite a bit longer.

  • 1
    Was 'shy' away from coconut an intentional pun? I do hope so ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 11:01

Using vegetable oils such as coconut oil is generally not recommended (see below). Also, it seems unlikely that the fretboard is actually dry. Are you sure it is not simply very dirty?

In any way, a good scrubbing with an old toothbrush or even very fine steel wool is recommended before oiling the surface, since the oil doesn't actually do a good job of cleaning.

The purpose of oiling the fingerboard is actually to make it look shiny and beautiful after cleaning, it is in no way necessary for maintaining the wood.

There is a wealth of information about instrument maintenance and cleaning on the site frets.com, which I can thoroughly recommend. I will include a few quotes that may be of interest.

Regarding the need to oil the fretboard:

Some players talk of "feeding" the unfinished surface of the fingerboard with oil. Fingerboards are not actually hungry and don't really need to be fed, but a light coating of oil gives them a finished and clean look.

Regarding what kind of oil to use:

If you do choose to oil the fingerboard, do it with care. Use a tiny amount of lemon oil or mineral oil on the rag, wipe it on the fingerboard, and then wipe it all off. [...] Generally, you'll want to stay away from linseed and other natural vegetable oils, which become sticky and gummy over time:

(The quotes were taken from page two of Cleaning your Axe.)

  • 1
    I agree with the general consensus that it's purely cosmetic.
    – user6164
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 19:48

Wood can actually dry out, contrary to some other statements posted above. The natural oils that the wood naturally contains tend to evaporate over time. This may result in (tiny) cracks (but this doesn't happen often, especially with glued on fretboards). And it will become less flexible. (And more prone to breakage when falling (especially with an angled headstock! those are usually lacquered though so no need to oil that), but better yet, don't let your guitar fall!)

Also I'd be very wary of using ACTUAL pure LEMON oil. It's very acidic and can dissolve the glues used, thus loosening the frets. Actual lemon oil however can be used to CLEAN the fretboard very well. After cleaning the fretboard with pure lemon oil you should restore the wood with another oil.

What a lot of people use (And guitarists (oddly) refer to as lemon oil...) is a mineral oil mixture, sometimes mixed with 1% lemon oil and/or a lemon scent. This can be used to both clean the fretboard and restore the wood.

I know of some luthiers that use boiled linseed oil instead, which is completely natural and in no way toxic.

I used to use boiled linseed oil as well, but am currently experimenting with walnut oil and find that the board does look better with richer/deeper colours. However, it's not a fast way of finishing/restoring the fretboard as it takes about 24 hours before it's fully done/cured...

Of coconut oil, I'm actually not so sure if it's any good on a fretboard. one of the pro's of coconut would be that it's natural and another is that it doesn't go rancid. However, you would need to (slightly) heat it before applying and you'd only have a very small amount of time to put it on the wood and then wiping it off before it starts curing (become solid) the time it takes varies with room temperature of course, but it cures a lot faster than walnut or linseed oil, and mineral oils don't cure at all.

So, I'm guessing coconut oil might be possible, but I think it'd be hard to work with. I guess I might try it out on other woodworking projects first and see if that works, and if it does, I might go try it on a guitar some time.. idk haha.. tnx for the idea anyway!

In conclusion a few more things: Whatever oil you use, a little goes a long way! and wipe any excess off before it starts curing.


I would be concerned about coconut oil getting under the frets and loosening them, personally. It seems a heavier oil than most prescribed for fretboards, and I've never seen it sold commercially as a luthiery product. I'm also not sure how you would remove excess oil, as it doesn't evaporate off like lighter products such as lemon oil. In short, I would avoid!


Most luthiers and repairmen will shy away from anything that's not lemon oil (Though other suggestions from luthiers include linseed and mineral oil). This is what people have been conditioning fretboards with for a long time and generally consider it safe when used sparingly and only on the wood.

Oiling a fretboard is considered purely cosmetic, however you'll meet more guitarists who prefer a "clean", "shiny" or "smooth" feel over something that has never been enhanced with moisture.

Here's a take on oiling the fretboard by Bob Taylor, creator of Taylor guitars. Most guitarists have this opinion on oiling a fretboard/unfinished wood parts.

Claudio, I’d have no worries about using lemon oil on my fretboard. It’s safe. Use it only on the unfinished wood like the fretboard and bridge. The wood can dry out over time, and an oil like this, or linseed oil, or even mineral oil, can protect the wood and beautify it as well. Don’t overdo it. Once a fretboard has been oiled a few times, you can slow down the frequency. The nice thing about lemon oil is that it cleans while it oils, so it won’t build up as easily, but be sparing. I don’t think your fretboard will need oiling more than twice a year, and eventually, once a year.

Collings, makers of beautiful and incredibly expensive guitars also suggest oiling an unfinished fretboard.

If you must use commercial products, avoid those with solvents, silicones or abrasives. Remember: polishing is not cleaning. Polishes remove finish along with dirt. Fingerboards can occasionally dry out, but require only a very small amount of boiled linseed oil (thoroughly buffed) to restore. Less is always best.

In general, everyone suggests oiling unfinished fretboards. This usually means Ebony and Rosewood, (however some enjoy doing it to maple to) more because they like the feel or look of it more than the guitar needs it.

With proper care, by the time your guitar makes it to you it's considered quite stable and the wood moisture content is in a happy place for all parts of the guitar. Your guitar shouldn't need anything on the fretboard if it's been well taken care of.

Also, as noted by Bob Taylor, one or two applications really is all a fretboard needs before it looks and maintains a great balance of moisture. Once you do it, you'll notice yourself needing to do it less and less.

P.S. Your guitar (most guitars) has a rosewood or ebony fretboard. This wood naturally has oils in it, even after curing, that help maintain it's stability and longevity.

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