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Reading this question about how to apply lemon oil to a guitar's fingerboard got me thinking, how necessary is this practice?

Checking around forums, seems that some people argue that it makes no difference at all, while others argue that it carries many benefits. Some of them are opinion-based, but are there actual objective, pragmatic, reasons for applying oils (normally lemon oil) to the fingerboard?

So, is this moisturing really necessary? What are the consequences of skipping the oiling maintenance step?

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    I've never heard about this and so never used it. – Albrecht Hügli Nov 25 '19 at 9:43
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    Never use full strength pure lemon oil. It is too intense for porous wood and could damage it. Products specifically made for guitars often contain lemon oil as one of their ingredients, but it is diluted. Never use furniture polish on your guitar. I have ten acoustic guitars and rarely ever apply any oil to the fretboard unless I do a fret dress or clean the fretboard during a string change (thereby wiping off any oil that exists). The oil from my fingers keeps my regular "players" fretboards oiled enough. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 25 '19 at 19:03
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    I think you'll find two types of musicians: those that treat their guitars like work of art, and those that treat them like tools. I'm of the second kind and I may do a little cleanup when changing strings, but in the end.. it sounds the same. If you look at it like an art piece, then I believe there will be a lot of almost religious opinions about how it should be taken care of but it's still wood with a treatment on it and many things will clean it. When I clean something, it's paper towel with water and I've never had problems with it. – Thomas Nov 25 '19 at 20:40
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It depends on multiple factors. When you store your guitar in a room that isn't too humid or dry, it might not be necessary at all. It also depends on the type of wood. You don't want to oil a maple fretboard. Rosewood fretboards can benefit from it.

You can tell by the color of the wood when it tends to dry out. I've used Dunlop's product on my Fender Jazz bass before, and it did make the wood (after settling) a bit darker.

If your fretboard is varnished, I wouldn't use any kind of product on it.

Do mind that using these kind of products, will dirt up your neck and strings (and thus turning them dead) faster.

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    @Lyd A maple fretboard is either finished, in which case oil will do nothing, or it is unfinished, in which case oil will cause dirt to be picked up. The latter case isn't a concern with dark fretboards because the dirt is not visible like it is with maple – Brydon Gibson Nov 25 '19 at 14:19
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I choose to oil the fingerboard and bridge of the guitars that I own, and those that I build. I find that it adds to the look of the instrument, and less so but still relevant, the feel. This is purely opinion/personal. I use a 33/66 mineral oil/beeswax mixture and use it very sparingly (almost as a polish). Mineral oil = lemon oil and I have used mineral oil in the past.

I've never had a fretboard dry out to the point that oil would have saved it, but I keep my guitars humidified and taken care of. If your fingerboard is cracking, it's either 1) ebony or 2) so dry that the top has already cracked.

1) Ebony (or blackwood or other esoteric/exotic) fingerboards tend to be less stable than rosewood/maple. That being said, if you own a guitar with an ebony fingerboard (they are expensive nowadays), then you likely paid enough that you're going to humidify/care for your guitar.

2) A solid spruce top guitar will crack at the top due to dryness far before the fingerboard cracks from the same factors. If you let it get to the point where the fingerboard (rosewood/maple) also cracks, you likely have damage that is irreparable simply with oil. A luthier will have to fix it. I would hope one would notice and take the guitar for repair/advise before this point.

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Generally, if you have a guitar that you regularly play and take care of, it's largely unnecessarily. Nicer guitars where the fretboard is made of rosewood and ebony, tight-grained oily woods, generally don't need it no matter what

On the other hand, many of cheaper guitars, particularly those made before say the 1990s, have fretboards made of all kinds of wood, poplar or maple or who knows what. And often these guitars are stored away in places with wild temperature swings, low humidity, and generally neglected.

These sorts of guitars benefit a LOT from a light oiling--it'll bring the color back into the overly dry wood and tighten up the grain so it looks less like a barn door and more like a fretboard.

TLDR nice guitars that are played and cared for rarely need it. Cheap abandoned guitars often can use some oiling.

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