Chances are that if you’re a guitar player and you’ve wondered what’s the best way to clean your fretboard or even the body of the instrument, you’ve stumbled across the advice of using lemon oil.
Guitar lemon oil is typically made of mineral oil mixed with yellow artificial colouring, a lemon scent, and at times a small amount of real lemon oil—usually between 0.5% and 2%. However, not all products labelled as ‘lemon oil’ for guitars contain lemon oil. Some may use only synthetic additives.
Mineral oils tend to be quite inexpensive, so most lemon oil manufacturers just use it, yellow artificial colouring, as well as some lemon scent to give it the lemon vibe.
There is an ongoing debate about what types of oils to use on a guitar, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter much because most oils that you buy at a guitar shop come from a reputable company, with some exceptions.
Explained in another way, if you purchase a guitar polish or cleaner from Dunlop or another brand, you can sleep easy at night knowing that Dunlop wouldn’t create an oil that would damage your guitar in any meaningful way (more on guitar gear in my article).
More importantly, guitars don’t need as much oil applied to them as people like to argue. The wood of a guitar doesn’t dry out that much, and you don’t need to apply a lot of oil to moisturize the wood or even clean it for that matter.
With that being said, when you go to a guitar shop, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a lot of oil-based lemon products.
Apparently, there needs to be only a small amount of acidity in most lemon oil products to help clean up the grime and dirt that’s found on a fretboard.
Benefits Of Using Lemon Oil
1) Lemon Oil Cleans Up Grime And Dirt
One of the main reasons people like to use lemon oil – which is really just mineral oil with a bit of lemon added to it – is because it’s safe and it does a good job of cleaning off some of the grime.
As I already mentioned, guitar lemon oil includes a very small amount of real lemon oil which tends to be quite acidic. The small amount, usually between 1% and 2% contains enough acidic properties to help clean up grime and dirt that has accumulated over time.
Put simply, the very subtle acidic nature of the product is helpful for wiping away stubborn dirt that won’t come off as easily if you just use water or some other product.
2) It Moisturizes The Wood
It’s not uncommon that a guitar needs just a bit of oil every once in a while because the wood gets dried out and cracked.
You know that your guitar, especially the neck, is dried out when you apply a bit of lemon oil to it and it instantly absorbs all of it after you’ve wiped it with a cloth.
This means that the wood is thirsty and it’s soaking it all up immediately. If you apply oil to it and it has a harder time soaking it in, there’s a good chance the wood is already moisturized enough.
What this does is that it keeps the wood nice and healthy that way it sounds better, but it also thwarts cracking and breaking.
To increase the longevity of the instrument, it’s commonly recommended to apply a bit of oil every now and then as needed. As I mentioned already at the start of the article, however, one needs to do this very infrequently.
Depending on the circumstances and the environment in which the guitar is sitting, a guitarist may only need to moisturize the fretboard once every six months or so.
Once per month would be too much for most, but it really depends on the instrument as well as where it’s housed.
3) Lemon Oil Slightly Darkens The Wood
This one is more up to personal taste, but lemon oil tends to have the added benefit of darkening lighter-coloured fretboards just a little bit, increasing the shine and making them look just a little bit better.
4) Great For Cleaning Frets
Lemon oil works great for cleaning the grime and dirt off of the frets, which tend to accumulate gunk a lot. And it’s hard to wipe off without at least some kind of slightly acidic product.
It’s best to use the product sparingly, however. According to the Fender website, it’s best to apply a “light dab” of high-grade lemon oil such as Stringfellows to a clean, dry, cloth and then gently rub the fretboard.
It’s important not to use too much because too much oil tends to accumulate underneath the frets.
5) It Smells Good
Admittedly, this benefit is a bit superfluous, but it’s true that lemon oil smells good and it makes playing the instrument even more pleasant.
Cons Of Using Lemon Oil
1) Using The Wrong Lemon Oil
There is a potential of drying out your guitar and the fretboard over the long term if you use lemon oil that’s more than 2% acidity, at least according to commonly held knowledge.
A common piece of advice for purchasing lemon oil is to not buy any product that doesn’t indicate precisely how much is in the bottle.
Another point that’s worth mentioning is that it’s best not to use the lemon oil that’s commonly bought and sold at furniture stores.
This particular brand of lemon oil is far too acidic and strong for a guitar, and you may wind up causing damage to the fretboard.
2) Can’t Use Lemon Oil On A Maple Fretboard
Many are tempted to use lemon oil or another more aggressive cleaner on much lighter fretboards and wood tones. This is because lighter fretboards tend to reveal dirt and grime than ebony or rosewood.
It’s typically argued that it’s best not to use lemon oil or even lemon oil products on maple. The reason for this is that maple fretboards have a “clear coat” finish which is a lot more delicate and soft than what ebony and rosewood use.
Furthermore, it’s commonly recommended that you don’t put lemon oil on a lacquer finish, or a fretboard that isn’t laminated.
Where Do I Find Lemon Oil
You can find lemon oil at your local music store or on Amazon at this link here. Most music shops will have at least some lemon oil for sale, and some of the most common brands are Dunlop and D’Daddario.
How Much Does Lemon Oil Cost
Lemon oil, because it’s made out of mostly mineral oil with a bit of yellow coloring and lemon scent, is not very expensive.
It’s not uncommon for lemon oil to cost between $5 and $10 for a small bottle that lasts a very long time.
There’s really no need to spend that much money on lemon oil because a little goes a long way.
It’s not uncommon that a small bottle could last you up to 2-3 years, depending on how many guitars you own and how often you clean and moisturize your instrument.
Assuming you apply lemon oil to the instrument once every six months, the bottle should last a very long time, at least several years.
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Lemon oil is really a misnomer of sorts because it’s usually not even made out of real lemon oil. It’s not clear where the idea of lemon oil even came about considering the title isn’t truthful to the ingredients.
Regardless, most shops are going to have what you need, so at the end of the day, it’s not going to matter much what type of oil you grab off of the shelf.
More importantly, it’s not necessary to oil your guitar every day, every week, or even after a month for that matter.