How to oil, or condition, a Rosewood fretboard

Rosewood fretboards need conditioning once or twice a year, for two key reasons:

  • to maintain the wood’s natural moisture level and prevent it from drying out
  • to protect the wood from the oils and dirt deposited by your hands each time you play.

Search blogs and forums and you’ll find that guitarists recommend an inordinate array of oils and potions to maintain and condition a Rosewood fretboard. Virtually all would be dismissed by any decent guitar tech. The majority of oils and waxes recommended clog the pores and structure of Rosewood and prevent the transfer of moisture to the wood fibre. Many luthiers recommend Lemon Oil. My personal preference is Fret Doctor. It is a blend of expensive non-toxic natural oils, antioxidants and stabilisers that will improve the look and prolong the life of a Rosewood fretboard.

Applying oil to a fretboard is much easier if the strings have been removed. But I like to maintain neck tension, so I only remove 3 strings at a time. This reduces the risk of the neck re-shaping, due to a lack of string tension, and having to adjust the neck once the guitar has been re-strung.

My method:

  1. Remove the E, A and D strings from your guitar
  2. Wipe any dirt and grime from the stringless side of the fretboard
  3. Apply one or two drops of Fret Doctor to a clean, lint-free cloth
  4. Rub the oil onto the stringless side of the fretboard
  5. Let the oil soak in for a few minutes
  6. Using a clean section of cloth, wipe the frets clean to remove any excess oil, making sure you do not remove any oil from the wood surface
  7. Re-string your guitar with new E, A and D strings
  8. Now remove the G, B and E strings and repeat the process for the other side of the fretboard
  9. Re-string with new G, B and E strings
  10. Leave the guitar on a flat, horizontal surface for several hours to ensure that the oil has been absorbed before playing.

If you find that your fretboard is very dirty, you may need to clean it with fine grade wire wool before applying the oil. But be careful to avoid neck inlays and frets.

While strings are removed, take the opportunity to clean your saddles, bridge, pickups and scratch plate. Also, don’t forget to lubricate your nut slots.

Maple fretboards tend to be protected with a lacquer/varnish. Lacquered fretboards should  only be cleaned, not oiled.

More about Fret Doctor

Purchase Fret Doctor at

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