neck finishing and warranty

red king

Senior member
I know this may have been asked before....

I am finishing a maple neck with a pau ferro fretboard....Do I have to apply a hard finish (nitro) to the fretboard as well as the neck?  I would prefer to spray nitro on the maple (back of neck and headstock) and wipe lemon oil on the fretboard.




Senior member
What you have in mind is exactly the way to finish things.

Careful with the lemon oil - its mostly petroleum distillates.  Use that - ONLY - after the nitro has had a very long time to cure.  Go ahead and finish your neck, ample curing time, then assembly.  When you change strings in 3 months or so, then give the fretboard a wipe with your lemon oil.  No need to go overboard on that stuff.  Recently on the LP forum, there was a guy who had used a fretboard "conditioner", and swelled the grain.... it was obvious in his "hey look at how good this is" pictures.  He thought the dark color was great.  Others (me included) thought - you idiot, the grain is all swelled with oil.  That is - it looked oil soaked.  I'm not big on fretboard conditioners, as rosewood, pau ferro are oily to start with, and need very little in the way of "replenishment".  Forget the crap you hear about "feeding" the wood.  Its dead man.  Let it go.

I found this by user "Armitage" on another forum

The fretboard on most guitars is unfinished, and allows moisture in and out due to changes in the weather, changes of location (basement, bar, theater, indoors, out etc) making the wood expand and contract which causes cracks, bowing, and the frets to stick out the edges, ouch. The less change, the better for your guitar and it's setup. And remember you are not Feeding or Nourishing anything... that is dead.

"Real" Lemon Oil is the industry standard for cleaning fretboards, (it has nothing to do with lemons BTW, it's a petroleum product, it's just yellow and has a tart smell). It cleans grungy fretboards well, but many strip the natural oil out of the wood. It replaces the oils with it's own that may later evaporate leaving the wood drier then it originally was. It's poisonous, and some brands are flammable. Most lemon oils are simply low grade Light Mineral Oil and a splash of naptha as a solvent.

You can buy a "Real" Lemon Oil made from lemons at a health food store, but you wouldn't want that on wood. It's a different thing altogether, it's a powerful degreaser and it's corrosive. You can see how people get confused when there are two unrelated "Real Lemon" Oils out there.

Light Mineral Oil works great, (most lemon oils are 99% mineral oil) while not as good of a cleaner, (it doesn't have the solvent) it's much better for the wood. It's inert, doesn't evaporate go bad or smell, and some people drink it as a home cure. Hamer, Martin and PRS recommend it over Lemon Oil. You only need to use a little. The best place to buy it is your local drug store. Really. The stuff for sale for human consumption is the purest/highest grade. They usually have to order it; it's worth waiting one more string change to do the job right. Dr Duck's, Gibson's Fretboard conditioner, bore oil, Fast Fret, Fender and Dunlop's fretboard stuff is all low grade Light Mineral Oil with a light solvent added, and that is the most expensive way to buy it!

I'll use lemon oil on a guitar that got really grungy, or if I bought it used, for its solvent properties, or I'll use a touch of Naptha if it's really filthy, and I'll usually wait until the next string change to put on the Light Mineral Oil. And I only do that a couple times the first year, then once a year or every couple years on most of my guitars. Once or twice a year while touring or heavy gigging. That's all you need with Light Mineral Oil. You don't want any oil to absorb too deeply either; it's just a surface protectant. You could imagine how much oil would be leaking out the bottom of a '59 Les Paul with 50 years of oil soaking in... and in.... and in. You don't want to over oil it either, you can make the fretboard punky and soft. That'll kill the resonance of the neck and make the wood punky, and pull out when you get a fret change. The oil is just there to slow the effect of temporary humidity changes from affecting the wood, to keep the wood flexable and to keep the board clean. I also wash my hands before I play most of the time. With over 60 guitars, that's a lot of strings to change, so I do my best to keep them alive if I can.

I've seen a bunch of guys use goofy things. Some work, some LOOK like they work, and some cause problems later. Vegetable oils go rancid over time, 3inONE is a light mineral oil but has lots of other crap in it (solvents) that may loosen inlays, it stains and it smells. Silicone/Armor All etc. looks great but contains silicone and that makes refinishing impossible... Linseed and Tung Oil dry hard; they're a finish... Linseed can feel gummy once it gets warmed up by your hands too. Tung Oil on the back of an unfinished neck is great though. If you're going to use Linseed, (it smells) you want Boiled Linseed Oil. Be careful that Boiled Linseed Oil rags have a habit of spontaneous combustion i.e. they set themselves on fire after sitting a while.

User "Dave G" writes

Most store bought lemon oils contain petroleum distillates.

"Pure lemon oil (or other citrus oils) is composed of d-limonene at an amount of 90% or more. There are other minor components that give each of the citrus oils its own unique flavors and fragrances. These ingredients include citral, linalool, geraniol, nerol, citronella, pinenes and other terpenes.

Since d-limonene is the majority of lemon oil (or orange oil), we can look at its properties to determine why it is not suited for fretboard care. First, and most importantly, d-limonene is a very strong solvent. It is used to remove glue, paint, grease, oil and other substances. If an oil with a high percentage of d-limonene were applied to a fretboard, it might even begin to loosen the bindings, fret markers or other trim. Additionally, it could soften some varnishes or lacquers used on necks and bodies. Also the vapors of d-limonene are flammable with a flash point of about 124 degrees F.

What are petroleum distillates? The type of petroleum distillates used in furniture cleaners is a very thin, purified and deodorized mineral oil. Normal paraffin and iso-paraffin oils are generally used since they are less agressive to finishes and have lower odors. They are also flammable but the flash points are usually above 200 degrees F."


picture of swelled grain after using oil

User "Leña Costoso" commented
I love that obvious swelled grain in the last photo. No need to remind me not to use that stuff...  See the shiny spots on each "grain". Thats because they're picking up reflection from the lighting, showing that they're raised, swollen, not closed. Bumped up. Raised. Not good. If that happened in a walnut gunstock, we'd call it oil-soaked.

User "Steve Denver" adds

youre absolutely correct and so is Lena

my JPLP has the spitting image of that board-and oil did raise grain just as Lena observed ( i was unhappy with my board and tried to 'help it'-i was even more unhappy when i saw the raised grain) mine did the very same thing-with bore oil

-no other rw ive had has ever had this type of grain /splinter issue-no matter how much oil

and to remedy this i lightly scraped my board with the grain using a straight edge of a metal ruler-sharp but wider than a single razor blade-and then burnished it using another piece of wood-a popsicle stick i think-just rubbed it along the grain using the edge of the stick-it flattens the grain, and strips off the stray raised 'splinters'-and probably squeezes out excess oil too

frankly I dont know what RW gibson used but it is, IMHO, subpar (and theyve been using this stuff for years-my JPLP is a 96)-IMHO a run of the mill rw board fenders use a more pleasing and better grained RW which is more to my taste and more nicely grained and much darker in color-

can anyone identify the RW-is it madagascar?

what i have found is that lightly colored RW like this cannot be truly darkened -it wont even take a stain well (an entire new thread)

- but once scraped or steel wooled smooth-it will take on a nice patina after many years of playing -or - sanding with 600 or finer or even my newest discovery the mr clean bathroom pad (no chemicals just a super fine abrasive) -color stays the same

my 83 LP has a similar light board which while still light-looks great some 24 years later

Just my observations from getting around .....


Senior member
You do not have to apply any finish to the fretboard of a maple neck that has a fretboard that wouldn't need a finish were the neck made of that wood, which encompasses almost every non-maple fretboard choice.

Typically you should have no need to put anything at all on the fretboard. If you are finishing the back of the neck/peghead yourself, you WILL probably need to clean off some residual "goo" from taping off the fretboard from the finish when spraying. This can be done with naptha or lighter fluid, but can take the natural "sheen" from rosewood/ebony/pau ferro/etc.

To get the coloration back - naptha/lighter fluid will "dull" it a little, I use WATCO Danish Oil, but I imagine that most any kind of oil finish you might use on fine furniture would work - Pledge? Trick is just to barely apply any, i.e., barely dampen a clean cloth with the oil; wipe down the frets, then use a clean DRY cloth to wipe off any/all residual from the fretboard so it doesn't feel "oily".