An oil extracted from dried flax seeds, linseed oil is primarily used to varnish, or give a protective gloss finish, to various types of wood. A drying oil, or a liquid oil that solidifies once it dries, linseed oil is ideal for guitar fingerboards as it is water resistant and soaks into the pores of the wood to produce a glossy coat that showcases its natural grain. While it should not be applied with every string change due to its tendency to build up on the wood, linseed oil is nonetheless easily applied and inexpensive and brings out the fine beauty of any fingerboard while also serving to protect the instrument from dust and grime.
Items you will need
- Low tack tape
- Steel wool
- Soft-bristled paintbrush
- Paper towel or soft rag
- Linseed oil
Unwind the guitar's tuning knobs so that the strings are loose. Remove the bridge pins at the base of the guitar and remove the guitar strings.
Apply a few strips of low tack tape to the guitar body on each side of the neck where it meets the guitar's sound hole. Cover the sound hole as well. Low tack tape is relatively free of adhesive. This makes the tape easier to remove without damaging the guitar body. Applying tape around the fingerboard and over the sound hole ensures that no debris gets into the guitar and that the guitar body is not damaged during cleaning.
Run the steel wool the entire length of the fingerboard, working the wool up and down in a sweeping, yet slightly forceful, motion to clear away all dirt and grime from the wood while making sure you do not scratch the wood.
Sweep away any debris caused by the steel wool with the soft-bristled paintbrush, running the brush up and down the fingerboard in the same manner as the steel wool.
Fold a paper towel or a soft rag into a small square and add a few drops of the linseed oil. Apply the oil to the fingerboard, working it into the wood without saturating it.
Unfold the paper towel to its inner, dry side or use a separate towel to soak up any excess oil by running the towel over the fingerboard. You can then clean and restring the guitar.
Tips & Warnings
- Applying new strings to a dirty fingerboard almost certainly guarantees that the new strings will pick up the dirt from the wood, shortening the lifespan of new strings and distorting the guitar's sound. Cleaning the guitar helps keep it sounding optimal.
- Because the linseed oil is a drying oil, it builds up over time and becomes pasty. Do not clean your guitar's fingerboard with linseed oil every time you change your strings, rather, apply the linseed oil twice a year to recondition the wood and bring out its natural sheen. To clean after every string change, use a mineral oil or a slight amount of oil-based furniture polish.
- "Guitar Player Repair Guide: How to Setup, Maintain, and Repair Electrics and Acoustics"; Dan Erlewine; 1990
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