Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Fretboard --to oil or not to oil? all three instruments?

Hi Folks,

I play mandolin and banjo and soon guitar. We all know that eventually strings need to be changed. In doing that, how many of you put an OIL on your fretboard, or for that matter, on the whole instrument- like a polish or something?

I am about ready to change strings on all my instruments. I do it about once a year, but haven’t kept up due to COVID research for my job. I am a virologist. Anyway, I just finished watching Ben’s mandolin videos on changing strings–boy did I learn a lot of new info about doing that. However, nothing was mentioned about care for the fretboard.

Can you all help me out?




To my understanding, Rosewood and Ebony (which are the most commonly used fretboard materials in acoustic instruments) both retain natural oils. This is why there is no need to finish these woods with lacquer or other types of sealer. Maple, which is a very popular choice in electric guitar fretboards… especially Fender telecasters and stratocasters, needs to be sealed (usually with Lacquer or urethane).

So to answer your question yes, it’s good to oil your fretboard occasionally. Sometimes the natural oils in Rosewood and Ebony can somewhat dry out and a little extra help is good for the fretboard… and it just looks nice! But first, clean the fretboard. Any household cleaner will work. I use an old toothbrush to get into the grain and get next to the frets. Then wipe it all dry and apply your oil. Lemon oil seems to be the preferred choice for fretboards (that’s what I use). Only use the oil on the fretboard. Use a polish for the rest of the guitar. Two or three times a year should be plenty which is about how often I change my strings. More often won’t hurt anything at all IMO!

Keep in mind, this is only my opinion and others may feel differently and hopefully will chime in…

Great topic and not very often discussed… (should be)!


When I oil & polish my banjo which isn’t very often about once every two years. I use lemon oil on the fret board applied sparingly using a cotton bud. I keep the strings on and banjo in tension whist I do this. Paper towel to remove surplus oil. Leave to absorb & dry. I use Stelling Glyde-Cote on the wood work. Small amount is all that’s required applied with a soft cloth and polished off.


Do oil!
I do it to all my instruments every time I change strings, every 3-4 months

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Seems to me the need for oiling is to keep the wood from drying out or soaking up so much moisture it warps.
Do your stringed instruments live in a humid environment or an arid environment?
My guess is this will determine if you oil with every string change or if routine maintenance every two years is sufficient.

Beware the dry indoor air of winter!

Thanks for the input!!!
I have Lemon oil from the store here, but I don’t have the Stelling stuff. Maybe Ben would know.

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I keep my instruments Humidified in the winter as I have steam heat. In the summer in MI it is humid enough and then I keep my instruments in their case all the time anyway. I don’t do the hang on the wall thing


@Jake or @AdamAsh would be you best contact. @BanjoBen is a Stelling Dealership and I guess if it’s not in stock they should be able to stock it if there is the demand failing that contact Stelling direct

Has anyone tried Dunlop formula 65 to polish their instrument. I have some and it seemed to dull my finish.

I use it and love it, but it wears off quickly since my sweaty hands nullify the polish.