Why Should You Oil Your Guitar Strings?

Why Should You Oil Your Guitar Strings?

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If you’ve been playing the guitar for long enough then it should be clear that regular guitar maintenance will help your strings last longer.

But what exactly does this so-called maintenance involves?

Part of the process is pretty straightforward you need to keep your strings clean and your guitar properly stored, but what about conditioning?

I think there’s a great divide when it comes to the topic of oiling guitar strings.

So, why should you oil your guitar strings?

Oiling guitar strings isn’t necessary, but as long as you clean your strings first and use oil products designed for guitars then oiling guitar strings can help protect your strings from corrosion caused by the accumulation of grime and oils that our hands produce. Oiling guitar strings can also reduce friction and improve playability.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with being a new guitar owner, there are so many things to consider, so let’s take a look at whether oiling your guitar strings is something that you need to worry about, and what products are suitable for guitars.

Why Should You Oil Your Guitar Strings?

I think the first question we need to answer is whether you should oil your guitar strings in the first place. The market is full of products for cleaning and conditioning guitar strings, but are they actually useful?

Well as with most things in life there’s no right or wrong answer here and if you ask a hundred guitarists you are most likely to get a hundred different answers.

But I think one thing that most of us will agree on is that cleaning your guitar strings after each session is definitely something you should do at all times.

When it comes to oiling your strings then it’s up to your own personal preference, and as long as you use the right type of oil and you do it right then there shouldn’t be a problem.

There are of course a few reasons why you might want to oil your strings. A thin layer of oil can actually protect the strings from corrosion that happens because of the salt in our sweat and its moisture as well as the dirt that gets transferred from our hands while we’re playing.

While wiping your strings after playing will do the trick, the thin layer of oil can offer additional protection.

Some guitarists like the feel of oiled strings and they believe that it helps playability since the strings feel much smoother and there’s less friction. Aside from making your strings silky smooth, conditioning your strings is great when you want clarity in your recordings.

As you can see and hear in the video, string lubricants can help your strings last longer, feel slicker, and sound brighter!

For others, this exact feeling can be a dealbreaker, because they might find oiled strings too slippery and they rely on friction to do certain techniques like bending.

How Often Should You Oil Guitar Strings?

Strings are the one part of your guitar that will need constant changing and under the right conditions, you can expect your strings to last for two to three months on average, or 100 hours of use.

This means that during this time you need to make sure to clean your strings properly and you might also choose to oil your strings once a month. If you’re going to use a product that is a string cleaner and lubricant in one then you might want to use it after every session.

Oiling your strings once a month can help prolong the life of your strings, to an extent, but most importantly it can help make them look and feel as good as new.

What Can You Use To Lubricate Guitar Strings?

Whether you want to try oiling your guitar strings, or you’re someone who wants to make this process part of your guitar and string maintenance it’s truly crucial that you choose the right products.

Because the market is full of different oils and string lubricants, and the internet is full of household suggestions this can be a difficult thing to do, but trust me there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

What you want to look for is an oil that is called a “string protector”, which will help clean your strings and protect them from corrosion and rust.

I personally think conditioning is far more useful for steel strings and strings made from different types of alloy like steel, nickel, phosphor, brass, or bronze plated strings.

Nylon strings on the other hand are less susceptible to corrosion so you don’t really have to add any additional protection. More so, if we’re talking about coated strings that are already protected by the polymer layer covering which helps them last for a long time.

I don’t often use oils to lubricate my strings, but I’ve found that the Dunlop Ultraglide 65 String Conditioner which you can check out on Amazon, does a great job at both cleaning and conditioning your strings, leaving them squeaky clean, and smooth but not oily or sticky.

My only advice here is to use the Dunlop Conditioner on a rag instead of using the applicator tip. It’s much easier this way and you get more control over the quantity you want to use.

Can You Use Household Items To Oil Guitar Strings?

It’s important to use the right products to keep your strings and guitar as good as new, but there’s a lot of misinformation going around on what kind of oil substitutes you can use.

So, let’s see if any of those are suitable for your strings or not!

Is It Safe To Use Olive Oil On Guitar Strings?

You might be thinking that one of the easiest products to use on your guitar strings is olive oil, after all, it’s organic, you use it in your food, and perhaps you make face or hair masks with it, so it must be safe for your guitar.

However, olive oil can do more harm than good because of its acidity. While the levels of acidity are quite low, between 0.8% and 2% it’s still enough to damage the alloy of the strings as well as the wood of the fretboard in the long run.

Is It Safe To Use Coconut Oil On Guitar Strings?

Coconut is another oil that might come to mind but it’s also not advisable to use it on your guitar since it can solidify when it’s at room temperature.

Your strings might end up attracting more dirt when you play it, and I’ve heard some of my more experimental friends complain that coconut can go rancid.

Is It Safe To Use Linseed On Guitar Strings?

Just like olive oil linseed oil is also acidic something that can damage the strings, and cause them to corrode much quicker, but it can also damage the wood of your fretboard.

Unlike coconut oil, the smell of linseed oil might be another thing that will put you off. While that alone can easily ruin your playing experience, the strings and fretboard might also feel greasy and unpleasant to the touch.

With such oils, you are more likely to spend additional time cleaning your fretboard because of the increasing accumulation of dirt.

Is It Safe To Use Lemon Oil On Guitar Strings?

Lemon oil is actually a tricky one because you will often see oil products that are designed for guitars advertised as lemon oil, but most of the time it’s a mineral oil that has a lemon scent.

As you can imagine lemons are highly acidic and they can definitely cause damage to the guitar’s strings by corroding them, as well as the wood and finish. So, it’s best to avoid it.

If you see a guitar string lubricant containing the word lemon make sure to check that it actually doesn’t contain lemon oil and that’s just the scent otherwise look for another brand.

Is It Safe To Use Vinegar On Guitar Strings?

Vinegar is not only meant to be used with food, but it’s also one of the greatest natural cleaning products out there.

The acidic nature of vinegar can actually help dissolve, grease, dirt, and grime. This might sound like great news because that’s the kind of stuff you would need in order to clean your guitar strings.

However this acidic nature can do more than just clean the grease off your strings, it can also corrode and cause your metal strings to rust. So, it’s best to leave vinegar for your housecleaning chores instead.

Is It Safe To Use Alcohol On Guitar Strings?

Alcohol is another substance that is great for removing dirt and ethanol or isopropanol can even kill bacteria.

In theory, you could use alcohol to clean your strings from the grease and grime that gets trapped with time, but you will have to use a small quantity and be really careful as to not get it in contact with the wood, since alcohol can dry and wear it out really fast.

Even if you do end up using alcohol to clean your strings you might still want to use a proper oil because alcohol won’t make your strings easier to play and it won’t protect the strings from getting dirty again.

Is It Safe To Use Baby Oil On Guitar Strings?

When it comes to guitar string maintenance you might also notice baby oil being mentioned, but my advice is to avoid baby oil just like you would avoid most if not all “possible alternatives” on this list.

Unless the oil you use is specifically designed for your guitar strings, nothing else will do. Baby oil will coat your strings and simply attract more dirt and dust.

Is It Safe To Use WD-40 On Guitar Strings?

Finally, another product to avoid would be WD-40 which is designed to be used on cars and different car parts like fenders, windows, and car interiors.

Don’t get me wrong WD-40 can act as a lubricant, and it can help prevent rust, but if it comes in contact with the wood it can cause serious damage.

In my opinion, WD-40 simply isn’t worth the risk especially when you can find affordable products to condition your strings and your guitar.

Should You Also Oil Your Guitar’s Neck?

Whether we’re talking about waxing, using oil, or both to condition your guitar’s fretboard, these steps are in no way necessary, but they can be a part of your guitar maintenance routine.

So, let’s talk about oiling your guitar’s neck and fretboard. First, you need to establish if your guitar is varnished or not.

If your guitar is varnished then you don’t have to worry about oiling the neck, but if your guitar is made of rosewood or ebony then it will usually be unvarnished and will benefit from this process.

For those of you who have an unvarnished guitar, you will need to remove the old strings first and then clean the fretboard thoroughly to remove any dirt and grime, especially around the frets.

Once the neck is clean you can use proper oil that is specifically designed for the wood of your guitar, and preferably not the same oil you use on your strings.

Remember that a little oil goes a long way. By using just a little oil on a soft cloth you can start rubbing the oil in, thus nourishing the wood. This way you can keep your fretboard from wearing out or even cracking which can cause the frets to not sit as well in the neck.

As you can see in this video, this is a quick and easy process!

Once the oil is dry you can go ahead and restring your guitar with a fresh set. You don’t have to oil the fretboard often, once or twice a year should be enough.

Closing Thoughts

So, as you can see oiling your guitar strings is optional, and comes down to personal preference.

No matter which path you choose though you need to make sure the products you use are specifically designed for your guitar, and the type of strings you are using.

The last thing you want is accelerating the process of corrosion and having to change strings more often than you otherwise would. Plus you want to make sure your guitar won’t get damaged, by using household items and oils.

For me keeping my strings clean and nourishing the fretboard of my guitars once or twice a year is enough, but each guitarist is different.

So, choose your own path, but make sure it’s a safe one!