I don't claim to be that great at woodworking or guitar playing, but I
do both (neither one professionally). Because I do both I love guitars
not only for their musical value, but as highly refined and functional
woodworking pieces (I'm talking about real guitars, not the junk that
gets spit off the Asian assembly lines at a rate of a couple thousand
Most well made guitars I've seen don't have any sort of finish on the
fingerboard. They say that fine instruments only get better with use.
And hand oil--not hand dirt--is, in my opinion, one of the reasons for
this. If you pick up a guitar that has been used a lot for a long
time, it has a feel that cannot be achieved through any process other
than having fingers with their natural oils dancing up and down the
fret board. It's a natural process like the smoothing of river rocks
tumbling in a stream. This natural oiling process can also give some
indication as to the players style. Look closely at the patterns on
the finger board and you'll get some idea of where he chooses to do
most of his playing. Does he stay mostly in the first position using
mostly open chords or does he do a lot of soloing in the mid to high
range. To me this is all part of the guitar's character and story.
And if it's a fine instrument that is worth handing down to future
generations, those generations should not be deprived of the story.
The only oil that get's put on the necks of my guitars is hand oil.
That is, clean hand oil- not hand oil mixed with hand dirt.
For those reading that are not interested in guitars, think of an old
wooden plane or the wood handles of your favorite hand tools. My uncle
has some that have decades of hand oil deposits. You can't get the
same feel from any comercially available finish or oil. To me it's a
desirable feel that would be ruined if you tried to monkey around with
If there's already dirt on the finger board, I would use a rag lightly
dampened with water to rub it off. The water will loosen the dirt, but
won't disolve the hand oil. After the dirt is removed apply additional
layers of hand oil finish by playing at every possible occasion.