When we play our guitar or bass, we transfer a lot of the pollutants gathered on our fingers from our own bodies, the environment, and, in some instances, the everyday goods we handle. It's beneficial to wipe down strings after playing to prevent the accumulation of corrosive substances and filth on them, but are there any products to apply to the strings to help with their longevity?
Should guitarists and bassists oil their strings? Oiling guitar and bass strings may improve playability and longevity by reducing friction and helping to protect them from corrosion and grime, so long as proper oil/products are used. Oiling strings is unnecessary and largely a personal preference. Most products/oils will do more harm than good.
However, many guitar shops and manufacturers offer cleaners and lubricants (or oil) specifically crafted for guitar and bass strings. We'll be discussing the utility of these products, particularly oils.
Related articles: Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Guitar
Should Guitarists & Bassists Oil Their Strings?
Strings are the most short-lived components of a guitar or bass. The reasons for this should be obvious even to non-musicians, as the strings are the most handled part of the instrument. To put it in perspective, piano strings last much longer because of the fact that they rest in a closed environment and are not usually touched with our fingers.
Oiling strings is a matter of personal preference but provided that you use the adequate type of oil, there should be no major issue oiling the strings with products designed for that purpose.
I discourage the use of non-guitar-related detergents on the strings to prevent corrosion or damage to the strings and fretboard.
Some guitarists are satisfied with the returns provided by applying oil to the strings, while others report experiencing stickiness while playing. In short, the use of lubricants is not necessarily a guarantee of playability as it chiefly depends on the status of your strings and your skin's predispositions and pH level.
There are many products marketed specifically as lubricants for strings and fretboards. GHS Fast Fret (link to check the price on Amazon) and MusicNomad String Fuel (link to check the price on Amazon) are some examples. The manufacturers claim that strings last a lot longer when these solutions are applied, as they act as a barrier against corrosive agents.
GHS Strings is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Of course, oils should always be used with moderation, as they're prone to trap dirt, and it will be challenging to clean your guitar and strings afterwards.
Personally, I wipe my strings down but never oil them.
The Best Oil Products For Guitar Strings
Most experts recommend mineral oils to lubricate both strings and fretboards, as it never goes rancid and does not contain any particularly damaging components. Most guitar maintenance goods on the market include it. Also, as stated earlier, most cleaning/oil products made for guitars that are labelled as “lemon oil” are, in reality, a combination of mineral oil and artificial lemon scent.
When choosing the best product, you should stick with commercial oils specifically devised for guitar and bass strings and avoid unknown or generic brands or those supposedly designed for multiple uses. These latter ones commonly contain hazardous acids that can cause irreparable harm to your guitar or bass.
See the aforementioned GHS Fast Frets and MusicNomad String Fuel for good options.
There has been constant discussion on guitar forums about which products work and which don't. Most of the time, it will be difficult to ascertain the majority position in these debates. Nevertheless, here is a list of common oils/products you may want to think twice about before using on your bass or guitar strings:
Coconut Oil As A Guitar String Product
This is a plant-based oil that is extracted from coconuts, as the name suggests. It contains a surprising amount of saturated fats, considering its origin. Most coconuts oils are acidic (particularly processed coconut oils), meaning that it's likely to go rancid.
Some people apply the oil directly on the fretboard and have not experienced any particular setback, while others claim that, as it decomposes, it ends up attracting dirt. It likewise solidifies at room temperature, which could render it cumbersome to handle.
Lemon Oil As A Guitar String Product
You may have probably seen many guitar-related products advertised as lemon oil, but most of the time, it's really just mineral oil with an added lemon aroma. In reality, true lemon oil is highly acidic and is likely to cause damage to the guitar's finish.
Linseed Oil As A Guitar String Product
This oil is mostly touted as a fretboard conditioner and should be used sparingly on unvarnished wood or when the neck has been compromised by sweat and grime accumulation over time. Linseed oil is known to have a very strong, unpleasant smell, disrupting your playing experience as a whole, but it's not as damaging as most of the other products listed here.
Olive Oil As A Guitar String Product
Olive oil goes rancid fast and never solidifies, so you should ultimately not use it on any part of the guitar or bass unless you're out of alternatives.
Vinegar As A Guitar String Product
White vinegar is known to be very effective at removing stains, fat, and gunk, as well as being one of the best bacteria killers. However, apart from its smell, the fact that it's a combination of acetic acid and water means that it will corrode the strings, mainly metal strings. Needless to say, vinegar removes fat, meaning it will not make your strings oily or easier to slide across.
Alcohol As A Guitar String Product
Alcohol is excellent for removing most dirt and gunk from your strings, and it should not pose any danger to the strings themselves. However, you must be very careful when applying it not to have the alcohol come into direct contact with the wood, for the wood can turn dry and crack.
Some people recommend using specifically denatured alcohol, though we would discourage it if you have no experience using these types of highly flammable and toxic products.
Finally, alcohol will not make your strings easier to play since it's not meant to provide lubrication for your strings.
WD-40 As A Guitar String Product
We strongly discourage using petroleum-based products on your guitar, especially WD-40. While it's sold as a metal cleaner, by cleaning your steel strings, you may risk dripping small amounts of the solution on the guitar's wood, inflicting irreversible damage to the latter. It's also not used as a lubricant but only as a cleaner.