I have just been making my first guitar over the last few days from scratch and I have just gotten to the point of needing a finish for it. It is a solid body slide guitar. I was wondering if anyone had experience in oiling a whole guitar body instead of varnish. Pros and cons. Any advice? How long between oiling the next time? Any good oils for this?

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    I don't have any experience with oiling a guitar specifically but a straight oil wouldn't be my first choice for finishing an item like this because it doesn't provide a tough surface and also due to the time it takes. Some info in this previous Answer, woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/3145/…
    – Graphus
    Nov 3, 2017 at 7:58
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    no experience with oils on a guitar, but I will say that a solid body guitar design is inherently a lot more robust than a hollow body electric or acoustic (ie, the finish will not affect the timbre). Pros are that it's easy to apply and looks/feels good. The cons are what graphus said - that oil finishes wont resist mechanical damage or staining (hardly at all). If you are super careful with the guitar and/or don't care about dings, dents, scratches, and stains, then oil is fine.
    – aaron
    Nov 3, 2017 at 12:15
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    to add to what aaron said, I suspect that the oils from your hands while playing it will leave dark marks in the guitar where they rub it the most
    – dcbarans
    Nov 3, 2017 at 14:33

3 Answers 3


I have an old guitar (electric) that had a battered finish. I stripped it completely and used linseed oil to refinish it. I don't think it changed the tone in any noticeable way, and its been fine ever since. That was about 40 years ago. Some caveats though:

1) Oil will never give you a really high gloss finish. If that's what you want, use something else. If you want it to look "natural" though, oil is great.

2) It should really be regularly maintained, certainly for the first few months. Oil it and oil it again. Keep going till it stops absorbing any more. As I remember it, the rule was every day for a week, every week for a month, every month for a year.

3) Oil finish hardens inside the wood, not on the surface. For flutes it's great. For acoustic guitars, probably not. As far as I know this has never been the method chosen for finishing soundboards. The traditional finish there would be shellac which seals the surface rather than soaks in, and adds as little weight as possible.

4) As others have pointed out, oil offers little protection from scratches. However it often still looks ok, and the finish can very easily be touched up. The finish will never chip or peel off, because it actually becomes part of the wood.


I would say probably the same way you would use oil on any other piece of wood. I do think that oil is a better way to go than varnish or other types of hard sealant because it inhibits the vibration of the wood when you are playing. Oil will let the wood vibrate naturally and will give a more resonant tone.

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    Hard finishes haven't seemed to inhibit vibration in old violins.....
    – Graphus
    Nov 16, 2017 at 7:42

While I am not a luthier. My good friend Charles Fox is one of the top luthiers in the US he lacquers his guitars, acoustic and solid bodies. From my limited understanding oil dampens the resonance of the wood while lacquer or French polish accentuate the natural resonance of the wood which enhances tone and sustain in a guitar. This is of course more important in an acoustic guitar. But even in a solid body electric I wouldn't take the chance.

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