Even the highest-quality guitar strings wear over time; they’ll begin to rust, collect dust and dirt, or dry out and become brittle. Worn strings are more likely to break and can adversely affect your guitar’s tone and playability.
Different guitarists deal with string wear in different ways. At the opposite extremes are guitarists who change their stings every time they perform and those who only ever change their strings when one snaps. The former course of action could get expensive to the point of being impractical, and the latter all but ignores the problems associated with worn strings.
A sensible and relatively inexpensive middle ground is to use a professional lubricant for guitar strings. A string conditioner/lubricant will increase the life of your strings, and also help maintain your guitar’s tone and playability. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular products on the market to help you determine which is the best guitar string lubricant for you.
Best Lubricants For Guitar Strings
1. Music Nomad String Fuel Guitar String Cleaner/Lubricant Care Kit
When comparing guitar string conditioners, one product stood out as a clear favorite, namely Music Nomad String Fuel. This product contains a half fluid ounce of cleaner/conditioner, an applicator, and a microfiber cloth for cleanup.
Promising to reduce string friction and finger noise (squeaking,) Music Nomad is produced by a small California company that’s one-hundred-percent American owned and operated. The included applicator is wide enough to cover all six strings at once, making it easier to coat your strings evenly.
- Applicator is wide enough to coat all six strings at once
- Comes with a microfiber cloth for cleanup
- American made
- Comes with less conditioner/lubricant than many other offerings
2. Dunlop Ultraglide 65 String Conditioner
If you play guitar, you’ve likely heard the name, Dunlop. Since 1965, the Jim Dunlop company has been making all manner of guitar accessories, from picks and strings to effects pedals like the insanely popular “Cry Baby” Wah pedal. Dunlop also produces a range of guitar cleaners and conditioners, including their Ultraglide 65 String Conditioner.
Dunlop Ultraglide 65 String Conditioner is formulated to extend string life and enhance playability. It comes in a two-fluid-ounce container topped with a felt dauber for easy application.
- Dunlop is a trusted and time-tested brand
- Includes felt-dauber top for application
- Applicator isn’t large enough to coat all six strings at once
3. GHS Strings A87 Fast Fret
Based in Battle Creek Michigan, GHS Strings has been manufacturing guitar strings and accessories since 1964. With their A87 Fast Fret string conditioner, GHS offers a lubricant that promises to facilitate frictionless finger slide and keep your guitar strings clean and conditioned.
GHS Fast Fret comes in an eight-fluid ounce container with a built-in applicator; the product is silicone-free and is delivered as a liquid, not an aerosol.
- GHS is a well-regarded and well-known guitar accessory maker
- Silicone free
- Liquid/not an aerosol
- Applicator doesn’t coat all strings at once
4. Tone Fingerease String Lubricant
Though not produced by a major guitar accessories manufacturer, Tone Fingerease string conditioner and lubricant is a product that enjoys wide popularity.
Tone Fingerease facilitates smoother, faster sliding along the strings and neck of your guitar. The major disadvantage to Tone Fingerease is that it’s an aerosol, meaning you spray it onto your guitar’s neck and fretboard.
When it comes to string conditioning and lubrication, this is a less-than-ideal delivery method, as you’re likely to use far more conditioner than is necessary. Using too much lubricant can cause your guitar strings to collect grime, dust, and dirt.
If you use Tone Fingerease or any other aerosol string conditioner, be sure to wipe off any excess with a lint-free cloth.
- Currently rated five stars on Amazon
- Delivered as an aerosol as opposed to a liquid
- Not as well-known a brand as GHS or Dunlop
5. Baroque Fast Guitar Strings Cleaner With Lubricant
Unique among our entries is Fast Guitar Strings Cleaner/Eraser by a company called Baroque. This conditioner/lubricant comes in a double-headed applicator; one of the felt applicators keeps your strings from oxidizing, while the other keeps them conditioned and lubricated.
Baroque Fast Guitar Strings Cleaner comes in a 3.2-ounce package, enough conditioner to lubricate your strings hundreds, if not thousands of times.
- Double-headed applicator
- Sturdy, convenient packaging
- Baroque isn’t as well-established a company as GHS or Dunlop
- Felt applicator isn’t wide enough to condition all strings at once
How To Lubricate Guitar Strings?
When lubricating your guitar strings, the main thing to remember is not to overdo it. As mentioned above, many professional lubricants come in containers with applicators built in.
If you’re using a product that doesn’t come with an applicator, use a few drops on a cotton ball or microfiber cloth and spread the lubricant evenly as possible over your guitar’s strings.
Alternatives To Professional String Lubricant
There are a number of products that, though they aren’t advertised as guitar string lubricant, may seem like viable alternatives. Just because a product is a good lubricant, though, doesn’t necessarily make it a good string lubricant. In fact, some of these products, aside from being inferior lubricants, may even damage your guitar’s finish.
Olive oil may seem a viable alternative to professional string lubricant; it’s an oil, after all and, like string lubricant, feels slick to the touch. In fact, olive oil might make an okay lubricant for guitar strings, if it wasn’t an organic substance liable to spoiling.
After a short time, olive oil will begin to congeal and form clumps on your guitar strings. Any lubricant effects diminish rapidly, and the oil will even begin to smell rancid as it spoils. In the final tally, you should avoid putting olive oil–or any plant-based oils–anywhere near you; petroleum based oils are far preferable.
Unlike olive oil, pure mineral oil makes a viable alternative to professional guitar lubricants. Mineral oils are the basis for most brand-name guitar string cleaners and lubricants, so you know they won’t adversely affect your strings or your guitar’s fretboard.
The reason mineral oil is safe for your guitar and strings is that it’s not plant-based and it’s not acidic; it’s an alkaline oil product distilled from petroleum.
Lemon oil may seem another good alternative to professional string lubricant; if you look at the ingredients that go into string conditioners and lubricants, lemon oil is often among them. For this reason, some people make the mistake of using lemon oil as a string lubricant.
In truth, lemon oil is highly acidic and may cause serious damage to your guitar’s strings and finish. Professional string lubricants contain only trace amounts of lemon oil, the acidity of which is offset by the alkaline nature of its mineral oil base.
WD-40 is a great lubricant, and there are many reasons guitar techs and luthiers keep it handy; string lubrication is not one of them. Though it contains ingredients largely similar to those in string lubricants, WD-40 also contains some chemicals that might damage your guitar’s finish.
While it likely wouldn’t cause as much damage as lemon oil, WD-40 is not at all an ideal product for string lubrication. Add to that the fact that it’s an aerosol, and I think we can safely scratch WD-40 from our list of viable DIY string lubricants.
Bike Chain Lubricant
Like mineral oils, bike lubricants can be an effective and safe alternative to brand-name string lubricants. There are two types of bike chain lubricant; only dry chain lubricant will work as a DIY string lubricant.
If you use dry bike chain lube as string lube, be sure to use it sparingly. Apply with a cotton ball for best results.
Believe it or not, baby oil can be a good DIY alternative to professional string lubricant. Baby oil is mostly mineral oil, so it won’t damage your guitar’s finish. As with bike chain lube, baby oil should be used sparingly and applied with a cotton ball.
There is one major downside to using baby oil as a string lubricant, namely it’s usually scented. While this may not be a deal-breaker for every guitarist, many of us, I dare say, don’t relish the thought of smelling like a baby’s butt every time we pick up one of our guitars.
Be sure to use only baby oil, and never baby powder on your guitar strings. Unlike baby oil, baby powder is meant to prevent chafing by absorbing moisture; the last thing you want to do to your strings is facilitating their drying out prematurely.
Car waxes and cleaners, especially those containing silicone, don’t make good string lubricants. Though they often feel slick to the touch, silicone waxes solidify as they dry.
Guitarists can, and do, disagree in good faith about the usefulness of silicone car cleaners regarding restoring a guitar’s finish; some claim they work fine, while others point out how difficult it can be to get them to dry evenly. Most agree, however, that such products have little to no value as string lubricants.
Should I Lubricate My Guitar Strings?
The short answer to this question is yes, most likely. Lubricated strings generally last longer and sound better longer than untreated strings. Unless you don’t like the feel of freshly lubricated strings–and some guitarists don’t, preferring to let the natural oils in their fingers do the work for them–there’s really no reason not to extend the life and tonal quality of your guitar strings.