Fretless lines: an atrocious idea for sound & stability?
Anyone ever experience buzzes or really, really dead notes right on a fret marker, when the neck was really well leveled?
Two builds I just got, have maple fret lines that are both palpably raised above the rosewood and ebony boards. To add to it all, there are a hand full of markers that have had maple torn out by poor razor-blading or sanding; there are little dark holes of missing maple. I never saw such shoddy work from a production bass. On my most recent build, a great upright/ violin maker/ repair man put an edge to the board, and a fret rocker... his verdict: straight, no gross high spots. Yet when I finger ONE note...it's dead as a zombie, with a horrible buzz. There's a pitted fret line right there at position 12... if I use my fingernail to place the note, it (seems) to originate RIGHT on the marker. Or maybe that's wishful thinking.
Could be this is simply the place where the first ded spot would appear, due to normal string excursion. But i'm dubious.
Yes, you have to be careful how you do lines or inlays on a fretless fingerboard. They have to be trimmed level with the wood, and then stay level through temperature and humidity changes. Plus the material has to be about the same hardness as the surrounding wood. If not, you'll get clicks, slightly bright notes, or slightly dead notes as you cross the lines.
I personally don't like lines on my own basses for that reason. When my customers request lines on basses I'm building for them, I use thin white styrene plastic (in ebony fingerboards). The plastic seems to be the best at staying level, and it's soft enough that it doesn't create bright spots. Strips of hardwoods also work well. Metal, pearl, or anything harder than the wood is a bad idea. Also, keep the lines narrow and don't fill the top surface with hard glue (like CA glue) unless the whole fingerboard surface is covered with the same glue.
From what you are describing, you have a small dip in the fingerboard right at that spot. It could be a slight chip out of the marker line, or some wear in the wood next to it. It needs to be fixed by leveling and smoothing. Shouldn't be any big deal for your guy.
Thanks, Bruce. If the little chip needs to be filled (and the board is brazilian rosewood, what would your filling materials be?
In the future, I'll TRY to get USA or Warmoth to slot fret lines only on the very top of the board and on the side; my favorite marking system. No one is keen on doing this! They won't even put dots at every position! I may have to take an artist's pencil and write on white lines!
No lines! No lines! Side markers only. That's how I roll.
After 30 years of playing w/ lines, I agree...the tone of the string on the board is much better. Not to mention the ultimate freedom that hearing and not looking can impart.
I'm fighting a constant battle with an otherwise very nice used All Parts fretless neck with ebony board. When I received it, it did a light dressing of the board, and then used micro mesh to polish it like glass. Although luckily I haven't had problems soundwise, it seems every few weeks, if I run my hand along the finger board, I can feel the damn lines again, and I have to dress the board. Now, I wonder if I finally get it flush, will the lines actually recede when the weather changes.
This is why I never even bother filling a rosewood board on a fretless conversion. I generally just remove the board and just replace it with new unlined ebony fingerboard.
I'm coming to the same conclusion...the differential rates of expansion & contraction are obvious, if one lives in a climate where atmospheric changes are a factor. Plus, maple simply is not rosewood, or ebony, etc. I'm going with plainboard ebony this time, and will have short lines put on the top side of the board as markers. I will in fact move away from ebony if this neck is as unstable as my current two ebony necks are, and I'll look more into Pao Ferro as a fast-responding wood. Meanwhile, Brazilian Rosewood is pretty crisp (not nearly as articulate as ebony, but not slow or muddy). And even good old Indian Rosewood sounds great to my ear.
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