REPLACE fretless rosewood fingerboard with EBONY?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by JacoNOT, Aug 14, 2012.


  1. JacoNOT

    JacoNOT

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2012
    I'm no luthier. I'm asking a question OF luthiers.

    I own a relatively inexpensive LTD 5-string fretted bass, a B-205SM. It has a nice rosewood fretboard, but at the $400 price point, I doubt that it is particularly dense or hard.

    I would like to purchase it's fretless twin, a B-205SM-FL. It appears to have the same rosewood fingerboard as that of the fretted version.

    I think the fretless rosewood fingerboard will wear quickly, and I would like to know if the following CAN be done - and if it's ADVISABLE to consider having it done:

    Could the rosewood fingerboard material be completely removed from the 5pc maple/rosewood neck (by sanding, planing, etc) and be REPLACED with a nice piece of ebony? Or perhaps some synthetic alternative?

    Thanks
     
  2. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2006
    Short answer: Yes.

    Anything can be done in the hands of a skilled craftsman. That does not mean that it should. The cost of a the fingerboard replacement will be close to or exceed the cost of the new instrument depending on local rates. At that point it is no longer an inexpensive guitar.

    Decision is yours.
     
  3. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2008
    Location:
    Durango, CO
    Disclosures:
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    The fingerboard probably won't wear as quickly as you think, especially if you're only going to use flatwounds on the bass. It takes a lot of practice to wear grooves into a fingerboard deep enough to cause problems.

    Wear out the rosewood board, then use the money you would have already spent otherwise to get a new, ebony one installed on the bass.
     
  4. bassgod0dmw

    bassgod0dmw Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2007
    Location:
    White Plains
    I agree with both of the above posts.

    Yes, it can be done. However, with the money spent on the bass and the significant amount of money spent replacing the fingerboard, you might as well just buy a different bass.

    However, it takes a while it wear out a fingerboard.
     
  5. Register to disable this ad
  6. testing1two

    testing1two Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2009
    Location:
    Southern California
    You could also epoxy coat the rosewood fingerboard. It's a much cheaper and less invasive approach compared to replacing a fingerboard on a new instrument.
     
  7. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2008
    Location:
    Durango, CO
    Disclosures:
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Is it that easy though? I always thought you'd need to re-level the fingerboard to about .001" after the epoxy dried.
     
  8. testing1two

    testing1two Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2009
    Location:
    Southern California
    With the proper tools and a little know-how it's not difficult. There are lots of threads on the subject if you're interested in doing it yourself, including the "Defretting" sticky at the top.
     
  9. FunkMetalBass

    FunkMetalBass

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2005
    Location:
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Disclosures:
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    Regardless of what is done, a new fingerboard, a worn fingerboard, and a coated fingerboard will ALL have to be re-leveled and radiused.

    I also vote for "wear it out first, then worry about it." How fast you wear out your fingerboard is almost entirely a result of technique. Practice with the stock board because bad technique will just wear out the other two more expensive options equally as fast.
     
  10. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2006
    Exactly. The rosewood fingerboard will last quite a while. It can be dressed level at least once before replacement is needed.

    The epoxy needs to be leveled and polished. A thousandth is an excellent and proper goal.
     
  11. JacoNOT

    JacoNOT

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks for all replies. Yeah, the ebony transplant sounds like it'll cost more than the original $400 purchase, but if I really like the bass I guess it'd be worthwhile.

    I'm familiar with how to epoxy coat, though I have not done it. Are you guys saying the thickness of the epoxy should be just .001" as in one-thousandth of an inch? Yikes. I figure that if I undertake that, I'll make that epoxy about 1/8" thick and leave it a matt surface (high-number sandpaper with no buffing afterward) so I can redress it as needed. Would have to invest in a sanding block...but metal shim stock under the nut and raising the saddles ought to accommodate the extra 1/8" neck thickness, right?

    Also, I'm going to have to find some reliable sound files somewhere/somehow to give me a solid idea of how various flat-wounds sound on rosewood and on epoxy fingerboards.

    Any suggestions would be a Godsend... Thanks
     
  12. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2008
    Location:
    Durango, CO
    Disclosures:
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Heh, that would be tough to make sure that you had a uniform .001" thick coat of epoxy on the entire board. Actually, we meant that the board will need to be re-flattened to about .001" (to avoid "fret" buzz) after the epoxy has been applied and dried. That is, you'll need to sand it so perfectly flat that a straight edge accurate to .001" won't have any space between it and the board.

    While it is more than doable, properly re-dressing a fingerboard can be tricky, .001" is really small. You need to know how to set the neck just so before you start sanding, you don't just want to take off the strings and start going after the board. You'll have to set the neck fairly straight using either the truss rod or some weight on the bass body (unless it has a dual-action rod). That's why I was asking the other guys about their epoxy-coating suggestion. It's a fairly involved process, even to simply get the epoxy flat in the right way.

    Once again, it is something you could do, but you'd want to do some research and maybe practice once before taking on the task. You might want to get Dan Erlewine's book Fret Work: Step by Step. Yes, the book is about fretwork, but it has a lot of information about how to set up, work on and treat the neck to get everything just right when re-dressing a fingerboard.
     
  13. JacoNOT

    JacoNOT

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks, XBG, for the detailed reply.

    I've been following this thread on Mirror Coat epoxy, as well as studying whatever other online source material I can find. It does look do-able, as long as no super-human accuracy is needed. It seems that a properly-radiused sanding block, the correct progression of sanding grits, and close attention to technique throughout the process--from mixing the epoxy to final sanding--should produce the desired outcome. Case in point, if a mass-produced $400 asian fretless is entirely playable, I should be able to achieve the same result with lots of care and focus.

    All things considered, I think I'd rather have ebony than epoxy, though. JoeyL reports that the bass he worked so hard to epoxy "might not be for him" after all... I want him to post WHY, and am waiting to read his reasons. It might be that he doesn't like the sound or the feel of the epoxied surface, and I'd sure like to know that BEFORE I choose a direction. In any case, it sounds like the rosewood board should last me a good while - per comments by you all - so I'll have time to decide.

    Hey, did you craft the bass that appears in your avatar image? YOWZA. That upper horn is a pleasure to look at, and the whole thing is SCULPTURE. Shape, color, material and every aspect of design aesthetics appears to be well represented (can't see it as clearly as I'd like due to the tiny photo and chiaroscuro lighting). Assuming it plays/sounds as good as it looks, that thing must be a MONSTER :eek:

    EDIT: I followed the link to your website and saw the photo and specs under the Custom Basses > Five String Basses heading. Yikes.
     
  14. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2006
    If you're committed to purchasing this instrument, why not try it out in a store with your amp and effects? Then you can make an informed decision.
     
  15. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2008
    Location:
    Durango, CO
    Disclosures:
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Sure thing :)

    I certainly did. Posted some sound samples too (though I'm not a fretless player...I'm really glad the owner wanted edge markers). Thanks for the compliments on the bass.

    Best of luck with your potential new bass too!
     
  16. bassgod0dmw

    bassgod0dmw Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2007
    Location:
    White Plains
    I'd expect the transplant to cost about $400, turning this into an $800 bass that would be worth way less than your investment on the used market, should you ever decide to sell it. It could cost more and it could cost less.

    Unless you're absolutely in love with the bass, you might as well look at a used fretless in the $800 range that has the specs you're looking for.
     
  17. JacoNOT

    JacoNOT

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2012
    I wish, man. I wish. There aren't a lot of music shops where I live, and I have never seen any fretless bass in the shops that are here. It's strickly an online purchase proposition.
     
  18. JacoNOT

    JacoNOT

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2012
    I'll be going back to hear those sound files. Hopefully this evening. Thanks.
     
  19. JacoNOT

    JacoNOT

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2012
    Wise advice. Thank you.

    I'm new to bass after decades on guitar. I'm making good progress, but am not confident in my ability to play a bass without benefit of frets. So I have this (perhaps stupid) idea to own two identical basses that would require no rethink and no adjustment when moving between fretted and fretless. That explains my interest in this particular fretless bass.

    I fell in love with a used fretted G&L 5-string Tribute (asian) in a local shop, but thought the neck felt too thick (something I would likely adjust to in a week or two). Trouble is, matching that bass with it's fretless twin is probably way outside my budget...

    I'll keep an eye peeled for used fretless 5s for a while before I do anything. Thanks.
     
  20. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging! Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2006
    Location:
    San Diego, CA
    Just play your bass. I defretted my '73 P-bass (Rosewood FB) in the late seventies, and it's still completely playable.
     
  21. JacoNOT

    JacoNOT

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2012
    I don't have a fretless yet. Trying to decide.

    1) I'll bet the rosewood on a 1973 Fender P is a LOT more substantial/dense/hard than whatever South Korea is using on a $400 bass these days. I'd bet heavily that whatever I get will be a more open grain and less dense, and to me that spells faster wear.

    2) What type strings have you been using since the late 70s.

    3) Do you play it a lot, or a little?

    4) Do you have fretless skills that tend to preserve or to wear out a fretless board?

    I have no idea how my technique will impact a fretless board, but I assume I lack the finesse to minimize wear. Also, I don't like roundwound strings, and expect to run either GHS Pressure Wounds (compressed rounds) or some kind of flatwound... That should help.
     

Share This Page