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1960(ish) Kay upright bass fingerboard-- replace or plane?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Andrew Higgins, Jun 28, 2020.

  1. Hi All

    I just got lucky and bought an old c. 1960 Kay for a reasonable price. It was well played over the years, and the fingerboard has divots through the first few positions that are deeper and wider than anything I've ever seen. It seems like a rosewood fingerboard- very soft! I have a decent ebony fingerboard lying around that I could replace it with but I want to make sure I'm not picking the hard way of repair. I'd think divots this large would be removing too much fingerboard if planed, but it's a very pretty piece of wood, and it's already on the instrument. Also, would I be shooting myself in the foot for resale if I removed the original fingerboard? Not sure how puritanical the Kay fans are these days.

    thanks in advance for any and all information
  2. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Could you post a picture showing the thickness of the fingerboard as well as the divots?

  3. Sure. Here are a bunch of pics. Happy to provide more info if it's helpful. Thanks

    Attached Files:

  4. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    Theres still plenty of meat left on that fingerboard and it's a beautiful and unique piece. I wouldnt replace it unless it's really neccessary. Some of the old Kays had very thin fingerboards but yours has plenty of thickness left to plane it down.

    You may not be aware but there is also an entire repair sub over on the double bass side of talkbass. You'll find some very experienced luthiers over there that can give you a better idea about the value.
  5. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    That board doesn't look original to me, it's way too thick. I would opt to plane it down. You really have nothing to lose.
  6. Thanks for the info! Fingerboard looks very unusual, as does matching nut. I'd guess the instrument has been refinished within the last 5 to 20 years too; not sure how someone could gig enough to wear out the fingerboard but not get the finish to at least have a dry scuffed look. Still a KAY though, unless someone went through the trouble of finding an old label and a matching stamp dye etc. etc.

    And I'll move over to the repair section for further questions. THANKS!!!!!
  7. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    Happy to help. Just make sure you head over to the double bass side of the site or you'll get some funny responses from the bass guitar guys.:D
  8. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    Looks like a bass that someone was playing rockabilly bass on. Those old Kay's are super popular with guys who play slap upright and that can really do a number on a softer rosewood board. Its hard to tell from the pics but it looks like the grooves get deeper as you get closer to the bridge. That would likely come from years of smacking strings against the fingerboard.
  9. Hi community

    The luthier forum pointed me over to this repair forum after answering some basic questions very well. I'm going to be planing down this neck on an old Kay I just picked up and I'm very curious as to what this unique replacement fingerboard is (or if it's a custom factory install, which seems very unlikely). It's been worn terribly so I'm guessing it's a softer than normal fingerboard species. After I plane it down I may set this up with weed-wackers because they're plenty of fun and won't chew up wood as quickly as metal.

    I shoved a soundpost and a bridge in- just quick cheap parts-- soundpost too soft, bridge too high, but it played a lot better than I had expected with such a worn fingerboard. I guess the strings worked it about as well as a planer, only in much smaller sections.

    I have a normal ebony fingerboard lying around that I could swap out too. Much less cool but I don't know the KAY enthusiast market, and I'd want whatever is better for resale in case I don't connect well with this bass. Considering how my house looks, I either have to use this one and my current plywood or sell this one after it's in good shape.

    Looking forward to opinions and possibly eventual certainty!


    Attached Files:

    Keith Rawlings likes this.
  10. TideSwing


    Oct 31, 2014
    Las Vegas
    Looks similar to the pau ferro on my Fretless EB

    F2050A2D-9098-46A2-9715-EEB25FDC41BA.jpeg DF1E3D4C-5870-449B-A2A7-2A3D7258EE48.jpeg
  11. birgebass


    Nov 7, 2011
    As a player, I’d much prefer an ebony fingerboard, so long as the ebony is thick and good quality. I’m no Kay collector though, but I’d be willing to bet people would pay a bit more for a well set up Kay with an ebony board.
    Keith Rawlings likes this.
  12. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    Echoing previous comments.. plenty of meat, I'd say plane it down (could maybe fill a bit with CA glue?), and once the grooves develop again, then consider swapping for the ebony.
    Big B. likes this.
  13. TideSwing


    Oct 31, 2014
    Las Vegas
    If it sounds good, plane it down.
  14. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Brazilian rosewood fingerboard, factory original. Plane that one first. If it fails your needs, then proceed to board #2.
  15. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    I mentioned in PM that this looks like a stock Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. If you swap it out, someone will want it. I have one on hand that I don't think I'd let go for less than $150.

    I've heard it said by a couple of slappers, and this could easily be a minority view, that they prefer the softer Kay woods over the ebony, maple in particular. Speculating, it could be that a little bit of give in the board makes a four-set gig less painful.
    Keith Rawlings and james condino like this.
  16. What Condino said.

    Am I wrong in thinking the rosewood sounds a little different than ebony?
    Keith Rawlings and james condino like this.
  17. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    If you drop two similar dimension pieces on the tablesaw or other hard surface, one of Brazilian rosewood and the other ebony, it is very audible. The Brazilian rosewood will be loud and full of harmonic richness and overtones. The ebony piece will hit with a dull thud. A primarily arco player will often prefer the ebony because of those dampening characteristics that will tame too many overtones and rowdiness that get amplified by the extra power of a bow. On the other hand, a pitz player will often find find the Brazilian rosewood more preferable because those extra overtones help the weaker short note. You will get similar reactions with tailpiece materials. The same reason why guitar players get all excited about sparkly overtones with Brazilian rosewood yet you very rarely see an all black ebony acoustic guitar- as a whole, not every exciting voice. There are exceptions, but as a whole...

    When all other things are the same, if we inject 100 units of mechanical energy into an instrument with a pitz attack, approximately 4 1/2 units of soundwave come out. The rest is lost to friction and mechanical dampening and such lost within the body. When using a bow for arco sound production, the number goes up something in the neighborhood of 18 units. That is 4 times the power, hence the preference for some dampening and taming.

    Not all Brazilian rosewood is soft and wears fast, just like not all ebony is dense and super durable. As a primarily pitz player, I much prefer a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and find that with approx 75 gigs a year (...not this year :(...) I only need a light dressing about once every two years that takes maybe 20-30 minutes of bench time. I always get excited when I see beautiful figure and color variation in old Kay rosewood fingerboards, especially when it matches the tailpiece. On my personal instruments, I try to use the same board for both fittings....

    vintage Kay rosewood tailpieces.JPG
  18. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    You 'gotta' strut those high heel red boots on the gig when you get the old Kay back up and running!;););)
    rknea likes this.
  19. Keith Rawlings

    Keith Rawlings Supporting Member

    Aug 3, 2019
    Not at all. I think slapping and pizz sounds much more “earthy” on the rosewood board on my Kay; which has been planed three times due to rockabilly slapping. The next time it will be replaced with a nice ebony board as it’s only about a third of an inch thick now. I find that ebony has a much more pronounced click to it than the rosewood for slap styles and the pizz notes appear to sound more defined and have more sustain - depending on the string choice. I am basing this on rented basses with ebony fingerboards that I’ve used on tour when it wasn’t feasible to travel with my bass.
  20. Thanks for all the great info. I'll be planing it down since it's original and very good looking, with matching figuring in the tail piece. All the grooves are in the first few positions only, up the neck is totally clean; I don't know how that happens exactly. I've got decades in on both of my main instruments without anything even slightly resembling that wear.
    Keith Rawlings likes this.

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