about ebony

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by GlennRH, May 13, 2022.

  1. I play bass. Been a bass player since 1984. While I don't build 'em, I have long taken an interest in how basses are made - particularly solid-body electrics - and enjoyed several fascinating conversations with a now-deceased Stradivarius-imitating violin maker (RIP).

    Moreover, I have always accepted that every single part of a musical instrument affects its tone/timbre/sound: the materials, the design & engineering, and the fit & finish.

    Also a participant in an historically-stressed planetary ecosystem, I find Mister Taylor's discussion of ebony in the video here well worth my time and attention; maybe yours too.

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  2. GMC


    Jan 1, 2006
    Wiltshire, UK
    With an acoustic hollow body instrument, solid body electric…much less so. I choose woods based on look and feel. Tone is in the fingers, strings and pickups, maybe electrics too.
  3. J Wilson

    J Wilson

    Apr 22, 2022
    An Undisclosed Location
    There could be a great number of woods used in acoustic and electric instruments that are not traditional, and would work and sound fine, and would be far more economic and renewable, especially in acoustic instruments.

    The problem is talking the customer base to embrace them.

    For me, it was the height of hypocrisy back in the 'Save the Whales' and 'No Nukes' days, and I suppose right up to today where I see the artists with their heart on their sleeves about saving the rain forests, the plight of the third world people there caught out by the usual global issues, and yet when they come to Nashville make their usual pilgrimages to the world-class vintage stores to buy instruments made out of woods that would get you arrested or seriously fined today.

    Any time Squier starts making some YellaWood basses or Bob Taylor puts his 'pallet guitar' into production, sign me up.
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  4. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    I've been thinking about this (wood scarcity) for a long time. Especially as an upright-bass player.

    Guitar fingerboards are cute. But upright bass fingerboards are the biggest pieces of ebony you'll ever see.

    I assume (hope) it's only a matter of time before synthetic materials get good enough to use. Gibson has some wierd Ebanol-synthetic-wood-product on some of their fingerboards. I've got it (synthetic ebony) on my Flying V bass, and it's great. Don't know about how it would work on a fretless or an upright.

    Here's hopin' we can 3D-print, or nano-assemble the materials we want and need in the near future.
    El Thumpo, ColdEye, BBQisgood and 5 others like this.
  5. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    Monumental task, after brainwashing everyone into believing that only certain woods are acceptable to use for instruments. And that includes un-brainwashing all the tonewood nonsense.
    I think jet black ebony is one of the most beautiful woods on earth. But I don't need it to build a FB. Not for it's physics or it's "tone". There have always been really hard woods that are plenty good enough for a FB, even fretless. Ebony was prized for it's solid black color and the fact that people demanded only solid black is why it's almost gone now.
    I'm more than happy to use something else.
    As for the ebony with color, I'm not a big fan of how it looks. But that's okay, because you don't need ebony.
    And if people really want to save it,....how about don't use it at all?
  6. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    The jet black violin-grade ebony is virtually unobtanium now, and most of the black ebony you see has been dyed. I used one of LMI's Rocklite Ebano boards, and was pretty impressed. Its real wood mixed with some kind of resin, but you wouldnt know it to look at it or work it. Its less crumbly and prone to chipping out than real ebony, and has a "grain" to it thats very convincing. They make a rosewood substitute called Sundari too. As to the tone....I am HIGHLY sceptical that anyone could hear a difference in a true blind test, acoustic or electric. As the last remaining supplies.of black ebony evaporate, I.suspect the synthetics will replace nearly all of it, and thats probably a good thing.
  7. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    The only way the FB has any affect on how the strings vibrate and make sound is by way of how much it stiffens the neck.
    But you can add stiffening rods, laminate the neck, change the thickness, profile, use a truss rod,......the pickups in a solid body don't care what species the FB is made of. Especially fretted. And there are woods and composites just as hard for fretless.
    My point is that there's a dozen ways to affect the stiffness of the neck or hardness of the board and no excuse to use wood that's almost extinct.
    Solid black color is the only real reason why ebony was insisted upon. Any other reason given is a crock.
    I'm sad that I'll never get to use it, as I just started building. But knowing that's it's almost gone, I'm okay with that and can live without it. I really like wenge, but I heard it's on a similar path.
    I dunno, all this stuff always comes back to the same root problem: there's too many humans on the planet. Conditions have been stable and perfect for too long and the population got out of control. We need a natural predator, or another ice age or something to get numbers back down to something reasonable so the habitat can rebound.
    Last edited: May 13, 2022
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  8. coy garcia

    coy garcia

    Jan 18, 2020
    I prefer ebony on my fretless fingerboards because I like all things tradition. If it wasn't available I would get something else.
    Harvesters of wood species should be made to plant more as they go and not use more than can be sustained or replaced. It's been done with lumber. Sadly and often big business will instead find a way to blame the consumer for their shady practices.
    Crawforde likes this.
  9. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    I'd be a hypocrite if I pretended to never mindlessly consume products with no consideration for the process it took to end up in my hands and who and what it had an affect on.
    But I'll be the first to raise my hand and say that at least some of the blame has to be placed on consumers.
    People in business to make money and have a product to sell, yes, they tend to manipulate and brainwash people into wanting it. But no one ever asks who has to live in poverty, or what animal lost it's habit or was driven to extinction, or what entire community was poisoned and given cancer for generations, to get their products. If people decided to ask and decided to give something up (voted with their wallet), it might help solve at least some of this. But, people don't wanna know.
    I know, that's a little heavy, but in all seriousness, consumers have to be burdened with at least some small amount of accountability.
    Last edited: May 13, 2022
  10. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Problem is, wood for paper grows fast, not most hardwoods.
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  11. J Wilson

    J Wilson

    Apr 22, 2022
    An Undisclosed Location
    The funny thing is, a box guitar convincingly designed and built using backyard or construction market woods, sold at a presumably very reasonable price, marketed as a 'green' guitar, could sell like hotcakes.
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  12. Just slightly off-topic, but I enjoyed the ... what was it called ... made of shredded and re-compressed paper ... I think it was "Richlight".

    I thought they sounded just terrific and could be had in any color one wanted. The guitar community moved away from them because of snobbery (from what I understand): "Oh, it's just paper!"

    My thought was: "... and paper comes from...?"
  13. 9Thumbs


    Jul 3, 2013
    Near Boston
    Somebody here must have an Ebonal fretless EB. How do like it?
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  14. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    Every time I look, they only sell small samples for $2.
    Any idea who might have this stuff? I really want to try it.
  15. Having a Taylor acoustic guitar, and reading their Wood and Steel magazine (Warning for those with bad gas, heavy solicitous guitar porn. I only subscribe for the articles. Honest) what they are doing for sustainability is totally awesome, and most of the benefit from his passion is going to be realized long after he’s gone. Great vision. I am totally a fan. BTW, they make one hell of an instrument.
    WRM and Artman like this.
  16. good post
  17. Ryan in PDX

    Ryan in PDX

    Jan 14, 2020
    In before "Jaco didn't need black ebony"

    I've had a Squier fretless (ebanol) for about ten years. I don't think it has held me back in any way.

    My double bass has a black ebony fingerboard. I really don't think a non-musician would notice if some of the orchestra players had streaks in their fingerboards. I'm pretty sure some of the big manufacturers are using stains/dyes on their fingerboards to darken them.
    Artman and Max Bogosity like this.
  18. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    I have to admit that as a long time DB player, I am enamored with ebony. But the two BGs I have now have roasted maple and pao ferro boards, respectively. They're just fine, and I don't see why they wouldn't work just as well on a fretless, even a DB. Also, a DB or EUB with an enormous roasted maple board would look mega dope, and sound as bright as the sun with a set of Spirocores. I don't see why it shouldn't happen.
    Howardzark, GlennRH and Artman like this.
  19. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    My kids rent DBs for school and, while supposedly ebony, the boards on those instruments are clearly heavily dyed. I'm guessing some of these low-grade hunks of ebony [or species people are allowed to call ebony] don't come out looking much like ebony in their natural state.
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  20. coy garcia

    coy garcia

    Jan 18, 2020
    My first fretless is ebonol which was my main player for a few yrs. It's held up and does the job just fine I like my wood fingerboards better (one ebony, one babinga)...but it may be because I know it's wood and because it's on much better basses. Ebonol is fine and feels bright sounding.
    9Thumbs and Artman like this.
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    May 21, 2022

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