Alternative to ebony...

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jazz Ad, Jan 17, 2003.

  1. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member a fretboard wood ?
    I have a new custom bass in the making.

    I really like the feel and tone of ebony fretboards, but for this one I'm looking for something visually different, yet keeping hardness and bright deep tone of ebony.
    I can't stand rosewood.

    I'm seriously considering Purpleheart, but actually have no clue about the way it may sound used as a fretboard. Clues welcome. :)
    Any other idea ?

    The bass is a 35" 5 string neckthru design.
    neck is a 5 piece honduras mahogany with purpleheart stripes.
    Alder wings, pau ferro top.
  2. Balor


    Sep 24, 2000
    Montréal, Québec
    mahogany might not be a good idea for the neck... but it's nostly up to you.

    Is it for a fretless or a fretted bass? either way, if you want to stay close to ebony there's always blood wood, cocobolo, ziricote, satin wood... pau ferro would make a good fretboard as well. All of these woods are close to ebony in density, it all boils down to looks i guess.

    good luck with your project
  3. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    It's for a fretted. I should have said that in the first place.

    From my experience, mahogany works fantastically for a bass neck as long as :
    - You can stiffen it a bit and avoid wave dispersion, hence the purpleheart part. Best proportion seems to be around 1/4 harder wood and 3/4 mahogany.
    - You counterbalance the excessive warmth and rumbling with a more neutral wood. That's where the alder body comes in. Kinda the same concept as the mahogany/maple combo on LP guitars. :)

    It makes for a very heavy low end, and fundamentals come out very clearly, too. Lovely, to my taste at least.

    I like the look of pau ferro, but won't it tend to "round" notes a bit, especially on the attack ?
    I like the frank attack you get with ebony or maple boards.

    As for my other basses, I'll post pics when it'll be finished. This one will have Lightwave pickups, so I'm very picky about acoustic tone and wood choice.
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Cocobolo, specifically, Nicaraguan or Panamanian, would be a wonderful alternative. My custom's body is 1/2 Nic. cocobolo...very hard and dense. Although it's a true rosewood, it isn't similar at all to the Indian rosewood found on today's basses. It's rated by many as the equivalent, tonally, of the legendary Brazilian rosewood -


    When I spec'd my custom, I originally wanted a snakewood fretboard but there weren't any decent boards at that time. Now, it seems there are plenty. It's very dense, very hard, heavy. Here are some raw snakewood fretboards


    Macassar ebony would be a nice option to typical jet black Gabon ebony -

    Figured bubinga is definitely worth consideration, too.
  5. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    No vote for purpleheart ?
  6. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Purpleheart is very hard and would work fine as a fingerboard. I have used it for that purpose before and would do it again.
  7. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I have a phenolic FB on my fretless Shuker-Lamaq ABG. Works great and is very stable.

    I have also seen a Fodera with what I think is a pink ivory FB.

    David King uses some interesting woods for FBs, but there aren't specs on his site, just general classifications of woods by hardness.
  8. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    I vote for purpleheart!
    All the stiffness and strength of ebony, but it's more stable -not much of a shrinkage problem. Tonally, I'd say it doesn't compress the notes the way that ebony does. It still has lots of snap to the note, without the high end ping that ebony has. I only use purpleheart or maple boards now.
  9. Le Basseur

    Le Basseur

    Mar 26, 2002
    OK,if you can afford,go for purpleheart.If not,give a chance to padouk.
    I just finalized my Warwick (heavily modified:took out the entire Wenge fingerboard,because I hate to fill the fret marks,and I wanted a REAL fretless,without any marks!).
    The "new baby" has a nicely-rounded Padouk fingerboard,wich I treated with Tung-oil last summer (indinspensable!)
    A few days ago,I played it for a few hours,just to see (and hear) how it sounds in this stage.I hat the biggest surprise,because it's a sound full of "flesh",unbelievable concrete,and full of that "mwah",or what's the name...
    Anyway,if you choose this wood,be aware that it has longitudinal pores,so it's neccesary to cover the entire fingerboard with some epoxy,or something else,depend on your preferences.Since my bass is now a fretless,I did it,and the overall sound character didn't changed much (all I gained is some brightness and sustain).
    If you go for a fretted fingerboard,the open pores shouldn't be a problem,especially after the Tung-oil treatment.
    Padouk is a very friendly wood to work with.It won't chip,but beware on the red dust during sawing and/or's irritating for the throat!
  10. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC

    Cool about the paduak. I've used it for bodies before, but never for a board, sounds like it really worked out for you. Here in BC, purpleheart is plentiful -used for flooring I guess. It isn't native of course, but it is much cheaper than ebony.
  11. Le Basseur

    Le Basseur

    Mar 26, 2002
    Yeah,I just can't imagine purpleheart growing in Canada....
    Padouk is,also,an import wood here,in Croatia,and it's used for the same purposes (floor,wall laminates,etc).
    One of the reasons for choosing padouk for the frtless fingerboard was the fact that I could choose some pieces wich had very straight fiebers.
    Honestly,I noticed that very few hard-woods have this characteristic,no matter how beautiful they are.
    Maybe,for a fretted fingerboard,it'ts rather more important the strenght of the wood,but,for a fretless,the aesthetical factor seems equally important-for the player himself (as a matter of optical-and-mental comfort),as for the people who see that instrument,equally on the stand or in action!
    BTW,I just visited your site,and I like your instruments!,you're really a bassist?
    Glad to meet you,I'm a violinist!
  12. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I would think durability would be more of a concern for a padauk fretless board than purpleheart. I have used padauk for fretted boards and been very happy with the results (although mine did chip out ;)
  13. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    Hey Le Basseur,

    Yes I'm a full on bassist. I build about 10 instruments a year. No, purpleheart isn't native to Canada, it's just imported in large amounts. We do have fine maple and cherry here though, which I use for most of my work. Thanks for your nice comments about my site.

    RE: Paduak. Peter Elias made great bass guitars back in the 80's, before he started making "real" basses :) and one of his later models was solid paduak. Everything, including the fingerboard. I don't think I've seen a fretless model though.
  14. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    I had an early Pedulla fretted with a padauk board. It looked beautiful, sounded great, and showed no signs of wear, even after the frets did wear. It was either uncoated or had a thin coating, as I remember the pores being either unfilled or at least not completely filled.
  15. jacochops


    Jul 2, 2000
    Suzhou, China
    I've got your answer......PINK IVORY!!!!! It sounds incredible....way better than gaboon or macassar ebony, IMHO. I've owned almost a dozen high-end fretlesses over the years. Check out my bass at It's the fretless single-cut 4 string on the site. It looks incredible, but the! Very much like a bowed cello in it's voicing. Hard to describe, yet impossible to duplicate. Elrick uses these on virtually all of his fretless instruments. Seriously, you need to try it. It's a pink ebony without harsh brittleness. I got mine for the Nordstrand at tropical exotic hardwoods in Carlsbad, CA. Their site is Try visiting Carey at the Nordstrand site. He'll fill you in on how the wood is to work with.
    "Frets....damn speed bumps....."
  16. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I'm having a custom 5 fretless with a Coco board built.

    But Ric, that snakewood....Is that yours ?

    That sutff looks dynamite......I'd love to get a fingerboard out of that ;)
  17. I vote for Ziricote. I have heard from a few people that this is an exceptional fretboard wood. It is going on my upcoming fretless.

  18. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Purpleheart is good for this. And considering the use for neck stringers, it would seem natural.

    OTOH, the aestetic hand, perhaps a Pau Ferro board would make sence. Sonically, rather similar to ebony, and visually very similar to the top wood;)
    Would make a nice combo, in my ears and eyes.
  19. gyancey


    Mar 25, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I'm using ziricote as a fingerboard on a fretted bass per customer request. I like it so far...
    Re: pink ivory - I've head that it isn't very colorfast, much like Chakte Kok. Any other evidence?
  20. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Do you mean that the color might fade, or that it might "bleed" to other adjoining woods?