1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Do coatings actually stabilize ebony fingerboards?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by akori, Aug 13, 2013.

  1. akori


    Oct 18, 2007
    I am getting used to the attack and sound of ebony on one of my fretlesses... a J neck from USACG. This is it's first summer of life, and it's raining a ton here in Colorado. This climate is an outright bitch on wood. Any change, and your poor dried out neck is going to feel it. Anyway, I am adjusting this neck a lot this summer- more so than any of my fretlesses, or fretted basses. And it's beginning to occur to me that I always have to tweak my Taylor acoustic (much more than any electric or acoustic six string I own. The connection here, is that the Taylor and this awesome USACG neck both have ebony boards. Granted, I run extremely low action on all fifteen or so of my axes, so all changes are felt or heard). But Before I collect more ebony boards, or contemplate a lifetime of tweaking this Jay neck, I wonder: do CA GLUE(superglue) and or EPOXY or POLYESTER RESIN significantly stabilize ebony, shutting it out from moisture changes? The answer might seem obvious, but, really I'm no chemist, and it might not do what seems obvious...these materials might "breathe."
    Anyone here know? I hate to coat ebony, but I hate constant neck adjustments even more. (Yes, the assumption is that the ebony board is moving due to changing humidity, not so much the maple neck). Worse than the constant adjustments, it's one day, this or that note is buzzy crap, and the next day or week, this one's ok, but these three are gone. Makes it damned hard to totally bond with an otherwise great fretless.
  2. No common wood finish absolutely completely seals the wood from moisture changes; they slow that change (to very varying degrees), and, by doing so, they help prevent changes happening faster in one part of the wood than another (cracks and warps).

    I can't imagine how you could seal up an ebony fingerboard with superglue and have it come out usable, but, if you could, it would certainly be hard.

    The neck is contributing. I have no idea how much of each wood is responsible.

    I like good old oiled fingerboards, but everyone has different tastes. If you do go with epoxy, they actually make thinner epoxies for brushing, so you'd want that, not the really thick stuff. Some others can chime in here, but I don't know that your ebony fingerboard is going to sound the same if you coat it.

    If I were you, and it was causing me that much trouble, I'd consider trying to establish a humidity controlled music room, rather than coating your instrument.
  3. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    I have finished and unfinished Ebony fretlesses. There's definitely a difference in sound. I prefer my finished boards because I get a far more versatile tone palette with them. It's all about what you prefer.

    I have low action too so yeah, when the neck moves it's very noticeable. I live on the East Coast so our climate is all over the place. I try to avoid drastic swings whenever possible, like leaving a bass in a hot car and taking it into an air conditioned room.
  4. Teacher


    May 3, 2012
    As for movement: no, pure and simple. Very much has been written about this in regards to heirloom furniture. Studies have shown that conventional finishes in actuality do llittle to prevent wood movement.
  5. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    A coated finish won't stop movement due to tension and stress in the wood but a good hard coat will dramatically reduce movement from the intake and outtake of moisture. I am a big fan of coated fingerboards as well, from maple to ebony. My go to coating for my fretless basses is CA glue and not epoxy. I think epoxy works about as well and with much of the same effect but I personally prefer the application process and ease of repair of super glue.
  6. akori


    Oct 18, 2007
    Thanks, Big B.
    (I think Teacher was looking at typical finishes, such as Oil-based products).
    It's good to get a player's perspective on the effect of resins and CA. It would seem that they do have a significant sealing factor in terms of humidity entering or escaping. As a finishing touch, I ought to ask Michael Pedulla. I myself would like to try CA one day, as you, and many others have commented on the relative ease of application, the thinness of the layers, etc.
    I just opted for yet another ebony board, atop an Ovangkol J neck from USACG (I supplied the Ovangkol). The reason being, I feaar Pau Ferro might be too much midrange for the ovangkol, whereas Ebony's sharpness should balance it a bit, tonally and attack wise. I hope as Rob said, that Ovangkol will be a good strength match with the ebony, re; board movement/ expansion/ pull. On this Maple Jay neck, the ebony is out-pulling the maple, as it absorbs all the moisture this unseasonably wet Colorado Summer can give.
    Some will scoff at the idea that an ebony board could overpower a maple neck in terms of differential expansion/ contraction and actuall push or pull on a neck shape. But I'm only going on industry pro opinions. Sadowsky has said more than once that he uses less ebony due to stability issues. Despite the love for ebony down the centuries, it has an established track record of (SOMETIMES) being more sensitive to moisture changes than other woods...it does crack more than anything I've seen, for one. If this Jay neck w/ ebony don't settle down by next Spring, I may just coat it with CA or epoxy.
    Thanks again.