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Ebony as fretboard...tonewise

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Jerry J, Mar 21, 2001.

  1. Jerry J

    Jerry J Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2000
    P-town, OR
    Could someone characterize what ebony's tone would be like as a fretboard? Usually ebony is used on fretless basses but what about a regular old fretted bass?

    1)Would it be closer to maple, rosewood or pau ferro?

    2)How come it's not as popular as rosewood as a fretboard?

    3)Would it's affect on the tone be pretty subtle? I've always found that the tonal difference between the different fretboard woods to really be negligable. Does anyone feel different?
  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    1) More like pau ferro, I'd think (haven't played pau ferro yet) - both are woods with relatively high density.

    2) It's much more expensive than the rosewood (quality) you find on factory basses.

    3) It's hard to A/B things like that, I'd like to think that ebony offers a clearer overall tone with glossy highs and smooth lows, a little less mids than rosewood (esp. the cheap quality you find on most factory basses like Fender, Ibanez, etc.). It depends on fretboard thickness, but I agree it's only a relatively small factor in the overall picture.
  3. 1. I'm not familiar with pau ferro but I would characterize ebony as sounding closer to maple then rosewood. I read a lot about wood density being the factor that determines a wood's tonal characteristics but I think cell structure is also a major factor. Both ebony and maple have a closed cell structure where rosewood is more open. When you play a note on a bass with a rosewood fretboard, the open cells absorb more of the tone which creates that mid range, organic sound. With the closed cell structure of ebony and maple, less tone is being absorbed by the wood and more bounces off creating more of a high-low sound.

    1. There can be a number of factors as to why rosewood is more popular then ebony.

    I think one factor is acceptance. Fender made their first basses with mainly rosewood and I don't think you can discredit the legacy that implies. Rosewood has been the accepted choice for fretboards, therefor a lot of the upstart bass companies of that time just accepted that with out putting further thought into it. It has only been in the last couple decades that some of the bass companies have started to thing more 'outside the box' and looked at different alternatives for fretboards- ebony being one of them.

    3. I personally think the type of fretboard is a major factor in the tonal characteristics of a bass. If I had the choice of doing a blind ear test to determine the fretboard wood species or the body wood species, I would be more confident trying to choose the fretboard because I think it has a bigger affect on the overall tone of the bass.
  4. My fretted bass has ebony fretboard. Rosewood is cheaper than ebony, that's why it's more popular. Ebony is not only enpensive, it's a protected species of wood. It's character is very dense, creating a brighter sound...a bit similar to maple fretboard. Rosewood needs to be taken care of more often than ebony for example. Weather changes(humidity) affect rosewood more than ebony. Got no clue on the other wood you mentioned:)
  5. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    I agree with all that the others have said. But I'll add that rosewood was a good thing when it was first being used because it was Brazilian rosewood. However, Brazilian hasn't been legally imported to the US since it became illegal 25 years ago, due to it's endangered status. The junk out there now is Indian rosewood.

    I've owned all three, (maple, Brazilian rosewood, and ebony), and I like ebony best. It has some of the crispness and clarity of maple but also has more of the warmth of Brazilian rosewood that maple lacks.

    For something like a punk rock application, I'd go maple (and have), hands down. Ebony gets the job done for me, though, in every situation. Not to be a snot, but I haven't even entertained the idea of rosewood on a new bass since the `70's. To me, the Indian stuff is like fretting on putty.
    iwearpumas likes this.
  6. dwynsen

    dwynsen Guest

    Aug 31, 2000
    Ohio, USA
    What wood(s) are commonly used on the best upright basses' fingerboards? Isn't it ebony? If true, I wonder if there's a clue there.

    I've owned maple, Indian rosewood, and ebony. For me, the rosewood was a bit mushy sounding. The maple was too bright, but the ebony was just right.

    Ebony is more expensive and in some respects it's harder to work (from a woodworking standpoint). Usually, ebony is found on the better, upscale basses. It requires less care, is more durable, and will last through decades of hard playing. It looks nice too.
  7. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Yeah, Ebony is THE wood for uprights. Dyed maple is actually somewhat common too, but thats simply a sign of cheapness, i believe.

    Regardless, Ebony is my favorite wood, for fretted/fretless fingerboards or body topwood.
  8. I think we may be too generic in terms of fretboard woods here because there are a lot of other factors that determine how a bass sounds. I know in my earlier post I stated that it's easier to determine the fretboard of a bass in a blind hearing test then it would be to determine the body wood and I stand by that, but with that said, the fretboard isn't the only determining factor in the end sound of a bass.

    It's been stated in earlier posts that the only reason ebony isn't more popular then rosewood is that it's more expensive. While I would agree that may be a factor, I strongly disagree that it's the only factor.

    I did some poking around and found only Alembic and Carvin (that I could find) use ebony primarily as there fretboard of choice. Alembic is certainly a high end manufacturer but, although Carvin makes a good quality instrument, I would argue that they are not high end. Once more, Alembic uses mahogany primarily as their body of choice. Mahogany is a softer, more porous type of wood that is going to emphasize the middle to low end. Putting an ebony fretboard on their basses is going to counteract that and give it a more rounded tone. I would agree that rosewood would probably not work very well on an Alembic bass.

    Another post insinuated that because ebony is the wood of choice for the best upright basses, it should be the better choice for the electric bass. I don't think the two are comparable. An upright bass has a huge chamber that's going to project the bass tones. Ebony is going be a better choice if only to add more brightness to the overall sound. I also wouldn't argue that ebony is a harder wood and is going to wear a whole lot better on a fretless bass. A solid body electric doesn't have the same acoustical projection as an upright. The body woods and electronics are going to play more of a factor in overall tone.

    I personally own a couple Lakland basses- a fretted with rosewood and a fretless with ebony. They both have a swamp ash body, which is a lighter wood so it isn't going to accentuate the lower end. The both have quilted maple tops. I don't think an 1/8" veneer has a major factor on tone but if anything, it's going to make it sound even brighter. My feeling is the rosewood actually helps to tame the natural brightness my bass would normally have. Because the ebony bass is fretless, a lot of that 'slapback' sound is naturally diminished anyway. In the end, both basses get incredible tone and I couldn't be happier with either. They both have Bartolini electronics but I don't think that plays a major role. With the turn of a knob I can eccentuate either the high, middle, or low end.:)

    I know I'm rambling , but my point is there are too many factors involved to isolate only the fretboard and say one is better then the other.

    Some bass companies that use rosewood as a standard option are: Lakland, Fodera, Mike Lull, and Sadowsky. If ebony was clearly the better option but more expensive, I don't think any of these companies would would have a problem charging a few extra bucks for their basses in order to use ebony exclusively. They choose not to.
  9. ston3d_j


    Oct 30, 2010
    a posting of audio/video of basses with the same specs and all but with different finger boards would probably give us a much better idea. :)

    I'm looking into Ebony or Maple for a Fretless Bass. I appreciate if anyone can give me some help. Thanks! :)
  10. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Which rosewood? Which ebony? There are a number of each and they all differ.

    For example, Pau Ferro is closer in density to ebony than it is to "Indian Rosewood". Then again Indian Rosewood is a descriptive term for a bunch of woods in the rosewood family, some are actually from the Western Hemisphere. And, you guessed it, they vary substantially in their physical characteristics.

    As to which is best tone-wise, it's a matter of taste. For example, I have never been a fan of the tonal character that Wenge fingerboards bring to a bass, but there are thousands who prefer the wedge-board German basses to anything I would bring to a gig.
  11. Alan Ace Cooper

    Alan Ace Cooper Supporting Member

    Jan 6, 2004
    Northern Virginia, USA - 13 mi
    Endorsing artist: Devon Basses, DR Strings, EMG pickups, Bag End Cabs
    I have 3 basses with Ebony fingerboards (All Fretted). I used to have a lot of Maple fingerboard basses but I like the attack of the Ebony. The Ebony fingerboard on my Carvin AC-50, provides a bit more note detail for the Piezo pickup. I figured since most String instruments (upright bass, violin, cello) have Ebony fingerboards, it should work nicely for an Acoustic Electric bass and it does! To me it just has a certain warmth and a certain detailed attack that can't be duplicated.

    I also have one bass with a Rosewood fingerboard and another with a Wenge fingerboard. The Rosewood is the smoothest and softest sounding. The Ebony boards are snappier sounding and they look awesome! The Wenge board is by far the most agressive sounding and has a ton of tonal detail. I have Chechen (spelling) on my Modulus Genesis, which I like but not as much as Ebony or Wenge. I'm not fond of Pau Ferro.

    My Ebony boards are on Maple, Mahogany, and Wenge necks. In either case, I'm never disappointed with chosing Ebony.
  12. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Ebony has more snap then rosewood but isnt as treble oriented as maple. Rosewood and ebony are my fave woods for fretboard.
  13. grendle


    Mar 4, 2011
    Central FL

    ebony is expensive though and can crack from the humidity. sounds great though. the good stuff almost looks like plastic lol .

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