Ebony Board on a Kay - How Much of an Improvement?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by flyingmarcel, Jul 5, 2008.

  1. Hello All,

    I have an old Kay C-1 that I have been playing for the last few years, which I have slowly been improving over this time (new endpin, tail wire, bridge w/ adjusters, sound post and, of course, many different sets of strings!). I am considering having an ebony fingerboard put on this instrument to replace the rosewood board and was wondering what exactly I can expect to get out of this upgrade.

    Now, I know that at the end of it all, my Kay will still be an old plywood bass with an ebony board, but for those that have done this, how much (in your opinion) did the sound of the bass improve? Given the cost of such a repair where I am, it seems that it would be quite an undertaking if the improvement is only a subtle one - However, I do like the sound of my Kay in its current form and would be very pleased to improve it further. This will be the bass I play over the next few years and I would love to get as much out of it as I can!

    Also, I have heard and seen that some people opt for having a shim placed under the fingerboard when getting a new fingerboard fitted on Kays in order to thicken the circumference of their very thin necks - For those that have done this, was it worthwhile ie. did this bring the neck up to a more 'average' and comfortable size?

    Thank you all for your help and insight


  2. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    I put an ebony board on my junker 1953 C-1, replacing the original walnut (!!!) fingerboard. The difference was pretty dramatic. I'd endorse it as an idea.
  3. I think that the Kays with rosewood boards can be fine, but at the same time, I see no reason why the same bass fitted with a good ebony board and maybe a shim would be better. Personally, if I owned a good Kay with a rosewood board and it played well, I wouldn't mess with it. But, if it were damaged or didn't play well, I'd definitely go for a good new ebony board/setup.
  4. I've replaced many dozens of Kay fingerboards with ebony boards and I can't remember one where the customer did not consider it to be a noticeable improvement. Keep in mind that set-up on most old Kays is not very good, so it is really the combination of new fingerboard and the accompanying set-up that makes the difference.
  5. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    My wife's '50 with the original Rosewood sounds very, very good but its had a thorough setup.

    I'm with Bob here but if you do decide to change it out, can I have the Rosewood board? :D
  6. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Indeed. How much of the improvement, in your opinion, do you think was attributable to the ebony board, per se? Back in the '70s, I had a Kay C-1 with a rosewood board. I had the original Kay setup completely re-done by an incredible luthier. (I could never have afforded his work had it not been done as a favor to my teacher.) In any case, it produced a vast improvement. The original board remained in place. For me, thickening the neck profile would be a worthwhile benefit of re-fitting a Kay in any case but I know there are widely varying opinions on that.
  7. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Almost every Kay I've seen which retains the original fingerboard has a bent neck. The thin, flatsawn maple combined with a flexible rosewood or walnut fingerboard is no match for the torque of the strings. One of the biggest benefits to installing an ebony fingerboard is that you can get (and keep) the neck nice and straight. This results in better playability, sustain and a stronger sound in most cases.
  8. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    I guess I got lucky. I had my Kay from 1967 until 2002. The neck was as intact and straight as the day it was made. Maybe having Lycons on it all those years helped. Who knows? In any case, it seems from your experience that it's a good idea to put on an ebony board. I chose to move away from Kay altogether-- never to return.
  9. Hi All,

    Thanks for all the great replies! It sounds like my Kay could probably do with both a new ebony board, as well as a more thorough set up (I have had some work done in this department, but probably not as thorough as it could have been...)

    Arnold, I have read previously on TB about string tension causing problems with the neck on old Kays. I have always tried to go with low tension strings, as I've heard that the tops on the older ones (Mines a '49) are thinner than the more 'recently' made Kays and were never intended for the tension of steels. Do you see the neck as more of an issue than the tops on these basses in terms of tension? Also from your post, in the event of the neck being warped, it sounds as though this can be corrected through the installation of a new ebony fingerboard - am I reading this properly?


  10. lhoward


    Apr 27, 2003
    Western NY State
    I've used medium Spirocores since about after 1970 when I could no longer get Lycons (pre Ray Brown series, blue rap, not green) and the neck on my 1941 S-8 Kay, that I've had since 1966, has not warped or curved. How many sets of Lycons did you have to last till 2002? Have any left??? :))

    Lloyd Howard
  11. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Yep, they were the blue-wrapped ones. I shouldn't have said "all those years" because the Lycons went on well after 1967 and there were some years when the bass wasn't played. Still, the Lycons lasted a good long time. I have no full sets left.
  12. babaseen

    babaseen Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2001
    Boston, MA
    Thanks to the OP for this post (just what I was looking for) as I have a '53 C-1 and am considering the same upgrade from the maple fingerboard to ebony (B grade? low cost fingerboard). Although coming from the slab world I am wondering whether a coating of boat epoxy on the ole fingerboard (ala Jaco) would provide the same benefit in regards to tone (i.e., articulation and presence) versus an upgrade to ebony, of course it's not going to look as sexy but soundwise I'm betting it's going to be close. Although finding someone to do this would be the major challenge.:confused:
  13. smg_luthier


    May 13, 2009
    hey guys, i know this is kind of an old thread, but i just found this board today, and i see i'm not the only one to reply to this thread today.
    the rosewood boards on Kays are Brazillian. endangered. don't touch it.
    in my opinion, changhing the board won't improve your tone that much, if at all.
    from my experience, about 2 out of every 10 Kays sound realy sweet, and the rest are just what they are.
  14. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    "....I am wondering whether a coating of boat epoxy on the ole fingerboard (ala Jaco) would provide the same benefit as an upgrade to ebony....."

    No. A layer of epoxy would have zero effect on the issue of neck stability. One of the luthiers can correct me if I'm wrong.
  15. babaseen

    babaseen Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2001
    Boston, MA
    salcott I am not a luthier and never will be but I believe you are correct...

    ...but since you quoted me I feel compelled to add that I have never had neck stability issues in the sixteen plus years I had this maple fingerboard C-1 (guess I am lucky)...my post is only in regards to the character of the tone.

    Here's my original link when I didn't even know it was a "speckled maple" board (thanks again to those TBers that posted)...
  16. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    Sorry for the misreading, babaseen. I think it would be a really bad idea tonewise as well. You have indeed been lucky with your Kay.
  17. Fred W

    Fred W

    Feb 21, 2002
    Bronx, NY
    A #2 grade ebony board plus a graphite rod insert made all the difference on my M-1. Much easier to play and richer tone.
  18. arseniotall


    Dec 24, 2005
    After getting an ebony board my kay got quieter and heavier but the tone is oooooooooooooooooooo so sweet!