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Ebony/ebonized and fingerboard relief questions

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Champagne, Dec 29, 2012.

  1. Happy holidays!

    I picked up a backup bass the other day that needs some work. Dead spots on the fingerboard, open seams, shot strings... I know I will need to set a bit of money into it to get it together but I can't figure out this and one other thing:

    1) I have been searching the forum for pictures that show different ebony/ebonized fingerboards to be able to see and ID myself and after 1/2 hour, I couldn't find any real good photos, only descriptions of dying and paint. Just a few pictures that didn't help me with what I am trying to ID. Can anyone help me out on this? here is a few pictures of the trimmings on the bass:

    8321567799_979980dd10_m. 8322627698_77d70a15c4_m. 8321567731_1dd3b20bfc_m.

    You can supersize them here:

    So, any thoughts? Does anyone have any pictures of various ebonized fingerboards that they could share? Maybe I am uber dense, but I could not find any. I think it would be helpful if we posted a bunch here so they could be easily found in a search.

    2) Relief in the neck:
    I have read a lot on this over the past week and I do have one question, but first my findings. I read that for pizzing, a luthier will set less relief in the neck (generally speaking). I can see this with my other bass. The fingerboard is pretty darn flat on the E (beveled board) then A/D/G there is more relief about a string to string and a half deep centered at the neck mortise. Now I have read in orchestral setups, that the relief is greater, but is it usually set in the same spot. I know there is the bass to take into account, but on this bass, the relief is deeper than I have ever seen on a bass and the center of the relief is centered about an inch behind the heel toward the scroll and it averages 2 1/2 to 3 times the string height when I press in front of the nut and at the end of the fingerboard. Could this be an orchestral setup? It seems excessive and the bass is hard to play and all I read was the relief is usually centered at the middle of the neck by the mortise/heel area.

    I suppose the relief will be a non issue because I know it needs work, well, at least I think it does because it doesn't feel right. There is a huge dead spot on the A string 4 to 5 inches long, big rattles on the E and I can't get into the high action due to the scoop and bridge height. Sorry if some of this has been covered and it was a draw with what sub-forum to post this in due to the two questions. I couldn't find the answers, but if you have any thoughts, I would appreciate them lots.
  2. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I'm no expert, but neither the board or the tailpiece (can't tell with the tailpiece so well) look ebonized to me -- at least, not in the way I understand the word "ebonized". Is it that tapering blond bit of wood on underside bottom edge of the board? That just looks like sapwood to me -- not just the dark heartwood of an ebony tree. Looking at that board, I see the grain and colour of a tropical hardwood that usually goes under the name "ebony".

    We've got some great experts here that will tell you for sure, though.
  3. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    No expert, here, either, but that sure looks like ebony to me.

    Cheaper grades of ebony frequently have tan or gray or yellow streaks in them... And some people do try to hide it by dyeing the wood. Some use Feibing's leather dye. it works pretty well. There are other products. But I have seen dyed wood, and that fingerboard does not look dyed at all.
  4. Well, what I do know is when I rub a rag on the fingerboard, it turns black. Maybe that is what luthiers put on when they dress boards. It doesn't feel as hard as by other bass and the clank sound is thuddier on this bass when the string hits the board where my other bass that is ebony has a much brighter clank sound as I finger around on it. Perhaps this has to do with the neck too since my other bass has a highly flamed maple neck and this bass is a low-grade ebony that was blackened since there is a lot of blond in it. All over really. it just seems more pronounced on the top of the board in the first and second position on into 3rd after I wiped it down with a dry rag.

    Anyway, I have to get this thing glued back together and get new strings for it. There's barely any tone left in them. The E opened up after after an alcohol wipe down but the A and D are just flabby thuds with the G somewhere in between the tone of the low and middles. She is a strange sounding no-name bass. What to name her... Maybe Elizabeth to keep Frankenstein, my other bass, company. Maybe Oprah.. I have no idea why that just came to me.
  5. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Perhaps new strings will solve the problem-- or maybe the soundpost needs adjustment...that can make a huge difference. If you have open seams, that can cause bad sound all by itself.

    Why not take it to a good bass luthier for a full set-up? Get everything done at once, and see what happens? Or, if you want to do it all yourself, I guess you could check the sound step-by-step, and know what change made what result...
  6. JoeyNaeger

    JoeyNaeger Guest Commercial User

    Jun 24, 2005
    Houston, TX
    Bass Specialist, Lisle Violin Shop
    Your fingerboard looks colored to me, but it's hard to say from the pictures. If the scoop is excessive, it could be that your neck is flexing under tension. If your fingerboard isn't ebony, then it could very well not be strong enough to stay straight under tension. It's possible to have some scoop planed out, but you can only thin the board out so much. As always, having it examined by a luthier will give you some actual answers.
  7. jnel

    jnel Guest

    Dec 19, 2012
    my thought is that there are so many things that probably the best thing would be to take it to a bass shop-most likely, you won't be able to get it in it's best shape on your own. A bass with so many issues probably has some that you'll miss- like a loose neck

    Your board looks like a low grade ebony, but just a guess--good luck!
  8. So, rubbing the fingerboard produces black on the rag... well, that could just be a mixture of finger grease and ebony dust, or it could be whatever it was treated with. I don't know for sure, but that board looks a lot like mine, which I am told is dyed rosewood. Not that it matters much, actually.

    As for the relief... that looks pretty darn low at the end of the fingerboard. So if it is much higher at the heel, there's something wrong... the string height should always increase going toward the bridge, even if the strings are very close to parallel to the fingerboard from the octave up. Quite what is hard to say, could be a loose neck, but actually I'd suspect the neck has bent forward a little. That's actually a reasonably straightforward thing for a luthier to fix, but not something you should attempt yourself. Unfortunately the amount of work involved will make it somewhat expensive.
  9. Thanks for all the responses.

    Ok, so it is definitely dyed to some degree. When I shine a flashlight on it, you can clearly see lighter wood beneath the surface color, so that is that.

    I went back and forth between my 2 basses and compared grain qualities. The grain on my german bass is definitely tighter but there are similarities in the overall appearance, so I think it may just be a low grade. I found an awesome page dedicated to ebony here:

    http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/ebony, gaboon.htm

    After seeing that and inspecting the wood up close with a flashlight, I believe what I have is indeed ebony with a lot of yellow in it. The tailpiece matches this: http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/ebony, gaboon/ebony, gaboon veneer 9 s50 q60 plh.htm

    and the fingerboard is close to this: http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/ebony, gaboon/ebony, gaboon 10b bc s100 q60 web.htm

    So I think the case is closed on that one. Hopefully that website is up for a long time. It totally aided me in understanding the wood and different qualities it holds.

    Now, onto the relief.. The relief averages 4-6 mm. Observations when playing is thumb position is OK and intonation is easy. Compared to my other bass, the shoulders are much smaller on this one and it is easier to get around them to play. This is playing 1 1/4 octaves up. Lower positions due to bridge and nut height and overall neck deflection is what makes it hard to play. Perhaps I am spoiled the other basses I have had and currently have which were all setup extraordinarily by Mike Shank. He will be seeing this bass very soon.

    I did move the sound post back away from the bridge which opened it up a bit. 3/8" or so, still within recommended tolerances. The new spot is actually the rule of thumb starting point for sound post placement. After sitting for a day settling in in my humidified room, things are improving and it sounds to be opening up a bit, still, not in love.... yet. I don't think I wasted my money on it and hope the money I spend on it revitalizing takes it to a sweet spot. I'm estimating 400-600 will get her into shape.