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Epoxy on Rosewood Fretboard

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by matdras, Jan 11, 2012.

  1. matdras

    matdras Supporting Member

    Dec 18, 2011
    Fort Collins, Colorado
    I play a MIM Fender J that I recently had defretted. What brands of epoxy would you recommend to coat the fretboard with?
  2. MglMatador


    May 5, 2010
    I just finished an epoxy job on a fretless J. I used Envirotex Lite.

    If I had to do it again I would use the West Systems 105/207 combination, as the Envirotex was hard to measure correctly (I like to measure by weight: West Systems publishes the weight ratio's) and takes a VERY long time to cure.
  3. belimad


    Mar 2, 2011
    London, UK
    I'm curious, as I'm about to go through the whole process and I have bought the Envirotex. How long is long?
    Also, any specific recs about it?
  4. MglMatador


    May 5, 2010
    Envirotex seems to be HIGHLY temperature dependent. At 50F, it took over 24 hours to set to tacky, and over a week to cure to full hardness. At 70F it was supposed to be better but I had to do this in my garage. Of course all epoxies suffer from this problem, but Envirotex appears to be especially sensitive.

    Additionally, Envirotex is not exactly rock hard, and it loaded up sandpaper in two or three swipes. It cures somewhat flexible and plasticky which means it's likely very durable for fretboard use. But it probably isn't as bright as a hard glass-like epoxy like West System.

    I went through 50 sheets of sandpaper to radius the neck to 12", starting at 100 grit and going through 180, 220, 320, 400, 600, and 800 grits. Even the 100 grit only lasted perhaps 5 strokes before it was loaded with epoxy and useless. 800 grit literally lasted only 1 or 2 strokes.

    I'm writing up a how-to for my fretless thread that showed the exact sequence I went through.
  5. Arx


    Jan 22, 2008
    I've used CA glue. It's probably not as hard as epoxy, but maybe worth looking into. It was pretty easy, and I'm happy with how it turned out.

    I've never coated a fretboard with the west systems epoxy, but I will say that it's relatively nice stuff to work with. It cures relatively slowly, but seems to get nice and hard. I used it to glue in some carbon rods in a neck I was building and sanded off the excess. It sanded nicely. Didn't plug up the paper too badly.

    It's also nice that they sell it with pumps to accurately meter your mix, and also publish the weights in case you can't use the pumps for some reason. It's kind of nice to just do 1 pump of resin, 1 pump of hardener and mix.
  6. peakdesign


    Aug 25, 2008
    A wipe-on Tung Oil finish. Better yet: Tru-Oil, as used on rifle stocks. It's not for build-up as much as protecting an already leveled fingerboard. I've also used it on ouds, which are fretless middle-eastern lutes with wound strings, and where the fingerboard is sometimes a relatively soft walnut.
    The one on the right has an ebony fingerboard, just to show what an oud looks like. They're tuned much like a 6 string fretless.

    Attached Files:

  7. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Lineā„¢ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    I use System3 on my epoxied fingerboards

    85% of the work is properly preparing your fingerboard for the epoxy coating - and this includes NOT using bondo, wood filler, etc to fill the fret slots.

    10% is properly masking to keep epoxy from where it shouldn't go.

    4% is measuring, mixing, and applying properly IAW the mfr directions.

    all that remains is the easy part of leveling the epoxy after it's [if]fully[/i] cured using proper wet sanding techniques and with high quality papers of the appropriate grits. if you do everything right, the final buffing for a mirror shine is child's play

    epoxy finishing a fingerboard is a lot of work. don't be fooled into thinking otherwise

    all the best,

  8. Arx


    Jan 22, 2008
    Neither Tung Oil or Tru-Oil are very hard finishes. I'm not going to say they're bad or anything, but for a really hard finish that's going to stand up to round-wounds on a fretless I think Epoxy is probably the best, and CA seems to work reasonably well too.

    I'm just speaking from an engineering standpoint though. I don't play enough fretless to have really done any significant damage to a fretboard, hardened or otherwise. I suspect that in many cases even an unprotected board would stand up alright depending on the wood, and the bassist.

    I would agree with this. If you don't want the fret lines, filling the fret slots seems pretty pointless.
    OTOH, If you wanted the lines, bondo or wood putty can do a half decent job of it. Not something I would do on a really high end bass, but if you're just trying to put some new life into a cheap old bass you never play, careful work is probably more important than the specific materials you use.
    I've read all sorts of horror stories about people wrecking their stuff trying to to a Jaco with a butter knife, but I have a feeling most of them are sloppy work. I did my fretless in an evening with very basic tools and cheap materials, and I think the result is pretty decent. Yeah, you can see some zig-zag from the fret tangs, but it's pretty minimal, and it doesn't change the way it plays. (I suck at fretless, so I wanted the lines anyways)

    Even with CA, which is definitely easier, I spent far more time on the fretboard than on applying the glue.

    To be 100% clear though, Those percentages are the amount of work, and not the importance of that work.
    In my experience, most of my major screwups are on minor simple tasks. A perfectly prepared and masked off board is still going to be junk if you improperly measure your epoxy and end up with a tacky mess that never cures correctly.

    (I'm pretty sure that's what Rodent is getting at, but didn't want anyone to underestimate the importance of that 4%)

  9. MglMatador


    May 5, 2010
    This. The epoxy goes down in 10 minutes, but it's a week of work leveling it.
  10. selowitch

    selowitch Supporting Member

    Aug 6, 2005
    Rockville MD
    So would it be reasonable to conclude that it's better to buy a bass with a fretless ebony fingerboard rather than get one with a rosewood fingerboard with the intention of applying epoxy to it?
  11. Arx


    Jan 22, 2008
    That it's _easier_, yes.

    Better depends on what you really want.

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