Epoxy or polyester for fretless fingerboard?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by AJClone, Nov 8, 2005.

  1. AJClone


    Mar 11, 2002
    Well, I've used the search function to make myself nice and dizzy so it's time for a couple questions.

    I've got a fender jazz fretless that I want to "improve" and coat the fret board. It's got a little wear but more than that, from all the postings it seems you get more mwah and "buzz" from a coated board (although I've seen exceptions on both sides). I'm not in love with the sound I get from the rosewood board so keeping that woody tone in place isn't an issue for me.

    Now on to my questions:

    For epoxy, I've seen plenty of recommendations for different products. For Polyester, I've not seen any "best" products listed. Does anyone have any good recommendations for a good poly product to use?

    I've pretty much figured out from info here that I need to sand the fb (grit?), do some taping and then apply several thin coats with sanding (not sure what grit to use again).

    But what are the differences between poly and epoxy? Is one "better" than the other or just different (as in sound, ease of use, etc.)?

    Thanks for any info
  2. I can't say anything about the polyester coatings, but for epoxy:

    1) when you sand between coats, epoxy does not cure very nicely (eg. flat) so you need to level the surface between coats. Epoxy is difficult to sand, so make sure you use nonloading sandpaper and discard often. For the bare fingerboard, you can sand up to 220 before you apply the first epoxy coat.

    2) you should sand up to from 150 to 220 between coats and all the way up to the sheen you want on the final coat (I personally go up to 800 grit and then use 0000 steel wool to buff up a bit).
  3. AJClone


    Mar 11, 2002
    Thanks Wilser. How many coats do you put on? I've looked at the system 3 mirror coat for the epoxy route.
  4. whichever finish you choose (I'd go poly because it's a tad harder) make sure you prep the board by wiping it down lightly with acetone, to remove the oils inherent in rosewood, at least at surface level, so the finish can readily adhere to the wood. If not, it would eventually flake off. You need to "clean the pores".

  5. Yes, definetely!

    As for coats, I put in about 4, others will surely do it different.

    I don't know about the hardness factor between poly and epoxy, but from my tests, epoxy is definetely more wear and scratch resistant the poly.
  6. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    I think you may mean polyurethane, not polyester. One is a finish, the other is a disco suit. Poly would be too soft, IMO.
  7. AJClone


    Mar 11, 2002
    That's what I originally thought too but no, it's actually polyester as in mylar. Pedulla uses a polyester type of coating as I believe Sadowsky does also. I'm having difficulty finding a brand or exact product to use though.
  8. callmeMrThumbs

    callmeMrThumbs Guest

    Oct 6, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    I defretted my ol' Peavey Milestone III this last summer, and I put a few coats of poly(urethane) on it. I don't think that I would really recommend using it...it was just the only thing I had lying around at home and I didn't feel like spending any money...hehe. However, if you really want a lot of mwwaaahh, then I think a softer coat on the fingerboard might actually help bring some of the "growl" out. I really like the sound, but I'm not sure I like the look or feel... I'm thinking about refinishing it sometime next summer (or whenever I have a weeks worth of free time...). Good luck on your project, AJ.

  9. I use epoxy, around 6 coats maybe more due to the method of application or and epoxy I use. I also use acetone to clean the workpiece before applying coats.

    You mentioned that you've searched the forum, there are some really informative posts here about this. Everyone will use whatever method that works for them. Before I tried this, a few years ago now, I tested it on a damaged and unusable neck (I could have easily tried it on a radiused or not offcut) to determine what issues I'd be faced and what the epoxy was like to work with.
  10. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    I got very lucky with the first system 3 fingerboard job I did. 1 coat no sanding done...... t
  11. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    I was under the impression that most of the big names were using polyester finishes these days. From what I understand they're catalized finishes a whole lot like fiberglass resin (though much more clear). I think the reason most of us don't use them is because they require quality spray and respiratory equipment that I personally don't have lying around. I've also heard that they take a whole lot more knowledge to use properly, while the epoxy trick seems to be pretty much idiot proof (so long as you get your ratios right).

    Here's a story to back up that last statement. One of the employees at a guitar shop (this is a second hand story, so I won't use names) was making himself a bass and was spraying it whenever he had time. Unfortunately, this meant that he couldn't follow the proper schedule and let one coat cure too long before putting on the next. Everything was fine until the bass was assembled and set into a guitar stand. Just sitting against the rubber stops of the guitar stand caused cracks to spread up through the entire top coat of the finish since it didn't properly adhere. The whole thing had to be sanded off and refinished.

    Of course, my memory may have done some ebellishing, but I think that's how the story went. Does anyone out there have personal experience with polyesters? (Hambone, I'm looking at you.)

  12. Pedulla has their own formula called DiamondKote, I've heard some stores may have it. I in the past have used multiple layers of Spar poly, my last bass was about 38 coats with slight scuffing between with 400 paper, later coats were 0000 wool. I did try re-coating a few layers with tru-oil, it didn't do well for me. I don't think it's anywhere near strong enough compared to poly.
    Good luck, there's nothing better than a coated board if your into rounds. :)
  13. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    Wow, I stand corrected then.

    I am using an uncoated ebony board now, maybe I will finish it.
  14. Never overestimate an idiot.

    I think I know which story you're thinking of, and I remember it a little differently. Yes the finish cracked when he put it in the guitar stand, but he didn't notice it right away. He was later playing it at his thrash metal band's gig and the finish exploded everywhere, especially into his eyes and chest. Needless to say, he's dead. HEED THIS WARNING!!!

    That's how I remember it anyway. :)
  15. Don't do it. Ebony is hard enough to handle the rounds - don't screw it. Coating fretless fingerboards is usually done to protect those made of softer wood.
  16. AJClone


    Mar 11, 2002
    I'm well into my project now.... So far this has been interesting. I'm using the West System 105 epoxy resin with 207 hardener. The 207 is for clearcoat whereas the 206 is not. Glad I caught that one before I started. The pumps that you buy make this pretty simple from the mixing side of things. Otherwise, so far I've got 3 coats on and will be aiming for 6 to 8, depending upon how thick this stuff goes on. I'll probably put my steps down later in this thread when I'm done if I don't screw this up. Otherwise I'll be doing some heavy sanding. Thanks for all the input by the way.

  17. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    After 3 days I can still scratch the system 3 with my fingernail. I am going to sand the radius back into it and try to lay on a real thin slightly "hot" coat on the fb tomorrow.t
  18. vikunja


    Oct 29, 2004
    I have a polyurethane coat on my fingerboard and my fingernail could make a mark for about 3 weeks, but it has gone completly hard now.
  19. davesisk


    Aug 30, 2004
    Raleigh, NC
    Good thread. I have a fairly inexpensive fretless (Dean Edge 5-string) with a rosewood fingerboard. I like it's woody tone, but...I'm kind of finding it lacking a bit in the highs, wouldn't mind making it a little brighter. It's a passive bass with non-stock EMG-HZ pickups, so I'm thinking of two things to add to it's brightness:

    1) I've got an EMG-BQS active preamp lying around that was originally slated for a different bass...that might make a nice versatile combination (very wide range of sweepable mids).

    2) Coating the rosewood fretboard. I'd like to get it done quickly so that I have minimal down-time with this bass. I've seen SuperGlue/Krazy Glue mentioned elsewhere as a suitable coating, applied in very thin coats and rubbed in with wax paper (after a good cleaning with alcohol). Thoughts on this? How hard is SuperGlue compared to epoxy? (I'm thinking it's pretty hard, and this ought to be a pretty easy-to-get-complete project.) Has anyone else used this?

  20. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Ok...I've been waiting to drop this bomb on many of you for a few weeks now, but it is going to revolutionize the thinking on epoxying fretboards.

    Penetrating epoxy.....water thin consistency, penetrates the grain, thus eliminating the wipe and scrape, or other uneven ways of laying on epoxy. The stuff is a great way to epoxy seal a board for added durability, yet still retain some of the woodyness if desired. I will include the details tomorrow, as I don't have the bottles right here in front of me, and I want you all to have the correct info on where to get it, and the correct prices.