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fingerboard materials other than ebony

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by toman, Nov 16, 2003.

  1. I've seen a few basses here and there with fingerboards made of woods like cocobolo or purpleheart; are there really any woods that are as good as ebony? I've played several basses with rosewood fingerboards and found them to be aweful, and we all know about those ebonized maple things passing as fingerboards... but it seems like it would be cool to have something other than ebony if it played as well.
  2. untraditional, but i think i would be best off w/ one w/ fretlines, even though theres no frets for lines. Just position markers i guess. And what would real maple be like...hrrm. I think steel would be sorta coo. I saw one on the BG side but dont remember who had it. Steel fretless bass geedur.
    I dunno. I cant have a DB. Im po/
  3. um, I think my universal translater is broken. Either that or I don't have the latest l33t g33k service pack... can somebody translate for me?
  4. i was really tired when i wrote that.haha.
    Are you serious?
    I said, i think steel would be cool. I saw steel on a bass in the bass guitar side. It looked good.
    I think position markers on maple would be good for me.
  5. Toman:

    Mike Pecanic would be a good source for exotic wood information. He makes tailpieces that are getting raves around here, and he would probably have good insight into what kind of wood would make a good board.

    In a completely different direction, I think Moses, Inc., is make graphite fingerboards. They're probably as about as hard and stable as you could get, but try finding a luthier willing to take on the task of installing and dressing the thing!
  6. The graphite boards are great; I've seen them before. I think one of these days I'm going to get one on my bass, or some bass... From everything I've seen in exotic woods, there isn't anything that is as dense and hard as ebony and wouldn't make a very good fingerboard; but I may be wrong. Oh, and Jon; I don't know about steel, but I can tell you for a fact that maple is about the worst possible fingerboard material.
  7. Perhaps this question should be addressed to the other luthiers, but does anyone have any actual experience dressing a graphite fingerboard? After seeing Toman's post, I went to Bob G's website and saw that it says the graphite can be worked like an ordinary fingerboard. However, when I went to the Moses website they say:

    "Due to no irregularity of grain in the working surface, this medium is toolable with files, drills, saws, and sanders . When routing, there is no splintering, chipping, chattering, or end grain blow."

    The primary tools I use for dressing an ebony board are wood planes and scrapers. How does graphite work with these tools in the real world? Does anyone know what the co-efficient of expansion is for these graphite fingerboards?
  8. Gufenov


    Jun 8, 2003
    While I can appreciate differences in durability, I wonder how many TBers could tell the difference - eyes closed - between ebony, rosewood, graphite, etc. Does it really make that much of a difference in tone? Playability? Toman, what's "aweful" about rosewood?
  9. Wrong
  10. It makes a big difference. The softer woods simply feel soft under the strings, and they don't transmit nearly the vibration into the neck that ebony does. I can only imagine that this negatively affects the sound as well; the ones I've seen have all been on pretty sorry basses to begin with. A student of mine has about the lowest quality plywood bass I've seen, and the black painted maple board feels like it's made of cork or something...
  11. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    You are like my luthier, and at one time I looked at getting a graphite fingerboard for my Juzek. Rocky politely told me he would never work on graphite again as it nearly ruined his scraper.

  12. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    I have worked on a few graphite boards. They dull edge tools like Hell[as opposed to sandpaper] but can be worked somewhat with them. I'm not sure what "coefficient of expansion" means but they are surely impervious to humidity changes. They actually play and sound decent.If ebony is no longer obtainable this will certainly be my first choice. The problem with all the alternative woods I have seen is that while you may get a wood that machines well and sounds good it is unlikely to get straight grain and that is paramount with me.
  13. Graphite is being pitched as something will last a lifetime or longer. Since hide glue will not adhere to graphite, they are using epoxy to attach it to another piece of wood which will in turn be glued with hide glue to the neck rather than the alternative of using epoxy to attach the graphite directly to the neck. The most common explaination of why flat back bass braces fail is that the expansion rate is different for maple and spruce. Over time, the expansion and contraction of the two pieces of wood cause the glue joint to fail. It seem logical to me that if the graphite does not expand and contract at approx. the same rate as the wood, that even epoxy will fail over time.

    Denver luthier Bob Ross introduced me to another alternative fingerboard material that he calls synthetic ebony. The material is produced by utilizing a processes that impregnates select hardwood veneers with phenolic thermosetting resins. Under intense heat and pressure, multiple layers of these treated hardwoods are fused into a solid, homogeneous block of material. It does have the same hide gluing problem as with graphite, but epoxy is not needed because white weldwood glue will adhere to it to wood. I've made and installed several fingerboards from this material and so far the results have been excellent. The finished fingerboard is very stable, black, has wood grain from the veneers and can be worked with scrapers. However, the scrapers do require more frequent sharpening. It is actually heavier and more dense than genuine ebony. This would be my first choice if ebony where not available.
  14. Denver luthier Bob Ross introduced me to another alternative fingerboard material that he calls synthetic ebony. quote Branstetter

    I was gonna chime in on this thread, but I couldn't remember what this stuff is actually called. So, thanks Bob for bringing it up! It does have a name and Bob Ross has used it for FBs on a couple of his new basses. I'm a purist, and it's pretty hard to tell the difference. He's also used it for purfling and inlay work. For the playability, it's just fine!
    I wanted to work in using that Phenolic Thermosetting Rosin term, but it didn't work out. I love it when you talk that way Bobby...
  15. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    Sounds good Bob!
    I know about this stuff but hadn't heard of it in bass fb. Is it available?
  16. billybass


    Oct 14, 2003
    New Orleans
    I have put a moses carbon graphite fingerboard on both of my basses in the last year and a half.
    Moses sells them with a thin maple veneer epoxied to the back so that you can hide glue it on so that it is not permanent. The seam is not as clean as an ebony to maple joint due to the extra piece of veneer but it does work well.
    The first bass I put one on was an old german bass that is set up for solo playing. The board came with minimal camber and no further dressing was required. The second one I put on was on an large french bass that is set up for heavy orchestral playing and the camber that came on the board was not enough. Working with this material became a challenge. I tried a block plane with several different blade angles and I came to the conclusion that it only taunts the plane. I then tried a scraper attachment in a plane and that did not do much. The only thing that cleanly removed carbon graphite were heavy duty scrapers with a rather aggerssive burr and sanding. Once I put in the amount of camber I wanted there were of course some high spots. I ended up using the old china marker trick to see where the buzzes were and taking the high spots out with the scraper. THe boards do polish up very nicely. Micro Mesh polished down to black glass finish but it was rather glaring so I went back over it with a rougher grit paper and it actually looks like ebony. I have been playing on them for over a year now and am pleased with the results. Both bass increased in projection tremendously. The pizz sustain is very impressive. The only acoustical complaint is that in the orchestra it is a little harder to hear myself in soft passages since there is very little vibration in the neck now.
  17. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Actually, the glue joint fails because the crossbar is attached to the back at a 90 degree angle. One of the basic rules of cabinet making is to avoid crossing grains in this way. Essentially, flatbacks fail because they are made wrong. Both the crossbar and the back are expanding and contracting across their own grain, at cross purposes to each other. Over time there is no keeping that crossbar in place, unless the bass lives in a constant climate. X-bars are less problematic because the grains cross at only 30 degrees or so. But in whacky climate areas like the Northeast U.S., backs braced in this manner tend to become arched inward in the winter, and can pull loose from the ribs. When I glue in traditional flatback crossbars, I expect them to stay glued 20-30 years at best. This same problem of crossing grains at 90 degrees is one of the reasons most luthiers now use diamond-shaped cleats, as the grains only cross at about 30 degrees, and they are more likely to stay put.
  18. Planned obselescence, eh? Sounds like a scheme to rope the customer into having to come into your shop every two or three decades.
  19. Actually we are both right. The reason the the 90 degree angle fails is because woods expands at considerably different rates across and with the grain..
  20. Nuno A.

    Nuno A. Velvet Strings Customer Service

    Jul 9, 2001
    Just cant imagine my life without Talkbass...:D

  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Dec 3, 2020

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