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Fingerboard oil?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by FidgetStone, May 23, 2004.

  1. FidgetStone


    Jun 30, 2002
    Allen, TX
    In seaching the web site for "fingerboard oil" information for my very new-ish Christopher ebony fingerboard, I didn't come up with any one consistant recommendation.

    Luthiers and other desiganted smart people, please let me know how often, how much, and with what particular oil should I use to treat my fingerboard.

    Assorted posts list "tung", "linseed" and "Danish Watco" as candidates.

    Thanks . . . :help:
  2. flatback

    flatback Supporting Member

    May 6, 2004
    no no no. fingerboard oil is usually very light mineral oil, like sewing machine oil or such. Don't put any drying oils on your board( watco linseed, tung). I have just heard here about waxing it with bowling ally wax but I would really like to know if that was posted as humor or as a serious dressing???
    All the Best,
  3. I disagree. I recommend using drying oils for ebony or rosewood fingerboards. If you insist on using a non-drying oil, it should be used very sparsely so that it can not seep thru the fb into the neck below the fingerboard. Hide glue will not stick to oil soaked wood. I've never used bowling alley wax which I believe Jeff Bollbach recommended, but I'm certain that it would be a better choice than a non-drying oil.
  4. flatback

    flatback Supporting Member

    May 6, 2004
    hmmm, really? I'll have to look into that. I would really appreciate some clarification from a few luthiers on this because that cat down in long beach who used to work on my bass (and a lot of LA basses) John (at World of Strings), who tought me so many things about the instrument (except how to clean it...) when I was taking my bass to him, he used to give me this little bottle of Bore oil, a non drying mineral oil. The idea wasn't to saturate the wood in any way, but to dress it lightly.
    I am very interested in the wax thing tho, because I would like to decrease the sliding friction some and that would seem logical. But I never heard of someone applying a drying oil like tung.
    ....oh I see you are a luthier... ... ... never mind
  5. I know I'm not the only one who uses Fast Fret round here, which is some sort of light mineral oil. Having got a bottle of bore oil for my ebony clarinet, the idea is to have a mirror like finish on the inside, and not let it build up. A draw through with chammy leather seemed most effective.

    Bob must know better, but I was under the impression that either rosewood or ebony would be too dense to allow oil to soak all the way through or into the wood to hardly any extent?

    I clean up my strings and fingerboard with a dab of meths (alcohol) and then a wipe with fast fret. I remember being told that in days of yore a citrus oil was used - can't remember which one. It strikes me that people who oil/dress strings, as gut players do, must of course, get it all over the fingerboard. Whether what I do helps the fingerboard or ruins it please post you views but I'm adamant that the strings stay brighter longer. And I have noticed that strings are cheaper than fingerboards!
  6. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    What's the point of oiling the fb at all other than aesthetics?
  7. flatback

    flatback Supporting Member

    May 6, 2004
    Yea Jon Pederson...I am thinking about going south for major work. Funny but I went thru just what youy did when I got to the Bay Area. There is this thing about really good bass luthiers, they instill a real trust without imposing their will on you. When I first went to Jon I didn't know really what I wanted in a set up or sound. I was studying with Charlie Haden and I didn't know if I wanted Gut/high action or steel low action or something in between or what. I didn't know what I had just bought in a bass and what I should be looking for in my next one etc. And everytime I went into see Jon, he would take the time to explain different facets of the instrument and what makes them sing out and what I should be looking for. For example, at one point I bought this beautiful Pollman bass, it was really pretty to look at, and I thought it had no sound because it needed a set up...long story short, Jon helped me to realize that although it had a good name and although it was a beauty, it would probably never have a real sound...too many problems (thick top and back etc) Jon ain't cheap that is for sure, but I sure trust him.
    Around the Bay Area I am still looking, although I have found michael olivola in oakland who does good work and at a fair price.
    I'm still interested in this wax thing anyone?
  8. In a "perfect" piece of ebony, it might indeed be too dense for the oil to soak through to the neck. However, much of the ebony we see today has pores and has a tendency to develope tiny little cracks as it continues it's drying cycle as well as the normal expansion and contraction of the wood. The thinner the fingerboard, the greater the risk. My main objection to a non-drying oil is that it stays liquid inside these little cracks and each time more non-drying oil is added to the board the total amount of liquid oil inside the fingerboard may increase. Will it get through to the neck? Probably not for most, but I have seen it go through in cases where the player is anal about oiling the board regularly. It doesn't happen often, but why risk it happening at all? On the other hand, A drying oil does not remain a liquid very long and it has a tendency to fill those tiny little pores and cracks in the wood. It acts as kind of a sealer for the wood.
  9. Bob,

    How about lemon oil? I use it on my electric bass's rosewood fingerboard occasionally (2x-3x per year). Okay on ebony?
  10. Lemon oil is basically thin mineral oil with some fragrance added. Used in moderation, it probably won't hurt anything. However, if it were mine, I would be using something like Watco danish oil (a drying oil) on it.
  11. Thanks for the advice Bob - I know darn well my fingerboard is anything but first grade ebony - I've never heard of the stuff but a look on the web finds:

    General Points- Danish Oil

    A very popular natural oil product for sealing and varnishing timbers. Contains Tung Oil to mean water and heat resistance and if a few coats are applied it gives a low sheen. Applications include the cupboard doors of kitchen units, wooden bath panels, worktops and garden furniture.

    Danish Oil is also very good for areas in the kitchen as it is one of the oils deemed to be safe in contact with food.

    Tung Oil is otherwise known as Chinese Wood Oil and gives a shellac like hardwearing film. Not very oil is required and the use of fine wirewool can be an aid to application and preparation. A common mistake is to apply to much and then like Linseed Oil the surface goes tacky and then crosslinked it becomes near impossible to remove without severe abrasion.

    Seems you've got to be sparing with this stuff!
  12. Using a drying oil like Watco Danish Oil requires that it be left on the surface for a while to soak in (and hour or less). If it all soaks into the wood, you can repeat the process until it will leave an excess. Then you must wipe off all of the excess before it has a chance to dry. If you wait too long, you may end up with a sticky coating (like a soft gummy varnish) ON the surface, which is what you do not want. If that does happen, just rub it off with some 0000 steel wool saturated with the drying oil. That will cut through and disolve the unwanted top coating so you can then wipe it off as you should have before it dried.

    After the first application, you can clean and polish the fingerboard using 0000 steel wool saturated with the drying oil when ever you feel the need. Then just wipe it off. There is no need to wait for it to soak in again after the first application.
  13. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I've heard about a guy who used to run his bass biz out of Potrero hill in SF... is that Allan Droyan?

    I bought my bass from Alex (a chrissy) and he seems to be ok. I've seen the vintage basses in his home but he does have a few german ones but definitely not many. Alex claimed to do alot of work for bassists in the San Jose Symphony and other working bassists in the area. If I remember correctly from what Alex told me, Allan moved to Fort Bragg and had some sort of working relationship with Alex. Alex just simply bought his inventory and took over Allan's business when he left. Alex now just runs it out of his own garage in South SF.

    I had Michael do a little work on my bass and he seemed very knowledgeable and competent. Apparently he does all the repair work while his wife does the bass building. Check out their site: www.basshouse.com. He was recommended to me by my teacher, who knew him when they were both still working in NYC. He has a couple cool basses on his site that I think he sells mostly consignment.

    Oh, there's another guy way up in Petaluma that you might want to check out. Found him through Bob G's site but I never contacted him nor looked at any of his inventory. http://www.sexauerluthier.com.
  14. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Bob's on the money here. And there is another problem: In the future, that fingerboard is going to need re-dressing. After planing and scraping, the board is going to be block-sanded to a super-smooth surface. If it's full of old non-drying oil, the sandpaper will clog immediately and keep scratching the ebony, rather than smoothing it. This has happened to me many times and is very frustrating. Sometimes there is no choice but to burn the entire offending instrument... My personal recipe is to work linseed oil into the board with 0000 steel wool, let it sit for only 30 seconds or so, then wipe it down. With so little oil on the wood, it's ready to play in minutes, and can be freshened at any time. But I believe a fingerboard sounds and plays best after the wood compresses a bit under the string paths, and perhaps is one of the magical factors at work in the "playing-in" process.
    salcott likes this.
  15. flatback

    flatback Supporting Member

    May 6, 2004
    so arnold,
    I was talking with someone this afternoon who was advocating a linseed burnish thing kind of what you describe but then polished shoe style until the oil crystalizes or thats what he said...and it would produce a high gloss and very smooth board...is that over kill or would it do what he said? and what about this bowling ally wax if you don't mind my asking?
    I like your site, so many of you cats in upstate NY...
  16. flatback

    flatback Supporting Member

    May 6, 2004
    Michael and his wife do fine work. She in fact (Hanna) has made a bass (and is making another for Michael) with some interesting new developments...I am curious to try it out. They have a small garage shop over off the 580 in Oakland. The cat in Petaluma Bruce is more of a retailer for schools, I think he works on guitars mostly and sets up imported student basses. I went to see him cause he is in my neighborhood and he is a schertler dealer.
  17. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    I don't dig a glossy, slippery fingerboard. Just smoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooth...
  18. FidgetStone


    Jun 30, 2002
    Allen, TX
    Would you use the "natural" Watco Danish Oil or one of progressively darker versions like "black walnut"? Also, does this help the fingerboard last longer or play better?

    Thanks . . .
  19. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Natural Watco works very well on fingerboards, bridges, and necks. (If it's good enough for Dan Hachez, it's good enough for me.) Not a lot, just enough to soak in the top layer of wood. When the fingerboard gets dirty with finger schmutz, a little 0000 steel wool works great.
  20. Josh McNutt

    Josh McNutt Guest

    Mar 10, 2003
    Denton, Texas (UNT)
    Do you guys have any experience with Gerlitz Guitar Honey? I used to use that stuff when I played electric bass. I emailed them just now because in the website description they only say that it is an oil mixture. It seemed to dry pretty fast, but I'll see what they say.