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Fingerboard Questions

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by kegbarnacle, Dec 9, 2003.

  1. kegbarnacle


    Nov 18, 2003
    Thanks in advance, i've found all of the expert opinions to be very valuable in the construction of my first neck.

    The first thing I am wondering is about Bubinga for a fretless fingerboard. I've got a great piece in my workshop....

    Also, in searching the Luthier's Corner forum, I've seen posts on virtually every possible method of finishing. I've got a good deal of woodworking experience, though not much specific to bass building. What is the best way to finish a fretless fingerboard for hardness/tone/durability?

  2. Bubinga would be a nice choice. If it's a AAAA figured type piece, I would put a hard, protective clear coat on it. Your choices are quite varied. Here's my take on some of them:

    Polyurethane - 2 part catalyst hardened only! Pretty difficult to spray, requires protective gear, very hard and durable finish, crystal clear, decently expensive.

    Polyester - Same general properties as Polyurethane but harder. Even more difficult to spray. I'm pretty sure this is the choice of Bill Conklin on his customs.

    Cyanoacrylate - "Superglue" Fairly easy but labor intensive process. Lots of sanding. Very, very hard and durable. Finish is polishable. MUST be done outside to avoid fumes.

    Epoxy - The traditional choice. "If it was good enough for Jaco..." Mixture is critical to getting good results. Lots of sanding here too. Try West Systems for Jaco's brand.

    One thing to keep in mind that oily woods are more difficult to coat than others. You'll have to do some prep to get it ready to accept a coating that will cure and harden.

    Hope this helps.
  3. kegbarnacle


    Nov 18, 2003
    That helps a lot. I've been all over the MIMF and the internet in general and it's tough to draw a consensus. Everyone seems to have their own twist on woods, finishes, etc. The only conclusion i can draw is that ebony is best, but it seems difficult to find in the right size lately....

    I'm going to finish it with the marine epoxy and see what happens. I also decided to use hide glue instead of a PU glue so if i need to remove it that's an option.

    It's very different woodworking with sound in mind as opposed to only looks.
  4. How would I go about finishing a fretboard with CA?

    I don't mind the sanding part, and the ventilation is ok.
  5. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I heartily recommend that people dispense with the fancy fingerboard treatments, especially if you are still in the steep part of the learning curve for building. No offense meant to Hambone, of course.

    Oil should be enough - with ebony, oil is not even really necessary. Bubinga is pretty tough stuff itself, I would even do that for a fingerboard with no finish other than oil.

    Many of these finishes are toxic. An open window is often not enough to be safe - spray finishes should really have some kind of fan to move air while the finish is being applied, and as Hambone said the equipment and the finish can be expensive for the really tough finishes. CA glue is just nasty stuff - the vapors are extremely noxious and the dust produced when sanding is almost as harsh. If you've never used CA in any quantity, you can feel the vapor burn in your eyes if you get too close.

    Epoxy is probably the least objectionable because it is the least toxic, but it takes some work to get a level, smooth, appealing finish. The stuff tends to get bubbles and if you don't get rid of them right out of the gate, you will have little pits in the epoxy when it cures and you sand through them. If you get the mix wrong or don't mix thoroughly enough, you can get mushy spots that will gum up and peel off. You'll also likely end up having to do more than one coat, and as you sand through, you see lines where the interface between the two layers lies.

    As you might have guessed, I have gone the epoxy route with System Three and I was very frustrated by the process and I was never really satisfied with the results. System Three support was no help at all. They wanted nothing to do with me because I wasn't using it as an adhesive (even though they recommended the product to me). Obviously, people have done a nice job of this, so it can be done, but unless you're looking for a project that might take a couple or few tries to get right (and delay the completion of your bass by a couple or few weeks), I'd say skip it and do an oil or penetrating sealer.
  6. None taken...

    ...and your advice is even better than mine. :( :D
  7. You know, the posts to these questions really point out the problem with asking questions about detailed technical subjects. There's just no way that a full coverage answer can be given in one post or even a dozen posts. My response gave a quick overview more in the vein of "possibilties" and Matt comes in with more hands-on advice that is even scarier and yet neither of us has written a tenth of what could be written on the why's, wherefores, and warnings.

    The warning here is to read it all, get an outline of what you're looking at, then go out and TOTALLY research the angles for yourself and relative to your situation. Because it boils down to this; take any 10 builders building any 100 guitars and you'll wind up with about 1000 variations - each builder taking a slightly different tack on identical principles.
  8. Thanks for the quick replies, guys!

    It's not a new bass that I'm building, and it's not the wood I'm worried about, rather the putty i used to fill the slots. It seems to crumble quite easily, and I'd like some kind of protection. I actually tried the CA on a piece of ash I had lying around and I got it to seep in nicely, and after a bit of sanding and a second application and some more sanding it looks great and is plenty hard. I think I'm going to use it.

    I have sufficient ventilation, and I know the precautions to take. What I didn't know was how to apply the CA, but I did some reading up after I posted, and decided to try.

    The bass is my old beater, j-bass copy I got for 10€ off a friend, so I'm not too worried about srewing it up (if I do I'll just get a new neck, wich I originally intended to do).

    The frets were worn down and the fingerboard uneven, the "pain(t)-job" was horrible, and the pots were busted. I've scraped and sanded the body, removed the neck, pulled the frets, filled with putty and sanded it smooth.

    A friend who has access to some quite serious finishing booths will fix the body for me, base- and topcoat, and another friend is going to paint an artwork in between them.

    I have basic woodworking skills, and I've done quite a few setups on guitars and basses.

    Sorry for the long post fellas :)
  9. Heres a pic of what it looked like before I went to work :)
  10. Woodboy


    Jun 9, 2003
    St. Louis, MO
    Bubinga is a hard wood. Certainly harder and more compact than Indian rosewood or maple. Not as hard as ebony, but not much else is. Any wood is going to wear with a fretless. You have no doubt seen 6 string guitars with ebony fingerboards that are all pitted from the player's fingernails. My point is: I see no need to encase a hard wood like bubinga in some heavy-duty film like epoxy or 2-part urethane. Tru-Oil is a gunstock finish that you can buy at most Wal-Marts in the sporting goods department. You can build up a nice, slippery film with it and it is easy to renew. If you see some wear happening, clean up your fingerboard and wipe on some more Tru-Oil. You just have to resign yourself that in a few years, you might have to resurface your board and re-apply the Tru-Oil. Wearing grooves in the fingerboard is a fact of life with fretless. I'd rather resurface the wood than try to maintain a synthetic finish as the playing surface. The only thing hazardous about Tru-Oil is proper disposal of the rags you use to put it on with. If you just throw them in the garbage, they can spontaneously combust as the linseed oil gives off heat as it polymerizes.

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