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Fingerboard Wood?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by bassman1185, Jan 12, 2001.

  1. Does the type of wood that the fingerboard is made of make that much difference? I read somewhere that on one bass with a maple fretboard the low B is a lot tighter than on an identical bass with a rosewood. I don't see how this could make any difference, but I'm kind of inexpirienced at this kind of thing.
  2. cole


    Sep 14, 2000
    a maple fretboard supposedly gives the bass a brighter overall sound than a rosewood fretboard would. that might balance out the inherent darkness of the low B (which wouldn't get corrected with a rosewood fretboard).
  3. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    I read this in a Bass Player review of the American Precision Deluxe 5, and didn't believe it, until I found one of each to demo myself.

    And on this bass it is true. The maple board version has a better B.

    It does on my Pedulla Rapture J2 5 string also.

    After the experiment with the Fender, I took my Rapture to a shop that had 3 rosewood board Raptures, and the B on those was not as authoritative as mine. I also played a Rapture 2000 that had a maple board, and it beat the rosewood ones as well.

    I don't know if this holds true across the board, but it would be interesting to hear from people who have A/B'd other expensive basses like Laklands for example and see if on 2 basses of the same model with different boards, if this is the case.

    That is an interesting theory, and may have a little to do with it, but IMHO it would have more to do with the added stiffness of a maple vs. a rosewood board.

  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    My experience with fingerboards - I've owned basses with the following, comments included;

    Rosewood - "Mushy," ill-defined sound; gets gunked up over time. In short, didn't like it because it lacked character. Allmost all cheap basses I've seen use rosewood, although you can find it on some upper end instruments, but they use a higher grade rosewood than, say, a Rogue bass.

    Maple - "Hard" sounding and punchy. Very defined sound, lets you articulate notes well. I think it looks cool, too, especially a birdseye maple board. Liked it a lot for rock/punk

    Ebony - When I finally bought a bass with one, there's no going back for me. It has the punch of maple but also lets the notes "bloom" or open up. Now I see why cellos, violins, and double basses almost always have it. I allows me to produce warm, sustaining notes or sharp, quickly decaying notes

    [Edited by rickbass1 on 01-19-2001 at 10:51 AM]
  5. There's no doubt in my mind that every component that makes up a guitar/bass influences it's tone. Some make more difference than others.

    The only real way to tell would be to have a few necks and a few bodies made of different materaials then build them up as all possible combinations then play them through the same amp. A sort-of scientific experiment if you like.

    Then there's the problem of different pieces of the same type of wood behaving in quite different ways. And it does happen.

    Yeh. OK. All woods have characteristic resonances. Harder woods are likely to be 'brighter' than softer ones. But I suspect the real reason ebony is used for fingerboards is that it's damned hard and wears out less quickly than others. Looks quite nice, too, I think.

    I have to say, though, that barring the academic interest the fingerboard wood's never figured with me when I've played the bass. Most subtle tonal influences can be over ridden by tone controls on the amp.

    That's my thoughts for what they're worth.

  6. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    John, I agree that you can adjust the tone at the amp, but I am a believer in the theory that if a bass doesn't sound like I want it to unplugged, that it's not worth tweaking to find my tone.

    I play through my SWR amp completely flat on my maple boarded basses, and sometimes need to roll just a hair off of the tone control on the bass if things are a little too bright.

    Ebony and wenge board basses are pretty similar IME, but on a rosewood board I have to boost the highs at the amp, even with the tone turned all of the way up on the bass.
  7. Randy Payne

    Randy Payne

    Jan 1, 2001
    I'll have to agree with rockin-john on this one. You may disagree with me, but I am skeptical of the difference fingerboard wood makes. I can't prove anybody wrong, I can't prove I'm right, I'm just skeptical. IMHO, there are other more important factors to consider.

    When you guys A/B these basses with maple vs. rosewood or whatever, are you really doing an accurate comparison? The first thing I would be worried about would be the strings. Do the basses you are comparing have exactly the same brand strings in the same condition? Are the basses themselves identical except for the fingerboard?

    If I had the resources, what I would do, would be to take two necks, one maple and one rosewood, and swap them around on a bass, and take recordings of the bass before and after.

    Here's my approx. list of the factors that influence bass tone, with 1) being the highest:

    1) the player
    2) the amp
    3) the strings
    4) the scale length
    5) pickups (Also called pups like baby dogs)
    5) hollow body vs solid body
    6) neck thru vs. bolt-on
    7) the room you're playing in!
    8) body wood
    9) the bridge
    10) the electronics in the bass
    11) fingerboard wood
    12) phase of the moon

    I'm sure everybody here will disagree with this order in some manner, but there it is!

    (Notice I did put fingerboard wood above phase of the moon)

  8. Good morning, guys.

    Hmmm. Seem to have stirred something up here, don't I?

    Bassman1185 asks a valid quiestion. And the answer has to be, 'Yes'. But it's the degree of difference that concerns me. When you're up there on stage playing with the other muscicans, is it really possible to tell whether or not the fingerboard material is influencing the sound?

    In any case the points of contact for the string is metal both ends: frets and bridge. The main path for the vibrating string is through neck and body and these are far more likely to influece the sound purely because their masses are much greater than the fingerboard. The bridge/body wood(s)combination is likely to be the most influential. The situation for a fretless is different. There the fingerboard will have more influence over the sound because there are no metal frets.

    To some extent I have to agree with Embellisher who said, effectively, that you can't get the amp to give out tones that aren't there in the first place.

    Having said that, we built fretlesses from Iroko (neck and body) with a rosewood f/board and one Shaller Bassbucker. With the onboard parametrics you could make that bass give out tones that I reckon covered everything from the heaviest, most rounded bass tones all the way up to the most cutting treble. I'm currently rebuilding the prototype bass: Beech neck, Ash f/board, Iroko body, Shaller Jazz Neck pup (humbucker). I've every confidence it'll sound very similar.

    Perhaps Bassman1185's qestion will never be really answered.


    Rockin John.

  9. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Randy, I have played MIA Fender Jazzes, Pedulla Raptures and other basses, in music stores, through the same rig, rosewood vs maple of the exact same model, and at least to my ears, there was a difference.

    Of course, maybe all of the rosewood models had old strings and all of the maple models had new strings?:)

    Maple boards have a zing that is missing from rosewood, IMHO.
  10. virtual.ray


    Oct 25, 2000
    IMHO,Rosewood is softer,so it's a given that it can't be as snappy as maple.But what about Maple vs.Wenge,or Ebony,or even Ebonol?
  11. Another thing: what about synthetic fingerboards? I know that there are a lot of graphite, luthite, ect fingerboards out there. Do they have a sound that can be compared to any type of wood?
  12. Just for clarity there aren't any graphite or luthite fingerboards in use. You may be confusing the graphite used in nuts, and the tradename "Luthite" used in bodies. Neither is suitable for a fingerboard.

    That said, there ARE synthetic materials that are widely used for this component. First is a material called Ebonol. These are most visible in the Cort Curbow line of basses. Very hard, homogenous, black, and makes a nice fingerboard. Now, I don't know this for sure but the name and the fact that I saw the results of a small chip in a fingerboard of a bass that I owned, lead me to believe that this stuff is very much like the material used in old bowling balls. Don't laugh! I'm a bowler too and am very, very familiar with this material. The way the chip formed and how the material looked inside gives me this impression. There was (and still is) a manufacturer called Ebonite that was one of the first to develop hard, black materials for bowling balls and this stuff is it's spitting image. I don't think it's Bakelite, which has some other characteristic traits. The bowling ball material was dense, black, chippable, polishable, and was very very resistant to scratching. this is not to say that it couldn't be scratched - it could - but it took the tremendous punishment of spinning down the lane at speeds approaching 15 mph and hitting 10 3┬Żlb pins to begin to make a mark. That's what you would want from your fingerboard and this stuff fits the profile.

    Another material is phenolic. This is a material that is generally made from paper, impregnated with plastic resins and compressed under tons of pressure with heat to form a homogenous material. As a veneer with a decorative finish it is widely used as countertop material. I currently have some 1/2" black that I'm saving for use as a fingerboard in the future. This stuff is very tough also. It's also quite expensive. A form of phenolic is the diamondwood type material that is made from high grade birch laminates instead of paper. This stuff is dyed and laminated making wonderful patterns when cut against the layering. Several guitar makers over on the MIMF are using this and I'm lining up some for the same reason. Lotsa colors and workable with carbide wood tools.

    There is plenty of opinion offered here about what makes tone in a bass - some I agree with, some I don't but the general idea of the harder materials making a brighter tone is right - no doubt about it in my mind. It is just going to depend on what you're looking for.


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