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Finish on new fingerboards?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by ric426, Apr 23, 2003.

  1. ric426

    ric426 In my defense, I was left unsupervised. Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Newbie question:
    I know that on high end instruments the ebony fingerboards are unfinished, but on the fingerboards of both of my uprights, an Eminence EUB and a Chinese acoustic, there's some form of black finish, apparently to try to hide the light streaks in the ebony. I can't tell if it's dye and finish together, or if the finish sits on top of the dyed wood, but it's gradually wearing away to reveal the underlying wood grain, and I kind of like the wood showing through.
    Does the finish really need to be there? I 'd just as soon remove it, but don't want to screw up the fingerboard either. I don't mind the streaks in the ebony and like the feel of the bare wood better. Is there a safe way to take the finish off without altering the wood surface? I presume that a light touch of boiled linseed oil, or some other fingerboard oil would be a good idea for wood maintenance afterward.

  2. If the fingerboards are indeed genuine ebony, there is not any reason to have a coating other than a little drying oil of some type. If an ebony board is stained black, there is no reason for a finish either. It will not wear away very fast. Before you attempt to remove the finish, try to scrape the wood on the underside of the fingerboard (where it will not show). If you use a small mirror, you will be able to see the true nature of the wood. If it isn't ebony, leave it alone. If you decide to remove the finish, paint and varnish remover will take it off, but be careful and cover the rest of the bass with something to keep the remover from attacking what it shouldn't. Finish up with 0000 steel wool or very fine wet and dry sand paper lubricated with the oil of your choice. Sanding alone is not a good method simply because it is very easy to sand hills and valleys into the curved surface of the fingerboard.
  3. ric426

    ric426 In my defense, I was left unsupervised. Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Thanks Bob. Both fingerboards are definitely ebony, and I kinda like the variation in the grain color that I see so far. The grain in both fingerboards is pretty straight and even, no worrisome swirls, etc. I suspect that the black dye is for the sake of marketing, since a lot of people tend to expect "real" ebony to always be black.
    Don't know that I want to mess with finish strippers and such, so I'll probably just try a bit of fine steel wool and leave the rest to normal wear from playing.
  4. I don't understand you saying that the board has been dyed black if you can see lighter areas. I would guess that 90% of all ebony fingerboards are died black. The dye they use does not just sit on the surface. It goes in quite deep. A board that has been dyed or stained will be black - at least until your luthier planes the board and removes a substantial amount of wood from the surface. Even if your are sure that it is genuine ebony, try the scraping under the fingerboard and see what you've got. There are several different species of ebony. Gaboon Ebony is usually dark black sometimes with lighter streaks. Macassar Ebony is usually much lighter (more brown than black) with streaks. Recently I've seen some ebony from Malasia which was different looking than either Macassar or Gaboon. Gaboon seems to be the preferred species in the musical instrument world.
  5. ric426

    ric426 In my defense, I was left unsupervised. Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    That's one of the reasons I was wondering if they're actually dyed, or maybe just finished with a dark surface finish. They were both solid black when new with more of a semi-gloss look to them, but the more I play them, the more I can see the lighter grain patterns showing through, and the more satiny the surface becomes. It's a subtle, but noticable, change that I like. I'd just like to get the areas that don't get played on much to look more like the rest of the fingerboard(s).
  6. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    I'm glad Ric brought this issue up as I'm about to attach the fingerboard to the replacement Englhardt neck I'm working on, and it's a stock Englehardt rosewood board. I'm thinking of getting some black analine dye from the woodworker store and "ebonizing" the board and then applying a little oil. I figure this will be a little more permanent than the black-paint-over-maple treatment. Is this a wise thing to do?

    (BTW- nice photo, Ric. But I don't remember you wearing a hat)
  7. mje - My experience with analine or any other black stain on rosewood has not been too good. The stain seems to stay on the top of the wood rather that sinking in. The results is that it quickly wears away, leaving a blotchy appearance. If you do decide to go ahead with it, wait until you've finished all the other work and have it ready to play. Most of the time you are going to have to plane the fingerboard after you string it up to make it truely playable. That would take off a good portion of the stained wood. If it were mine, I would forget the stain and just oil and polish the rosewood.

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