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Fretboard shrinkage - Help

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by DanNowhere, Mar 18, 2002.

  1. Kind of a nightmare scenario I discovered today. My Alembic Epic, which has been sitting around unused in the case for quite a while, has apparently suffered some fretboard shrinkage, and now both ends of the frets are sticking out; just a tad, but enough to be noticeable. I had heard about that sort of thing in happening humid climates (it doesn't get too much more humid than here in Cincinnati, unless you live in a rain forest), but I'm sure there's something I could have been doing to prevent it (but that's a moot point now, I don't think I realized this could happen when I bought it).

    Is this sort of thing expensive to fix? I was thinking about selling the bass, but now I'm afraid I wouldn't get as much as I want out of it in this condition; then again, I don't want to pump a lot of money into it if I'm not going to use it (it's getting too heavy for my lower back to take). Epic's probably aren't as easy to sell, since higher-end Alembics are more desirable, I'm sure.

    Any help out there for this idiot with a wounded Alembic?
  2. bizzaro


    Aug 21, 2000
    I would contact Alembic and see if they will cover it. Ya never Know. And if they won't, how much they will charge to fix it. It is a pretty simple job for a luthier with the tool for this job. If Alembic won't cover it call your local luthiers.
  3. Brooks


    Apr 4, 2000
    Middle East
    As far as I know, it really is not a big deal. Judging from the way you asked a question, I would not suggest that you file the frets yourself, let a pro do it. But I know that many players just do it themselves.

    Also, I would suggest that you apply some lemon oil to the fretboard, as recommended by Alembic on their web site. It might not 'expand' the fretboard, but it will prevent further shrinkage and preserve that ebony board.
  4. Andrew Jones

    Andrew Jones Banned

    Feb 28, 2001
    Northampton Mass
    Im not shure on what the right oil for ebony is but that the solution, oil it up!

    Thats really common and should be done with all finger bords except finnished maple.

  5. Thanks for the responses. Yep, Brooks, I'm a mechanical klutz, so this is not the kind of thing I'd want to do myself (I don't even like messing with the bridge or the truss rod without help), and pretty much ignorant about ebony fretboards until I found this place. The bass was an impulse buy a few years ago, and I didn't know what I was getting into. Doesn't sound like a major hardship from what you guys said, but it still ruined my day yesterday.
  6. Dan, I've got to correct some misconceptions you've got about why your fretboard shrank. Humid climates are just the place where wood will expand. Arid climates lend themselves to wood shrinking as the moisture migrates from the wood to the surrounding air. That's why they make humidifiers for acoustic guitars. With so many glue joints, you don't want them to seperate as the wood shrinks.

    I think your case is very strange. It doesn't seem to add up to a case of shrinkage. It's not that I doubt your observations but something doesn't seem right here. I'll explain: Ebony is a very moist wood in raw form. Part of that is the natural water held in the fibers but the rest is "oil" or resin produced by the tree itself. When the ebony is harvested and dried to usual 6-9% moisture, it stabilizes. This moisture content is usually fine for most climates. I'm sure that Alembic was careful with that fretboard simply because they are true experts in the field. But for the sake of discussion lets say the ebony wasn't thoroughly dried and it shrank as observed. Here's the twist - I don't understand how the shrinkage would be observed across the grain only. Shrinking should occur in both directions and I would expect to see a similiar percentage of shrinkage along the length of the fretboard. If the side-to-side shrinkage were 1% (quite a bit in this instance) and that showed up as overhanging frets, there should be an equal percentage of shrinkage lengthwise. This should be REALLY visible since the ratio is so much larger. Put simply 1% of 2" (width of fretboard) is much smaller than even .5% of say 24" (length of fretboard). A very puzzling case indeed.

    Just so you don't go quoting me as gospel I should tell you that my experience with ebony fretboards is very limited. In fact I've never repaired a fretboard that had this or any other size problem. The idea of going back to Alembic is the best idea yet. They usually stand behind their stuff 100%. At the least, they might be puzzled enough by the facts to want to see the instrument in their shops up close.

    Hope this helps.
  7. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    This one is a puzzler for sure.

    If the fingerboard has shrunk enough to let the frets protrude, there should be some indication at the neck/fingerboard glue line in the form of a step, or unequal width between the neck and the board. In fact, this step would equal the amount that the fret sticks out past the FB. If there is no step, and there really is a shrinkage problem, only the top surface of the FB has shrunk. If that were the case there would have to be a cup across the board or the board would have to be split. Almost an impossibility.

    Hambone, I am sure that a piece of wood has a much higher percentage rate of shrinkage across the grain as opposed to along the grain. A green plank will shrink considerably across the grain as it dries but will shrink very little in length.

    However, as to Dannowheres original problem, I can't even offer a guess.

    A repairman can dress the ends of the frets so they don't stick out pretty easily but explaining why the change took place may be another thing.

    Good luck, Dan, and a follow up would be appreciated when you get it sorted out.

  8. Pkr2, I will bow to your experience on this one.

    But as I think about it, if the shrinkage is an anomaly then refiling the fret ends might not be the solution. If the fretboard were to ever swell the frets would be short by whatever distance they were shortened. Maybe not the worst scenario but not what you want to see on your Alembic!

    I think I'll traipsy over to the MIMF and let them give this a whirl...maybe somebodies seen this before.
  9. Well, I've been doing a little research on this subject and it seems that this isn't at all as uncommon as we thought. And, I've found reference to just this sort of thing happening regularly with ebony and Alembic instruments!

    Hooda thought?

    I'm still waiting on some more responses to my inquiry over on the MIMF regarding what to do with the problem. If you were to file the frets and then move to a more humid climate would they then be too short for the fretboard??
  10. hujo


    Apr 18, 2001
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Well, some of the posts in the thread (entitled "Most consistent high-end basses" or something similar) indicate that this is a one time thing, and that the board stays that way after shrinking? Does this happen to rosewood boards aswell? I've speced my custom with a brazilian rosewood board, and i wouldn't want to experience this. Northern Sweden gets very dry in the winters.
  11. Thanks, man. You're working harder on this than me. :)

    I checked around a little on a yahoo club for Alembic owners, and found a couple of similar stories, but the threads in those are so hard to follow, I didn't really find out what came of them. I think my next step is contacting Alembic directly.

    Your earlier post about the humidity makes sense. I'm thinking now that the humidity of our summers combined with the dryness of our winters must have been a bad combination for my fretboard. It's just been sitting around in a case at my mother's house since I wasn't using it, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't have a humidifier in her house with the central heating. That probably sucked the life out of it.
  12. Andrew Jones

    Andrew Jones Banned

    Feb 28, 2001
    Northampton Mass
    All finger bords except finnished maple need oiling, not often like once every year or two. This is one of those things a good set up might include.

    On istruments with bindings( les paul , sg some j bass) on the neck its common to see lil craks in the binding right at the frets

    I dont think humidity is a big factore in this cause talkin about oils whitch are not that water soluble.
  13. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Go back to the Alembic Club on Yahoo and post your question. You'll get a ton of help from knowledgeable people. Some of these folks have owned Alembic instruments and electronics since the early 70s. Alembic's president, Mica Wickersham is a regular participant and often answers product questions. Susan Wickersham, one of the company's founders (along with Ron Wickersham and Rick Turner) also participates in the discussions.

    As so many have already stated, a guitar tech or a luthier can dress the frets for you and also recommend oils to use for regular maintenance to keep this sort of thing from re-occurring. If there's any good news to be had for you, I've never heard of this happening twice to the same instrument.

    Good luck!


    James Martin

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