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Fretless boards: harder than CA or Epoxy, but still manageable? Does it exist?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Wizzu, Dec 3, 2019.

  1. Wizzu


    Mar 26, 2019
    You can read my rant in my reply to the thread Is it necessary to coat a rosewood fretless fretboard?

    So basically I had customers bringing me quite recent fretless basses (2 LTDs, 2 Schecters, 1 Yamaha, 1 Sire/Marcus Miller) with damaged "rosewood" fingerboards from rather limited use.

    Turns out the "rosewoods" used, are way too soft to be considered proper wood for fretless boards.

    Even after a proper CA (crazy gluen, super glue) treatement, they STILL are too soft. I tried Epoxy on the Yamaha, also too soft a result.

    Darn. Excluding a board replacement, I find myself in a position where I can not satisfy my customers. I'm kinda forced to tell them, in some way or another, that their instrument... well... is a piece of crap (fingerboard-wise). Lol.

    So my question is, does someone here know a manageable, not crazy expensive coating process ending up in something harder than CA and Epoxy?
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
    dkelley likes this.
  2. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    ebonol is not "crazy expensive" and it's harder/cheaper than other alternatives. your customers are apparently abusing their soft rosewood fingerboards while insisting on a 'look' (which is unimportant to the function). perhaps you need to re-educate them on woods (just like you did here), maybe technique, but certainly their expectations. good luck! :thumbsup:
  3. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    Are you certain you have applied enough CA?
    Rôckhewer and Chrisk-K like this.
  4. Wizzu


    Mar 26, 2019
    Thanks for your input.
    The real expensive part in a board replacement is not the material, it's the work.
    ? They buy what is available to them, trusting what the makers tell them. They're not selecting their basses based on woods like if it was some sort of option. The vast majority of "affordable yet not cheapo" fretless basses come with "rosewood" fingerboards, there is no option to select this or that wood or other material.

    Educating the customers is fine, but blaming them for the makers' lies and shady practises is something I'm not going to do.
    (lower) their expectations towards < $1000 instruments, definitly. Lower their expectations about the results of my work, though... not going to do this either.

    It goes like this: a guy comes with his recently bought Sire/Marcus Miller fretless * because "I did such a great job" on his friend's (cheap) fretless 5 years ago. I CA the fingerboard. The guy comes back 4 months later with deep grooves in the board. The CA has cracked from the too soft wood beneath it. Buzz and deadspots. He's pissed off. And I would be too, were I in his shoes.

    So. Anything harder than CA and Epoxy, before I throw the towel and tell them "the only solution is either to buy a more expensive bass or have me perform a $500 board replacement?"

    * Quite interestingly, Sire switched to Ebony for their MM fretlesses VII. Mmmmh. Must have had a lot of complaints.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  5. Wizzu


    Mar 26, 2019
    I understand the question, but it's not like these are my first CA jobs. I've been doing this a lot, whith great results on (proper) rosewood, bubinga, jatoba, pau ferro. I should have been clearer about that.

    It's a recent problem, only with recent consumer-level affordable basses with (advertised as) rosewood boards.

    I already tried 4 different sources of CA and went from 6 to 10 coats. Still cracks under pressure.

    Must be Yucatan rosewood or some other crap...
    pellomoco14 and dkelley like this.
  6. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    I am me
    I've seen fretted instruments where rosewood FB's pit, but that was over decades of use.

    So.......I'm curious. Do you have any pics?
    DJ Bebop, pcake, mtb777 and 2 others like this.
  7. Wizzu


    Mar 26, 2019
    Right, pics. Sorry. Pics upcoming.
    design likes this.
  8. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    So these players are crushing the fretboard material so drastically that the CA becomes unsupported and cracks?

    What kind of death grip are they using? Pressure adequate to stop the string at the fingerboard is all that is required.

    NB I am not denying your opinion of the wood quality, but playing style must also be a contributing factor here.
    The Nameless, pcake, gebass6 and 5 others like this.
  9. Wizzu


    Mar 26, 2019
    I've asked myself the same, at first. But when it's the 6th guy in the same year coming back with cracked board finish you can't blame the user anymore.

    Hey guys, I understand the skepticism but until now you all seem to be in denial ;) Maybe you dont have to deal with recent <1000$ basses on a regular basis...
    mtb777, equill, dkelley and 1 other person like this.
  10. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    We learn by asking questions
    swink, mtb777, Abe-of-Bass and 4 others like this.
  11. Kelly robinson

    Kelly robinson

    Dec 30, 2014
    If I was asking for help here I'd add pics and way more detailed info to get a better response from the experienced builders here . This place is a great resource - it only makes sense to elaborate more on types of glue you are using - techniques - strings etc so those with knowledge and experience are better able to help you out . Kelly
    Pauly 4001, mtb777 and dkelley like this.
  12. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    no one is "blaming" them for manufacturers' practices --- you took a leap! :laugh: who is responsible for believing manufacturers? i always thought it was "buyer beware." someone has to be responsible for their ignorance. those customers are responsible for what they believe --- 'if they drink the kool-aid, they suffer the trip'.

    instrument makers are selling 'looks'. functionality, in and of itself, is not that expensive. who wouldn't want to know that?

    :thumbsup: as a teacher, i'd have to say: "change your playing style, get a better fingerboard, or plan on frequent visits to your local luthier....now let's look at your technique...."

    :D your 'protest' may be self-defeating: crappy instruments made with inferior materials need to be fixed, right? ;)
    EatS1stBassist likes this.
  13. pingvuiini


    Feb 2, 2009
    >>I already tried 4 different sources of CA and went from 6 to 10 coats. Still cracks under pressure.<<

    Are you 'brushing' the CA onto the fingerboard?? If so, perhaps try the tape dam method for a thicker layer of CA??
    dkelley and jfh2112 like this.
  14. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Dunno. I’ve played fretless fingerboards for as long as I‘ve been playing bass. First on upright and later on bass guitar.

    I don’t buy the argument that rosewood has somehow become mysteriously softer of late. I’d very much like to observe the playing technique of these customers that are wearing out their fretboards so quickly.

    If you’re going to solicit opinions from actual fretless players it’d be nice if you’d be a little more respectful when the responses you receive aren’t what you want to hear. Nobody is in denial. We are, however, extremely skeptical because what you’re saying is news - and doesn’t sync with the collective experience of the fretless players who are responding. And if this were as common a problem as you’re seeing, you can be sure there'd be a major buzz in the fretless player community about it. Especially since not all of us are playing ‘vintage’ or expensive/boutique instruments as you seem to be implying.

    But either way, if your customers are quickly wearing out their fretboards (for whatever reason) their only option is to replace the fingerboard. If they can’t afford your services, then that’s the breaks. It’s your job to deliver a working solution - not butt heads with the manufacturers or deliver the lowest cost compromise that's humanly possible. Go with what you know will work. If the board is supposedly so soft that even an epoxy coating doesn’t help matters(!) as you’re saying, then its too soft and needs to be replaced. Period. :)
    TrustRod, Haroldo, Passinwind and 4 others like this.
  15. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    This could be a result of CITES regulations, as true Dalbergias have been restricted for some time.
  16. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Subbed for knowledge. If it were me, I’d plane off the rosewood and glue on a slab of Macassar ebony. But I gather that’s not an acceptable option.

    There are lots of different epoxies, right? Some are probably harder than others?
    EatS1stBassist and dkelley like this.
  17. MVE


    Aug 8, 2010
    I’m not an expert, but I believe epoxy comes in differing levels of final hardness. I believe WestSystems has a spec sheet listing them on their website.

    Also, Polyurethane for bowling alleys is supposed to be very very tough.

    Did you wet the boards down with acetone first? This helps the epoxy to really draw into the wood grain.
  18. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Fair enough. But there’s tons of alternatives out there to rosewood. I can’t see the likes of big players like Schecter, LTD and Yamaha putting their reputations on the line by deliberately going with some inferior replacement or grade of rosewood. That makes zero sense. I also doubt they’re using fingerboard wood on their fretless basses that isn’t bring used for their fretted models. So with the quantity of basses these manufacturers are shipping, I’m surprised people aren’t already screaming about it everywhere. And the OP says he’s seen it on six different basses spread out over four different brands. So with that distribution of builds in just one luthier shop I’d think that indicates it should be far more of an industry wide phenomena than has been observed. At least so far.

    I’m not saying what the OP is saying is false. But I am saying let’s apply a little Occam’s Razor until there’s something to better confirm it’s not an enduser rather than a materials/build problem.
  19. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    I have to question the “adhesion” as a factor.
    If the wood is “splintering” under the coating but the coating is still adhered then it’s cut and dry.
    The wood is the culprit.
    If the coating is separating from the wood then your customers may blame you.
  20. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Epoxy chemistry is a pretty exact science. There’s formulations for all degrees of hardness, flex, and wear characteristics. Most epoxy coatings I’ve seen emphasize resistance to wear and chemical contaminants over absolute hardness and have some degree of flex to them. Most don’t have the brittleness you’d associate with plastics like CA
    bcbckr, EatS1stBassist, pcake and 3 others like this.

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