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Fretless fingerboard.....

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by martinedwards, Jan 8, 2006.

  1. Hi folks, 1st post, so please be gentle with me!!!

    After electrically modding every guitar I've ever owned I've finally taken the plunge to try & build an instrument from scratch, and as the fret spacing is the scaryest bit, I've decided on a fretless bass!! (I've always wanted one, ever since 1986 when I played a final year student's home made one at teacher training college.........)


    After a rummage in the wood store I came up with a lump of 40 yearold Mahogany desktop from a dismantled science room, a lovely big piece of ash and a slice of what I THINK is sycamore whick aged 10 years outside and at least 1 year inside.

    I've sliced the mahogany & ash to laminate for a neck and cut the sycamore to shape for the body.

    Ive ordered bridge, tuners, truss rod etc from stewmac

    Ebay will eventually provide the pups

    a brass nut will come from the metalwork room in school

    So, at last!! the question.........


    Ebony is good but expensive. Mahogany and ash are free!!!!

    Is mahogany (or ash for that matter) any good for a fretless fingerboard. It won't be getting pro levels of use as I'll be playing maybe once a month, but I don't want it to wear away after tuning it the first time!!!!

    Also, what about finishing the fingerboard? Do we leave it raw wood, oil it or PU it like the rest of the beast?

    if you want to look at work so far.......
    The remains of the wood after cutting... note the chemical stains on the mahogany!!
    mock up of the sandwich
    Neck glueing
  2. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
  3. Gard


    Mar 31, 2000
    WInter Garden, FL
    If you can find a source for a product called Diamondwood, I would highly recommend that as a fingerboard wood for you. It is a "wood product", made from laminates of birch impregnated with a rosin, then heated and put under pressure to force all of the air out of the wood. It is typically very affordable, and available in several colors.

    This stuff is HARD, and very stiff. It holds up incredibly well as a fingerboard for fretless, and actually can add a good bit of stability to your neck (mahogany and ash will need all the assistance it can get for a bass neck! ;) ). From watching the guys at the shop work with it, it appears to work somewhat similarly to maple, maybe a bit "tougher", but not impossible to work with.

    I have one bass that presently has this material (a Zon Sonus Special 5) and another that will be complete in a week with it (a Roscoe Century Signature VI), and have been very happy with it as a fretless fingerboard, both tonally (very nice and "mwah-y", good top end) and for how well it has held up (my Zon has been my "main bass" for about 5 years, used roundwound stainless steel strings for 3 of those years, using DR Black Beauties now, fingerboard shows no signs of wear).
  4. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    You need a hard, durable wood for a fretless fingerboard. Mahogany is soft. Ash is harder, but it is open pored and coarse textured so I would not use that either.

    Probably you should suck it up and do ebony for a fretless if you can. Otherwise, go hunting for something hard: bubinga, purpleheart, rosewood...
  5. Hmmmm, looks like ebony then.

    I've looked for diamondwood on google, and there's a fair few basses USING it, but I cant find anyone selling it. Ah well!! That is, unless someone could point me in the rtight direction?
  6. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    Take a jump over to the Gallery Hardwoods forum when you get a chance. There's been quite a bit of discussion there on differing fingerboard woods as well.

    My preferences for fretless = macassar ebony and purpleheart. I am currently working with three new fingerboard woods (to me anyway) - Bocote, Tulipwood, and Gongalo alves. All three appear to be hard enough to withstand the abuse a fretless board gets, and all appear to be reasonably workable. Time will tell if these prove themselves for use in additional necks ... One other wood I look to evaluate for a fretless is Ziricote - I like the figuring, and it appears to have the stuff to make a great fretless board as well.

    When you're ready to purchase a fingerboard, send a quote request to Larry via the Gallery Hardwoods website. I know you'll be pleasantly surprised at how affordable a high quality fingerboard can be. I've purchased several boards from Larry and have always been extremely impressed with the quality and price.

    All the best,

  7. parttimeluthier


    May 7, 2005
    I can tell you EXACTLY where to order it. Go to www.jantzsupply.com (knifemakers supply) Go to where it says handle materials in the products heading. There will be a listing for Dymondwood. When you get to the Dymondwood page scroll down quite a ways. What you are looking for is the Dymondwood "sheet" as this is the 16" x30" sizes big enough to use as fretboards(you can get at least four or five fretboards out of a sheet). As I can remember it comes in 1/8", 3/16", 1/4", 3/8", and 1 1/8" thicknesses. There are alot of different colors to choose from.
    I think that this stuff would make for some great neck reinforcement strips if laminated along with the regular wood in a multi-piece neck.
  8. that's right, formica...its a phenolic resin, tough as nails, flat and durable...go to your local kitchen cabinet maker, and he'll probably GIVE you a scrap piece (if you ask nicely).

    a tip...I'd first laminate a piece of softer wood (like the mahogany) to the neck...then I'd level it and radius it like I would a normal fingerboard but a tad deeper (to compensate for the formica. Then I'd clamp on the formica using the contact cement and some concave radiused saddles...trim off the excess on the edge the normal way you'd do a counter top and your done.

    If you're going for wood: I'd go purpleheart, ebony, or ipe (greenheart)
  9. Cerb


    Sep 27, 2004
    The fingerboard that is going on my first project, which also happens to be a fretless, is an acrylic impregnated wood called andiroba (member of mahogany family). Larry at the Gallery fixed me up with the board for about $50. Apparently the acrylicized boards take very little wear from strings, and since I will be using tapewounds it shouldn't wear at all.
  10. Ok, I'm newbie on the forum and you're doing the dialysis right? (taking the p**s)

    But then again, now that I think about it, it might actually work!!! (especially as this is a first attempt at building from scratch and theres a real chance that I'll TOTALLY mess it up!!!

    Do you mean the sheets that you cover a tabletop with? about 1.5 - 2 mm thick?

    that makes SOOOO much sense!!!

    I'll look at this from home as my filter here in school (I teach Highschool) blocks weaponry and knife supplies doesn't get through.

    I'm also going to email Avalon (formerly Lowden) which is 1/2 a mile from my Parents in laws house and see if they'll sell me a scrap of ebony
  11. It will absolutely work, and it I'm not kidding. Someday, I will have a formica fretless and yes, I DO mean the sheets that cover table tops. The trick is sticking it to the radiused underboard, and if the board is fairly flat, it shouldn't be too much of a trick.
    You could also epoxy coat your own mahogany. Luthiers on here, like Wilser have done it.
  12. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Wilser has done a mahogany board? Or has he just done the epoxy?

    I don't think I'd use mahogany for a fingerboard, epoxy coating or not. The fingerboard supplies a significant amount of rigidity to the neck.

    On a related note, if you are going to do formica, use the ash for the stiffness reason. I know very little about this material so I'm not making any claims about how well it will work but I do think you still want something stiff underneath it.
  13. wilser has epoxied more conventional woods, I don't believe he's done mahogany...

    laminating the fingerboard wood will increase the rigidity significantly and I don't think the differences in wood would have significant differences...the combination of the truss rod, the neck laminates, and the fingerboard lamination all work together to make the system.

    as far as the formica...it would definitely require a wood backing, but IMO even something as soft as PINE would probably work.

    My carvin AC40 bass has a single piece mahogany neck (and it is THIN) a dual-action truss rod, and an ebony fretboard, and it works just fine.
  14. Ok, I'll bite, Melamine.

    Give me a link to ANY guitar or bass with a melamine fingerboard!!!!!!

    And as for Epoxy....

    If I were to put on a mahogany board, do i just paint on & sand the resin or do I put a layer of glass mat in there too?
  15. Phil Mastro

    Phil Mastro

    Nov 18, 2004
    Being picky here, ipe and greenheart aren't the same wood. Greenheart is from the chlorocardium family, and ipe is from the tabebuia family.

    Nitpicking aside, I wouldn't use mahogany for a fingerboard, even epoxied. I might use it if it were acrylized à la Gallery Hardwoods, but otherwise, I'd stick to the harder woods. Ash maybe, but I think you should get a darker wood, at least as far as esthetics go. Not to mention stiffness and durability.

    Regardin lamination, it doesn't add rigidity, it adds stability IF done correctly.

    Also, regarding Carvin mahogany necks, they're loaded with graphite. Otherwise, I wouldn't trust a mahogany neck for anything but a 4-string. I could be wrong obviously.
  16. ok...thanks for the update...

    sounds like the only choice is formica :D
  17. Best teacher voice.......

    "I'm waiting...............":rollno:
  18. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    Why formica?
  19. Because PilbaraBass suggested it up there ^^^^.

    I do think its a case of tease the newbie as while he says SOMEDAY he will own a formica bass he hasn't come up with a link to one outside his tortured nightmare of an imagination.:D

    I've had an email back from the dymondwood people and it'll be $110 shipping a sheet. plus the cost of the dymondwood itself of course.:rollno:

    A wee bit steep for a first attempt. Maybe if I decide to make another, building on my mistakes this time.........
  20. klocwerk


    May 19, 2005
    Somerville, MA
    The $110 is just shipping cost??? ***, are they overnighting a full plywood sized sheet?