Good and bad neck/fretboard wood combos

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Ozzel, Dec 15, 2004.

  1. Recently I emailed Warmoth to see if they would build me a custom wenge neck with birdseye maple board. They replied back that they only do maple boards on maple necks and furthermore "don't trust the maple boards on exotics".

    So that got me to wondering, firstly, why? secondly, what are some other incompatible neck/board combos? and finally, what are the most ideal combos? taking into consideration strength, durability and sound, and not looks.

    Thanks, all.
  2. andvari7


    Aug 28, 2004
    Well, exotic woods can get really funny. That, and they're expensive (and would you want to spend that much money on a good piece of quartersawn wood only to have it warp on you?) and hard to come by (quartersawn, that is). Soundwise, it's purely up to taste. Depending on the wood (for instance, quartersawn Gaboon ebony), durability isn't too much of a factor - they used those kinds of woods in Africa for countless thousands of years, and they held up great. There are environmental considerations, too. African wood grows in warm, moist climates, so it's unused to the drier, colder climates of the Western hemisphere.
  3. But let's take wenge, for example. Wenge is known for being a very strong and stable wood, excellent for necks. Heck, it doesn't even require finishing. What would be wrong with putting a maple board on it? Are the properties of these two woods so different that the glueing process wouldn't take? Is there a risk of the joint splitting?
  4. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    Unless I am mistaken, Warmoth has a policy of not using exotic fingerboards on exotic necks. I don't assume to speak for them, and would look to one of their representatives to reply here as well, but I believe it is more of a management / offering decision than one based on wood incompatibility or prone to warping issues.

    I will also state that I have seen, owned, and worked on quite a few warmoth products (never really anything more than a setup....) and have always found their products to be of very high quality and workmanship.

    There are some shops that won't work with certain exotic / tropical woods due to allergic reactions to the oil/dust from that wood (coco bolo is a good example of a wood of this type...), or due to issues with some oily exotics being a bit more difficult to glue up than others.

    There are certain "accepted" standards, ie: the maple neck with a maple, rosewood, or ebony fingerboard. Personally, I really like the stabilized fingerboards from Gallery Hardwoods.

    There is not, as far as I know, any "technical" issue that would make a wenge neck with a maple fingerboard more prone to warping than a wenge neck with an ebony fingerboard.


  5. bwbass


    May 6, 2002
    No, there's not an inherent structral reason for this. Here's some explanation:

    1. We will only warranty maple necks if they are finished, but wenge does not require a (nor is it particularly easy to) finish. In this example the fingerboard would need to be finished but not the back of the neck - not an attractive proposition. Thus it's likely that such a neck would either be played raw, increasing the risk of warpage and negating our warranty, or wind up with a funky finish. Either way there stands a good chance that you won't like it in the long run.

    2. We almost never get asked for this, so if something goes wrong in production or the customer backs out of the order, we end up with an expensive neck that no one else would buy.

    3. We're not fans of the look. :)

    We will do purpleheart, bubinga, bocote, ziricote, or wenge fingerboards on any neck wood you like. It's just maple boards on exotic necks that cause a problem.
  6. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    A couple years ago, I played an MTS with a wenge neck and a maple FB at Rudy's in NYC. It sounded killer. Naturally, I wouldn't say that was all down to the neck/FB, but perhaps you'd be additionally encouraged to know that someone like Michael Tobias thought that combination was feasible and potentially desirable.
  7. Thanks bwbass. So you would do exotics on exotics? Right now I'm thinking of macassar ebony on wenge. Oh my! :hyper:
  8. bwbass


    May 6, 2002

    Sure. Macassar on wenge looks fine, sounds great. On the left here is my Dinky J with wenge neck and black ebony fingerboard (not macassar, though.) Killer slap sound, great-feeling neck.
  9. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    Not to hijack the thread, but could someone tell me about stabilized boards? Must be good for fretless, right? Is that the point? Does warmoth do any stabilized boards?
    thanks much!
  10. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    Others will post with more educated info but from what I understand "Stabalized wood " is inpregnated with a substance making it much harder and less apt to shift or twist it "stabalizes it" :D Gallery seems to be the place to get it. I hope to try it some time......t
  11. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    Definately check out gallery hardwoods for the stabilized boards. I bought a stabilized piece of black limba off of him for the project bass i did. The board looks and feels about my craftsmanship [note to self-get prior wood working experience BEFORE building bass from scratch]. At least it looks pretty. :bassist:
  12. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    "Stabilized" wood is impregnated with plastic. After drying, the board is put in an acrylic bath, I believe in a vacuum, so that the resin soaks in. The plastic is then hardened, and you are left with a heavy, nonporous, dimensionally stable, increased strength composite.
  13. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    Yeup, I have used many stabilized fingerboards from Gallery Hardwood. They're dang near impervious to grease, dirt, warping, shrinking and twisting. They polish up really nice (I usually go up to 2000 grit sandpaper on them).

    One of the other really nice things about the process, is that you can use woods that normally would be too soft for a fingerboard, like spalted maple, black limba, etc, even for a fretless.

    You do have to be a bit more careful with them when fretting them, as they can be a bit more prone to chipping than a non-stabilized board. I widen the fret slots up a bit first with a very small jewelers file that has a slight "V" shape to it. The frets go in easier, and at some point down the road in the years to come when the bass needs a re-fret, the frets come out easier with little to no tear out.

    It is also recommended that the frets be pressed in vs. hammered in, to also help cut down on possible chipping.

    I did a birdseye maple fingerboard, leopardwood, and others from Gallery and really like them!