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Great fingerboard debate, cont'd (fretted basses)

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Fuzzbass, Jun 24, 2002.

  1. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    For years I grew up believing the old saw "maple brighter, rosewood warmer" in regards to fretted fingerboards. A full 2 decades later I was challenged by some player/builders I respect, so I reexamined evidence: specifically, all the times I had said "this bass sounds very soft and warm for having a maple board", or "this is bright for a rosewood board".

    It was pointed out to me that the fretboard is just a very thin veneer, and that the neck and body contain much more wood and therefore make a far more significant contribution to tone... as do electronics, and method of construction: neck-thru, bolt-on, etc. I then asked if anyone had performed any "all else being equal" experiments: two basses of identical materials, electronics, and construction... except for the fretboard. The luthier then replied, "it is very unlikely that an all-else-being-equal experiment can be performed, because there can be tremendous variations in tone between otherwise identical pieces of the same species of wood".

    This makes perfect sense to me, yet many great luthiers do claim that fretboard wood can make a significant difference. Can any of you please explain the mechanism that would make a thin veneer have such a noticeable effect on the overall tone of a fretted instrument? I am referring only to tone, not feel. Thanks very much.

    Kenneth Fiester
  2. gyancey

    gyancey Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2002
    Austin, TX
    The fingerboard is not a veneer. 1/4" or so puts if far outside the veneer range, which is more like 1/28".
  3. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Thanks, I was not aware of that. But despite my error in semantics, the question still stands!
  4. ransombass


    Dec 16, 2008
    Tulsa, Ok

    I'm going to purchase an American Standard Jazz Bass V soon and am curious about the differences in fretboard woods. I like the look of both maple and rosewood but prefer a warmer, more mellow tone. Does fretboard wood make a noticeable difference?
  5. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Banned

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments

  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
    an easier topic to resolve is ...

    boxers -or- briefs


  7. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Banned

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    ...chicken or the egg...
  8. Fieldy Snuts

    Fieldy Snuts

    May 9, 2009
    carrots or carrots?
  9. robgo


    Jan 25, 2008
    Chickens are warmer, eggs are brighter. I've got a pure chicken board on my new 11 stringer.
  10. UncleBalsamic


    Jul 8, 2007
    Some say that over a range of otherwise identical basses such as Sadowskys and the like, you can tell the difference in sound, which you couldn't on two completely different basses as there are too many variables that are not controlled. You can't really give an absolute description of what fretobard wood will do to the sound.

    I doubt it's a huge difference and I'll choose on looks over alleged sonic properties, although it probably does affect the overall sound to some extent. It just doesn't bother me much.
  11. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Wow, I asked that question a long time ago! Frankly, I'm not surprised it didn't get a response. In the past seven years, I've observed that top luthiers disagree on the relationship of fingerboard wood to overall tone: some say it's minor/insignificant, others believe that fingerboard wood makes more of a difference than body wood.

    What I do know is that no objective scientific data exists to support anyone's conclusion. Therefore, it's a matter of opinion, and despite the fact that this is a religious matter for some (i.e. they have faith that their opinion is the absolute truth), the fact is that exactly no one knows for sure.

    It's been proven over and over again that preconceived notions directly affect objectivity. So IMO it's best not to have an opinion: use your ears to judge a bass, not your eyes. If you're ordering one that you won't have a chance to play, then go with your luthier's recommendations... or someone else you trust, or your own experience. Just keep in mind that anyone could be wrong, even the luthier.
  12. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    That is exactly how I feel about it. :)
  13. I've done a bit of "controlled environment" listening with this in mind - keeping with the same electronics, same wood combination other than the fingerboard, etc. over the past 4+ years.

    There is a difference between harder and softer woods on fingerboards, but it is fairly subtle, and seems (to my ears) to be primarily in how the attack of the note is shaped. Maple and it's hardness brothers tend to have a quicker "snap" to the front end of the note; rosewood and it's hardness brothers tend to be a bit "softer" in their attack.

    It doesn't make a huge difference however....and I tend to choose at least as much for aesthetics as for tone.
  14. Rickett Customs

    Rickett Customs

    Jul 30, 2007
    Southern Maryland
    Luthier: Rickett Customs...........www.rickettcustomguitars.com
    I'm of the opinion that a fretless would have some extra bearing, than a fretted, no? At least on a fingerboard type.
  15. I pledge the mid-hump.
  16. Rickett Customs

    Rickett Customs

    Jul 30, 2007
    Southern Maryland
    Luthier: Rickett Customs...........www.rickettcustomguitars.com
    Well played sir...
  17. ransombass


    Dec 16, 2008
    Tulsa, Ok

    The beauty of the search function.

    Thanks for all of the responses. I guess I'll just play a few and go with what feels best regardless of wood and paint color combos. That's what I usually do. I just didn't want to drop that much money only to be disappointed and have to sell it at a loss.

  18. Do the initials "CS" mean anything to you?


    ....what??? I mean "Century Standard"!

    ...pfft...where some people's mind will go...


  19. vbasscustom


    Sep 8, 2008
    yeah, a frettless fingerboard has alot more to do with it, than a fretted one does.
  20. Arthur U. Poon

    Arthur U. Poon

    Jan 30, 2004
    SLC, Utah -USA-
    Endorsing Artist: Mike Lull Custom Basses
    Interesting topic. IMO maple, ebony, and phenolic fingerboards typically have a quicker attack than rosewood. Rosewood sounds a bit warmer to my ears. Once again, IMO.

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