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Help me advise : Fretless

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by angrydad, Aug 20, 2005.

  1. angrydad


    Jul 31, 2004
    Hello Gentlemen In-The-Know,
    A student of mine has emmersed himself in the music of the Late, Great Jaco Pastorius. He recently purchased a used factory fretless Mexi-J. The fingerboard is in great shape because it sports flatwounds. He hates the sound (I dig it...oh well), and wants to switch over to round wounds. I warned him about damage to the fretboard and suggested getting a pro finish job on the fretbaord ( I had mine done by Pedulla for $ 225). When I told him the price he said Dad won't go for it. I then told him about the thread here on TB regarding Mylar as a coating, and that possibly, one of you may be able to do it. Again Dad balked.
    Well here's Dad's plan :clear heavy duty packing tape. I'm no luthier, but this just doesn't sound like a good idea.
    Am I wrong to advise against this ?
  2. smperry

    smperry Administrator Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Bay Area, CA
    Endorsing Artist: Martin Keith Guitars
    I'm not a luthier at all, just another bassist. The packing tape idea doesn't seem great to me. Maybe groundwound (AKA halfround) strings could work. Those are strings that were roundwound (wire wrapped around core), but then smoothed out (ground) to be approaching the feel of flatwound ("ribbon" wrapped around a core), with still some of the bite of roundwound. It's a nice compromise. I like D'Addario Halfrounds myself. I think SIT flats (not true flats IIRC) might be another good option.

  3. angrydad


    Jul 31, 2004
    Half rounds...I've always played on a finished fingerboard with round wounds, so I didn't think of half rounds. Great suggestion !
  4. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    Go to a home store. Buy the following:

    one of those foam brushes
    3M sanding block - very fine, like 1000 grit
    a small can water based polyurethane

    These items will cost about $15 max.

    Apply a thin coat of poly and let dry.
    Lightly sand.
    Repeat about 10 times.

    This will take you a couple days - depending on dry time and how much free time you have.

    $15 dollars and a few days later you will have a smooth fingerboard that will be "resistant" to roundwound strings. If and when it gets worn down, there is enough poly in that can to do this about 100 times.
  5. angrydad


    Jul 31, 2004
    Thanks Steve,
    I'm actually going to print out your response, and the thread I found on Mylar coating and give it to this kid's dad. I'd hate to see this kid (very talented) mess up his bass. I can understand his dad not wanting to spend more on a finish than he spent on a used bass.I think the suggestions being offered here are definitely practical and economical. Thanks.
    P.S. this should be easier than the one dad who couldn't justify buying his kid a Fender Mexi because "Wal-Mart has guitars way cheaper!"...no kidding.
  6. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    A bunch of us also do epoxy coatings on fretless boards (which is ideal if you're trying to pull a Jaco). It takes a bit more of an investment because you've got to get some fairly high quality epoxy, but it makes for a great finish. There are any number of epoxy coating threads in the forum, so a quick search should give you loads of information. As for cost, you can get a small set of high quality epoxy mix for around $30 which would be enough for quite a few fingerboards. After that all it takes is a bit of patience.

  7. I second this approach. I've used D'Addario Half Rounds on all of my fretless's since they came out in the late 70's. You won't find a better string for the beast than these.

    Explain to student's dad that "Mylar" is a brand name of polyester, a very strong type of engineered polymer that is quite dimensionally stable and resistant to heat to about 180º. That's one reason why the polyester film was used in the method you read about. Then ask Dad if he would subject his packing tape to those criteria. Then have him go sit down and read a magazine while you finish the lesson. :rollno:
  8. I wouldn't recommend using rounds on the fingerboard, because there will be damage even if it's slight groove damage. Maybe some packing tape on Dad's mouth while he reads the threads on epoxying fingerboards on this forum...

    Seriously, the procedure of applying an epoxy or some other coating isn't difficult once the details are understood. If the student wishes to do this, there are wood offcuts available everywhere. The student can get one/some and apply the process as a test. This will allow familiarisation and awareness of issues that can occur when applying on the fingerboard.

    As Nate stated above, there is some excellent information and pics of results in this forum. Check them out, as people have done some fantastic work on fingerboards.
  9. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Another halfround supporter chiming in... I always used that on fretless, and they seem to give a quite roundwound sound. You could also recommend STI Silensers or Rototsound Solo, or other 'compressed' strings, that are even more 'rond' but still nicer to the board.

    Re. covering the board, the mylar seems to be a reasonable deal in the US, and not too hard to find (over here, it's hard, and expensive...).
    And putting a tape on :eek: ...man, get this 'Dad' character a crash course on what 'hardness' means!

    JJBACOOMBA Commercial User

    May 31, 2005
    San Antonio, Texas
    Lecompte Bass Owners Club Member #2
    Right ON!!! Great to see a teacher into what his students want to do.Hats off to you. Well done!!
  11. namespacemk


    Aug 22, 2005
    I'm not really a halfround supporter, as I use rounds on all my basses including the epoxy coated fretless ones, but the logic is clear.

    Personally, I wouldn't use rounds on an unprotected fretboard that wasn't made of ebony. Sure, there are comments here and there stating that it would take a while to do some worrying damage (deeper recesses), and I would agree with that. I've tested this myself on the first fretted to fretless conversion I did and proved that there is groove damage right from the outset, even though it appears minimal, of playing on an unprotected rosewood fingerboard with rounds. So, I'd rather use a friendlier type of string and avoid having to fix that kind of problem (ie. sanding till there was not fretboard left).
  12. Phil Mastro

    Phil Mastro

    Nov 18, 2004
    I agree, i've got both rosewood and ebony boards on my fretlesses, both with rounds, and although they do have some grooving, it doesn't affect the playability or tone, and i've been playing the rosewood one for 5+ years. Then again some people tend to wear out their boards faster than others, but i doubt it'll be a big issue. Plus, it's the cheapest way out!
  13. Let's also make clear that NO roundwounds should be used on a fretless maple board unless it's coated with one of the hard polyester finishes ala Conklin, Zon, or Pedulla. The Fender style polyurethane coatings are not tough enough to hold up to the grind these strings put on them. And it's not so much the coating itself but the bond the poly has with the raw maple. As an intact skin, it holds up pretty well but once it develops a crack or any other breach of the surface, it's not long before the coating begins to let go around the dinger and that will spread. Pretty soon the exposed maple gets grungy and it's all over but the shouting.