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How much does an Ebony Fingerboard Effect Sound?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Crazy_Jake, Feb 15, 2013.

  1. I'm in the process of getting a custom bass built and my initial conversation with the builder he had suggested an ebony fingerboard - the bass will be fretted. I like the look of ebony but not the price of it :( My current bass has a rosewood fingerboard. Will the ebony fingerboard effect my overall tone of the bass? or is it more of a visual addition to the bass?

    I know the importance of the body wood in regards to overall sound I'm just not sure if ebony fingerboard will effect the sound that much.

    Could I save a few bucks and go with the rosewood fretboard that my current guitar has? I'd hate to build the guitar and find out that the ebony has changed the tone too much.

    Any info would be appreaciated
  2. Laurent


    May 21, 2008
    Napa, California
    I have a Stingray Ball Family Reserve with an ebony fretboard. It feels harder to the touch and the tone is both darker and a bit more snappy than rosewood. I have 4 basses with rosewood fretboards and one with maple fretboard.

    That being said the tonal impact is far less important than the impact of a pickup or strings. Also the difference between maple and rosewood is more important than the difference between rosewood and ebony.

    Would you hear the difference in your living room? Sure, it's a little different than rosewood. Would the audience hear the difference on a gig? I doubt it.

    If budget is an issue, my recommendation would be to save the cash.
    Hopes this helps.
  3. LaBassGuy


    Aug 26, 2008
    I've owned/own these basses with ebony fretboards:

    Pedulla MVP
    Yamaha BBNE2
    Stingray SLO Special (w/ ebony fretboard)

    I love it--it's better than Rosewood. It's so lively and snappy, yet still maintains the fundumental tone. I love the way it feels under my fingers, how responsive it is. I don't see it being anything close to rosewood.

    Frankly, at this point I'd only be interested in basses with Ebony fretboards.

    So, in my opinion, go with the ebony.
  4. Afc70

    Afc70 Supporting Member

    Feb 2, 2004
    Northeast Arkansas
    I've got a Kubicki ex factor (they come stock with ebony fretboards) and I love it. I've got a ken smith with a rosewood board, I like it too. But I do feel the difference in the tones between the 2 basses has much more to do with the preamps and pickups. Generally speaking tho, and i know this is subjective,the general consensus among luthiers is that rosewood finger boards have a "warm" tone, while ebony lends a darker, punchier tone. The ebony board is much harder ( even harder than maple) and is very durable. Just my observations and experience.
  5. Laurent


    May 21, 2008
    Napa, California
    I agree with all this. Nice way to put it.
  6. chadds


    Mar 18, 2000
    Ebony is quite hard so you can get the benefits tonally of a dark oily wood with the snap or brightness of say maple.

    YMMV but I chuckle when someone says you can't hear the difference live. If you or your soundnan has so processed your sound or your amp is eq'd so, or the other band mates are washed over your sonic space or its just really loud, then I can agree you won't hear it. :);)
  7. Hobobob

    Hobobob Don't feed the troll, folks.

    Jan 25, 2011
    Camarillo, CA
    I've never considered ebony to be dark, but I do hear a more compressed midrange with a snappier, more emphasized high end. It is a somewhat subtle difference.
    I also think that the statement "the audience won't hear it in the mix" is somewhat flawed. After the guitarist is done turning up way too loud, the keyboardist decides he's gonna let his left hand loose, and the sound man succeeds in turning your DI signal into a clacky scooped out mess, of course the audience won't hear the difference. Most of the time the audience wouldn't be able to tell between a jazz and precision. But when a band is mixed well, the more subtle differences start to become more apparent. Not necessarily to the drunken bar patrons, but maybe to the other musicians who didn't get a gig that night. Too bad those gigs are few and far between, unless you drag around your own expert sound guy.
  8. Listen to this, the difference is not all that subtle IMO.

  9. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    The only way to know for sure how that board will affect that bass is to try both rosewood and ebony boards on that bass. Short of doing that, you are just guessing.
  10. LaBassGuy


    Aug 26, 2008
    Even if you don't think it will change the tone that much, in my opinion it plays better. It's more responsive and snappy. When I played my Yamaha BBNE2 the first time, that was my first impression, how the string seems to just bounce off the fretboard.
  11. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    The difference will be much more subtle on a fretted instrument though.

    As far as tone wood goes, I think fingerboard wood is the only wood that makes an audible difference in tone, though very subtle. Ebony is very similar to maple as far as being bright and snappy, possibly more bright sounding than maple.
  12. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    Considering the total cost of the custom bass the difference between the cost of a rosewood board and an ebony one really shouldn't be much at all...... :eyebrow:
  13. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars

    With the price per board foot of, ebony vs Indian rosewood, the difference in price for a fretboard blank would come out to about a $15 difference. If I were building a custom, there would be no difference at all in the final price of the build between the two fret boards.
  14. zazz


    Feb 27, 2004
    If the luthier is recommending something ..and it's all the same to you I would go with whatever he wants.... It would bug me to know he was building a bass that in his mind was less than perfect.
  15. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Ebony also looks awesome.
  16. nostatic

    nostatic Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2004
    lost angeles, CA
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    Had two basses of the same model with identical electronics. Difference was one had alder body and rosewood fingerboard, other walnut body and ebony fingerboard. They sounded different in a mix, and I attribute much of that to the fingerboard difference. Others will disagree, ymmv.
  17. Geroi Asfalta

    Geroi Asfalta

    Aug 23, 2011
    Not quite. I have 3 almost identical, all with maple neck and rosewood boards. One is 4 piece agathis, one is Maple, and one is asian mystery wood.

    The maple bass is super bright, because of that strings sound new for 6 or 7 months on it.

    The agathis bass is a bit darker sounding, and the mystery wood bass just kinda goes "plunk".

    I have another with maple neck, rosewood board, but it's poplar body. Very middle of the road bass.
  18. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I have seven basses with ebony fretboards. I like the sharp attack it provides. If you buy a Fodera, there's no upcharge for ebony, so that's your best bet.
  19. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I have two basses of the same model, both with ebony fretboards. One has an alder body and the other is mahogany. There's a discernable difference in tone - the alder is "warmer" and the mahogany is more "throaty." I'm not being contrarian, rather, just pointing out that the effect of wood combinations on tone can be complex based on a large number of factors.
  20. EBONY rules, especially on fretless. Wenge (especially w/solid wenge necks) also has a wonderful character. Maple can be great too (especially for slap) and some of the birdseye boards are gorgeous (had a Pedulla, STR and Human that come alive in slap mode in part due to their maple boards). Rosewood feels better under my fingers than most and is a bit warmer. I am DYING to try an MTD with PISTACHIO fingerboard though.

    As far as EBONY, there are many grades and species. Macassar is quite nice but more brown in appearance than black.

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