My Fingerboard!

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by meltsakana, Nov 29, 2002.

  1. meltsakana


    Sep 3, 2002
    I also posted this in the guest luthiers' forum, but it probably belongs here..

    I recently changed the strings on my MIM Fretless Jazz Bass, putting on roundwounds for the first time. The fingerboard is basically bare, and i am starting to see some impressions from the strings rubbing against the wood...But I love this roundwound sound...Any ideas on what I can do to save my neck from further harm?

    I have also noticed the nut is pretty much useless, worn down so much the fingers are basically resting on the fretboard, so it isn't doing any good. Any idea on what I can do to fix this myself?

    Careful details within your explanation will make me so happy!

  2. only4him012


    Nov 11, 2002
    I'm not so much familiar with fretless bass, but anything that i could help you is this, why don't you try Elixir strings? since they coating on their round wound strings. :D
    i hope you will save your bass....
  3. i think fretless basses need to have lemon oil on the finger boards, however, i don't really know! i hope someone with abetter idea can help you ;)
  4. OK, here goes...

    Lets start by saying that, if you are going to use roundwound strings on a fretless, there is nothing that will completely stop fingerboard wear. Them's the facts. You can slow it down by varying degrees but you will eventually wind up in the same place you are now.

    There are a couple of routes you can go once you've accepted this as gospel. O4him has a good suggestion if not a pricey one by suggesting the Elixir strings. I don't have personal experience with them but I know of several players that do and their experiences have all been good. On the same track as that, I would suggest that you investigate the various brands of half-round, ground-wound, or compression wound strings that are available. My personal fave is D'Addario but there are others that garner favor. These strings have the flexibility (this is where that characteristic roundwound tone comes from) of roundwounds but have a much flatter outer surface than full rounds. And that flatter surface means that wear is decreased. Note I said decreased. Even half-rounds will eventually leave marks on a fingerboard. As for string selection this is about all of the choice you have and still keep the tone you love.

    The second path is to coat the fingerboard with a harder material that resists wear. This can be a REAL pita, especially if things go wrong. Not saying they will but if you are serious about a solution to the problem, you will have to take into account all that can happen. Coating a fingerboard is a process that requires planning and near flawless execution to be truly right. I don't care to argue with any of the population that will say that it was easy and perfect the first time they tried it. I have seen some of these attempts and they are far from acceptable. To do it correctly you will need some specialized tools and the right material for the actual coating. This brings us to the selection of possible coverings for the fingerboard. First, and most popular is Epoxy just like Jaco used. Epoxy has some good points and bad points but it is probably where you will start. On the good side is that it is pretty hard and, if done properly will last a good length of time. On the bad, it is very difficult to work with after mixing, is quite messy, and is subject to failure if the preparation of the neck isn't well done. It is also critical that proper mixing of the resin and hardener is achieved or you could wind up with a glob of goo rather than a shiny, playable surface. It is also easy to get components for epoxy that aren't fresh and that will affect your results. And finally, epoxy yellows over time. If you are OK with these characteristics then epoxy is a good choice. Next come the polyesters and polyurethanes. Polyester is VERY difficult to work with for the novice and it's chemistry must be matched to the work it's going on. Polyurethane is pretty easy to work with but has some consistency issues with regard to hardness. Both the poly's can consist of a single component and that can aid in getting a good result. Next in line is a rather exotic method of coating and one that has rather high health stakes involved and that's coating with CA (cyanoacrylate) or superglue. This comes as a single component and is fairly easy to use but you MUST use respirators to avoid inhaling the fumes. Application is slow but controllable and the results are quite hard. Finishing is as easy as the other materials but, again, respiratory protection is required. All of the finishes I've described are used in the commercial construction of basses.

    If your neck is rosewood, cocobolo, or any other member of the dalbergia family, you must prep your surface before coating. These woods are inherently oily and can keep a coating from properly adhering to the surface. Preparation is the key but sometimes, even with great care, the finish can still lift off after a matter of only a few months. I'm not saying that it will or won't - it's just that you can do everything right and still have a disaster that will require going back to square one.

    My own preference would be to use the halfround strings. My MIJ Jazz has had them on since I bought it (3 years) and only now shows some faint lines from the windings. There are no grooves lengthwise to the neck from the strings, just light impressions directly under the string. Not even visible from 3 feet away. That said, I have been very impressed with the fingerboard finishes that John Turner has on his custom Conklins. I believe that John said that Bill uses polyester as his coating. They are super glossy, tremendously smooth, and have held up quite well under John's use of roundwounds. But keep in mind a few things here - John has at least 7 strings on his basses so each string will get less play than a 4 banger and John owns 10 of these babies so each instrument will get less play than would just one instrument if that's all you've got.

    Hope this helps