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Red/Black Palm for fretboard?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by tummage, Jun 7, 2002.

  1. tummage


    Apr 23, 2002
    New Orleans, La
    I am ready to commission my dream bass. The one thing I can't decide on is fretboard material.
    I want it to be as close as one of a kind as I can.
    Question, Red/Black palm-has or can it be used as a fingerboard material. It can be quite striking in appearance, but I am not willing to sacrifice tone or functionality. I have seen flutes and recorders made of palm, so I assume it has resonant qualities.
    Can anyone offer any insight as to whether this be a sane choice for a fingerboard.
  2. tummage


    Apr 23, 2002
    New Orleans, La
    Does no one have an opinion either way?
  3. Stray Dog

    Stray Dog

    Jun 16, 2002
    I knew a custom knife builder who used Black palm for the handles. Neat looking stuff. He cut it at an angle so the spots were oval. He called it Leopard Wood. Nobody at the shows had ever seen the wood before. It seems the dark wood was more dense than the light part, so I don't know how that will affect tonal quality. Why don't you have your bass built and then let us know !!! SD
  4. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    If you're talking palm, like on Hawaii, I'd say no.
    That kind of palm is not wood, it's grass, and it's not hard or stiff. quite the contrary.....

    A fretboard should be pretty hard and very stiff.
  5. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I've never seen the stuff and I bet many of the luthiers who frequent this group haven't used it either.

    Try and track down its stiffness and density numbers and compare it to sugar maple. If it compares favorably, then there's a shot. I don't know if the stuff is stable in service, but that's also important.

    Next, you have to see if you can get it in clear, quartersawn lengths & widths that are appropriate for a bass fingerboard. For the funkier species, this is often where you get shut out.
  6. If you're really stuck on the palms, I'd go for the black palm. Chris Stambaugh has made bridges out of it, so it must be durable. I just wouldn't go for either palm choice personally - they don't have a track record, bugs like palm trees, and wood dealers haven't really handled them much to know what makes for a well-dried, stable, board, IME.

    But there are a lot of other "close to one of a kind" woods, (as you put it), that are much less dicey.

    If you want something truly "one-of-kind" that will work for a fretboard, my experience has been - NOT - to just go with the woods offered in a wood dealer's catalog or website. IME, they often get some amazing stuff that they don't advertise because their supply is very limited. They know it will get gobbled up without advertising. I saw a log of quilted cocobolo slip through my fingers in one day.

    My advice is to contact wood dealers and tell them;

    - which purpose, (fretboard), you intend to use the wood for
    - the qualitites/properties it must have
    - the cosmetic qualities you want
    - the dimensions the luthier requires
    - you want a money back guarantee if the board isn't as they described

    Fr'instance - the fretboard on the bass I'm having made is fiddleback mirindiba, (a.k.a., "yellow saunders"). For a fretboard, it is smooth and hard as glass after sanding. With the chemical process the luthier is treating it with, the wood turns a pretty chesnut brown and the fiddleback figure pops out. The wood dealer only got one log of it. Moreover, it was the only log of that specie the harvesters found in the Brazilian rainforest with fiddleback figure -


    Yeah, it takes work on the client's part. But we are talking "one of a kind", not what's on the menu.

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