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Treatments for fretless ebony fingerboard?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Mystic Michael, May 11, 2005.

  1. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    I've got a fretless Carvin four-string on order. Ebony fingerboard, no lines... :cool:

    I've heard pros & cons about the wisdom of having the fingerboard treated with a hardening agent, i.e. epoxy, acrylic, etc. Some say it "chokes" the tone - since ebony is a fairly tight-grained wood to begin with, and adding a hardening agent just prevents the wood from "breathing" all that much more (hope I've represented that viewpoint accurately). They recommend leaving the wood naked...

    The more common viewpoint seems to be that using a hardening agent improves sustain, brightness of tone, durability of the board - and mwah - without significantly reducing the overall resonance or tonal nuances of the instrument. And from what I can gather, I'm inclined to agree - but I'd like to better understand the "con" argument - before I commit to a treatment...

    There's a couple guys on the Carvin discussion board who claim to have had great results using Tru-oil on their ebony fingerboards (typically sold in sporting goods stores as a hardener for gun stocks). This seems like a very reasonable solution - one less radical than acrylic overlays, because it still allows contact with the wood itself. But I'd be interested in what you all have to say.

    Anyone? Bueller? ;)


  2. Well, if anything, TruOil will enter the wood a lot easier than epoxy or any other coating. TO is a hardening oil - not just "polymerized" but with additional drying agents and hardeners added - sort of a secret recipe ;) When thinned, the TO will penetrate the fibers and fill them and with subsequent coats, will eventually completely fill them and then begin building on the surface of the ebony. At that point I think TO would hit it's limit. It's not very hard - certainly not as hard as epoxy or the others. But if the idea is to fill the small voids in the ebony grain, maintain an "organic" feel and not create a thick build-up, then TO would be a good choice.
  3. Bob Rogers

    Bob Rogers Left is Right

    Feb 26, 2005
    Blacksburg, Virginia
    The usual reason for putting a finish on wood is to create a barrier to airborne moisture, liquid moisture, dirt, chemicals, etc. Ebony is a hard and oily wood and doesn't need much of that - it is pretty resistant to moisture exchange and easy to clean of dirt. That's why it has triditionally been left unfinished.

    A traditional finish would not do much to increase ebony's hardness. (Let a pool of finish cure on a piece of plastic film; see how hard it is to break/bend.) So if there is any benefit, I would guess it would come from the smoothness of the surface. Since I have not noticed a big run on fretless basses with maple fingerboards, I wouldn't think that smoothness is that big a deal. But I really can't say.

    Tru oil adds pretty good protection with a very thin film that's not very glossy. If you wanted to protect a fingerboard, it would be a good choice to give as traditional feel as possible with maximum protection. (I leave my ebony boards naked.) It is easy to apply and is available in small bottles. I have used it for finishing the back of necks and highly recommend it.
  4. ditto sorta

    My favorite fretboard would have to be any 30 or 40 year old ebony with lots of real people oil rubbed into it. :D
  5. Bob Rogers

    Bob Rogers Left is Right

    Feb 26, 2005
    Blacksburg, Virginia
    To get olive oil you squeeze a lot of olives and skim off the water. To get "people oil" you .... Let's not go there. Secret sauce indeed.
  6. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY

    What stuff do you use to thin the Tru-oil? (Please don't tell me "balsamic vinegar"... :eek: )

    What ratio of TO to thinning agent do you recommend?


  7. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    Mike Tobias recommended that I use plain old Mineral oil (from the drug store) -you can get a lifetime supply for a few bucks

  8. Tom Hutton

    Tom Hutton

    Nov 22, 2004
    Similar debates have gone on over on the DB side about this - consensus was that mineral oil was bad because it doesn't dry, and so over time could seep through the fb so it would no longer remain glued to the neck, as the hide glue used in DBs couldn't stick to a mineral oil coated fb. Don't know how this would affect BGs though.
    Pretty much any drying oil is ok though I think, ie TruOil, Danish oil, tung oil etc. Personally, I use raw cold pressed linseed oil on the neck/fb of my DB, and I'm considering putting it on the fb of my fretless.
    I would counsel against any type of coating for durability, epoxy, acrylic etc. Ebony is one of the hardest woods out there, and with a set of flatwounds it'll be a while before you make a dent in it :)
    Xthumpx likes this.
  9. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    Perhaps you didn't really read my entire post, let me reiterate:
  10. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    Any sort of oil finish on wood is really there as a protectant against moisture, etc. It is purposefully a penetrating finish as it seals the pores of the wood. Any finish like this not going to noticeably change the way the bass sounds.

    The common oils mentioned above are more for conditioning the wood than anything else. I use a rag with a bit of oil on it to clean my DB's board and give it a little richer look as it tends to bring out the marble in the ebony.

    If you really want to change the sound of the bass like Pedulla or otherwise, you'll need a heavy coat of some sort of synthetic. Epoxy is the hardest and probably the best bet. Anything soft, like a poly, will cloud up pretty quickly from the abrasion of the strings and eventually flake off into a nasty mess.

    If you decide to epoxy the ebony, add a little tooth to the fb with some 300 grit paper wipe the board down with a tack rag and then some naphtha or the like. Ebony is very oily naturally it's tough to get a non-penetrating finish to stick to it.
  11. JAL


    Dec 15, 2004
    Cleveland, Ohio
    I use Gerlitz Guitar Honey for treatment every 6 months. Absolutely love it. I love the tone of naked ebony; i will never do anything other then condition my board.
  12. Tom Hutton

    Tom Hutton

    Nov 22, 2004
    :) Perhaps you didn't read mine -
    I dare say Mike Tobias knows what he is talking about :D
    I was merely putting in my $0.02 with regards to what I know of oiling DB fingerboards, and how I was going to apply that knowledge to my BG.
    I purposefully put in a fairly substantive disclaimer to describe how mineral oil *reportedly* affected DBs and that I didn't know how it would affect BGs. I defer to those who are more knowledgeable on the subject.
  13. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    Tom, my apologies, I missed the disclaimer


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