What will give my rosewood fretless the hardest playing surface?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by TDSLaBassiste, Jun 13, 2019.

  1. TDSLaBassiste

    TDSLaBassiste Bass drops and breakdowns since 2009

    Jul 8, 2011
    Southwest Florida
    I know, I know. ANOTHER fretless thread.

    But the defretting is done! Now I just need something to easy my mind about putting rounds on it. Reading around has me narrowed down to Tru-oil, Danish oil, and Tung Oil. Epoxy is pretty much out of the question after my own misadventures in that and the fact that no luthier around me will touch it with a ten foot pole.

    Which of these oils/finishes is going to give me the most robust surface to play rounds on?
  2. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Now where was that thread a few months ago about a fretless board coating much better and easier than epoxy - might've been acrylic? I'll try searching...
  3. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    None of those Oil finishes will do much of anything to harden the surface against the wear of the strings. They are good for sealing up the wood against moisture or grime, but they are mechanically soft.

    With epoxy, it depends what you use. Most epoxies are not a whole lot harder than wood. There are some specialty epoxies which are pretty hard. But epoxy coating a fingerboard is nasty, messy work. Most of us Luthiers won't do it. I've done some epoxy coated fingerboards years back; no more.

    The hardest material I know of that you can coat a fretless fingerboard with is Polyester Gelcoat, the top coat used in auto body shops on fiberglass. If you can find a friendly Auto Body guy who will work with you and spray it on for you, that's going to give you the best result. It's nasty stuff; you don't want to try to spray it yourself.

    Even so, it's still a lot of work in preparation, truing up, and polishing. There is no simple magic hard coat that you can wipe on with a rag.
    202dy and Turnaround like this.
  4. guts


    Aug 13, 2018
    Is it really necessary to go to such lengths? Rosewood is very hard and very dense. There are many people who play fretless rosewood fingerboards without having to cover them in epoxy.
    zoonose likes this.
  5. Chris Y

    Chris Y

    Feb 2, 2019
    Darwin NT
    There is a marine epoxy called everdure, it is a 50/50 two pack that has the consistency of water, it can be wiped on with a rag etc and given multiple coats. Becomes very hard and actually soaks in and hardens the cells in the timber on first coat.
    I have never used it on an instrument.
    I used it to waterproof and harden fishing lures before painting. Also used it when I was building boats.
    I would give it a test run on a sample first to see if it does what you want.
    zoonose and HeavyDuty like this.
  6. Keger Jupit

    Keger Jupit Inactive

    May 10, 2018
    The Great PNW!!
    I bought a Fender Jaco recently (non-relic), & it has a urethane coated fingerboard.
  7. hbarcat

    hbarcat Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2006
    Rochelle, Illinois
    I wore out the frets on my first "workhorse" bass so I defretted the neck. After only a few hours of playing time, the rosewood fingerboard was gouged up from the steel rounds I had installed.

    I switched to flats and had no more problems.
  8. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    A curmudgeon's take on coating fretless fingerboards.

    No one coats fingerboards in the violin family of instruments. (This is not the place for the debate on the lineage of the double bass! Start your own thread. Preferably on the double bass side of the board.) The reason most often given is that those instruments traditionally use gut strings which are smooth(er). Today most of the violin family instruments are strung with flatwound strings. As pointed out in the post above, that solves a lot of the problem.

    But it doesn't solve it altogether. Even flatwound strings will cause significant wear on a fingerboard over time. What do the violin repairmen do about it? They resurface the fingerboard. They can do this many times before the need to replace the fingerboard occurs. Fingerboard replacement is considered just another task in the shop.

    So it should be for bass guitars.

    But there is hue and cry from bass guitarists the world over. Roundwounds are very abrasive. Even half-rounds are more abrasive than flats. They cause rutting in the fingerboard. It happens faster. It looks ugly. The fingerboard is DAMAGED! I need them to get my tone!!! All of this is true.

    Does it matter?

    Not so much, most of the time. The fingerboard on a bass guitar can be resurfaced a few times before replacement is necessary. Fingerboard replacement will never be an issue for most players because they do not put enough hours in to cause wear that is significant enough to warrant even resurfacing. The miniature ruts that most basses get do not affect intonation nearly as much as would be considered common sense. Even when it does, a small correction with the finger takes care of the problem until the fingerboard can be trued.

    Of course, there are some players, dedicated to the fretless who put in forty hours a week on their instrument. These are professional players who make their living with that instrument. They will have to resurface and occasionally replace their fingerboards. The cost of doing the work is part of being in the business. But the overwhelming majority of players are not in this group of musicians.

    So what about ugly? Like beauty, ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. Coated fingerboards show visual wear faster than natural fingerboards. If it's a problem for you, you will have to seek a solution.

    The last argument is for tone. Tone is subjective. In fifty years of playing I've never lost a job over tone. So I do not care much about the issue other than on a personal satisfaction level. If it's what you require, go for it.

    Respectfully submitted.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019
    zoonose, Chris Y, Joshua and 2 others like this.
  9. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Oil finishes can easily be sanded off with 220 grit sandpaper.
  10. Paulabass


    Sep 18, 2017
    After a few hours you may find you can see marks from the windings, but that is not 'Chewed up'. An untreated rosewood board, and roundwounds should be good for thirty years, and then just a quick clean up will have it back to flat.
  11. TheDirtyLowDown


    Mar 8, 2014
    I say: don’t coat the fingerboard unless you’ve tried a similarly treated one and you like that feel better than wood. You will change the feel and sound of the instrument. I play my ebony board fretless almost daily, and the feel of the wood with the string is really important to me. If/when I need to have the board redone, I will gladly pay for it.

    I’ve tried an epoxy-coated fretless (only one, I admit) and it wasn’t for me. Your taste may differ, but if you’re not sure, I’d suggest playing it for a while uncoated and see how it goes.

    Good luck!

    Edit: I realize that this turned into a bit of an anti-epoxy rant, and you've ruled out epoxy already. Sorry...
  12. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    @202dy great, thoughtful post.
  13. Paulabass


    Sep 18, 2017
    I have an epoxied rosewood jazz, a plain rosewood jazz, and I used to have a non-custom shop pau ferro Jaco. Honestly, I don't notice much difference.
    buldog5151bass likes this.
  14. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    They make a finish for Bar tops. It can hold up to years of abuse.
  15. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Surprised nobody mentioned CA glue (maybe I missed it?), a lot of people using that on fretless here on TB. It’s nasty stuff too, but more controllable and less messy in thin coats. I have a Pedulla finished Jazz Bass neck, they called it “Diamondkote” or some such, hard as hell and smooth like glass. I think it’s a two part polyester.
  16. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician - Retired
    The wear caused by a bunch of wet glasses and that of vibrating steel strings is very different. A bar top doesn't really have to stand up to abrasion the way a fingerboard does, so an appropriate finish for each is quite different. The vinyl flooring in my kitchen stands up to a lot of abuse, but it makes a lousy patio.