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  #16  
Old 08-17-2010, 10:48 PM
alohachris alohachris is offline
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Default Take Your Cues From The Classical Guys

Aloha,

To optimize the sound & durability of an acoustic guitar, some of the historical work & choices have already been done for us. The best classical guitars in history -AND ALL CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTS OF THE VIOL FAMILY - ALL have ebony fingerboards.

And as anyone who has done lots of fretwork in their day can tell you: ebony is less porous, much harder, more durable and wear-resistant than rosewood of any species. Sure, it can be boring for esthetics, but it works better.

Historically, steel-string guitar factories liked to match up the fretboard and bridge woods on guitars. But it has nothing to do with sound or durability, just esthetics.

I'd say that in my repair and fretwork, that 85% of the fretboards with the worst "valley & gouge" type of groove wear and damage are made from rosewood.

For that reason, I take my cue from the great classical luthiers and usually use Gabon ebony fingerboards and Brazilian Rosewood for bridges (like Tippin & Somogyi do today mostly) on my instruments. My rationale is: If it's good enough for the best individual luthiers in history, then it's good enough for me.

To each his own. But there are historical reasons for choosing ebony over rosewoods or others for fingerboards.

alohachris
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  #17  
Old 08-17-2010, 11:10 PM
David Hilyard David Hilyard is offline
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I don't want to throw water on the discussion and dampen the opinions or spirits here, but here are my thoughts.

I've always liked ebony as a fingerboard. Especially on a classical. Just because I like the looks. I don't know if it dampens the sound or what it does. I just like the look. I like it also on steel strings. But I got adventurous in my advancing age, because I didn't want to dampen my enthusiasm for the guitar. So to whet my appetite and keep my spirits from dampening, I went with a different material on the baritone Matt Mustapick made for me. He had this gorgeous fingerboard blank of cocobolo and a bridge blank to match. I love the look and often stare at the fingerboard in between tunes to keep my love for guitar from dampening.

Three of my ebony fingerboards:



And my Mustapick cocobolo fingerboard and bridge:



Doesn't that whet your appetite for something that doesn't dampen your love for guitars?
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  #18  
Old 08-17-2010, 11:10 PM
JohnM JohnM is offline
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There is little doubt that Ebony does indeed wear better in the long run than most rosewoods (African blackwood being one exception in my opinion). No quibbles there. I still believe the imparted tone of the fingerboard on the guitar as a whole is negligible. Regardless of how the boards ring when examined individually as opposed to when viewed as a unit the way the end up on the neck the difference is, from what I've experienced via fingerboard swaps, not perceivable. But yes 60 years from now a rosewood board will look, more or less, worse for wear than it's more dense ebony counterpart. Perhaps that's a good enough reason to use ebony, and that is indeed a valid point of discussion I, however, still love the look of the Madagascar/Brazilian/African Blackwood fretboards.

Last edited by JohnM; 08-18-2010 at 10:24 PM.
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  #19  
Old 08-17-2010, 11:20 PM
Zigeuner Zigeuner is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alohachris View Post
Aloha,

To optimize the sound & durability of an acoustic guitar, some of the historical work & choices have already been done for us. The best classical guitars in history -AND ALL CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTS OF THE VIOL FAMILY - ALL have ebony fingerboards.

And as anyone who has done lots of fretwork in their day can tell you: ebony is less porous, much harder, more durable and wear-resistant than rosewood of any species. Sure, it can be boring for esthetics, but it works better.

Historically, steel-string guitar factories liked to match up the fretboard and bridge woods on guitars. But it has nothing to do with sound or durability, just esthetics.

I'd say that in my repair and fretwork, that 85% of the fretboards with the worst "valley & gouge" type of groove wear and damage are made from rosewood.

For that reason, I take my cue from the great classical luthiers and usually use Gabon ebony fingerboards and Brazilian Rosewood for bridges (like Tippin & Somogyi do today mostly) on my instruments. My rationale is: If it's good enough for the best individual luthiers in history, then it's good enough for me.

To each his own. But there are historical reasons for choosing ebony over rosewoods or others for fingerboards.

alohachris
That's the way I see it. Aloha from California!
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  #20  
Old 08-18-2010, 05:48 AM
Reviveourhomes
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I am with you John...I just really prefer the "look" of the Rosewood board. But the durability issue is a nagging reality Check.

I am trying to put my thoughts together on my first ever custom build order, I really appreciatte all the info you guys have provided on this issue!
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  #21  
Old 08-18-2010, 06:34 AM
CoffeeGuitar CoffeeGuitar is offline
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i would personally take ebony over rosewood any day

ebony is alot smooth which for me makes it more comfortable to play

aesthetically i think it is superior to rosewood

tonally i think every little difference in a guitar adds up to make an impact on the overall sound and i think an ebony fretboard does add a very tiny bit more tone to the guitar
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  #22  
Old 08-18-2010, 06:39 AM
Tone Gopher Tone Gopher is offline
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Durability issues are real for violins, basses, etc. because there are no frets. For guitars, the strings bear against the fret - depending on the height of the fret and the type of string, in some cases the string may never touch the fretboard. If that is the case, the only wear issues come from fingernails gouging the surface.

Although all my current guitars have ebony fingerboards, I suspect that my next build will have Brazilian rosewood from head to bridge - unless the builder has well-reasoned strong feelings against it.
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  #23  
Old 08-18-2010, 06:41 AM
Tone Gopher Tone Gopher is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zigeuner View Post
I know that banjo players certainly believe that the wood of the fingerboard makes a great deal of difference in tonal quality.
There's one more reason to NOT put an ebony fingerboard on a guitar.
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  #24  
Old 08-18-2010, 08:39 PM
Zigeuner Zigeuner is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tone Gopher View Post
There's one more reason to NOT put an ebony fingerboard on a guitar.


So let me see if I understand this. You say that because many banjos are built with ebony fingerboards, they shouldn't be used on guitars. That's an interesting view.
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  #25  
Old 08-18-2010, 09:05 PM
random works random works is offline
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And then you have the dark to black ebony background showing off some sparkling gold to bronze colored wound strings...a pretty picture.
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  #26  
Old 08-18-2010, 09:07 PM
Tone Gopher Tone Gopher is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zigeuner View Post
So let me see if I understand this. You say that because many banjos are built with ebony fingerboards, they shouldn't be used on guitars. That's an interesting view.
No, you don't understand my meaning. I was observing that if banjo players use ebony fingerboards to achieve what they perceive as ideal tone, that it is not the same tone that I seek in a guitar.
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  #27  
Old 08-18-2010, 09:21 PM
richnrbq richnrbq is offline
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Seems to me that fretboard wood choice is about aesthetics first and far behind, long term durability and feel. I think John Mayes's take on the minimal influence of fretboard wood and tone is really credible on two fronts. First, from everything I've seen and heard, he's a top notch builder- his expertise comes from a deep experience few of us have. Second, the fretboard is a reflective surface much more than a resonant one as far as tone is concerned, so the tapping qualities of the various woods wouldn't seem to be as significant. Maybe a harder wood would have some minimal effect on tone as a reflective surface, but given how much more significant top and b/s choices are as resonant components of the guitar, it can't mean much.

My thought is that it's really about feel and aesthetics when it comes to the fretboard. Ebony gives a simple, classic look with a hard, even feel under the fingers. Rosewood gives some interesting visual possibilities, many of which really look great to me. My two Santa Cruz's, OM and Vintage Southerner, have ebony boards which look and feel great. I had a J-45 True Vintage with a lovely rosewood fretboard that played and sounded great too.

I think it's a question of personal preference in look and feel more than anything else.

Rich
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  #28  
Old 08-18-2010, 10:35 PM
JohnM JohnM is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tone Gopher View Post
Argghhhh, enough!

The word is "damp" when referring to acoustic properties. "Dampen" means to wet.

Thanks for that reality break. Now back to fingerboard materials...

damp·en (dmpn)v. damp·ened, damp·en·ing, damp·ens
v.tr.1. To make damp.
2. To deaden, restrain, or depress: "trade moves . . . aimed at dampening protectionist pressures in Congress" (Christian Science Monitor).
3. To soundproof.



And from another:

3. dampen - deaden (a sound or noise), especially by wrapping

4. dampen - reduce the amplitude (of oscillations or waves)
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  #29  
Old 08-18-2010, 10:36 PM
JohnM JohnM is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zigeuner View Post
So let me see if I understand this. You say that because many banjos are built with ebony fingerboards, they shouldn't be used on guitars. That's an interesting view.
I took it as humor. Poor banjo players are often the butt of musical jokes.
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  #30  
Old 08-19-2010, 01:01 AM
Aaron Smith Aaron Smith is offline
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Going back in my head through all the guitars I've owned in my life, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which had ebony fretboards and which had rosewood fretboards. Obviously I know which wood is used on the guitars I currently own, but I can't say I have a preference either way- cosmetically or tonally. My 70 y.o. Gibson has a rosewood fretboard that had pitted at one point; a competent luthier can do a pretty good job of repairing them to be all but invisible. And even that I don't understand- when I play, my fingers almost never actually touch the fretboard. People must really mash the strings down to do that kind of damage.
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