Alternative to ebony for fingerboards?


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Hello everyone,

 

I am currently doing researches on what is available in the market as an alternative to ebony for fingerboards, as I'd like to try something else.

 

Looking up online, I found:

 

-''Musaica Imports Forte fingerboards'' made from 100% renewable resources. I'm not sure what it means. It kind of looks like some ''green'' advertisement to me. if you know more I'd be curious to get more details about it...

-''Sound composite Archotech Fingerboards''  (They have 4 styles of fingerboards to choose from)

 

Also the word IPE (not sure what it is standing for) was mentioned in different threads.

 

I was wondering if someone had tried those materials before? If yes, how is it different from ebony to work with? Also is it different in terms of properties (density, stiffness etc.), does it impact the acoustic differently? (Ideally I'd like to find something quite close to ebony)

 

I would also like to know if there is other alternatives/brands you knew about?

 

Thank you,

 

Charline

 

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First, the disclaimer: not being a luthier or violin maker myself,  I have obviously never "used anything in the making of a violin".  Kindly don't flame me for chiming in.  :rolleyes:

 

However, I have a bit over 6 decades of experience playing and looking at violins in Europe, and the Americas , not as pro either, and in the process I've encountered violins with fingerboard made of ebony (duh!), maple, ipe, snakewood (also called 'textwood') and probably other hardwoods that I've since forgotten.

 

The fact that some of those violins were pretty old, and others fairly new, tells me as a dilettante that there were reasons why that practice has not caught on to any meaningful degree.  (In at least two German museums, I even saw violins whose top and back were tortoise shells and their fingerboards were claimed to be made of planed and laminated tortoise shell material.

 

Snakewood fingerboards are offered by a few Chinese sellers.

 

Finally, ipe, a Brazilian wood related to pernambuco, and reputedly harder and stronger than the latter, is not that uncommonly used for fingerbosrds and bows.

 

Please search for "ipe", "maple", "snakewood" + fingerboard AND OR violin bow on eBay for such Chinese or Brazilian offerings on eekBay (eBay) or Google

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Thanks!

Actually I'm trying to stay away from exotic woods for now if I could find a consistent product to work with...

I have perceived those last years a growing interest around composite material or "common wood" treatment technology development trying to get results close to what an ideal piece of ebony would be to work with.(literally and acoustically).

Does anyone has tried one of those products (or something similar) sold by an accessible supplier?

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Thanks!

Actually I'm trying to stay away from exotic woods for now if I could find a consistent product to work with...

I have perceived those last years a growing interest around composite material or "common wood" treatment technology development trying to get results close to what an ideal piece of ebony would be to work with.(literally and acoustically).

Does anyone has tried one of those products (or something similar) sold by an accessible supplier?

I use mahogany with the top surface treated with several coats of thin CA glue or Minwax wood hardener. It is then coated with about six coats of polyurethane varnish which are slightly sanded between coats to  be eventually ripple free.  This produces a smooth glossy surface which is probably much more wear resistant than ebony.

 

I leave the natural color of the wood but it could be first stained black.

 

Bu my viola made with one of these didn't win anything at the last VSA tone or worksmanship competition.

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Musaica Imports, isn't that a company Alex Ross owns? What a fun thing it is to Google people's names. Let's all try it now, if you haven't already. Alex Ross of Omaha, NE...

I don't know if those not-ebony boards are any good. Some have discussed them before on here, mixed reviews. Possibly they are easier to dress than ebony.

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Musaica Imports, isn't that a company Alex Ross owns? What a fun thing it is to Google people's names. Let's all try it now, if you haven't already. Alex Ross of Omaha, NE...

I don't know if those not-ebony boards are any good. Some have discussed them before on here, mixed reviews. Possibly they are easier to dress than ebony.

There's a long thread about them. Just search. The problem, it seems (personal experience as well as reports) is that they don't like to stay glued to the neck if you use plain'ole hide glue. The two that I used seem to wear well, were easy enough to dress, but they both popped off, even after using stronger hide glue.

 

Yes, let's all google Alex Ross...

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Persimmon wood is an ebony. It is the preferred wood for wood golf clubs. Very hard and the heart wood of an old persimmon can be quite dark. Usually it is a bit more figured, but I think it is lovely. It can be turned quite black by a process called ebonization. If you soak steel wool in jar of vinegar for a week and then you use the vinegar, that has now absorbed iron, on the wood and leave it a bit it will turn much darker. A few treatments and I have gotten jet black that still showed all of the grain. Quite a pretty effect.

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As most have said, one of the main problems with the composite fingerboard is that they do come unglued from the violin, I have had it happen a couple of times.  I am not sure I would want to use titebond or another adhesive but the choice is yours.  

 

As to the google aspect of some of the thread, I am in strongly considering changing my first name because people I meet locally and at conventions, etc. make the connection with my first name, violins and then the public knowledge:

 

Musaica Imports, isn't that a company Alex Ross owns? What a fun thing it is to Google people's names. Let's all try it now, if you haven't already. Alex Ross of Omaha, NE...

I don't know if those not-ebony boards are any good. Some have discussed them before on here, mixed reviews. Possibly they are easier to dress than ebony.

 

.  It is extremely frustrating and unfortunate, but maybe an "Italian" sounding first name will be cool!!!!  Thinking of taking my Great-grandfathers first name which was my dad's middle name "Amado", not sure if Italian but kinda liking the sound of it.  I wonder if anyone else has had this problem?  I think the Beardon's have something on the website  :(  Do I need a disclaimer?!

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These boards are a natural wood fiber inundated with resin, which a lot of these alternatives seem to be, Charline. Contact Jacob Von der Lippe in Oslo to ask about the corene for high end instruments-- he's been using them on his own lately, and seems pleased. With the Fortes, I would say they're just fine, but aren't stiff enough to do what nice ebony does, which is help with overtone production and focus, IMO. Jason STarkie uses even the cello ones, tho, and his instruments sound fantastic. Planing these materials is obnoxious, if doable, and the next frontier is having them routered out with the fiber on slab, instead of quartered. The Becker shop, and others, already do this with their ebony boards, and have for a century. I don't find all that much difference in practice, because a truly hard wood is pretty stable despite how it's cut out; the Indian "ebony" comes in greener than Tom Thumb's butthole, unfortunately, and acts just as spastic. If you have access to a CNC, grab some corene, and play with it.

 

 

As to the composite boards popping off - I know folks have tried varying strengths of hide, but has anyone tried fish or bone glues? Only curious because I would love to use an environmentally more friendly material provided it could be counted on both to stay in place and meet the demands of the best players.

Full strength fish glue is better than hide to get them to stick, but a simple tenet helps: Hide glue glues to anything once the material is done drinking it. You can hit the bottom of the composite a couple times with glue, just as we must do with neck foots(feet?), and then glue it on. I've actually switched to Kremer's fish glue completely in the last year! I'm a convert, after a few months of trying to make it fail in different humidity and testing its strength.

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Could the main reason for popping of these boards be the fact that they don't shrink/expand with humidity and temperature cycles at all (or very little compared to wood) coupled with slightly weaker bond of water based glues?

I heard (guitar) folks use some of the weaker epoxies that soften at higher temperatures for this. Heating of the board makes removal easy.

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As most have said, one of the main problems with the composite fingerboard is that they do come unglued from the violin, I have had it happen a couple of times.  I am not sure I would want to use titebond or another adhesive but the choice is yours.  

 

As to the google aspect of some of the thread, I am in strongly considering changing my first name because people I meet locally and at conventions, etc. make the connection with my first name, violins and then the public knowledge:

 

 

.  It is extremely frustrating and unfortunate, but maybe an "Italian" sounding first name will be cool!!!!  Thinking of taking my Great-grandfathers first name which was my dad's middle name "Amado", not sure if Italian but kinda liking the sound of it.  I wonder if anyone else has had this problem?  I think the Beardon's have something on the website  :(  Do I need a disclaimer?!

Amado Rezaccini.  I like the sound of that,...Amado!  Or for truly impressive lineage, Amado Amati. :)

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 years later...
On 12/20/2016 at 3:19 PM, Fjodor said:

I ordered some Rocklite Ebano blanks from the supplier. The blanks are big enough for viola. It seems promising so far, the specific gravity is around 1.1 which is in the same range as real ebony. It is also easy to plane which is a big plus.

post-24701-0-14327000-1482268626_thumb.jpg

Fjodor, how have these turned out in terms of ease of use?  Seems to have the advantage of letting you shape to your specs rather than having to live with what the manufacturer has determined to be appropriate, e.g. Corene.  That's not a criticism of Corene.  Just an observation.  Maybe it's not an issue if specs of the options they offer are spaced sufficiently to allow for customization.  But there is no way their spec options can accommodate all of the possible variables.

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On 11/29/2016 at 7:09 PM, Alex l. Reza said:

It is extremely frustrating and unfortunate, but maybe an "Italian" sounding first name will be cool!!!!  Thinking of taking my Great-grandfathers first name which was my dad's middle name "Amado", not sure if Italian but kinda liking the sound of it.  I wonder if anyone else has had this problem?  I think the Beardon's have something on the website  :(  Do I need a disclaimer?!

Amado is more spanish or portuguese, in Italian should be Amato (beloved).

A relative of my mother had that name, although it is not very common.:)

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Some time ago I tried a couple of Corene violin fingerboards (Neo-Ebene) kindly provided by the company for a test. I must say that they are made very well and in different sizes with the possibility of custom orders. The main problem with these technological materials is that they have no porosity at all (they are not absorbent in any way) which guarantees a lot of stability but from which the gluing problems derive. They also provide the glue along with each fingerboard, which is just bone glue that should adhere even without physical anchors (pores). 

The reasons why I still use ebony on my violins are :

1) the gluing problem (if the glue is not appropriate the risk  of unglue is real, perhaps also due to the extreme stability to humidity of these material that if the neck moves and if the glue is not well anchored to the fingerboard it will detach even more easily)

2) density slightly higher than ebony (at the same weight and dimension they are less stiff than ebony; to obtain the same stiffness the weight will necessarily be slightly higher due to the fact that there is no air internally because no pores are present)

3) last but not least, the non-absorbent nature of the material means that the surface will be more slippery during playing, which in a fingerboard without metal frets has its importance. In fact the ebony slightly absorbs the humidity giving a feeling of non-slipperiness, this has been pointed out to me by some player, I didn't think about this at first and maybe not all players would notice it.

However the accuracy of the work and the quality of the material positively surprised me, if the availability of quality ebony were to stop, I think I would surely try these fingerboards

https://www.mycorene.com/

PS they promise they never wear out, but I haven't tested this.

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