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Wear resistant fingerboard coating - is carbon fiber an option?


Andreas Preuss
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The ‘problem’ with fingerboards is that they get worn. If not, it would be possible to use a fingerboard without ever needing any maintenance. 
 

So I was thinking of glueing a very thin carbon fiber sheet on a wooden core. Modern glues such as gorilla glue should make this possible. Technically it would need to make a perfect fitting counterpart. 
 

What I don’t know is how such a surface would feel like for a performer. 
 

Has anyone any thoughts on this?

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  • Andreas Preuss changed the title to Wear resistant fingerboard coating - is carbon fiber an option?

Carbon fiber composite is especially strong in tension, not in abrasion. It sits in matrix of resin which will over time erode and exposed fibers will not be good on strings or fingers at all. Also one sided application may result into unpredictable movement of the fingerboard with humidity.

I'd guess some sort of liquid substance that will enter at least few upper layers of cells and harden substantially harder than the cellulose of the wood would be the way. Perhaps even extra thin CA glue with some "nano" filler. CA hardens quite hard and with filler it could create abrasion resistant layer within the upper layers of wood cells. Best way to get some such substance to penetrate would be using vacuum.

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1 hour ago, FiddleDoug said:

It would be impossible to plane or profile, so the base would have to be absolutely perfect before you put the layer on.

 

 

Yes, I am aware of that. The ‘craftsman part’ of this is to make the perfect fit negative counterpart to it and each new fingerboard would need to get chalk fitted to it. I don’t know how precise CNC cuts are.

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7 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

The ‘problem’ with fingerboards is that they get worn. If not, it would be possible to use a fingerboard without ever needing any maintenance. 
 

So I was thinking of glueing a very thin carbon fiber sheet on a wooden core. Modern glues such as gorilla glue should make this possible. Technically it would need to make a perfect fitting counterpart. 
 

What I don’t know is how such a surface would feel like for a performer. 
 

Has anyone any thoughts on this?

 

Have you tried these?

https://www.mycorene.com/

From what they say they look promising in terms of wear resistance, and are ready to use (and very well made).
Copied and pasted from their question and answer section:

"What is the wear and tear of the surface of the fingerboards?We have a great deal of experience in the wear and tear of our fingerboards and we are very attentive to this aspect of the quality of our products. Because each musician uses his instrument differently - more or less often and intensely - it is difficult to judge the lifespan of a fingerboard. As a rule of thumb, our experience shows that a fingerboard used 4 hours a day by a top musician shows no sign of wear and tear after a year of use."

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33 minutes ago, HoGo said:

Carbon fiber composite is especially strong in tension, not in abrasion. It sits in matrix of resin which will over time erode and exposed fibers will not be good on strings or fingers at all. Also one sided application may result into unpredictable movement of the fingerboard with humidity.

I'd guess some sort of liquid substance that will enter at least few upper layers of cells and harden substantially harder than the cellulose of the wood would be the way. Perhaps even extra thin CA glue with some "nano" filler. CA hardens quite hard and with filler it could create abrasion resistant layer within the upper layers of wood cells. Best way to get some such substance to penetrate would be using vacuum.

I was thinking of a surface similar to carbon fiber cases or the carbon fiber cello tailpiece. Though I don’t know if the surface is varnished or not. But maybe there is a better sheet material. I found 0.5mm carbon fiber sheets on a web research.
 

I am not concerned about humidity induced warping. This occurs only if both materials react differently to humidity. If necessary the inside of the wooden core can be varnished to prevent that at the overstanding end of the fingerboard. 
 

I was thinking of surface treatment as well. Ebony is not a wood which can be easily penetrated by any liquids. CA glue is very hard but also brittle and I a  sure that it will sooner or later chip away under the friction of the strings and/or finger sweat. And needless to say that I don’t have a vacuum chamber for this kind of operation. 

 

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Corene is just new form of bakelite (phenol formaldehyde). I guess that many of the other synthetic substitutes of ebony are just that. Perhaps you could impregnate (or laminate) the outer layer of real wood fingerboard with PF resin (or resin soaked paper) and cure it under pressure and heat to create the hard surface.

 

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43 minutes ago, Davide Sora said:

 

Have you tried these?

https://www.mycorene.com/

From what they say they look promising in terms of wear resistance, and are ready to use (and very well made).
Copied and pasted from their question and answer section:

"What is the wear and tear of the surface of the fingerboards?We have a great deal of experience in the wear and tear of our fingerboards and we are very attentive to this aspect of the quality of our products. Because each musician uses his instrument differently - more or less often and intensely - it is difficult to judge the lifespan of a fingerboard. As a rule of thumb, our experience shows that a fingerboard used 4 hours a day by a top musician shows no sign of wear and tear after a year of use."

 

Thought of that as well. 
 

However, I want to have a lighter than ebony fingerboard, because it is again for my new concept violin.

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Just now, Andreas Preuss said:

I was thinking of a surface similar to carbon fiber cases or the carbon fiber cello tailpiece. Though I don’t know if the surface is varnished or not. But maybe there is a better sheet material. I found 0.5mm carbon fiber sheets on a web research.

The modern process of making cases of composites starts generally with perfect outer mould that is coated with the shiny layer of resin (of course some kind of separator is applied so the whole won't stick to the mould) then cloth is applied and the whole inserted into large vacuum bag, as the air is sucked out on the other end controlled amount of resin is applied through valve on another end and when the resin fills every space around the cloth the resin is left to cure (usually with some heat). So the outes shiny coat is basicly epoxy finish applied before formation of the case. Of course there are simpler processes used...

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1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Thought of that as well. 
 

However, I want to have a lighter than ebony fingerboard, because it is again for my new concept violin.

I've experimented with fingerboards made from ebony, zebra wood,curly maple, mahogany, Sitka spruce, and paulonia in descending order of density to reduce weight.  

I've mentioned before that I use a thin coating of clear epoxy bar top finish to get a hard wear resistant surface without adding much weight.    I doubt it will ever wear enough to need resurfacing.  But if it does, the grooves could be easily filled with more epoxy and sanded smooth.

 

 

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I doubt a counterform would be practical. I would lean toward a paintable or sprayable catalyzed coating. .003" to.005" build would be sufficient, I'd think. Should be renewable. Weight would be minimal. The one thing I'd like to see is how the surface hardness affected sound and playability. Ebony does, in fact, wear remarkably well. One of my clients practices an enormous amount, but has a light touch, and I haven't needed to  touch his fingerboard in over ten years. Has played the same violin for 30 years, and I finally got round to refurbishing it last year (it was due!)

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In my experiences with carbon fiber (not on fingerboards but other things), I found it to be quite poor in wear resistance. Once one wears through the surface coating of epoxy (if any), extremely abrasive particles of carbon fiber start to be shed, and everything goes quickly downhill from there.

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Posted (edited)
38 minutes ago, Michael Richwine said:

Ebony does, in fact, wear remarkably well.

I don’t think ebony is a bad material. For wood it is probably one of the best choices. 
 

Ebony wears to my experience mostly through finger sweat and warmth. So it really depends on the user. I have one client who needs a fingerboard trimming every 3-4years. 
 

Anyway, with the vast numbers of newly invented materials for all sorts of applications I thought there must be something which is really resistant for centuries. 

I agree that the counterpart solution is not the most practical but a sheet bent and glued over a wooden core would add some stiffness. A painted or sprayed lacquer needs more support from the core material. 
 

Edit: varnish coatings would be very good on the neck itself I think.

Edited by Andreas Preuss
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20 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

In my experiences with carbon fiber (not on fingerboards but other things), I found it to be quite poor in wear resistance. Once one wears through the surface coating of epoxy (if any), extremely abrasive particles of carbon fiber start to be shed, and everything goes quickly downhill from there.

Very helpful information. Is this from your activities with racing boats and cross country bikes?

i am actually slowly drifting away from the carbon fiber idea. With some web research I spotted thin ceramic sheets. If this could be glued on wood I guess it will hold forever.

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I've experimented with fingerboards made from ebony, zebra wood,curly maple, mahogany, Sitka spruce, and paulonia in descending order of density to reduce weight.  

I've mentioned before that I use a thin coating of clear epoxy bar top finish to get a hard wear resistant surface without adding much weight.    I doubt it will ever wear enough to need resurfacing.  But if it does, the grooves could be easily filled with more epoxy and sanded smooth.

 

 

On which wood do you use it?

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3 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Thought of that as well. 
 

However, I want to have a lighter than ebony fingerboard, because it is again for my new concept violin.

If you want to go lighter then Corene fingerboards are not the way to go, as they are a couple of grams heavier than equivalent sized ebony ones as the density is higher (non-porous material).

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10 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

On which wood do you use it?

I'm now using only spruce--fine grain and quarter sawn. The clear epoxy top surface coating is about 0.4mm thick and adds about 5g to the weight.

I could dye the wood black or add black coloring to the epoxy but I like the natural color and grain of the spruce wood better.

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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Very helpful information. Is this from your activities with racing boats and cross country bikes?

Stuff like that. Carbon fiber laminate most certainly doesn't work well as a bearing or bushing material. Even wooden bushings can have a much longer life.

Some countertop laminates (Formica) are pretty wear-resistant. How about one of the off-the-shelf floral patterns? ;)

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I would be concerned about degraded carbon fiber getting onto players’ fingers. It’s a great material for many things, but it’s messy and not especially easy to work with.

I much prefer a wood fingerboard that can be shaped and reshaped easily with a normal block plane. Having to buy extra tools just to make or fit a fingerboard would be more hassle than help. I like the idea of having a smaller number of tools that can be more versatile.

The idea of a coating could be practical. It’s already common practice among some luthiers to French polish fingerboards, which adds a layer of varnish that may protect a bit. 

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I have played quite a few synthetic fretted fingerboards. I sit next to a Parker guitar with a synthetic fingerboard. Maestro James Ham has a Parker guitar screwed into the wall above a bench.

Would a thin veneer of a synthetic, wrapped over a wooden fingerboard a la period instruments be a possibility? Maestro HoGo mentioned the "matrix" resin, which is the bonding and shell material over the fibre... I have used a vacuum bag process to wrap x- material over a mold using a commercial matrix. The problem with the final product was that it had a particular peaky resonance which was both too high and too low. If I were to have sandwiched/ laminated wood to that material, it would have behaved much better.

The matrix will flow everywhere when gluing in a vacuuming environment, so the actual fingerboard surface will have to be scraped/ prepped, but the bond would, should work? If the synthetic material is pre-bent via heat or stress over a mold, it could just be attached with hide glue. 

When exploring new avenues of innovation, we drag along the past. The carbon guitar I play has not been popular among listeners, but I think it sounds great. But given my hands and ability in producing tone on a guitar, it has the most complexity with an ebony fingerboard and Mahogany neck. I can not match that sound, which is the legacy of ( some ) recorded guitar, with any Parker or composite guitar. Others can, not me. It puzzles me when others hear something, and it is not as familiar, so it is not as good. When I player Taylor, they say Martin. When I play Martin, they say Taylor. I know, it is my playing.

A radiused fingerboard would be easier to work with using a synthetic veneer than a flat one as it requires only a small bit of expansion and contraction. But I have yet to get any material, nor have I experimented on a bowed instrument, much less something large like a cello. So just a thought, not advice...

The synthetics have been great. Lasted longer than any other fret- mostly stainless/ synthetic fingerboard combination and the feel is incredibly secure. But the sound is solid, secure, but not... complex. Is complexity over- rated? I have an old archtop guitar with a maple neck and seriously thought about replacing the fretboard with a synthetic veneer.  

 

 

 

 

   

 

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11 minutes ago, GoPractice said:

Would a thin veneer of a synthetic, wrapped over a wooden fingerboard a la period instruments be a possibility?

That’s basically what I am thinking about. 
 

Do you know by chance what material Parker guitars use for their synthetic fingerboards?

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I apologize for being vague. I wish it were possible to identify each material easily, but manufacturers often refer to their innovative materials ( sometimes ) as proprietary.

On my early Steinberger bass, the fingerboard was made from something called "Phenolic." Which, the surface of the frets felt as there was a little bit of give, as if the frets were on wood. Quick search says that it might also be known as Richlite and Micarta. This is the source.

https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1689841

The bass was fretted with traditional frets, and I also owned a fretless version for a short while which the "Phenolic" fingerboard held up reasonably well even though the strings had radiused windings ( not like some traditional flatwound - ground down - strings used on fretless electric guitar basses. ) As for the wear of actively available with Phenolic fingerboarded instruments Modulus, is a company making basses again, in Minnesota. There is also a company run by Joe Zon that create instruments with fingerboards impregnated with phenolic resin - phenowood? 

And here is a link for Maestro Ham:

https://www.hamstringsmusic.com/

SO the Parker fretboard is a little complicated. I have owned four Parkers and each one ( at least the two at the house ) appears to be slightly different. It is a composite material, that may include carbon, but not in a fibre- form at the surface to the eyes. At it's best, it feels like a very hard industrial rubber, but the one at my side feels harder ( chime-y ) and might agree that it is mostly matrix ( epoxy ) on a thinner neck. I would agree that it is a composite material including carbon particles, but the traditional carbonfibre used for very light, structural construction appears to be absent. The fabric weave is exceptionally useful when strength to weight ratio is structural as it can be molded into an exo- skeleton like form. A fingerboard veneer is more a slab like material not requiring a weave. Which has me re- thinking about the application...

It feels durable enough for a violin e- string. Here is an explanation of the product but will search for more information later... 

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/671509

This is a link to Moses' Sound Composite material and parts where their claim is that their process/ material is better than what is described as "phenolic."

https://mosesgraphite.com/sound-composites-com-classical-strings-parts/

The "best" materials that I have been able to source for composite work has been purchased through distributors purchasing from Japan. I have not looked at the Luthier's Mercantile or Stewart MacDonald websites so am not sure what is being offered, but I should start experimenting again.

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As always I see nothing wrong with the traditional materials. Fingerboards do wear and sometimes warp and it is simple to correct an ebony board as needed. Any coated or laminated surface would make adjusting the board considerably more difficult. If it's not broken don't fix it.

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1 hour ago, nathan slobodkin said:

Any coated or laminated surface would make adjusting the board considerably more difficult. 

We face a situation where the real good material sources get exploited. As for fingerboards, the real good stuff, Mauritius ebony, is gone. I suppose that Mauritius ebony needed only after very long use to be resurfaced. 

Fingerboard curvature became perfectly standarized for the cross curvature and the lengthwise scooping. If this is made with whatever technique with a very durable material it simply does need no more maintenance, just as the best natural material

In case there is a client who desires very specific fingerboard curvature (rarely happens), wood can be still used. But there are also more durable artificial materials which can be trimmed with the tools of a violin maker.

There are other aspects in the construction of a violin where we can think about more wear resistance especially if it comes to heavy professional use. I see it as my personal vision to build instruments which last as long as possible with minimum maintenance. If I need to develop for this goal new techniques, I am just for it. That's in the end probably a question of personal attitude.

 

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4 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

As always I see nothing wrong with the traditional materials....

Traditional materials are wonderful. Better traditional materials are wonderfullerer. I mostly agree with you and have drawers of traditional parts, wood, tools.  

The goal is not to create non-serviceable instruments or products, but to perhaps try newer approaches to materials that might be more affordable or last longer. Along the way an innovative hopscotch might offer a solution, or not. Not a fan of planetary tuners on my personal instruments, but work well for many. Not user serviceable but way better than past solutions. The period style instruments I play, played, were all new. Now with modern bridges, Cantiga lower strings, Andrea rosin, only the bow and the short fingerboard make it "period."  Well, and my out of tune, out of time wheezy playing.

I am ever grateful that creative people are improving established designs and others are creating, adapting. Pernambuco will be scarce for sometime... every one of my students has to get at least one quality composite bow and we go shopping together. When they accidentally break my good, there is no recourse. Recently I lost a nice Pernambuco fractional when a younger sibling jumped onto a sofa. Now I have a silver frog and button for a future project.

I have ventured into carbon instruments because the locales have changed. Slot canyons and forests, beaches and house boats... due to the increase in church rentals, couples are getting creative. Cracked acoustic guitars are also a pain to repair. But the guitar does look like something Darth Vader would play. Usually it is used to accompany a singer, but most of the time it is worth it. I can be seated behind a Manhasset stand, so it draws less attention. 

On my Parker guitars, the frets are glued ( bonded ) in place. When it come time to replace the frets, I will have to make some serious decisions. In the meanwhile, I have adapted my playing a bit to be more gentle on strings and therefore the frets. After 7 years I can see small dents under the b- string but no other damage. In the past, I had re- fretted several of my instruments so much that the fretboard had to entirely replaced due to the damage to the wood where the fret tangs were inserted. Eventually, I will remove the original inlays from the old fingerboard and relocate them in their original positions.

I truly dislike shoulder rests but it is my job to fit them and priority is either comfort or sound. Always looking for something new... 

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