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Wear resistant fingerboard coating - is carbon fiber an option?


Andreas Preuss
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In the fretless electric bass world, it is common to use either epoxy or water-thin CA glue to coat many of the wide variety of fingerboard woods that are used. 

I have coated bass fingerboards with System Three Mirror Coat epoxy, and also West System epoxy.  Both worked well.  After coating you sand down to a final surface using a radius block. 

With a thick enough finish, even a softer fingerboard wood should last pretty well.  Keep in mind that electric bass strings, especially roundwounds, are much more abrasive than any violin, viola, or cello strings I have used, and are very heavy.  So, I'd expect an epoxy coating on a violin family fingerboard to hold up pretty well.  And if it does wear away after a time, you could easily recoat.

I have used CA glue as a finish before, but never on a fingerboard, so I can't comment other than that the fumes are intense.  When I use it in large quantities for other jobs, I wear an organic-rated respirator and swim goggles to keep it out of my nervous system, and I use ventilation.

On a fretless bass, a low angle of departure for the stopped string is desirable; this causes a sitar-like interference between the string and the fingerboard called "mwah" that many fretless players like and indeed chase after.  Think Jaco Pastorius.  In my experience, an epoxy coated fingerboard will have more "mwah" than it did before coating.  I mention this because it is possible that a very hard (harder than ebony) fingerboard could have an effect on tone, though I'd expect that effect to be less because of the greater angle of string departure from the fingerboard.

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2 hours ago, JoeDeF said:

I have coated bass fingerboards with System Three Mirror Coat epoxy, and also West System epoxy.  Both worked well.

That’s interesting stuff. Not what I was initially looking for but certainly worth a shot.

The west system has apparently only one epoxy resin (the 105) and I would choose fast hardener. Is this what you use?

with system three coatings I am lost. Which products do you use? 
 

 

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11 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

That’s interesting stuff. Not what I was initially looking for but certainly worth a shot.

The west system has apparently only one epoxy resin (the 105) and I would choose fast hardener. Is this what you use?

with system three coatings I am lost. Which products do you use? 
 

 

Other epoxy materials come in various setting times (1min, 5min, 1hr. etc.) and they rate their strengths on the labels.  The slowest hardening ones are listed as the strongest.  It's only a guess on my part but the slowest ones might also be the hardest and most wear resistant ones too.

 

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15 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

That’s interesting stuff. Not what I was initially looking for but certainly worth a shot.

The west system has apparently only one epoxy resin (the 105) and I would choose fast hardener. Is this what you use?

with system three coatings I am lost. Which products do you use?

In terms of System Three, I have used Clear Coat, but Mirror Coat is the most commonly used among electric bass luthiers I know.  They both self-level, which might be a problem in a violin-family fingerboard, which has a much tighter radius than an electric bass fingerboard.  You might have to put on either a bunch of thin coats or pour one very thick coat and sand forever (and I hate sanding epoxy excessively--the dust is bad for your lungs so use breathing protection).  Here are a few threads about Mirror Coat:

https://www.talkbass.com/threads/system-3-mirror-coat-epoxy-on-fretless-neck.882223/

https://www.talkbass.com/threads/epoxy-on-a-fretless-warmoth-neck-by-lewis-bass-and-guitar.710064/

I haven't done any measurements, but the West System seems more viscous, and thus might be better for a violin-family fingerboard, as it probably won't run to the edges as much as the System Three stuff would.  You'd probably get a surface shape closer to your desired profile, rather than a flattish one that you'd have to sand forever.

With West System, I use 105 resin with, more often than not, 206 hardener, to give a bit more working time.  But 205 will work fine.  With 205, you can give yourself more working time by applying it in a cooler space, or mix it in a flat plastic pan (take-out food container, etc), and place that on one of those thin flexible cooler gel packs; the cooler and more spread-out the epoxy, the longer the curing reaction will take.

Even newly opened West System 105 with 205 or 206 will have a slight amber tint.  Older hardener will have a stronger yellow tint.  I still use it, and have had no problems with it.  I don't tend to keep it for years and years though; I go through a fair amount of it.  I'm not sure how much you'd notice the tint over ebony.  They make a special clear hardener, 207, which I haven't used, but you could try that:

https://www.westsystem.com/207-special-clear-hardener/

With either epoxy system, you could probably do several thin coats as long as you don't wait too long between coats; while the epoxy is not yet quite cured, I would think that the new coat and the old coat underneath should still cross-link, making one thicker coat.  Neither system has exhibited amine blush in my usage; if you do get an amine blush with an epoxy, you'd have to remove the blush before the next coat, and the various coats might exhibit "witness lines" if you sand through them while attaining your final surface.

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1 hour ago, JoeDeF said:

or pour one very thick coat and sand forever (and I hate sanding epoxy excessively

You can’t cut that stuff with a plane before sanding?

what about painting the epoxy on the surface, treat it with a slow hardener and let it cure upside down? If you keep the radius a little flatter than needed  the resin would flow together where you need it.

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I guess you could plane it.  It's pretty hard on tool edges, but sharpening should take care of that.

As for letting it cure upside down, I'd think that most of the System Three stuff would run off; it's that thin.  Not sure about the West System.  It's an intriguing idea though.

 

EDIT- mounting it horizontally on a rotisserie would probably give you the most even costing. If you already have one for a UV curing cabinet, it might be worth a try. 

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On 3/29/2022 at 9:06 AM, GoPractice said:

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.

Glued frets are no problem for decent guitar luthier. All you need is targeted application of heat - usually with soldering iron, even epoxy will release.  Good pulling pliers are essential as well. I've refretted hundred or so instruments so far with no problem regardless of glue used or not. Some of the Parker guitars have frets glued onto surface without slots that are PITA and likely only original maker could replace them precisely (or you can CNC new fret slots into the board and use standard wire). Removal is easy though with heat.

I've used stainless steel fretwire for most of my latest builds and I always glue the frets in with CA (and I chamfer edges of slots and remove most of the tang barbs as I don't like the chipping of edges of slots). I had no problem removing the wire when customer wanted to change to a larger size of wire.

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4 hours ago, christian bayon said:

Corene is well resistant to wear and can be quite light ( depending on the model)

Yes, but still denser than ebony, therefore heavier. The difference is not much and for me it is not a real problem, even if I don't use them I consider them a great substitute for ebony and if I had to I would use those. But if Andreas wants to go as light as possible it could be a real problem. An interesting solution would be to have a Corene fingerboard custom-made hollowed out and filled with something very light, like low density willow or spruce, or some appropriate synthetic material. But maybe some technical problems may arise, as the work is done with extremely accurate CNCs, and the resulting possible instability of the composite material could be a problem to keep accuracy. They already make models with routed channels in the gluing surface for lightening, but this is not enough to make the fingerboard super light, at most similar in weight to ebony ones of the same size. it would be necessary to remove much more material and fill the gaps in order not to lose the stiffness.

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Been thinking about this and frankly I think DB is on to something with Formica.

Andreas - if you make a composite board, baroque style, use Kiri/Paulownia for the core. Short of balsa you can't get lighter wood and it's got a better strength to weight ratio. Maple sides and whatever you decide on for the top to add stiffness to the free length of the board and protect the sides of the Kiri from wear. My latest baroque board made that way is 30 grams, but because of the wedged shape yours will be lighter 

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On 4/1/2022 at 8:28 AM, JacksonMaberry said:

Been thinking about this and frankly I think DB is on to something with Formica.

Andreas - if you make a composite board, baroque style, use Kiri/Paulownia for the core. Short of balsa you can't get lighter wood and it's got a better strength to weight ratio. Maple sides and whatever you decide on for the top to add stiffness to the free length of the board and protect the sides of the Kiri from wear. My latest baroque board made that way is 30 grams, but because of the wedged shape yours will be lighter 

Jackson, currently I have a fingerboard with a spruce core. It weights also around 32g. I think I’ll try Paulowina (Kiri) for the next. Somehow it’s strange that I live in the country where this wood is used for many things and I still have not one piece in my workshop.

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