Jump to content

Entry for May 2018's Guitar Of The Month contest is open!
ENTER HERE!

sirspens

Thoughts on using synthetic fretboard material

Recommended Posts

(I don't know what the right forum for this is, but since it involves building....)

With the environmental impact of exotic hardwood harvesting, such as ebony and rosewood, and the likelihood of these materials becoming harder to find in the future, has anybody here used synthetic and composite materials for fretboards? 

I know Gibson, Martin and a few other big manufacturers have been doing research on heading in this direction.

My curiosities:
1) Does it affect the sound?
2) Are the materials easy to work with, for us garage builders?
3) If ebony and rosewood are going to be hard to find, are we going to be able to find synthetic / composite boards of high enough quality any easier?
4) Are there any non-proprietary options out there?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I personally dont think that fretboard wood affects the sound in any way whatsoever.
I also think instead of using synthetic fretboard material, just pick a different wood that wont be hard to get, instead of complicating things. Wenge should be around for a long time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
55 minutes ago, sirspens said:

1) Does it affect the sound?

I've yet to be convinced that fretboard material makes an appreciable difference to the plugged-in sound of an electric instrument. For an acoustic guitar I can imagine it could have some impact, but have not compared enough acoustics side-by-side to decide for myself.

 

56 minutes ago, sirspens said:

3) If ebony and rosewood are going to be hard to find, are we going to be able to find synthetic / composite boards of high enough quality any easier?

Supply and demand. I'm sure that as rare hardwoods become impossible to source other alternatives will become easier to obtain at sensible prices. The instrument-building industry will not grind to a halt if ebony becomes extinct, it will just adapt to new materials and technologies. Also bear in mind that it's not just guitar builders that will be forced to look elsewhere in the future. It will affect a lot of different craft industries from violin makers to fine cabinetry construction.

 

1 hour ago, sirspens said:

4) Are there any non-proprietary options out there?

Not sure. Have heard of Richlite (a phenolic material) and graphite alternatives, but obtaining small quantities for home builders could be problematic. All would probably necessitate the use of epoxy instead of PVA when gluing. Never explored the idea myself.

Of course, there' s no reason you have to rely on rare ebonies and rosewoods when it comes to fretboard material. Lots of non-endangered timbers exhibit the requisite hardness, density and low seasonal movement necessary to hold 24 frets in place.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, curtisa said:

Not sure. Have heard of Richlite (a phenolic material) and graphite alternatives, but obtaining small quantities for home builders could be problematic.

That's more what I was asking. I'm not curious if Gibson is going to be able to find anything. I'm interested if we home builders will be able to find synthetic / composite boards as easy as it is to drive over to the lumber yard.

And, yeah... the solution would seem to be to use a more available wood, though I do like to experiment. 

Thanks for the thoughtful responses!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
30 minutes ago, KnightroExpress said:

As far as synthetics go, 1/4" Richlite is really easy to get. You can even have them cut it to the rough length and width of an average fretboard blank at the link there. 

And for cheap! Less than $5 per fretboard. That's as good as buying a giant plank of rosewood.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have used Paperstone, which is more or less the same kind of thing. Composites tend to be lacking the same kind of end-grain "bounce" that we rely on for fret tang retention. I'd probably be likely to consider (you can tell how much I don't like epoxied frets by those three words) epoxy for fretwork. Test first.

Secondly, composites can be somewhat chippy. Paperstone chips like hell when pulling frets, so it isn't the most serviceable choice of material. Some may be friendlier in that respect. Again, I would look at permanence and long-term durability. Stainless steel frets all the way, so you don't have to refret more than once every few decades....

That Blackwood Tek is interesting. Basic Pine, compressed and "treated" chemically? I'll have to look into that. Thanks.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

:zombie:

This is a little bit of a zombie thread, however it always stuck in my mind for one reason or another. I've been working on a neck, potentially with a Paperstone fingerboard in order to remind myself of its working properties.

Firstly, I decided to look at the material from the perspective of a woodworker. That is, to understand its strengths and weaknesses. Wood is not an isotropic material in that its properties vary by direction; you can split it down the grain easily, the change in dimensions due to heat/moisture also vary by direction. Paperstone is no different in that respect, however its properties are definitely different.

Primarily, Paperstone exhibits a cleavage plane parallel to its face, being a product made through many thin layers of material bonded under pressure. Chipping when removing frets is only slight. In wooden fingerboard, chips don't have as much strength across the width which limits their length. The chip splits and is fairly narrow. In Paperstone and similar composites, the similarity between the strength in both the length and width means that the chips are wider but generally not longer. Wood tends to pull longer chips that extend beyond the hidden area under fretwire. This does introduce a significant drawback, which is splitting and tearing down the length.

This test fret was hammered into a hand-cut slot. The fret retention was excellent. Better than I expected. Pulling up the fret roughly to induce worst-case damage produced the expected small chips (lower edge, left side) but also a large chunk of the material. I'm unsure whether you could call this delamination, however. The last two photos were uploaded at silly resolution so you can see what happened. Any opinions on what we're seeing here? I'd like to hear more analyses than those from my own eyes. 

 

IMG_9259.JPG

 

IMG_9262.JPG

IMG_9261.JPG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This looks to me like it has a similar construction to, and properties of MDF. Essentially very short fibers held together with a resin (read adhesive). Wood benefits from its long fibers that help to support each other at a fracture point. Various species have differing levels of brittleness that counter that support. MDF is like a sandcastle. The grains stick together with the application of water (the resin as it were) but tend to not support each other against the application of force. On the other hand wood, many varieties anyway, are susceptible to splitting between the fibers if the force is applied in that direction.

SR

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting. MDF is exactly what I was thinking of also. The tearing of the material is exactly how MDF fails. Wood has the advantage of being very very stable along its length both dimensionally and strengthwise. This does however lend itself to long chips when frets are pulled. Given adequate support, Paperstone should chip less problematically. It appears to hold frets very well without need of epoxy or other adhesive. I fear that it will sound like ass though, and replacing a board that has been epoxied on is not something I like to waste my life on!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had the email about those a couple of weeks back. They do look very interesting, definitely. A great move forward from Richlite, Paperstone and other similar composites which were like the first generation of substitutes. Let's see how it pans out, or even better, let's get some experience with them eh? :happy:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

LMI carries Rocklite now. I ordered one for a guitar i was making last month. They ended up sending me 2 orders on accident, so i just paid for it and kept them both.

Its almost impossible to tell the difference from ebony at certain angles, aside from the grain being immaculately uniform. In every way looks like the highest end ebony. Really hard, stiff and holds the frets great.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/20/2018 at 2:50 PM, verhoevenc said:

There's a new company that's making composites that look remarkably like nicely quartersawn, stripy rosewood. Haven't used them, but aesthetically they are very pleasing: http://www.rocklite.co.uk/

Chris

That is definitely some nice looking fretboard stock.  Scott's analysis of the fracture of paperstone is right on, because its basically MDF with more resin content, and higher pressure baking, and with the short fibers, will flake the same as MDF.  

Rocklite and my CF fingerboards are long fiber composites, so thats a plus.  Shipping one of my figured CF fingerboards to Martin next week.  Likely too pricey, but hey, its a start, and maybe they will order enough volume to get lower price so everyone can use it.  

 

Fingerboards.JPG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I binned the Paperstone fingerboard I used on the test neck. The whole board delaminated with virtually no pressure required to remove it. Popped right off. All prep was done correctly, the epoxy mix was fine and I used the correct amount on both surfaces, plus adequate clamping pressure (less than PVAc). All the epoxy stuck to the wood and left the Paperstone. Ugh.

Also, it was awful to slot an entire board 25 times (50 if you count re-depthing after radiusing). The pieces of wood adhered as a test to confirm the epoxy was good worked perfectly. This was a failure of the product. Really disappointed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×