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Finishing The Fretboard

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To my knowledge, he only reason to put a finish on the fretboard is to protect it from the grease, oil, and various gunk that would get onto it from our fingers. The only reason for this protection is to keep the wood looking nice. For tone and structural purposes, there are no other reasons for it.

Are these statements correct?

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Since you haven't gotten any answers today....

Anything's gonna affect tone, right? The way I see it, the harder the surface, the more you're going to resemble the tone of the finished maple fretboard. It's not a matter of advantage/disadvantage, but one of preference.

You've probably already thought of that, but maybe that will offer a little confirmation.


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Simple answer - yes, you're correct. Although personal injury can be a mitigating factor - a guy I built a bass for test-drove it in an unfinished state, and got a nasty splinter from the edge of the wenge fretboard!

Spanish cedar is sometimes used for necks in nylon-stringed instruments, especially flamenco guitars. But not steel-string. Cedar is way too soft for a fretboard unless acrylicized a'la Larry Davis.

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The other thing to consider is the oil content of the wood. Rosewood and ebony work well unfinished because they are oily woods, so they've sort of got a built-in finish. Maple gets marked up because it's not oily. That's why it's usually finished.

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I would think it depends on what kind of cedar any probably isn't good for a fingerboard. Spanish cedar is a lot different than western red cedar nothing alike. Spanish cedar is a lot harder and looks a lot like mahogany, western red cedar is really soft. I believe spanish cedar is used on steel string acoustic necks sometimes.

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I think the point needs to be looked at in simplified terms. Does finish affect stability and tone, plus is it necessary?


Perhaps finish might help prevent gunk and moisture from damaging fretwork and inlays, and may help prevent warping.


Any finish or modifying process will affect tonal aspects in some manner with widely varying degrees of perceptibility.


Depends on the wood. Some may splinter as Erik pointed out...Wenge splinters very easily cause sepsis which can prevent you playing guitar :-\ Some wood's grain may swell and raise with the moisture from sweat. Some woods don't require it, and some won't even take a finish well, like Ziricote, Bloodwood, Ebonys, Cocobolo and other similar Rosewoods. Woods like these look so much better in their natural state IMO.

I think this does poo on your "any wood" idea as the chosen wood is a critical factor in figuring out whether it's NECESSARY, and whether STABILITY will be an issue. Capitalisation used as reference back to the points as detailed.

Specific woods:


Can be used as a fingerboard, polish it to highish grit and use conditioning oils to treat as you would a Rosewood board.


Not sure of whether it can be used as a fingerboard, although I would suspect that if you could it would require a finish.


I love Canarywood! I have heard that it can be used as a fingerboard, although anecdotally. Someone else may be able to fill in this gap. Not sure about finish, although I think it might be oily enough to hold it's own.


It may require a finish, although it does look quite Rosewood-y. Again, a gap to be filled here.


There are different breeds of Cherry, and with it generally being a light wood I would treat it like maple as it will get dirty.

To answer the original question(s) directly, I would say no. That is, to the last bit about "...are these statements..." on the basis that any wood can be used as a fingerboard, and some require a "finish" to make them usable, again as Erik pointed out about Larry Davis' acrylisation processes. I would steer clear of using "the only reason" also, as it's a good way to shoot yourself in the foot with semantics :-D

Best of luck.

Edited by Prostheta
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I'm a 'believer' in single action compression truss rods, so I like to have a relatively flexible neck wood paired with a very stiff and hard fingerboard wood. My current choice of neck woods is Poplar, and I've been messing with Ipe for fingerboards. Ipe is incredibly hard. Harder than the hardest rock maple by quite a margin. When you ring a piece, it sounds like alumin(i)um and sustains for a very long time. Ipe is currently marketed as decking and it can be left outside in the elements completely unfinished (!).

An other interesting 'new' wood that might make a nice FB is bamboo. One of my apprentices made two axes with bamboo necks and Ipe FB's, so we have tried it as neck wood but not on the FB. Bamboo is actually plywood though, and the floorboard material that we used did have some voids here and there. While I'm certain you would need no finish on an Ipe FB, I think you'd need to finish bamboo somewhat like maple, unless you liked that 'dirty' look.

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