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Maple fingerboards
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 
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Ferret
Byron Bay Australia
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March 21, 2013 - 7:21 pm
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While researching a new instrument I noticed many  baroque style violins and violas being made with a maple fingerboard. It certainly gives a 'different' look, but I was wondering how good it wasdunno

Any views ?

Seen it all. Done it all. Can't remember most of dunno ..... What was I saying???? facepalm

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Tyberius
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March 21, 2013 - 9:03 pm
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While ebony is certainly a harder wood, It just as much is less appealing in looks. Maple is thought to absorb some of the generated tones, but I have yet to see conclusive evidence of that. Boxwood, like rosewood , is much softer and will take on more shrink/expansion from moisture. I know a few players with rosewood pegs and they have no problem whatsoever with pegs sticking or slipping, unlike my ebony pegs. I think having a really nice grain maple finger board with a darker stain on it might look really incredible.

I know some cheaper violins from long ago (read prior to 1930) used maple that was painted, lacquered or dyed to look like ebony. Some of it rather poorly done. I'm just not sure how wide spread it was done or under what pretense

An ebony tree can take up to 200 years to mature. I seriously doubt the quality of the wood available to the average musician is quite so prestigious. It may not even be solid wood at all that we are purchasing. It could more of an ebony MDF or laminate. We really have no way of knowing unless you can see the end grain or it was really horribly made (or you saw a chunk off it). All we see is this (fill in your instrument here) has "Ebony Fittings" with a description of ebony finger board, pegs, chin rest, tail, etc,etc. No where does it say solid, hard or along the grain. The pegs usually have some grain and would not have the strength for MDF type wood, the rest however.... who knows.

I doubt I even came close to answering your question, but it does pose and interesting debate

"I find your lack of Fiddle, disturbing" - Darth Vader

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DanielB
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March 21, 2013 - 9:11 pm
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Well, the original Baroque instruments sometimes had maple fingerboards.  It's traditional enough.

Maple (at least some maple) is hard enough to be a reasonably good fingerboard.  It has been used for some guitar fretboards on electric guitars for a long time.  Having seen it in bands over the years side by side with ebony and rosewood, it may get worn and need planed or replaced sooner.   Ebony doesn't last forever, either.

But it depends on other things than just the kind of wood.  Some maple is very hard, and some ebony is "real", but not as hard as people like to think.  There can be a lot of difference between two pieces of wood of the same general "type" like maple or ebony.  Where it was grown and when, the precise botanical variety it is, how it was harvested and aged.. 

I'll probably get some flack for saying this, but I think that at least a good select hard variety of maple that is a really nice piece of wood can probably make just as good a fingerboard as some ebony that gets more market because it is "real ebony" (not the same as "real GOOD ebony", y'know?  LOL).  It might even actually last as long, in some cases.  But at the least, decent maple can give several years of several hours of play a day on electric guitar fingerboards.  And the winding on electric guitar strings is generally more abrasive than the wrapping on any violin strings I've seen so far.

And some of those Baroque maple fingerboards with the inlay work look dang cool!  LOL 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Kevin M.
Nicholson, Pa
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March 21, 2013 - 10:44 pm
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I have never used maple for a fingerboard but I have used rosewood. I don't know how it will hold up but boy did it look beautiful.  I have some wood here, we call iron wood. Actually my floors are made of iron wood.  It is so hard that when trying to refinish the floors I had to try and use 20 grit paper on a drum floor sander. It barely touched the stuff. I have been thinking of using some of it for a fingerboard.

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Ferret
Byron Bay Australia
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March 22, 2013 - 1:02 am
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Kevin M. said
I have never used maple for a fingerboard but I have used rosewood. I don't know how it will hold up but boy did it look beautiful.  I have some wood here, we call iron wood. Actually my floors are made of iron wood.  It is so hard that when trying to refinish the floors I had to try and use 20 grit paper on a drum floor sander. It barely touched the stuff. I have been thinking of using some of it for a fingerboard.

In Australia we have Acacia Peuce or 'Waddy' wood. I'm told it's the hardest wood there is. When you cut it with a circular power saw the it is so hard that the surface comes up as if it has been polished and oiled. It's very rare but I'm lucky enough to have a piece.

It would make a great fingerboard if it was available. It would never wear

Seen it all. Done it all. Can't remember most of dunno ..... What was I saying???? facepalm

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Tyberius
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March 22, 2013 - 3:47 am
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Another really nice hardwood is called Purple Heart. That wood is absolutely stunning if you get a good grain pattern.  

Purple+Heart.JPG

Purpleheart

the wood starts a dull purple, and becomes more rich and full within a few days/weeks. Upon applying a finish, the color darkens even more, to an almost eggplant purple.

"I find your lack of Fiddle, disturbing" - Darth Vader

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JackL
Andros Island, Bahamas
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March 22, 2013 - 7:11 am
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I don't know where most of the ebony used in violin-family fingerboards comes from, but here's an interesting article from the guitar side of things.

I wonder whether there's any real structural or acoustic reason why something like lignum vitae, mahogany, or even snakewood wouldn't make a decent fingerboard.

When I finally work up the nerve (and budget) to commission a viola, maybe I'll ask the prospective luthier about that ...

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seetho
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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March 22, 2013 - 12:21 pm
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Most true ebony species are already listed in the IUCN red list and what you see on your violins are most likely not the real thing since all black ebony is very rare now. The few species of Diospyros (or you may commonly know it as persimmon) that yields black ebony are from India, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi and parts of Africa. India and Sri Lanka have already banned the export; over explotation and deforestation has left little in Sulawesi; what's left in Africa is also threathened.

African Blackwood (Dalbergia) which used to be classified as ebony (now no longer) would seem to be the most likely substitute since it is commercially cultivated now. Otherwise it may just be other more common species of Diospyros dyed or stained black to look the part.

The article about the responsible sourcing of ebony in Cameroon is interesting. Yes it is far better than "not knowing" where the wood comes from, but it is still from very old and slow growing trees in forest being cut down. Most people may consider it sustainable logging if you replant and follow strict quotas but when an old tree is cut from primary forest you lose more than just the tree. It affects the whole ecosystem surrounding that tree and far beyond.

Personally I don't really care what wood is used as long as it plays and sounds good. I'm sure there are plenty of common wood that can be used.  I'd go for a carbon composite violin if the price becomes more reasonable.

If pianist can do without ivory keys, I'm sure violinists can do without ebony fingerboards.

By the way, I volunteer to go on patrol in the Malaysian national parks to help the under-funded and under-staffed wildlife department look for signs of illegal poaching and logging. I've seen first hand the damage logging activities can do to the tropical rain forest - something that's been there for 130 million years (yes that's how old the rain forest here is) and then suddenly all gone forever.

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