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Synthetic Fret Boards

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Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Wed Jan 10, 2018 5:37 pm

In the recent past I have seen a few guitars with synthetic fret boards.
Most recent has been a LP copy with a Rocklite product on it.
LMII is selling and endorsing these, and I have to admit, they look pretty good.
They have enough wood in them, and there is a woodgrain look to them that looks authentic.
They are also jet black, so no dye is necessary. Inlay really pops in them too.

Has anyone here used one, and if so, can you tell me about your experience?
Do you think they would last as long as a real ebony board?
How was it to work with?
Was there any measurable effect in the tone of the instrument?
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:28 pm

This post has been here for 4 or 5 days, with 52 lookers.
I'm guessing that no one has used the Rocklite fret boards.

I realize that a lot of purists (one of which I count myself) will not use anything except traditional materials.
I would say that my inquiry is brought about because of my dislike for dying ebony. Never liked it, don't want to do it.
So this "eco-friendly" material would be my next choice. Only for getting the really black color that inlay stands out in so well.

The reason for the quotation marks around eco-friendly, denotes that I highly doubt the truth of that statement in a lot of cases.
In a lot of cases, the energy spent making an "eco-friendly" material is worse than using the material itself.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Paul Rhoney » Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:45 pm

My shop partner is currently in the process of acquiring sample synthetic fretboards for some testing. Currently we have Richlite, but we want to get Rocklite as well. We want to also document all of our testing on video, so any suggestions on what kind of tests you would like us to do for the greater knowledge of us all, feel free to suggest.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Sun Jan 14, 2018 8:18 pm

Interesting.
Whatever tests you do, must be done on real ebony also.

Hardness.
Tap test.
Flexibility.
Workability.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Mon Jan 15, 2018 10:46 am

A "test" that also needs to be done is "buyer acceptance" on a hand made instrument. Often synthetics are used on cheaper instruments and when people "up grade" they want the real thing. When something is made to look like something else there is often the perception that the "something else" is better.
Synthetics do offer some advantages over ebony besides being uniformly black, but selling them to the public will take some doing.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Barry Daniels » Mon Jan 15, 2018 10:48 am

Personally I like ebony fretboards with a little streaking or marbling. Looks like real wood.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Andy Bounsall » Mon Jan 15, 2018 7:51 pm

Barry Daniels wrote:Personally I like ebony fretboards with a little streaking or marbling. Looks like real wood.

Ditto.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Craig Bumgarner » Thu Jan 18, 2018 9:48 am

I've been using Rocklite Ebano on my new guitars and fingerboard replacements for about two years, roughly 20 fingerboards worth. I had been using rosewood and liked it, but developed a skin sensitivity to rosewood and had to stop using it. I've come to not like ebony much as it seems unstable enough in humidity changes to pull the neck into curves. I do a fair amount of ebony fingerboard replacement because of this and when I take the fingerboard off, the neck shaft often straightens itself right out.

I like Rocklite Ebano primarily because it is more stable and a reasonably good substitute for rosewood. About the same weight as rosewood, not quite as hard, but uniform with no pores. It planes well, sands well and take a reasonably good polish though not as good as ebony. Of course that polish only lasts a short while when played be it ebony, rosewood or ebano. It seems to wear well enough though I notice I can see more of the "grain" after it has been played a while. My guess is ultimately, it will not wear as well as ebony, but to me stability in the first 10-20 years of life is more important. I've seen thicker ebony boards which are common on the guitars I work on warp out sufficiently to need planing or replacement in as little as a couple years.

I don't think of Ebano as being synthetic. Rocklite calls it a man-made wood product which I think is more appropriate. Rocklite doesn't talk about the process, but it appears to be wood veneer stacked vertically and glued together. Somehow along the way, they get it black all the way through. Somewhere, i saw the CITIES declaration on Ebano and it said the organic components were Blue Eucalyptus and Poplar. I don;'t think of these as been real hard woods, so maybe the glue and process harden it up. Again, not as hard as ebony, but seems adequate.

Then there is the sustainability factor. Ebony and rosewood are clearly under a lot of stress in that regard and sooner or later substitutes will be needed. I like being ahead of the curve in that regard. Rocklite says the materials are sustainable and the process is "green". They don't, however, talk about the components or process at all, so we can only take their word for it. On the other hand, we KNOW ebony and rosewood harvests are not sustainable.

Regards customer acceptance, I have had no problem with this at all once the advantages are explained. More than half the buyers never even question it and the buyers of the style guitar I build (Selmer/gypsy jazz) tend to be very conservative about their guitars.

Ebano boards cost about $10 more than ebony or rosewood, but this is acceptable to me in light of its advantages. I tell buyers it is a premium product. I also use Ebano for bridges and occasionally for head plates.

Anyhow, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I have lots of pictures of finished guitars with Ebano fingerboards on my web site, just search my name.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Thu Jan 18, 2018 11:32 am

Thanks for that information Craig.
As I said in my original post I am a bit of a purist, and as a builder/seller of hand-made instruments, I am of the same opinion stated above by Clay.

But as you have stated so well, we may need to look to alternative materials in the future. I may not like it, but that's the direction we seem to be going.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Paul Rhoney » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:15 pm

Gordon Bellerose wrote:Interesting.
Whatever tests you do, must be done on real ebony also.

Hardness.
Tap test.
Flexibility.
Workability.

Thanks Gordon, all points well-taken.

And from all that I've heard Indian Rosewood is actually fairly well maintained and sustainable, but of course CITES will have to be changed to allow for it. I think we may still have that particular wood available for a long time. But I think the conversation around synthetics is pretty healthy these days, and you've got players/buyers actually being open to synthetics.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Mario Proulx » Thu Jan 18, 2018 3:04 pm

How does the stiffness of the synthetics compare to a dense RW(AKA: any rosewood other than EIR) and to ebony?
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Randolph Rhett » Thu Jan 18, 2018 3:25 pm

Craig Bumgarner wrote:

Ebano boards cost about $10 more than ebony or rosewood, but this is acceptable to me in light of its advantages. I tell buyers it is a premium product.



This is what sticks in my craw. These products are sold as countertops at a fraction of the cost of ebony, but slice them up for the luthier market and BAM! they are suddenly ridiculously expensive. I don't have the space or the tools to cut up a 8'x4'x1/4" sheet. But as best as I can tell that costs in the neighborhood of $500 + shipping.

See: https://www.professionalplastics.com/RICHLITEINDUSTRIAL?prrfnbr=125460&child=167550&calc=calc29&utm_medium=shoppingengine&utm_source=googlebase&utm_campaign=googlebase&cvsfa=4160&cvsfe=2&cvsfhu=53524943482e3235305834382e3030305839362e3030304e4131303030&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIhsXPsZzi2AIVFqvsCh3QGg_-EAkYAyABEgLErfD_BwE

That is roughly enough for 80 fingerboards. So why are they selling for $40 a board?

I understand people need to make a living, but I think until the market matures and the product becomes less of a "Gee Whiz!" novelty these products are not going to make it into many luthier built instruments.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Craig Bumgarner » Thu Jan 18, 2018 4:18 pm

Richlite is not the same as Rocklite. http://www.rocklite.co.uk/ I buy Ebano fingerboards for ~$32 each. I know next to nothing about Richlite except on their website, they say it is a resin infused paper product. Rocklite is definitely a wood product, albeit sliced up and resin infused. Ebano feels much more like wood that fiber reinforced plastic.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Fri Jan 19, 2018 1:21 pm

Having worked with Richlite milling countertops from that stuff, and dealing with the black greasy dust I can't say it has any great appeal to me. I haven't seen Rocklite - it may be a much better product. I'm not opposed to synthetics, in many ways they may be better, but buyer acceptance is what sells guitars.
I'm with Randolph - $10 more for a lookalike rather than the real thing sticks in my craw too.
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Re: Synthetic Fret Boards

Postby Craig Bumgarner » Fri Jan 19, 2018 5:27 pm

The dust from Rocklight Ebano is like wood dust. I've had no problem with customer acceptance and have sold all the guitars I've made using Ebano fingerboards.
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