I'm thrashing around trying to find a good alternative to Indian Rosewood for fingerboards. I bet I'm not alone in this!
Does anyone have experience of using Mahogany?
I have some in my store and it's as hard as hell. Even looks the part.
If it´s really hard mahogany, why not?
To be a good fingerboard the piece needs to be pretty hard, and dimensionally stable. Ebony and rosewood are certainly not the only woods on the planet that meet the specifications, and their increasing scarcity and unsustainability make it a good idea to seek alternatives. Here in Australia we have lots of native hardwoods that have been successfully used as guitar fingerboards. Sounds like your mahogany could do the job well. You could even make a mahogany neck, flatten one face and hammer the frets straight in - like a fender maple neck (put the truss rod in from the back). Go for it......
The other quality a fretboard wood needs is the ability to not get grubby. Maple works as a fretboard but you have to varnish it and then the varnish gets worn through and the wood becomes grubby in patches and you clean those patches and you get grooves. Thick black paint seems so cheap but it does work. Should we destroy the planet or be less fussy?
Thanks Mark - I'm in contact with a guy in Maleny QLD who I found when on holiday in Noosa. He has some great woods, but the postage to me in NZ knocks things back a bit.
Have you ever tried Jarrah for fingerboards? I can get some here.
For some reason, a number of players seem to dislike the use of Pau Ferro (Morado). I consider it to be superior to most rosewood I have seen in years and consider it a nice middle ground between Rosewood and Ebony.
Mahogany? Not sold on the idea. I have some mahogany that was harvested over 200 years ago. It's hard, heavy and pretty, but Not like the oily dense woods like ebony and rosewood. Never crossed my mind to use it for a fingerboard.
I've used Jarrah as fingerboards on a few dulcimers and liked the results. Dulcimers and guitars are apples and oranges structurally but when choosing wood for fingerboards I want something quartersawn, straight grained, hard, stable, and stiff. I had only one board of it that I bought several years ago but it met all the above requirements and was relatively easy to work with. If a nice board turned up when I'm out shopping for wood I'd try it again.
Quarter sawn is good so long as you are applying it to a quarter-sawn neck. Mixing quarter with flat sawn set's up stresses that are best avoided.
I'm not a fan of the eucalyptus varieties generally because I find they are not very stab;le. The grain tends to be wavy, interlocked and can be quite coarse. I've had too many pieces from the eucalyptus family distort and crack after machining, so I tend to avoid them. Any others have comments on these woods?
Hi Richard, hi all,
"Mixing quarter with flat sawn set's up stresses that are best avoided." - maybe in classicals I suppose but we use mixtures of quarter v flat in neck laminating and fingerboards without drama. If the wood is poorly managed or dried I suppose it could be a problem and accordingly, the main problems we see in new guitars these days is fingerboard shrinkage from poorly handled and processed boards. But, properly processed timber is by it's nature stable and the use of quartersawn boards of many types of dissimilar timber on flatsawn necks was universal when all boards were q/sawn.
I wouldn't use a eucalyptus species for fingerboards, or necks or anything to do with guitars - it's boat anchor, railway sleepers and firewood stuff. The burls would be ok in the current trendy spalted top-plate "look" doing the rounds in the shops at the moment.
As far as mahogany for fingerboards goes, ebony is 3 + times as hard, rosewood and maple is twice + + as hard (Janka averages) and the grain structure of mahogany (untreated or basic oiled) sucks in dirt and grime like a vacuum cleaner. Its ability to hold frets securely because of its softness also mitigates against it as a suitable wood for boards, as does the difficulty of getting a good consistent fret seating/installation in this relatively soft wood with poor abrasion resistance. Not a wood I would consider for fingerboards under any circumstances. Drag yr nails across a piece of mahogany and then a piece of ebony to get the picture. Petrified mahogany doesn't count.
Russell, your last comment prompted me to respond about petrified mahogany. The 250+ year old piece of Cuban mahogany I have is not quite as finely grained as good ebony, but by gosh it's hard and dense. One of the things about much of the really old mahogany is the way it was treated in the curing process. In the 1700's it was not unusual to bury the wood on the seashore to cure it, during which time the trapped moisture was replaced by salt water by means of osmosis, and when the wood was removed (after something like 20 years) and dried, it was very hard. And deeply coloured.
Another seasoning method was to bury the raw wood in manure. Same effect, but other minerals and junk were infused into the wood which also imparted real hardness and colour.
In neither case are we talking about "petrified" mahogany. But I have to say I highly value this bit of Cuba. There's not a lot of it left - 7"x5"x49", but one would have to write a very large cheque to pry it loose from me.
I do get your point though. Even the best mahogany you can get these days doesn't compare to ebony for use as a fingerboard. But the idea of dragging my nails across is gives me the shivers, like nails on a blackboard.
Would I use my mahogany for a fretboard/fingerboard? No. I can hardly imagine what I will use it for - it's too darn precious.
A good place to shop for wood is Pallets!! I have used pieces for a lot of things and the wood is CHEAP!!
Most of the old banjos and old guitars were bass wood or poplar wood and old dobra's were pear wood.
Actually, my previous comment was in error. I looked at my notes and it was Jatoba I used, not Jarrah. Jatoba worked very well. I have not tried Jarrah. I do not have much experience working with wood whose name begins with the letter "J' and was confused. :)
I think Rusty's comments are very pertinent, and it reminded me of the Janka hardness test (often discussed in considering the suitability of various timbers for flooring). It is useful to look at the list in Wikipedia on this test:
Mahogany is certainly less hard than the traditional fingerboard timbers. You ask about Jarrah. Well, it is fairly high on the list - harder than rosewood, but not as hard as ebony. I have seen a few guitars with jarrah fingerboards and it seems to be suitable. I have got a jarrah fingerboard blank in the shop, but I haven't used it yet. Other good Aussie species are ironwood, gidgee, mulga. I agree with Russell that eucalyptus species are best kept for the fireplace. They just twist and split too easily