View Full Version : Ebony vs. Rosewood...
so, I've been into mandolins for years and used to pick one up and strum it whenever I was in a store that had one. Now, I want to finally get one of my own. I've always been one to want the best and I prefer F-style mandolins. At the same time, I don't want to spend a ton of money.
I'm in the middle of choosing between a Loar LM 600 and a Loar LM 700. I've seen videos from a member on here playing the 600 and it sounds and looks great. At the same time, I've seen and heard the 700 as well and it sounds just as nice if not nicer. Aesthetically, I like the 700 because I always loved the Gibson Fern and it looks similar. Logistically, I'm still deciding.
I was wondering how the majority of you feel about rosewood vs. ebony fretboards. Which makes a better tone, which is "faster", which do you think looks and feels better? I think I'm leaning toward the Ebony of the 700 because sometimes when I play on rosewood, it feels too...grippy, for lack of a better word, I guess.
Personally, I don't think the wood on the fingerboard makes any difference at all on playability.
Your fingers do not slide over the fingerboard but over the strings on top of the fingerboard.
It is simply a case of aesthetics I think. On some mandolins I like the look of rosewood and if you have a rosewood fingerboard I also like a rosewood bridge and a rosewood overlay on the headstock to match it. I had a 1972 Gibson F-12 with all of that made of rosewood and it was a beauty. My take.
Excellent thread! I'm hoping the many fine builders who frequent the Cafe will chime in here.
Bernie, thank for your comments. I have also always thought that the differences between fretboard woods was purely aesthetic. However, I have a fairly knowledgeable musician friend who believes there are differences between them with respect to tone and ease of upkeep/care. (For example, he claims that the best sounding double bass fingerboards are made of Bocote).
Also, there are a lot of these woods available: Indian rosewood, Cocobolo (a true rosewood), Bolivian Rosewood (not a true rosewood), Bocote, Bubinga, White Ebony, Honey Locust, and Black Ebony.
If anyone has any strong beliefs regarding the benefits of any particular one of these woods for use as the fretboard of an acoustic mandolin, I'd also love to hear them!
All violin family instruments have an ebony fingerboard, which wears much longer than rosewood. It's true that the frets will probably keep most wear from happening to the fingerboard, but your sweat may be an issue, and ebony will tolerate that better. Its finer grain makes for cleaner fret work, I think. I have it on my Weber and my electric, and specified it for the 10-string flattop mandolin I have on order.
Ebony's harder than rosewood, so will resist the formation of the little "pits" that the strings wear into the wood just behind the most-used frets. It also feels a bit smoother to the touch. How you feel about the esthetics of the two woods, is a matter of taste. But as a rule ebony is found on the more expensive instruments, rosewood on the less expensive, so it has "snob appeal" as well.
I have both on different instruments, as well as occasional maple and dyed ("ebonized") pearwood. Guess I'd have to rank ebony at the top, for feel and durability.
Ebony wins the durability thing although the brazilian rosewood fretboards and bridges on acoustic guitars i've played have a nature about them that is truly warm and lyrical. With mandolins i've only played ebony boards. I believe the same would be true on a mandolin.
Tonal qualities of the two main woods in this discussion are noticeable but usually not dramatically different. Ebony tends to be slightly damping while rosewood tends to be a tone generator. If you take a piece of each wood and tap them the ebony will make a response like a "thunk" and the rosewood will be more like a "clink", as rosewood is more lively.
That's interesting Michael. I removed a Rosewood bridge from a once owned Mandolin because it sounded 'dead' .I fitted a Cumberland Acoustics Ebony bridge & the whole thing came to life. However,i'm not ruling out that the Rosewood bridge might have been poorly fitted. I fitted the CS bridge & made sure that it was as perfect as i could get it. Several months later,i swapped the ''new for the old'',purely for the sake of seeing (hearing) what would happen - it killed the Mandolin stone dead !. While not doubting what you say for a second,if Rosewood is more 'lively',why isn't it used more for bridges - or would we be talking 'overkill' here ?,
I guess all the work by Mr. Red Henry would indicate that the wood type of a bridge -- with is in the loop for transmitting the energy from the string to the top board -- would certainly influence the tone and projection of a mandolin or any other archtop.
But this question was about the wood of the fingerboard and that in turn is glued very securely to the neck so I am wondering if it would really impact the acoustic properties of the mandolin and I have doubts as to whether it would influence playability either.
I think its mostly an aesthetics issues as I noted previously but the point about the increased durability of ebony is a good one. I think we have all seen old guitars with rosewood fingerboards that are dug out between the frets so previous mention of this issue is certainly valid.
The only thing I would add is that on acoustic guitars, rosewood fretboards tend to sound a bit brighter than ebony, all else being equal. Same goes for the bridge.
I've always found that ebony, due to it's tight grain, felt what I call "moist," with redwood feeling "drier." One might then suppose that the choice of which to have would depend on each individual instrument, yet I've always insisted on ebony for all my stringed instruments. While the redwood does often give a sharper, drier, more immediate sound, I find that I can wring more tonal colors and nuance from ebony. I suspect that this is due to the feel of the woods, rather than any intrinsic tonal qualities. YMMV.
Ivan, I can't say much regarding your rosewood bridge without inspecting it, but wood can vary considerably. There can be several aspects that determine the difference between those bridges, like the quality of the woods, the difference in mass, the difference in the Young's modulus, the design, the fit, the size of adjusters, the way the string notches are shaped, etc.