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Thread: Substitutes for ebony?

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    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Substitutes for ebony?

    Interesting article out of The Strad about the search for alternatives to the tropical hardwoods used for fingerboards and fittings on stringed instruments.

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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    Interesting article. I wonder if we have any manufacturers using densified wood? This is the first I've heard that term. At least I'll know what it is when somebody starts using it, sounds like it will be soon.
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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    If only musicians would accept wood that was not black there are plenty of woods that can be substituted for Ebony. You don't need to go to all the trouble of developing some sort of resin impregnated material that is stained black. The insistence on black is one reason why Ebony is in trouble. My country has vast areas of Acacia and Eucalyptus bushland with woods such as Gidgee, Lancewood, Mulga, Ironwood, Brigalow, etc (all are Acacias and have hard very dense wood, dark brown). Most are harder than Ebony so make great fingerboards that will last longer than Ebony. Problem is the wood is not black so there is little market and much of it gets bulldozed and burned by farmers. Gidgee is one of the hardest woods in the world and I have used it for fingerboards and tuning knobs, no problems.
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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    There are loads of alternatives to ebony. Lighter colored woods can be dyed. Most of today's ebony is not perfectly black anyway, and many factories dye it as a matter of course.

    There is evidence that Stradivari used maple for at least some of his fingerboards. There is a photo in Hill's biography of Strad that shows a pattern for a fingerboard with a nice ornamental line inlay.

    Browse around in the banjo world. They've been looking for ebony alternatives for years, and they are experimenting with woods such as ipe, persimmon, osage orange, et al.

    Gibson and Martin have been using rosewood for fingerboards for the better part of a century. Ideally, though, we would prefer something denser and harder than rosewood, and all rosewood is now CITES regulated.

    If acacia is dense enough and is dark brown, it sounds like an ideal wood to me, probably better than rosewood. There's no reason to dislike dark brown.

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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    Was at Oak Island in N.C. a few weeks ago, and the house next to us was installing Brazilian Walnut decking. It’s suppoesedly the second most dense wood in North an South America, per the construction guys...I’ll admit to not even a google search yet on the subject. But, I snagged a scrap piece, and it seems more dense and definitely heavier than red oak. The weight and availability, as well as the workability are probably issues (dudes were running through some saw blades). Sorry for the ramble, but, yes, there are lots of alternatives. The barrier islands of NC are in hurricane alley; can’t believe someone is going to that expense when the likelihood of it being leveled in a good storm is so high, but the wood geek in me enjoyed the touch/smell experience...
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    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    Peter, I looked up some of the woods you mention, and they are gorgeous. Most finish into a beautiful dark, reddish brown. I wouldn't turn up my nose at a fingerboard out of any of them.

    rcc56, maple violin fingerboards were standard in the baroque era, and newly made violin family instruments with a baroque set-up will usually have maple fingerboards, beautifully decorated with black (ebony?) purfling.

    CES, what is the densest wood in the Americas?

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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    Peter, I looked up some of the woods you mention, and they are gorgeous.
    Yes they are gorgeous. Gidgee can be highly figured, and all of them can be finished to a high shine just like ebony, actually better than Ebony because they don't have pores. I like Lancewood. Beautiful reddish brown colour, and very similar to Ebony in terms of workability. Gidgee can be brittle, especially the highly figured wood which is not ideal for a fingerboard. The straight grained Gidgee is fine and is not likely to ever wear out.
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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    I would have no problem with a nice figured, brown colored fingerboard over ebony.
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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    Quote Originally Posted by peter.coombe View Post
    Yes they are gorgeous. Gidgee can be highly figured, and all of them can be finished to a high shine just like ebony, actually better than Ebony because they don't have pores. I like Lancewood. Beautiful reddish brown colour, and very similar to Ebony in terms of workability. Gidgee can be brittle, especially the highly figured wood which is not ideal for a fingerboard. The straight grained Gidgee is fine and is not likely to ever wear out.
    I wonder how hard and expensive it is to get these woods in the states.
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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    I would love Ironwood on an instrument. It's also an Excellent wood for wind instruments. All I have seen has ended up as a lovely milk chocolate color. Hearing about all those trees just being destroyed and wasted makes me sad.

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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    This is what Fender now uses on a lot of it's instruments. Not sure why they can't find something domestically sourced since the American South has the greatest diversity of non-tropical hardwoods in the world.
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    Default Re: Substitutes for ebony?

    the American South has the greatest diversity of non-tropical hardwoods in the world.
    Nope. My country has far more species of non tropical hardwood trees than any other country in the world. Around 500 species of Eucalyptus, and about 1000 species of Acacias, and that is just a start. Some you could maybe class as tropical, but most are not.
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