Why can't you stain rosewood fretboards?

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by jonnyblooz, Aug 2, 2021.

  1. jonnyblooz

    jonnyblooz TDPRI Member

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    I should know the answer to this, but some things puzzle me about this:

    I'm currently doing my first neck refinish for a build I'm doing. I bought a neck with a rosewood board for a vintage build. I hated the orange finish once it arrived, so I hand sanded all of the heavy lacquered finish to the bare maple, and mixed a stain that turned out great. I did stain the sides of the fretboard and the piece above the nut that joins the headstock face. I applied polyurethane to all of that which Fender does too. The fretboard is nice, but the stained sides are beautiful and I really wish I could carry that on to the fretboard.

    Here's what I "THINK" I know: You do NOT want to seal the rosewood board with poly, you need to leave the grain open to breathe. And I believe that staining without poly means that it would rub off, and likely the F1 oil I condition with would take it off as well. If this is all correct, 2 things bug me:

    1. People use India Ink to "ebonize" rosewood for a vintage look. Does that not rub off?
    2. My brother (RIP) had a beautiful Rickenbacher that had a rosewood board that had a thick gloss finish on the rosewood board from the factory. Why was that not an issue?

    Any input is appreciated. I know that when I start conditioning this new board it will get darker and richer, but I did want to explore my questions about stain and rosewood.
     
  2. giraffenc

    giraffenc TDPRI Member

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    With rosewood, you don't have to finish it, but it's possible to do as you point out with Rickenbacker. I do know that it takes some care to do because the oils in the wood can cause some finishes to not cure properly (or ever). I was researching refinishing a decorative rosewood piece, and I've settled on lacquer over dewaxed shellac (to seal the oils in) for it. I'm not as familiar with how Rickenbacker does it (I think at least the top coat is lacquer), but I think poly has the potential for issues if put over bare rosewood.
     
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  3. telepraise

    telepraise Tele-Afflicted

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    Rosewood is not going to take "stain" because the wood has a lot of natural oils in it already. Stain tends to reside on the surface and therefore wears off eventually.

    You can dye rosewood. Dye soaks into the wood and thus it will be a long time before you'll generate enough fingerboard wear to see the old rosewood tone. After a fresh sanding, I'd use a high concentration of Transtint or Trutone dye diluted in acetone to get the best absorption.

    This brings back memories of when I worked in a shop that had the contract (through Gibson in Kalamazoo) to do warranty work on Epiphones. Occasionally we'd get a cheap plywood Epi with the neck so bad we had to plane the fingerboard and refret to get it playable. The fingerboards were all black, but when planed, what was hiding under that black but low grade purple rosewood. Those guitars went out looking better than they came in.
     
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  4. Timbresmith1

    Timbresmith1 Tele-Holic

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    Stain the fingerboard. If the sides took the stain, the face might also. After staining/ dying, once dry, hit it with a coat of boiled linseed oil. Let that soak in for 5-10 minutes, then wipe the oil off. You may pull up some color, but lots will stay and the boiled linseed oil will cure and add some deep lustre.
     
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  5. Timbresmith1

    Timbresmith1 Tele-Holic

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    That Rik fingerboard was possibly Bubinga. You probably don’t want to get into coating the fingerboard with poly/lacquer. You have to take it off the fret tops/ sides. Usually done by leveling/crowning frets.
     
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  6. DougM

    DougM Poster Extraordinaire

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    A lot of guys on Squier Talk have used Kiwi shoe polish or minwax to make a IL or RW fretboard darker
     
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  7. EsquireOK

    EsquireOK Poster Extraordinaire

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    You can stain rosewood, you can dye rosewood, and you can finish it.

    Anything will come off, eventually, if you contact the board enough. Not a good enough reason not to do it.
     
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  8. Fendereedo

    Fendereedo Poster Extraordinaire

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    The only fret board wood I've had any issue darkening, is pau ferro. Staining products basically just wipes off, and is not porous at all ymmv.
     
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  9. oldunc

    oldunc Tele-Afflicted

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    For gluing or finishing oily woods, it can be helpful to wash with alcohol, which will remove a lot of the oils near the surface. Wood has no particular need to breathe.
     
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  10. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    I use acetone to clean rosewood before I glue/stain/finish. The trick is to clean the wood thoroughly and immediately proceed with the next steps. Let it sit overnight after cleaning and you can have adhesion issues because oils can migrate to the surface again.

    Rickenbacker has used rosewood fretboards for years. The clear finish they use is not lacquer; it's conversion varnish...but lacquer works fine too.
     
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  11. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    A "stain" is a liquid that is applied to wood to change its color. It soaks into the wood and can be applied to almost any variety of wood you can think of. Some woods need stains worse than others, some take stains better than others. Rosewood, being a dark redish brown color to start with is not going to change color much with stains - about all you can do is make it darker.

    I build guitars out of rosewood - all the different varieties. I rarely apply stains to them (I do to lots of other woods) but I always finish them. Finish is some sort of coating that sits on top of the wood, it protects it and often makes it shiny. I use lacquer for all my finishing - it looks really nice on rosewood.

    Rosewood is a traditional material for fretboards and bridges on acoustic guitars and many electrics. It is rarely finished because it really doesn't need it and frankly finished fretboards wear in ways that are hard to deal with. An unfinished rosewood fretboard is very easy to clean when you change strings (I like 0000 steel wool) and when dressing frets you really don't have to worry about damaging the board.

    I happen to think that finished maple fretboards are one of the worst ideas - I don't use them on guitars that I build and after doing a refret on a guitar with a finished board I've decided to let other have that hassle. I understand exactly why Fender uses them and if I only built new guitars for that market I might too.

    "Ebonizing" a fretboard is another thing that I think is silly. I use almost as many ebony boards as I do rosewood and I've come to really like the swirly grey grain in the modern boards. I also like to know that less ebony is being wasted.

    Last, and far from least, unfinished fretboards do not need "conditioning". They will dry out if the guitar is in an under humidified environment, but then so will the rest of the guitar. Yes it will get sharp fret ends - smearing lemon oil on the board won't prevent that. Oils and "conditioners" make the board look nice and dark and pretty but they also make refrets more difficult. They are like putting Armorall on the tires of your car - looks nice but doesn't do any good.

    So, yes you can stain rosewood and you can finish rosewood and most people don't do either.
     
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  12. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Like teak, rosewood is very oily. So it doesn't take stain very well. I have used both in building sailboats. hard to believe now, but I had a bunch of rosewood in a boat I built in 1980. Hand rails from 1.5 x 4 rough rosewood 8 feet long etc...... :eek:
     
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  13. tomasz

    tomasz Tele-Meister

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    Much has been said above, and just to sustain that:
    - yes, you can stain rosewood (it will not penetrate very deep though)
    - yes you can finish rosewood (think classical guitars)
    - no, it doesn't need to 'breath' any more than other woods
    - yes, its a good idea to wipe down the natural oils off with something like acetone before applying stain/finish or gluing rosewood

    Indian rosewood is also nearly twice as hard as rock maple (2,440 lbf (10,870 N) vs 1,450 lbf (6,450 N)), therefore it wears off less. Thanks to its darker colour (and the natural oils preventing penetration), it doesn't get dirty as maple. Dirty maple boards were the reason, Fender thought of applying rosewood in the first place, so that the guitars look good longer.

    I personally like not lacquered boards for playability, both rosewood and maple.
     
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  14. BerkshireDuncan

    BerkshireDuncan Tele-Meister

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    Ric coat their boards.
    Ricophiles no doubt love it- as they do with all their guitars' quirks.
    Another view is that it makes for a weird 'clammy' feel.
     
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  15. mkdaws32

    mkdaws32 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    I did a Squier neck with a rather dark stain. I wasn't going for ebony, but more of a traditional rosewood look. I don't know if the fretboard on this is Indian Laurel or Pau Ferro, but it was really light and I did not love it. I just used a MinWax oil-based stain. I conditioned it first with MixWax wood conditioner pre-stain treatment, which probably cleaned out the surface oils as @Peegoo suggested. Then I applied the stain with a sponge brush and wiped off after 5 minutes with a clean cloth (old t-shirt). I let it sit for a couple of days (low humidity environment) and bolted it on and strung it up. It was done about a year ago and looks great. It has no signs of wear and has not rubbed off on my hands. I don't know if I've conditioned the fretboard since, but it doesn't seem to need it yet.

    IMG_3485.jpg
     
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  16. decibel

    decibel Tele-Meister

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    I used a combination of water soluble dye and then India ink after that to turn a rosewood board a nice shade of black. Water didn't cause any issues. You just have to go light and dab it on. Follow that with India ink. Howard's Feed and Wax at the end.
     
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  17. jvin248

    jvin248 Doctor of Teleocity

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    If you are going down the path of 'ebonizing' any fretboard there is a whole series of treatment options that start with rusty nails in vinegar on up to india ink. I've tried them all. The best success you will have is with Minwax 'true black' or the next step down is Minwax 'ebony'. Clean the rosewood board well first and then apply. Expect a longer cure for any stain choice on any woods with 'natural oils'.

    .
     
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  18. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    Steel wool works waaaaay better ;) Much darker results.
     
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  19. jonnyblooz

    jonnyblooz TDPRI Member

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    A lot of great information here. Thank you for the responses. I've got time to stew on it. I definitely had no interest in putting any poly on it, just possibly extending the TransTint stain that I did the sides with. Likely I will just put the Feed & Wax on it and call it a day.
     
  20. Geo

    Geo Poster Extraordinaire

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    I've had best luck darkening with oil painting art refined linseed oil like the Windsor Newton brand.
    It is more gradual application wise but just one treatment is noticeable. The small 750 ml bottle
    can last decades.
     
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