How to Ebonize a Rosewood fretboard

Discussion in 'Luthiery, Modifications & Customizations' started by Metalworker, Jan 18, 2016.

  1. Metalworker

    Metalworker SS.org Regular

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    Thought I'd share my experience with dying fretboards black. Before I started I went online looking for the answers to some questions I had like I do with most projects. In this case the answers weren't clear, and so many different approaches with varying results that It just made me more unsure of how to go about it. So I thought I'd write something up for anyone looking to do this.

    This is not the only way to go about it, but I feel the results turned out professional looking and should stand the test of time. This is also nothing new, I'm not the first to do this, nor do I take any credit for it other than writing a short how-to summary of how I did it and how it turned out.

    My test subject is an older Ibanez SDGR bass that I bought used a couple years ago. It had a really light colored rosewood board that had been neglected by the previous owner and myself. I started with a can of ebony minwax stain which succeeded in making a darker nicer looking rosewood fretboard, but wasn't what I was after. I wanted to stormtrooper this thing out with a board that is black as vaders helmet. If you want a darker rosewood, I'd reccomend the minwax ebony, if you want black, skip the minwax and go straight to the india ink.

    In the first pic you can see what the board looked like after a few coats of minwax and can also see the bottle of india ink that I bought from a arts and crafts store near me. It is the same bottle that stewmac sells and it was around the same price stewmac sells it for.
    [​IMG]

    From there I followed stewmacs directions on wiping the board down with naptha. Then I took a foam brush and started smearing the india ink on the board. I didn't mask anything and wasn't really extra careful as I wanted to see how easy it was and if any issues would arise (and because I was lazy and impatient). Drips wiped off the finished surfaces pretty easily when its still wet (or with naptha when it starts to dry), and does not stick to frets or inlays. I doubt it would cause issues with bindings, but don't quote me on that. I let the ink set for about 5 minutes and wiped it off, then reapplied and let it set for about 15 minutes and wiped it off again.
    [​IMG]

    Then I buffed it by hand with a microfiber towel and some elbow grease until a uniform black and beautiful finish presented itself.
    [​IMG]

    I plan to let it sit overnight, then hit it with some Dunlap lemon oil and re-string it.

    I'm now thinking about doing this to my SG the next time it needs a string change, and will be blacking out the board of my RG8 when it arrives Wednesday. The little bottle of ink could do 50 boards easily.

    EDIT: THE SECOND GUITAR I DID THIS TO HAD A DIFFERENT FINISH ON THE BACK OF THE NECK AND IT WAS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO GET A DRIP OFF OF IT. TO ANYONE THAT TRIES THIS PLEASE BE CAREFUL NOT TO LET IT GET WHERE YOU DON'T WANT IT. YOU CAN EFF UP YOUR GUITAR WITH THIS STUFF SO AGAIN BE CAREFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HTH :shred:
     
  2. TGOD

    TGOD The Wiz

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    I've been dying to try this on my white 7421, but I've never been confident in my ability to stain without screwing up and getting the stain somewhere I don't want it or it shouldn't be.

    On top of that, I'm a little sketchy on the exact process one should go through to get the right results.

    This is making me want to try it again SUPER badly.
     
  3. mr coffee

    mr coffee SS.org Regular

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    Yeah, I've seen a lot of talk about folks using questionable products to do this. It's nice to see someone sharing good results obtained with a proper dye. I'm a big fan of Feibing's USMC Black leather dye, myself.

    -m
     
  4. mcleanab

    mcleanab Theta Sagan Swords

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    I have a Charvel with a rosewood fretboard... I would LOVE to do this! Thanks for sharing your experience!!!
     
  5. Edika

    Edika SS.org Regular

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    I tried the India ink but while I did a good prep work what I didn't do is use a foam brush and I didn't wipe of the excess ink of the frets and inlays. Believe me you don't want to let this ink dry otherwise it's really difficult to remove. I had to use steel wool to take it of the frets. I didn't try naptha but it doesn't respond to mineral spirits at all.
    This makes me more confident to try again and will do so soon enough.
     
  6. mcleanab

    mcleanab Theta Sagan Swords

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    So do you FEEL a difference in the wood under your fingers as you are playing or is it purely an awesome visual/cosmetic thing?
     
  7. StrmRidr

    StrmRidr Hide your Jacksons

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    Stewmac says to cover binding when using this stuff.

    I was looking at getting some for my SC-207 and this thread convinced me to give it a try.
     
  8. Edika

    Edika SS.org Regular

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    I'm interested to see how it holds up after the lemon oil application.
     
  9. HeHasTheJazzHands

    HeHasTheJazzHands greg rulz ok

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    When I did this, I went a step further and used naphta to dry out the fretboard before staining. I didn't just wash it with naphta, I SOAKED it. :lol:

    I dunno if I'd recommend this, because there's a GOOD chance it could damage the fretboard. I just did it on my cheap guitars. It came out good, though. Did around 2 - 4 coats while letting it dry an hour between each coat. I let it sit overnight to fully dry, then gave it a good soaking of lemon oil and it's still black.
     
  10. J_Mac

    J_Mac SS.org Regular

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    I ordered a bottle of Fiebings a while ago, just working up the balls to try it on my least favourite guitar, haha. Do you think the naphtha is necessary or can I just whack the dye on?
     
  11. aesthyrian

    aesthyrian SS.org Regular

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    I'm sure you can do it without naptha, but naptha is pretty cheap and easy to find that I would spend the $6, plus the results should be better than without. You'll use it often once you have it.
     
  12. ShadyDavey

    ShadyDavey 7ibrarian

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    India Ink? Nitrile Gloves? Some masking tape!? I have all that...

    What style of foam brush did you use? Something like a 1" foam Wooster?

    Extra inspirational post - cheers :)
     
  13. Harley-701

    Harley-701 New Member

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    Very interesting.
     
  14. Metalworker

    Metalworker SS.org Regular

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    Just did the fretboard on my brand new RG8 and it went from this
    [​IMG]

    To this
    [​IMG]

    A couple things... This guitar took about 4 coats to get it as dark as it is and still isn't as dark as the bass I did yesterday. My guess is the minwax that I had applied first on the bass helped with the overall finish maybe... When you look at the guitar the fingerboard looks black but when you look close its a really dark brown. Still better than the original finish imo, and another coat or two and I'm sure it would be there, Ill wait for the next string change though. I was too excited to string it up and play with it:metal:

    I had a drip go down the back of the neck on this one and it was a real pain to get off! There's still a slight hint of it and it seems to be permanent so I stress to anyone that tries this to BE CAREFUL! YOU CAN EFF UP YOUR GUITAR WITH THIS STUFF. That being said, I'm not sure I'd recommend taping because if it got under the tape, by the time you pulled it off and realized it it would likely be too late. (I'm going to edit my original post to include this)

    I certainly would not recommend leaving it overnight as stewmac suggests either unless it is an unglued fretboard without frets installed. Once it looks like its drying wipe it off really good, I mean really scrub the hell out of it and buff the finish, that is when you can see the true color of it. If you want darker repeat the process.

    Lemon oil works great with it and gives a really nice sheen to it.

    Good luck to all that decide to give it a try, post up your results so we can check it out. I'm really glad that so many have taken interest in this, being new here I feel like maybe I contributed something... But if you eff up your pride and joy, don't blame me lol.:nono:
     
  15. Metalworker

    Metalworker SS.org Regular

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    Just visual/cosmetic. If you feel the wood when you play, you're pressing too hard :)
     
  16. Metalworker

    Metalworker SS.org Regular

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    Held up great and the lemon oil looks really nice on it.
     
  17. Metalworker

    Metalworker SS.org Regular

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    Yea just a cheap $0.50 1" foam stain brush from home depot. Again be careful with tape, if the ink gets under it and dries before you realize it, it could turn into a bad evening.
     
  18. HeHasTheJazzHands

    HeHasTheJazzHands greg rulz ok

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    You can also use lighter fluid. Buy a bottle of it for cheap.
     
  19. Edika

    Edika SS.org Regular

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    Concerning the first point yes if there's a drip wipe and clean ASAP. If it dries it's not easy to take off either from the poly finish or the frets and binding. You can also forget it will be off the inlays either.

    I did some silly mistakes first time around but I have thought about what I did wrong and some of the tips here will help. I didn't think of buffing it when it seems it's drying. I ended up with what looked like a painted fretboard with too much paint on. When I tried to buff it with steel wool to make it more uniform it would come off at some parts quicker than other parts which showed a non uniform absorption. However the way the fretboard looked all black really made me want to try again.

    HeHasTheJazzHands might have something with the naptha drying as it would make the wood more absorbent to the dye. Or mess up the fretboard lol!
     
  20. HeHasTheJazzHands

    HeHasTheJazzHands greg rulz ok

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    ^That's why I did it. It would dry out the fretboard and make it more susceptible to the dye so it penetrates deeper. I mean, it DOES make sense on paper. :lol:
     

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