Trade Secrets!

For ebony streaks, use black fingerboard stain


Issue 46 October 18, 2007

Did you think ebony was black?

Me too. But like any other wood, ebony has grain streaks. If you want the dark consistent black you associate with the word ebony, you’ll need to add fingerboard stain. Read on...

Streaked ebony

This is a nicely made ebony fingerboard, but it’s streaky.

It needs some Grecian Formula: break out the little bottle of black fingerboard stain that Gibson, PRS, and other builders use to get that deep ebony look.

Clean the wood with naphtha to remove contaminates that could prevent the stain from taking, then sand it to 600 grit for an extra smooth appearance (clean off the dust before staining).

Sanding the fingerboard

A glue brush makes a good applicator.

This stuff stains whatever it touches, so I covered my bench in brown paper to protect it from drips. Got your rubber gloves on?

Applying ebony stain

Remember the edges!

Remember the edges

Wipe off the excess and let the board dry overnight. In the morning, give it a final polish with some 0000 steel wool.

Polishing the fingerboard

Here’s a before and after.

Polishing the fingerboard
Polishing the fingerboard

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Another job for fingerboard stain:

This customer upgraded to a Benedetto tailpiece, and wanted it to match the look of his bridge.

Archtop tailpiece

I stained ’em both, so they’re a perfect match. This works well on peghead veneers, too.

Ebony stained tailpiece
Peghead vaneers

One more before-and-after:

This maple fingerboard was ruined by Hurricane Katrina. It's ebony black now, and it’s back in action. (I didn't need to mask off the inlays—the stain wiped right off the pearl.)

Maple fingerboard before
Maple fingerboard after

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