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Johnnyboy
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[*] posted on 1-27-2019 at 01:59 PM
Fingerboard containing grooves over time


Hello fellow oud players,

I have been struggling with a problem for a long time now and I don't know how to permanently solve this.

I have a Shehate oud with an ebony fingeboard. The problem is that after a few months of playing, the fingeboard would wear out and contain grooves right beneath where I press the strings against the wood. This causes some nasty buzzing sounds when playing those particular notes.

This has happened several times by now and every time I'd have to go to Egypt to sandpaper the fingeboard to even out the grooves. This indeed fixes the buzzing.

I was wondering if there is a permanent fix for this problem instead of sandpapering it every once in a while, since I'd have to go every time to Egypt and I don't dare to try this out myself on my Shehate oud.
I am particularly surprised that even ebony wood can wear out over time. Is this normal for ebony wood?

Looking forward to hearing from you guys about this.
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majnuunNavid
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[*] posted on 1-27-2019 at 10:56 PM


I understand this is a big pain. I've has similar frustrations..

Unfortunately, not all ebony is created equal. It can be ebony, but one ebony might be denser than another cut of ebony is my guess.

It may also depend on the way the ebony was cut and sanded. Two of my Ouds have ebony fingerboards but one is clearly superior to the other. I don't know if it's the wood or the way it was cut and sanded or both. Indeed, some luthiers build faster and have shortcuts which cause subtle differences in the wood.

The result is that one of my Ouds has been more prone to grooves or buzziness than the other. When I look at both fingerboards close up, one has more natural imperfections than the other. One of them has thin, long natural dips or pores, not sure what to call them. But when a string is right above one of these, the natural wear and tear is faster. Generally, it's not a problem.

I'm uneducated in these things, but I speculate it's something to do with that.

By the way, you shouldn't have to go to Egypt to get a simple sanding. Any decent violin repair shop should be able to do it with basic explanation of what you need. I've done the same in Canada.




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Elbelga
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[*] posted on 1-28-2019 at 11:58 AM


Quote: Originally posted by majnuunNavid  
I understand this is a big pain. I've has similar frustrations..

Unfortunately, not all ebony is created equal. It can be ebony, but one ebony might be denser than another cut of ebony is my guess.

It may also depend on the way the ebony was cut and sanded. Two of my Ouds have ebony fingerboards but one is clearly superior to the other. I don't know if it's the wood or the way it was cut and sanded or both. Indeed, some luthiers build faster and have shortcuts which cause subtle differences in the wood.

The result is that one of my Ouds has been more prone to grooves or buzziness than the other. When I look at both fingerboards close up, one has more natural imperfections than the other. One of them has thin, long natural dips or pores, not sure what to call them. But when a string is right above one of these, the natural wear and tear is faster. Generally, it's not a problem.

Sorry for my English.
I have two ouds with ebony fingerboard: one from Dimitris Rapakousios and another from Rabih Haddad. Every winter (more humidity) I need to sand gently my Dimitris oud fingerboard because the oud buzz (specially Mi and Fa). However, I never sand the Haddad thin ebony fingerboard because he don´t buzz. Maybe the quality of the wood is decisive?
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Elbelga
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[*] posted on 1-28-2019 at 12:02 PM


Sorry for my English.
I have two ouds with ebony fingerboard: one from Dimitris Rapakousios and another from Rabih Haddad. Every winter (more humidity) I need to sand gently my Dimitris oud fingerboard because the oud buzz (specially Mi and Fa). However, I never sand the Haddad thin ebony fingerboard because he don´t buzz. Maybe the quality of the wood is decisive?
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Johnnyboy
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[*] posted on 1-29-2019 at 02:14 PM


Quote: Originally posted by majnuunNavid  
I understand this is a big pain. I've has similar frustrations..

Unfortunately, not all ebony is created equal. It can be ebony, but one ebony might be denser than another cut of ebony is my guess.

It may also depend on the way the ebony was cut and sanded. Two of my Ouds have ebony fingerboards but one is clearly superior to the other. I don't know if it's the wood or the way it was cut and sanded or both. Indeed, some luthiers build faster and have shortcuts which cause subtle differences in the wood.

The result is that one of my Ouds has been more prone to grooves or buzziness than the other. When I look at both fingerboards close up, one has more natural imperfections than the other. One of them has thin, long natural dips or pores, not sure what to call them. But when a string is right above one of these, the natural wear and tear is faster. Generally, it's not a problem.

I'm uneducated in these things, but I speculate it's something to do with that.

By the way, you shouldn't have to go to Egypt to get a simple sanding. Any decent violin repair shop should be able to do it with basic explanation of what you need. I've done the same in Canada.


Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this. My fingerboard was previously actually Palissandar wood and because of wearing, an ebony layer is placed on top of it.
I guess that a thin layer of ebony wood would be more prone to wearing compared to a fingerboard that is completely made of ebony since there is a "softer" wood beneath it, right?

Regarding going to a violin repair shop, I take it that violinists have the exact same problem with the ebony fingerboard on violins?
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bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 2-6-2019 at 11:42 PM


Johnnyboy, you don't have to go to Egypt just to have this issue fixed! :))

To answer your question about violin needing a fingerboard dressing, the answer is absolutely yes... and violas, and cellos, and basses. This is usually something I address during setups. I advise most professional musicians to have a good checkup and setup done on their instruments at least every 6 months. Kind of like going to the dentist to catch a cavity before it turns into a root canal!

Ebony is ebony, and it should be very consistent piece to piece in terms of hardness. It's a very good material for the fingerboard for that reason. Also, there are no shortcuts a luthier can take which would make an ebony fingerboard wear faster than another. If you want to reduce "grooves" then know these few things about how they occur over time.

Playing style (intensity of downward pressure exerted)
Amount of playing
Oxidization on strings
Fingernails on the left hand

My strong advice is change the strings when they become very corroded and oxidized. Rapid etching occurs chemically with the corrosion on the string when it comes into contact with the fingerboard. Just think about this: When you do a vibrato on lets say the 4th string, 3rd finger position (a place that receives heavy wear due to frequent traffic). the motion of performing a vibrato pulls the string back and forth with your finger as you vibrate the string. Oxidization (iron oxide) is like a metal that begins growing on the wound strings. This physical change to the string combined with horizontal motion, plus the heavy downward pressure actually removes minute amounts of material. Of course its not a lot each time, but if you play a lot, and there's a lot of corrosion on the string, over time etches the wood underneath where the string contacts the fingerboard. It should be noted, you can get wear without any corrosion, even with newer strings. But from experience, most of the wear happens when strings are not new. If you look carefully in the light into the depressions made from wear, you'll notice a filmy deposit in the depressions that is a very similar make up of the corrosion from the string. It can be also soot, or a combination of the two.

Good idea to keep the strings clean, wipe fingertips before playing.. especially if they are sweaty and clammy. Keep a cloth with the instrument, and wipe the strings down after playing.. they will last longer, and not corrode so fast. Everyone has different acidity, and some people just tend to perspire more than others. This is something I see on a daily basis with their instruments. There can be a connection with excessive caffeine intake and rapid string corrosion.. but so many other factors to mention here.

Dressing or "leveling" the fingerboard to correct wear is not so much of a simple thing. Be careful who you take your instrument to. This operation has the ability to change the angle of the neck. They will need to uniformly remove material across the fingerboard until the low spots at gone. The nut might have to be lowered as well. If material is sanded or planed only where the wear is, the fingerboard will go out of flat, and have hills where you done want them causing buzzing in other areas.




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Johnnyboy
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[*] posted on 2-7-2019 at 02:44 PM


Quote: Originally posted by bulerias1981  
Johnnyboy, you don't have to go to Egypt just to have this issue fixed! :))

To answer your question about violin needing a fingerboard dressing, the answer is absolutely yes... and violas, and cellos, and basses. This is usually something I address during setups. I advise most professional musicians to have a good checkup and setup done on their instruments at least every 6 months. Kind of like going to the dentist to catch a cavity before it turns into a root canal!

Ebony is ebony, and it should be very consistent piece to piece in terms of hardness. It's a very good material for the fingerboard for that reason. Also, there are no shortcuts a luthier can take which would make an ebony fingerboard wear faster than another. If you want to reduce "grooves" then know these few things about how they occur over time.

Playing style (intensity of downward pressure exerted)
Amount of playing
Oxidization on strings
Fingernails on the left hand

My strong advice is change the strings when they become very corroded and oxidized. Rapid etching occurs chemically with the corrosion on the string when it comes into contact with the fingerboard. Just think about this: When you do a vibrato on lets say the 4th string, 3rd finger position (a place that receives heavy wear due to frequent traffic). the motion of performing a vibrato pulls the string back and forth with your finger as you vibrate the string. Oxidization (iron oxide) is like a metal that begins growing on the wound strings. This physical change to the string combined with horizontal motion, plus the heavy downward pressure actually removes minute amounts of material. Of course its not a lot each time, but if you play a lot, and there's a lot of corrosion on the string, over time etches the wood underneath where the string contacts the fingerboard. It should be noted, you can get wear without any corrosion, even with newer strings. But from experience, most of the wear happens when strings are not new. If you look carefully in the light into the depressions made from wear, you'll notice a filmy deposit in the depressions that is a very similar make up of the corrosion from the string. It can be also soot, or a combination of the two.

Good idea to keep the strings clean, wipe fingertips before playing.. especially if they are sweaty and clammy. Keep a cloth with the instrument, and wipe the strings down after playing.. they will last longer, and not corrode so fast. Everyone has different acidity, and some people just tend to perspire more than others. This is something I see on a daily basis with their instruments. There can be a connection with excessive caffeine intake and rapid string corrosion.. but so many other factors to mention here.

Dressing or "leveling" the fingerboard to correct wear is not so much of a simple thing. Be careful who you take your instrument to. This operation has the ability to change the angle of the neck. They will need to uniformly remove material across the fingerboard until the low spots at gone. The nut might have to be lowered as well. If material is sanded or planed only where the wear is, the fingerboard will go out of flat, and have hills where you done want them causing buzzing in other areas.


Thank you so much for the advices bulerias! I indeed wash and dry my fingers before I play and wipe the strings with a cloth right after I play. I did not know that oxidized strings wears the fingerboard faster and that could be a factor since I don't very often renew the strings.

I have two more questions if you don't mind:

1. Regarding the oxidization of the strings, does this mean that the oxidized parts of the string are actually harder/sharper than the non-oxides parts and thus digs more easily into wood?

2. I have always wondered about the position of the finger-pressed notes after sandpapering the fingerboard. I understand that when making the fingerboard thinner, the action of the strings would be higher (e.g. the distance between the strings and the fingerboard increases). This larger distance leads to a higher tension of the string when pressed against the fingerboard, and thus the corresponding note would have a higher pitch when pressed at the same spot as before sandpapering, correct? Which means that the pitches of the pressed notes before sandpapering are shifted more towards the neck of the ud. Is this reasoning correct?
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Brian Prunka
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[*] posted on 2-7-2019 at 05:36 PM


I don't think it's possible for iron oxide to form on the strings, since they do not contain iron.
Most likely it is a form of copper oxide, or possibly silver oxide in the case of silver-plated strings, or a mixture of the two.
Interestingly, copper oxide seems to be used as a wood preservative, but I couldn't find any information about it causing damage or weakness to wood.

I don't think the corrosion is really a relevant factor, but definitely the hardness of the fingerboard matters and having short fingernails helps slow down wear.

Many players press far too hard on the strings as well, if you train yourself to use only the force necessary, not only will you spare your fingerboard, you will improve your facility on the instrument.




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bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 2-7-2019 at 10:38 PM


Johnnyboy,

To answer your question, I do believe the oxidized area of the string has a slightly more abrasive surface than a new string.


Brian,

I spend many hours of my life dressing fingerboards with wear. The ouds with the worst wear have the most oxidized strings, always. You can't find any information about oxidization causing damage to wood (I didn't say weakness) is because it doesn't exist in any other application. You're hearing it from me now. I'm saying oxidization plus the contact, plus vibrato wears the wood more rapidly.




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Brian Prunka
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[*] posted on 2-8-2019 at 10:10 AM


Quote: Originally posted by bulerias1981  


I spend many hours of my life dressing fingerboards with wear. The ouds with the worst wear have the most oxidized strings, always. You can't find any information about oxidization causing damage to wood (I didn't say weakness) is because it doesn't exist in any other application. You're hearing it from me now. I'm saying oxidization plus the contact, plus vibrato wears the wood more rapidly.


Correlation ≠ causation. This is basic science.

There are many reasons for a fingerboard to have wear and there are many reasons for strings to be oxidized. Statistically, it is more likely that both are caused independently or by a third cause than that oxidation causes wear.

Ask yourself why did you conclude that oxidation causes wear, rather than that wear causes oxidation? If your data is that the ouds with the most worn fingerboards have the most oxidized strings, then it is an equally plausible conclusion that the wear is causing the string damage.

Of course, that seems unlikely because there's no reason to think it could work that way. But to use the absence of evidence that fingerboard wear causes oxidation to conclude that the converse must be true (that oxidation causes wear) is simply a logical mistake.

This doesn't even get into the fact that you have an inadequate sample set, since the ouds that you see are brought in for reasons and by specific people. We have no reason to think that your clients are a random sampling of all ouds, and plenty of reasons to suspect the contrary.

Here is a short list of some possibilities/facts that would need to be sorted out before you could plausibly come to this conclusion:

• people with oxidized strings with no fingerboard wear are simply not coming to see you for repairs, thereby biasing your sample data
• people don't come to see you every time they change their strings, so whether the strings are oxidized when the oud is brought in is not at all indicative of the condition of the strings generally, or the condition of the strings at the time the fingerboard damage was caused
• both wear and oxidation are influence by how much someone actually plays the instrument, so more oxidation and more wear could simply be caused by the external third factor of playing time
• oxidation is also impacted by the composition of someones sweat and oil composition, and how reactive it is. It's possible that the same sweat/oil reactivity also damages or weakens the wood (making it more susceptible to damage). Again this would be a third factor causing both, not the oxidization causing the wear
• wear on the strings speeds oxidization, and heavy finger pressure or long nails can accelerate the wear on the strings. Heavy finger pressure obviously could also increase wear on the fingerboard
• you would need some kind of testable hypothesis regarding a physical or chemical process by which worn strings could be causing more damage (microscopic abrasiveness? chemical reaction weakening the wood cell structure, reducing hardness? magic?)

etc.

I'll note here that I should embrace your theory, since it would help me sell more strings! I don't think there's anything wrong with saying "better safe than sorry" if someone is concerned about wear, because your hypothesis is not impossible. It's just that you don't actually know and it needs more exploration.







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[*] posted on 2-8-2019 at 03:54 PM


Hey Brian,

Thanks for the "Many players press far too hard on the strings as well, if you train yourself to use only the force necessary, not only will you spare your fingerboard, you will improve your facility on the instrument." comment. I've been playing since 1972, and I've heard this sentiment expressed many different ways, by many excellent players. Thanks for repeating it, because this time it stuck !! (Duh).

Regards - PaulO
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[*] posted on 2-8-2019 at 04:54 PM


Brian, I'm not here to nerd out, I'm here to share what I learned. My theory is correct and I'm too busy to try to prove it scientifically to satisfy this panel!

Leave on heavily corroded string and you'll be dressing your fingerboard more. That's a fact. I also benefit if my advice isn't taken.




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[*] posted on 2-9-2019 at 10:29 AM


Quote: Originally posted by bulerias1981  
Brian, I'm not here to nerd out, I'm here to share what I learned. My theory is correct and I'm too busy to try to prove it scientifically to satisfy this panel!

Leave on heavily corroded string and you'll be dressing your fingerboard more. That's a fact. I also benefit if my advice isn't taken.


I'm not suggestion people keep their oxidized strings on the oud, I'm just point out that your opinion is still an opinion—even if it's an expert opinion.

Just tell people that it would be prudent to follow your advice since your idea may be correct, there is little downside to doing so, and a relatively large potential benefit. This just the precautionary principle and makes perfect sense. No need to claim that it's proven when it isn't.

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[*] posted on 2-9-2019 at 12:16 PM


All your points are well-taken Guys. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
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