Gaboon Ebony

Ed Roman highly recommends ebony fretboards. Ebony is the absolute premium wood for fingerboards. Many companies are not using ebony because it is expensive and harder to work with. If a guitar manufacturer won't do ebony it's usually because they are concerned more with cost cutting than with actual quality.

A very dense, very hard wood with straight to slightly interlocked grain. Very fine textured. Gaboon ebony is believed to be the blackest wood that grows. Weight is about 63-64 lbs. per cu. ft.
MECHANICAL PROPERTIES - This very dense timber has a good steam bending classification and very high bending and crushing strength, with high stiffness and resistance to shock loads. Ebony is so strong it has been known to save a neck from breaking.

WORKING PROPERTIES - This is a very hard wood to work with hand or power tools,  Pre-boring is necessary for nailing and screwing Takes glue well, and it can be polished to an excellent finish.

SEASONING - Billets dry fairly rapidly and well with little degradation. Small movement in service.

OTHER USES - Tool, cutlery and knife handles, door knobs, butt ends of billiard cues, piano and organ keys, violin and guitar finger boards, other musical instrument pieces, turning, fancy articles and inlay.

COMMENTS - Sometimes incorrectly referred to as Macassar Ebony  (a different botanical family).


Most of the Big Corporate Guitar companies don't use ebony fingerboards anymore.  I find it unbelievable that a PRS will not come with an ebony fretboard.

The cost of ebony can be very expensive compared to rosewood which is cheaper than dirt and will suffice in most cases where the customers are not informed.



Large Corporately Owned Companies Don't Use Ebony Fingerboards.

1.   Price Prohibitive.  Good Quality Jet Black Gaboon Ebony like Ed Roman uses costs upwards of 25 to 30 times more than Rosewood.

2.   Hard To Work With. It has a severe blunting effect on cutters.  In leveling out the board a reduced angle of at least 20 degrees is absolutely required. Also it requires an increase in shoe & pressure bars to prevent wood from riding or chattering on the cutters.

3. Limited Shelf Life.  Ebony is highly resistant to any preservative treatment. 

4. Damages Easily (Only During Construction.)  I have to be careful how I write this one. Someone could read it and miss the point entirely. Ebony is easily damaged during construction but once the guitar is built Ebony is far Stronger, Stiffer & Much More Stable.

Even though almost any type of Ebony is 10 times stronger than any type of Rosewood and helps stabilize and strengthen the neck it will crack under the pressure of the new automatic fretting machines which slam all of the frets down hard into the fingerboard. This means that Ebony fingerboards should be fretted by hand and therefore require hours of labor that the major companies do not want to pay for.

An interesting note. I am writing this 12/17/05 at 11.00 PM PST.  About 3 hours ago myself and my shop foreman went out to see Robert Schimmel at the Monte Carlo.  I mentioned to him that I was writing an article about Rosewood versus Ebony. I asked him if he had anything to contribute. He mentioned a couple of minor points and then he said something to me that really hit home.  He told me that Brian, one of our inlay artists, was working on a neck earlier today and he had an accident with the dremel. He had ruined a fingerboard, not just any fingerboard. This fingerboard was one that we were doing a winged serpent $3,000.00 inlay to.  To make a long sad story short, The fingerboard was kaput and the inlay job was almost done. This was going to cost me about $1,200.00 out of pocket. We could salvage all the cut pieces of Abalone, MOP, Recon Stone & Sterling Silver, but all the labor was out the window.  Ouch !!! 

I had a brief moment of clarity as I realized if we had been doing this job on a Rosewood board the whole job could have been salvaged for about $50.00 in labor. I had another brief moment of clarity as the realization set in that this had never happened to me before. I briefly sympathized with the bean counters for about 3 seconds.  Don't worry I'm still not switching to Rosewood !!!

5. Planned Obsolescence.  I might be reaching a little here: Theoretically you could wear out a rosewood fingerboard, thus needing a replacement fingerboard and new fret job. Or maybe just go out and buy another guitar.  Ebony is so much stronger than Rosewood that it might actually prevent you from breaking your neck if you should drop the guitar.  Planned obsolescence has always been a real concern of any major corporation. No one likes to talk about it but let's face it. If they built it too well, people would keep them forever, and never need to buy a new one.   Ebony has less movement during use than Rosewood so it will also prevent a lot of neck warping.  Corporate Business 101 reads like the Ferengi rules of acquisition.

6. Inlay Work Cost.   Remember the bean counters at these large corporations watch everything like a hawk.  Being more brittle than Rosewood, Ebony requires a much more skilled person to do inlay work than rosewood.  (More Skilled Usually Transfers into Higher Paid)  


Benefits Of Using Ebony

1. Ebony is much harder and polishes up beautifully so that the neck feels smooth and slick.  It's much harder and therefore you can get a better percussive tone when doing two hand tapping and hammer on's or playing without a pick.

2. Ebony reduces finger fatigue.  If you play for hours your fingers will appreciate the smoothness. It's barely noticeable but the smoothness makes it so that you can play longer without getting sore fingers. 

3. Cosmetically Beautiful,  The Jet Black Ebony contrasts nicely with the binding and/or inlay material, also it effectively hides any filler for a much cleaner look.

4. Ebony is much stronger and much more stable. It helps keep your neck straighter and also protects it from breaking.


Why won't PRS use Ebony Fingerboards on their guitars?

It really rankles me that PRS refuses to offer Ebony fingerboards. I mean what's the deal, I thought PRS was supposed to be a Premium High End Guitar?   Well Excuuuse Meeee!!!  Ok there is a reason and here it is:

Since most people don't know, I must first state the fact that PRS is an entirely machine made guitar.

 "PRS Guitars Are Entirely Machine Made" 

got that... are you sure?

Ed Roman's Theory of Ebontivity...

Ok, because when the next time you are in a Sam Ash Store or most Guitar Center, the 17 year old commissioned  sales boy automaton will more than likely tell you it is entirely hand made with violins playing in the background.

That's BS to the tenth power!!! He's not lying, he's just ignorant. Ok, enough bashing of ignorant salespeople and on with the show.

I want to say I personally know several extremely knowledgeable people who work at Guitar Center & Sam Ash. Sadly for the consumer these people are not the ones usually in the guitar department. There are of course exceptions !!!!

If you use an automated fret installation system that rams the frets down into the fingerboard there is a very good chance you will split the ebony. In fact I have seen it done at the old PBC Guitar shop in Pennsylvania when they were Ghost Building all of the Ibanez USA guitars back in the mid 90's.

Consequently, I don't think that

PRS will be doing any Ebony fretboards now or in the future. They are concentrating more on automation than on hand building.

When I took the tour of the Jackson factory, I saw a custom made machine for pressing the frets in, but they were hand installing each one when I was there. They have semi automated it and therefore they have achieved an intelligent balance between hand made and robotic made.

All of the small builders are installing and hand fitting frets one at a time. This process makes it very easy to do Ebony fingerboards, This gives the hand builder the definite edge.

Ebony is a great wood for fingerboard. It costs about 20 times as much as Rosewood but on many guitars I like it better. There are exceptions however .

Ebony on a Les Paul style guitar is not the preferred fingerboard. The guitar just does not sound like a Les Paul when there is an Ebony fingerboard. Zack Wylde, Peter Frampton, & Ace Frehley to name a few use Ebony fretboards on Les Paul's but their sound is not the true Les Paul sound.
None of them use stock pickups and I don't believe the guitars are even made by Gibson, I would bet money they are all Ghostbuilt by third party boutique builders.

Ebony sounds great on a guitar with a long neck, it's more percussive, as long as you don't have a real hard wood body like solid Maple or solid Bubinga it makes for a great tonal combination.

Good tone is derived from combining different woods.

We hang up fingerboards, & body woods and tap them for resonance and pitch. Most small hand builders will at least attempt to marry the different woods together sometimes in thirds, fifths or in unison pitch. I am sure Paul Reed Smith was doing that in the first 2 to 3 years they were building their guitars. I am positive they are not doing it today.


Below is an old article I wrote back in 2001


Quicksilver with Ebony Fretboard and Dragon Inlay
Send us your guitar, We can do any Inlay that you like.

Quicksilver with Ebony Fretboard and Lightning Bolt Inlays

Early 1985 super low serial number PRS with Rosewood Fretboard & Dragon Inlay


Almost none of the large guitar companies are using Ebony anymore. At Ed Roman Guitars we are still offering it on all of our guitars. Many companies simply don't want to spend the money for Ebony and because the guitars are made on huge CNC machines that tend to bash all the frets in at once will cause that  expensive piece of ebony to break and therefore ruin the neck. 
Ebony is without a doubt the absolute best wood to use as a fingerboard. Anyone who argues that with me is probably concerned about price.

Ebony, one the heaviest of the hardwoods, is very dense, machines well, and resists warping. Ebony is a popular wood for fingerboards due to its stability and strength. It holds frets extremely well and has a striking appearance.  It will also add great strength & stability to your neck.  Here at Ed's custom shop we like to use it as a headstock veneer to help prevent broken necks.

Maple neck with Ebony veneer gives a "bright" sound and is a very "fast" neck (some people find it "slick" feeling).

The hardest and heaviest; adds snap and clarity to the sound. Crisp attack and open (as opposed to warm) tone. Ideal for players who do a lot of hammer ons and two handed tapping. (as fingerboard material)