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I own a new Ibanez SRF700 fretless bass guitar, which has a rosewood fingerboard. I have noticed some light scratching on the fingerboard where I’ve dug in harder than I should. I am working on developing a lighter touch so that I don’t damage the fingerboard further, and I’m already using flatwound strings (D’Addario Chromes are stock on this bass). What else should I do to care for the guitar neck, and what if anything should I do to repair the scratches that have already formed?

I think the damage so far is very minor – just a little scratching where I played some bends before I learned that you shouldn’t do that. I suspect that I could just polish it out, but I am totally clueless about fingerboard maintenance.

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  • Are you the first owner of this bass ? And have you always used flatwound strings ? Then it sounds very strange to me that you still have scratches. Dec 17, 2014 at 9:12
  • @jeroen_de_schutter Yes, it’s a new bass. Question updated. Dec 17, 2014 at 22:10

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Rosewood simply is a bit too soft to endure most bass strings, no matter how gentle you play. But different types of string cause very different amounts of abrasion:

  • Standard roundwound strings are worst, they'll eventually dig even into an ebony fingerboard. Use them only if you want the brightest sound possible, and are willing to take sacrifices.
  • Completely smooth strings like those normally used on bowed string instruments are great, they don't cause any notable wear at all1. You find them as tape-wound. Many people consider their sound not particularly exciting on fretless electric bass, but it's a matter of taste.
  • Half-wound strings OTOH, or sometimes even strings sold as "flatwound", even though they lack the thick bulges of roundwould strings, will often still have rather sharp "edges". They can thus leave marks on the fingerboard almost as quickly as roundwounds do, while sounding much duller. I therefore don't consider them very useful.
  • My personal favourite: hard-plastic coated, roundwound strings. They're softer than all-metal strings, but don't feel soft, nor slippery (though somehow still particularly "smooth"). They sound a bit less bright than plain roundwounds, but not nearly as dull as flatwound types.
  • There are a couple of exotic strings I haven't tried myself, though it might be worthwhile. For instance, nylon-flatwound, which I understand sound pretty great and cause no wear at all. Also there's weird stuff like massive-rubber, but that's only for piëzo pickups and won't sound like electric bass at all.

The difference between those string types is, I think, bigger than any difference your playing technique can make, so carefully choose your ideal strings!

The only other thing that can significantly protect your fingerboard is to give itself some hard coating. Good epoxy should help; I haven't tried it, but I can't imagine I would like the feel. Again there are more exotic options like stainless steel (mostly "popular" on fretless guitars), but I suppose that's hardly an option for you.

Regarding playing style – if you develop a "lighter touch" for the left hand then at any rate it can't hurt: it's always optimal to use only as much pressure as you really need, just a matter of efficiency.


1Violin through double-bass fingerboards still don't last forever, but the reasons are different – mostly, the wood is harmed by sweat from the fingers, starts "buckling" and thus needs to be re-straightened.

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  • Just did my first cleaning & string change, and it looks like there is no actual scratching from the strings, just some light tool marks that I presume are from cutting the fingerboard radius. Thanks for the tips to minimize wear! Dec 21, 2014 at 21:05
  • leftaroundabout, great advice. I am a bassist and own 4 varieties of fretless basses. If you tend to play hard a rosewood board will eventually show signs of wear even with flat wound strings. If it sounds good don't worry about light visible scratches. If the wear affects the tone over time (buzzes, unclear pitch) you will have to have the board dressed, that's sanding to remove all the ruts. Coating is a good option and another coating that works well is CrazyGlue painted on then sanded. Coating will make board last much longer even with roundwounds but it will sound noticeably brighter. Mar 26, 2020 at 18:03

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