Fingerboard thickness and the effects on tone

April 8, 2018, 12:28 PM · I have an older violin that has a fingerboard that has been dressed down a fair amount in the past. My contemporary violin
has a thicker fingerboard, I would say standard thickness. My question is, would the tone and volume be effected on a violin with a thinner finger board if it was replaced? This is a fairly bright violin and I am hoping to get feedback from people who have had this procedure done, hopefully without too much technical information on measurements, etc. I am mainly concerned with sound and playing aspects of a slightly thicker board.

Replies (10)

Edited: April 8, 2018, 1:14 PM · You don't want to get a standard-thickness fingerboard altered. If you're used to a slightly lower action, you should work with your luthier to deal with that -- changing the nut and the bridge, probably. Set-up subtly changes the sound, but at least that's reversible if you don't like the results.
April 8, 2018, 2:49 PM · Two experiences:
- On my violin, a new, thicker (and longer) fingerboard calmed the G-string wolf; I can't say much about tonal balance, as other repairs were done at the same time;
- On my viola, a knock unstuck the fingerboard; I bound it loosely in place with stick tape: the tone became softer and sweeter.

I think the parameters are stiffness and weight, both in the glued portion and in the overhang portion.

April 8, 2018, 2:55 PM · Replacing the fingerboard does change the tone. How will it change the tone? Can't say. I've replaced hundreds of them and although they sound different, it isn't a better/worse situation.

I don't suggest replacing a board unless the board is so thin that the neck is starting to flex, or when one plays in the higher positions the board is flexing enough that you can not play in tune reliably.

"Standard" thickness is around 5mm+/- at the edge. If you are used to playing old instruments that have not seen restoration or good maintenance over the years, you may find that the normal thickness of a new fingerboard may seem overly thick. I hate to make a new board thin and take 50 years off of it's useful life because the player finds it too thick.

So, yes, a new board will change the sound. How will it change the sound/tone-difficult to say. I might think that a new board will make am instrument sound better, but I would never suggest that to a customer to nudge them toward a new board. Also consider that a new board that is replaced because of a thin board means that you will most likely need a new bridge, making it even more difficult to sort out the whats and whys of the change in tone/volume.

April 8, 2018, 4:07 PM · What can happen to the tone when an 18th century violin has the fingerboard changed from the 2 octave length to today's? This change will of course have been made countless times from the late 18th century onward.
April 8, 2018, 5:39 PM · Some makers will tap the fingerboard with their knuckles and see if it produces the same pitch as the top and bottom of the violin-- and the scroll, for that matter. Presumably there are some benefits to having it all resonate in the same way, but I don't know precisely how that works.
April 8, 2018, 6:22 PM · Your fingerboard got a dressing-down? It must been horrid.
April 9, 2018, 7:51 AM · There are only two reasons a board should be thick: one is so that it can be planed down as it wears, and the other is for structural integrity of the neck. Personally I believe that having too much wood in the fingerboard is rarely a good thing, but many modern makers tend to be conservative by making thick necks and fingerboards. One of these days I plan on having my fingerboard planed down from "normal'--it's just more weight to hold up.
April 9, 2018, 12:51 PM · It's not exactly the fingerboard, but when I was trying out my violin years ago, it had an absurdly thin neck, to the point that it hurt to play for a more than a few minutes, and I have pretty small hands. When I bought it, I had a bit of wood stuck under the fingerboard to bring the thickness up to spec. It DID affect the sound, and not for the better, but the violin still sounded really nice, so the playability factor was worth it for me. Whether changing the fingerboard would be as significant of a change is a mystery to me, but I would at least be prepared for a change in sound.
April 10, 2018, 7:29 AM · Thank you all for your input. I think I'll leave the thinner F.B. as it is. There are no flexing issues and it seems stable enough.
April 11, 2018, 1:56 PM · One thing that is dependent on fingerboard thickness is bridge height, and that can affect projection.
If the fingerboard decreases in thickness, then the bridge will have to come down as well (or the string height will be excessive). To solve this, many luthiers will, instead of putting on a thicker board, shim the existing one underneath.

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