Some Gibson and Martin guitars are now featuring richlite fingerboard. Do you know what is it? Is it a type of wood? It’s known to be a very durable material that is also used to make skateboards. It’s really pretty tough, huh? So, the question now would be, are there problems with richlite fingerboard?
Not so sure. I’m also curious about how great richlite is. Hence, I did an extensive research and incorporate what I’ve experienced about richlite fingerboards to come up with this article. But before going to the problems, allow me first to give you quick overview of this fingerboard material.
Is it really made of paper? Many have asked this particular question since people know that richlite is made of paper and resin. But, what is this thing?
Richlite is a dense material made of around 65% FSC®-certified or recycled paper and 35% phenolic resin. This particular kind of resin is made of formaldehyde and phenol. These are potent chemicals, but when combined, they made a harmless, inert substance called the phenolic resin.
The paper is then soaked in the substance, molded, baked and heated or pressed to give you the fingerboard you have in your guitar. Richlite’s color is primarily a combination of the paper and the amber tone of the phenolic resin.
As a fingerboard, richlite is actually a very good material. However, there are tons of discussions in guitar forums and in local music shops that there some known problems with richlite fingerboard.
Major Problems with Richlite Fingerboard
Richlite fingerboard is attached to the guitar using an epoxy. Why? Because it’s very difficult to glue the richlite fingerboard. Additionally, reputable luthiers use epoxy because it doesn’t add moisture and it’s less prone to warpage.
Although attaching the fingerboard with epoxy is quite stable and strong, the repair, as mentioned, will be very challenging. You need to remove the epoxy when reattaching the fingerboard. You can do so, by heating the epoxy, but this requires a guitar tech’s expertise.
Another worrisome thing about richlite is its exposure to higher and hotter temperatures. I don’t know if there’s an actual issue about this, but some users have worries about this, as well. However, this can be discounted with the right string height. When the strings are closer to the fingerboard, there’s a big possibility that you’ll get buzzing.
On the other hand, if the action is higher, there’s a little chance that you’ll get problems with fret buzzing, variation in neck bow and other issues of a typical wood movement. So, to prevent any problems with temperature change, it’s advisable to have the action a little higher than the minimum height when you have a richlite fingerboard.
These are not major issues that some guitarists made a fuss over the internet. For someone who has played a Gibson or a Martin with richlite fingerboard, you know what I mean.
So, How is Richlite as Fingerboard, Then?
It may seem to offer a modern variation of the fingerboard materials available, but it has been developed 70 years ago for industrial tooling and pattern making. Then, before it becomes a fretboard material, it was used in marine, sports, culinary, architecture, and even aerospace. So, basically, it’s durable, versatile, and sustainable.
It never shrinks, twists or warps even for a longer period and exposure to changing weather conditions. But, there are still a lot of things you might want to know about richlite as a fingerboard.
Durability: Definitely a very durable material for fingerboard known to be impervious to humidity and changing weather conditions. As you might have read, it’s also used as kitchen countertops, skateboards, fiberglass cores, and in other various architectural applications. So, it’s undoubtedly a robust material for a guitar’s fingerboard.
Looks: If you don’t look closely, there’s no difference between richlite and ebony, except that the former doesn’t have visible grains. Richlite is consistent, while the ebony has different species.
Feel: Since the richlite has non-porous, you can feel that it’s artificial and plasticky. But, for other guitarists, they don’t think there’s a difference in the feel between a rosewood, ebony and a richlite fingerboard.
Playability: Though you can feel that you’re holding paper-based fiber, it’s playability is as great as the ebony fingerboard. However, you’ll only know that it’s different from ebony because it’s very smooth when bending notes and playing the guitar.
Sustain: Though it’s not a wood material, it offers great sustain, as the wood materials.
Repairability: Now, here’s the real deal. While richlite is designed to have almost everything as the wood fingerboard, is it easily repairable? The straight answer is, yes. It’s easy to repair, given the fact that richlite won’t be chipping when removing the frets. But, there’s seems to be one major difficulty when repairing this kind of fingerboard.
When the fingerboard is detached, the leftover epoxy is hard to remove. So, your guitar must be checked by a professional luthier. To know more about this material, I’m inserting a YouTube video for your reference.
Richlite fingerboard has more praiseworthy aspects than its drawbacks. Although it gets a bad rap because it’s “plastic,” users can prove that it has the same playability, feel and looks like the popular ebony. The problems with richlite fingerboard are not much of a deal-breaker.
The richlite fingerboard has desirable playability. No sharp fret edges, the finish is consistent, but the feel seems lacking to me, it’s plasticky. This isn’t noticeable at first or at one look since the richlite and ebony are very identical. But, with years of playing different guitars, I can tell that ebony is still great, compare to this alternative.
Aside from my personal opinion, it also has a known problem, which is its difficulty to be glued. So, the only way the fix the fretboard is to use epoxy. Other than that, it’s a very sustainable material and could be a great alternative to ebony and some other wood materials. In terms of sounds, it actually produces Martin tone (for Martin guitars) and typical Gibson tone (for Gibson guitars).
Now that you know everything about richlite fingerboard, it’s your call whether to stick with the wood fingerboard or to try this synthetic one. Even Gibson and Martin are trying out this material. It’s time for you to check out this new fingerboard material, as well.