Fretting

Apr 27, 2020

So, today I leveled the epoxy fill on the body, and bolted the neck into place. The neck angle was tweaked to ensure the neck points down the body centre line, and is angled to give the correct saddle height above the soundboard.

Then the fretboard is prepped for fretting. Now around 2013 I started to develop a serious allergy to wood dust. I think it started with ebony, then rosewood, and not long after most sawdust. I’d have sneezing for that could last for days. And yes, I always wore a dustmask.  So I had to have a serious rethink about how I worked –  if I couldn’t conquer the dust problem I’d have to find a different way to make a living. I invested in a high quality sander made by Mirka, and used their abranet abrasives. The sander is rigged up to a vacuum cleaner (Henry, who has been with me now for many years, and in three countries and at least 5 workshops) and the dust is removed at source whilst sanding.  But I also started to sub out jobs that made serious amounts of dust. One of those jobs is radiusing a fretboard.

Radiusing a fretboard is a faff of a job. You do it after the fret slots have been cut. You sand a radius into the fretboard surface. Its a job that makes for a lot of dust. You can hog off some wood with a plane, but you always end up with a lot of sanding.

For my work, its a compound radius with added relief under the bass strings. Its a complex shape. So quite a few years ago I started working with a chap in Spain who was selling very well made CNC (a robot woodworking machine) radiused fretboards. I sent  my entire stock of ebony boards, and had him turn it into finished boards – slotted to the variety of scales I use, and radiused to the radii I use. A month later, they all came back, perfect. Done. FInished. And I didn’t have to deal with any of the dust. Since then he has also machined my bog oak boards, and a few other woods I fancied trying.

Isn’t that cheating? There are those makers who say with a virtuous glow ” I use no CNC on my guitars.” There speaks a person who is yet to develop a serious allergy to saw dust.  Subcontracting messy jobs like this is no more cheating than having an employee. And thats the last thing I want. Stefan had enough on his plate dealing with me as a young man and I’ve no wish to replicate the experience!  And I’m happy to pay people decent money to do a better job than I could myself. And to be honest, I rather value my health.

The robot doesn’t mind the dust and I do.  And to be honest. The fretboards come out perfect. Every time.

In this case, after it was glued on and the neck carved, it didn’t take long to correct any slight irregularities that cropped up in the gluing up process. Gluing up introduces moisture (its in the glue) and this can mean you have to do a little correcting. Any variations in relief (to suit the customer) can be scraped in by hand.

After that, the fretboard is polished, the fret slots are checked for depth (using these very nice saws made by a lad in Wales) and the frets are hammered in. The slots above the neck/body join are hammered in with the neck gripped in a vice. The vices’ mass absorbs the hammer blows. Then the neck is reattached to the body and the remaining frets tapped into place. I did try pressing frets in for a while, but its a pointless process, that can be done equally well with a hammer. Pressing tends to be popular with people who haven’t made many guitars…

 

The neck is removed from the body, frets are trimmed, the fretboard masked off, the neck final sanded and the first sealer coat of thinned epoxy is applied to fill the grain.

The grain on the New Guinea rosewood really doesn’t take much filling. And its a glorious looking wood under the finish.