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Re-defret of a frankenfretless

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Shardik, Jun 24, 2012.

  1. Shardik

    Shardik

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    Recently I bought a frankenfretless on impulse:

    http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f8/im...enfretless-need-help-fretboard-radius-889256/

    The defret job was ugly, but even if it needed some work, I liked it when I tested it in the shop. I figured I could just fill in the uneven spots with CA+ and sand it to make it playable.
    This thread is NOT a tutorial, it is a documentation of my effort to repair an ugly defret job with playability issues to make it an ugly, but playable defret job.

    I dismantled the guitar, and then I discovered that the previous job was even worse than I'd feared. Here are facts about the old job:
    1. The frets are torn out without taking into
      account fretboard splinters (it is common to remove frets as gently as possible and glue down splinters with CA as they appear.
    2. The slots are filled with a putty like, brown mass.
    3. There is no laquer ir anything on top.

    I chose to go for an affordable solution with a focus on getting the bass playable:
    1. Unscrew the neck from the body, remove the nut and the tuners.
    2. Sand down the old laquer coats and assess how much needs to be sanded down to give an even surface.
    3. Clean out the old fret slots (remove all "putty" and expand slightly to accommodate the wood veneer)
    4. Fill fret slots with wood veneer and super glue (as shown on stewmac here: http://www.stewmac.c...ive/ts0139.html).
    5. Sand the wood veneer for a smooth fingerboard.
    6. Assess whether the rest of the neck needs to be sanded down and varnished again.
    7. Create a new surface with superglue (as shown on stewmac here: http://www.stewmac.c...ive/ts0139.html).
    8. File down nut slot somewhat.
    9. Put guitar together and set up with flatwounds.

    This topic describes this process (there are going to be pictures).
  2. Shardik

    Shardik

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    Here are some close-ups of the neck after disassembly.

    It is clear that there is a pit for each fret that was removed (it is almost surprising that it was possible to play on). It is also quite clear that no finish was done after removing the frets and filling with "putty". I should certainly have noticed before, but I did not think that anyone could do such a poor job. I suspect that they never even took apart the neck and the body...
    [​IMG]

    After dismantling I could feel the putty in the fret slots. It was soft, and some places did not fill the slot all the way down. Useless. Adding to the uglyness, the brown putty has colored the splintered areas around the slots. I realized I had two choices: either route a wide slot to remove all traces of this coloring, or put aesthetics aside and just go for playability. The risk of routing the neck was a put off (you can quickly ruin a neck completely with one routing error), and I chose the simplest road to playability.
    [​IMG]
  3. Shardik

    Shardik

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    After the guitar was dismantled, the situation assessed and the process planned, I did some stuff that I did not document with photos:
    1. I found out some remnants of birch veneer in birch from an old speaker building project. I tried a brown paint stain I had to see if it colored it through (which it did not). I decided to go for natural birch filling (path of least resistance towards playability).
    2. I measured the thickness of the veneer (about 0.7mm, with some deviation). Then I tried several different saws in a thick board to assess which one could make a usable slot. I ended up with a hacksaw blade. It was a bit too thick (0.85mm), but with the use of a metal file on the sides of the blade I narrowed the width slightly (to about 0.75mm).
    3. I straightened the neck by loosening the truss rod, and tightened it again until straigth (measured with a straightedge).
    4. I rigged work bench so that I could clamp the head at one end, while the other end rested on the bench. I also found something to put under the middle of the neck to make it stable.
    5. I sanded down the surface with a radius block and sandpaper grit 120, 180 and 400. It turned out that the radius was measured OK, but the fingerboard profile probably did not follow a perfect circular profile. It seemed like the middle was levelled down somewhat in some places. When sanding with the radius block, this meant I met wood on the sides before touching the lacquer in the middle. I therefore used a combination of a radius sanding block, a flat block and a soft block. I decided to leave some of the old laquer in places.
    6. When sawing out the brown "putty", it kept sticking to the hacksaw blade, and after many attempts at efficient removal of the putty from the slots I ended up using an MDF block as the most effective means to clean the hacksaw blade between each cut.
    7. After cleaning out the fret slots, I sanded lightly with sandpaper in 180 and 400 grit again to smooth everything.
    After all this, the neck looked like this:

    Here you can see the remaining lacquer in the middle of the fretboard.
    [​IMG]

    In this part of the neck was fingerboard profile more in line with the radius block, but there are still some lacquer left.
    [​IMG]

    It is possible that I could have used a 9 1/2 inch radius block instead, possibly a combination. But I only had a 7 1/4 inch radius block. I think the remaining lacquer only affects the appearance, not the playability.
  4. Stilettoprefer

    Stilettoprefer

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    I have an ibby that i sloppily defretted and there is still some poly left in a spot at the end of the board. the tone is a little different right there, but it only affects two notes and they're so high up the board that i would never hit it anyways. If i had it going down the entire board, i would take the time to get rid of it all, because whenever that area is being used, the tone will be different.
  5. Shardik

    Shardik

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    What finish did you choose?

    Personally I am going to end up re-finishing with polyurethane reinforced alkyd varnish. Why? It will become apparent when I get to the disaster part of my project (there always is such a part in each of my projects, when something goes horriby wrong, and in that moment I feel like giving up).
  6. Shardik

    Shardik

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    I actually used sharp kitchen scissors to cut the appropriate pieces of birch veneer. I made sure every piece had fibers as parallel to the fingerboard surface as possble. I also made 2-3 additional pieces in case something went wrong during gluing.

    CA glue time! I used plastic gloves and safety goggles as I didn't want super glue in the eyes or glue stuff to my fingers.

    Step 1, glue the pieces in place: I poured some thick super glue on the back of a piece of wet-sanding paper, and applied CA under the veneer piece before I lightly pressed each veneer piece into its fret slot.

    Step 2, fill the edges with superglue: When all the pieces were glued in place, I ran thin super glue along veneer on both sides. The thin adhesive fills any small gap and makes it stable and hard when it cures. I used a lot of glue, I assume 4-5 grams in total.

    All pieces in place.
    [​IMG]

    This looks almost tidy. :)
    [​IMG]

    I spent the glue liberally. In a few places it ran a little on the sides of the neck. I got the spill dried up somewhat, but not all. I guess I have to sand the back of the neck too.
    [​IMG]
  7. Stilettoprefer

    Stilettoprefer

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    I did poly for the first finish. Then when I got smarter and got a radiused sanding block, I used the block and got the board nice and flat. Then I decided not to use finish on it. I'm using flats on it, so they won't damage anything quickly, and it's rosewood, not maple.

    You could use tung-oil if you just want to seal the wood.
  8. Shardik

    Shardik

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    I live in a part of the world (Norway) where temperature and humidity varies a lot throughout the year. Leaving the neck unfinished is not an option.

    I could use tung-oil, but I like the idea of protecting the wood, even if I will use flatwounds.
  9. Shardik

    Shardik

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    The next morning i got the Stanley knife out (actually a smaller one, but you get the idea). The veneer pieces are too tall and must be reduced to less than a few millimeters before they can be sanded down with sandpaper.

    Step 1, the edges: I attached a piece of wooden plank as a chopping board on the edge of the desk and rested each veneer end at this and used the knife to cut. I had to cut 2-3 times to get through.

    Step 2, reduce the height: Here carved with knife from the center of the veneer piece towards the end. The idea is to follow the wood fibers. It is important to avoid fibre cracks going below the plane of the fretboard.

    Before breaking out the coarse sand paper and the radius block. Brave risk seekers will be able to cut even lower. I chose to stop before I got cracks in the veneer running under the fingerboard level.
    [​IMG]

    Not exactly a thing of beauty. The putty is gone, but some of the tan lingers where the edges have frayed on removal of the frets. The super glue has filled in and made a hard surface. I think "Frankenfretless" is a very good description. It reminds me in an odd way about the coarse stitching seen on depictions of Frankesteins monster. :p
    [​IMG]

    The super glue add some color to the finish. This will even ut when I finish the entire fret board in super glue.
    [​IMG]
  10. Shardik

    Shardik

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    Sanding again. Much the same as the previous sanding. Used grits of 120, 180 and 400. You can't tell from these pictures, but I had to sand some running of super glue at the back of the neck, too. This means putting new finish on the back of the neck as well. The headstock will not be affected.

    I have also filed down the nut slot a little at this point (between 0.5 and 1mm)

    Sorry about the washed-out flash image. I think it looks pretty even. It feels very smooth indeed.
    [​IMG]

    More smoothness.
    [​IMG]
  11. Shardik

    Shardik

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    :eek: SHOCK! HORROR!

    It seems like a rule: In all of my DIY projects, something always goes bad or at least not according to plan. This time was no exception.

    My next step was to finish the fretboard surface with superglue. The first coat went well. Great, actually. "Then it is just to move on to the next. Superglue is fast and even faster with the magic accelerator spray." Accellerator spray evaporates fast, or so I had read.

    So after the first coat of CA I sprayed on the accelerator. Waited two minutes. All dry. Excellent! On with the next coat of CA. Urgh! Yikes! Lumps ahoy! Everything seemed to dry all too fast. I try to complete it, but it looks absolutely horrible.
    [​IMG]

    It turns out that the accelerator is still very much in effect. Thus, it dries quickly, but in lumps. That's what happens when you do things against better judgment even if lacking experience.

    I have since sanded down again. I have decided to leave it to others to use CA as surface finish. I prefer to use it as glue for now.

    Fortunately, sanding it down went pretty well. Now I have applied the first coat of poly. Now it is all about watching paint dry. Then sand. Then another coat. Then wait. Again and again. I have been here before, it is familiar territory. It will be good in the end. All is not lost.
  12. Shardik

    Shardik

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    Here is a picture after about 6 hours of drying after 3rd coat of varnish (sorry about the motion blur tendency):
    [​IMG]

    From here on it's sanding after each coat. I no longer put coats on the back of the neck now, it's smooth and nice, and I just want to touch it up with the very finest sanding paper towards the end of the process.
  13. Auguste

    Auguste

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    Very very interesting post

    How many hours did it take to finish the job?
  14. Shardik

    Shardik

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    After switching from CA to a polyurethane reinforced alkyd varnish, drying times become a factor. I am not done yet. I put on a coat yesterday that looks promising. I'll let that cure for at least 3 days, and then attempt to sand and polish. But there may be another coat. I am in no hurry, waiting for new flatwound strings in the mail. ;)
    After appliance, the last coat of varnish need to cure for at least a week before it is put to heavy use.
  15. Shardik

    Shardik

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    I've lost count of the number of varnish coats. I'm at least up to six, I think. After the last I let it dry for a whole day, and then I rubbed with 400 grit sandpaper. Then I applied this coat.

    I think it's starting to look like something, and I'm betting that this is either the last or second to last coat. Therefore, I'll now wait a few days before I start to rub and polish with fine grits. I am not going for a glossy coat. The bass, both hardware and the wood has a matte patina, and I seek a smooth but slightly roughened surface. The neck needs to blend with the rest.
    [​IMG]

    I'm beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel now. I believe this will be a good job in the end. :)
  16. neebs

    neebs

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    The last photo looks strangely attractive.
  17. Shardik

    Shardik

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    Yeah, It seems to turn out OK. I tried to sand that layer gently and then rub it with a sponge. The neck is not factory fresh perfect, but neither is the bass... I am considering to let this be the last coat. I'll post a new picture when I decide. I still have a lot of time, waiting for strings to arrive in the mail.
  18. Shardik

    Shardik

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    Now I have decided to let it rip. Rubbed and polished a bit, and snapped this picture, which is actually nicer than the reality, but this is a bass with history and I think the neck appearance now is suitable to go with the rest.

    [​IMG]

    Now I'll let it cure for some more days, then it will be ready for assembly. :)
  19. neebs

    neebs

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    You should get a decal. "raised from the dead"

    That defreted maple is pretty. Are you putting flats or rounds?
  20. Shardik

    Shardik

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    Thank you. I think I'll leave the headstock with the original Ibanez logo alone, so no decal.

    This came with rounds, and it is my first fretless, but from what I gathered before taking it apart, I didn't like the feel of the rounds when sliding to a note, so I am waiting for flats to arrive in the mail.

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