filling bass fret slots

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Big_d, Aug 31, 2004.

  1. Big_d


    Aug 31, 2004
    ive been thinking about removing the frets from my cheap old bass and turning it into a fretless. i know how to remove the frets i just dont know what to fill the slots in with, can anyone give me some suggestions?


  2. Stevious G

    Stevious G

    May 5, 2003
    I'm kinda new here, so I don't know if I'm stepping on any toes by replying to this, but it is a question I've answered a number of times on different boards, and I know the method is "Huff Approved."

    First thing first... DON'T USE WOODFILLER!

    1: Tape off the entire fretboard, frets excepted, with masking tape.

    2: Heat up each fret one by one, as you are aboot to remove them, with a soldering iron. This loosens any glue.

    3: Slowly pull out the fret with, preferably, a set of fret-pullers. These are avalable from Stew-Mac and LMI for fairly cheap. Some people use pliers ir a flatblade screwdriver to pry them out. That usually turns out pretty nasty, though.

    4: Save any wood chips that pop out of the board while removing the fret. They should be stuck to the tape when you remove it. Reaffix them in place with a drop of superglue. Also, you should superglue down any peices that are splintering.

    5: Use a fret saw, (once again, Stew-Mac or LMI for pretty cheap,) to clean oot the fret slots, and flatten the bottom of them, so the filler-laminates can sit flat. Don't go CRAZY with it by any means. Just a couple of passes throught the slot to make sure it's smooth and free of debris.
    6: One more thing to order from LMI: a radius block. This is a block of wood with a fretboard radius milled into it. You'll need to find out what the radius of your specific board is so that you can order the right one. It's quite important, though. Give the board a few passes with the block and a fine-grit sandpaper to make sure that it is nice, smooth and true.

    7: Fill the slots with a hardwood laminate. Now, these can be found at most hobby shops, on eBay, or you can make them yourself if you have acess to a thicknessing drum sander, or you're really patient with a sanding block. You'll probably end up hand-sanding the laminate a little bit, though. You want to get it to fit as snugly as possible, even if it means gluing together a couple of layers of it and hand-sanding it down to thickness.It should JUST slide into the slot. In fact you may want to tap them in with a rubber hammer, just to make sure that they're snug. When you're done, it should look like this:
    For glue, I suggest using Tite-Bond or Tite-Bond 2. They're both killer glues. Avoid Gorrilla Glue or anything like that. Be liberal with the glue, but make sure you wipe any excess off the board and neck immediately, before it dries.

    *Now, this is where some people like to disagree, saying that using wood filler putty is an acceptable substitute to actual wood laminate. This is wrong. I don't care if that's how Jaco did it. Wood filler does not do the job properly. Why? Because wood filler has very, very little compression strength. When you remove the frets from a fretboard, you are removing a LOT of mass, and greatly reducing the strength of the neck on the fretboard side. And remember, this is the side of the neck that has to fight against the tension of the strings. So, by just pulling the frets and leaving them, or filling them with a sub-par filler, you are flat-out inviting the neck to warp and bow forward under the tension of the strings.*

    8: Give the glue plenty of time to dry. A couple of days, preferably. You can trim off the remainder of the laminates using a saw or a chistle. However, the final sand-down should be done using the radius block.

    9: At this point, you should take a piece of chalk and rub it all over the entire fretboard. Then, take the radius block and begin sanding once again. Keep sanding in long, even strokes, untill all of the chalk is gone. Don't be surprised if the chalk seems to be lasting longer in some places than others. Most guitar/bass makers are notoriously bad for having uneven fretboards. Just remember, don't FOCUS on these spots. That'll just make it worse. Long, even strokes untill all the chalk is gone.

    10: Wait a few days, then repeat step 9 again. The moisture from the glue could cause the wood of the fretboard to do some weird things. You may develop a couple of high/low spots. Just trust in the chalk, and don't take off any more than neccicarry.

    11: Rub in some orange/tung oil or finish as you see fit. Reattach the neck if applicable. You're done.

    Hopefully that helps.
    MoonBass17 likes this.
  3. Big_d


    Aug 31, 2004
    sweet thanks man that definatley helps alot, i was just gonna use would filler lol but now i know better
  4. i just did my neck with plastic styrene strips u can get at home hardware heres a pic but its not sanded in that picture and the pictuer doesnt really do it justice but just another option white fret lines are kool in my book.
  5. I recommend using a pocket knife to take out the frets if you don't have fret pullers. Just slide it under the end of the fret and pry it up. It's thinner than a screwdriver, so it's easier to do without messing things up. Pliers are handy when it's part of the way out.
  6. I used superglue (cyano-acrylate) to fill the slots. Stuff gets hard as nails. It pretty much takes on the fingerboard colour. Very nice. Just remember to tape off the sides properly, or you'll get messy runners down the back of the neck.

    Cheers Rody