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Good Material for Lines on a Lined Fretless?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by PauFerro, Mar 30, 2018.

  1. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I am turning a piccolo bass into a fretless bass. I have built other fretless basses before, and used hardwood veneer that I glued together for the right fret slot thickness. Then I glued them in with carpenters glue. But I havent' been entirely happy with the results. As humidity changes, the veneer and the fingerboard appear to contract and expand at different rates. This makes the lines loose sometimes.

    I thought of trying to color some epoxy resin and using that to fill the fret slots, but I'm not thrilled with the idea of messing with colorants and epoxy, which may nor may not blend well, and could interfere with the hardening process. Plus I just don't like the idea.

    I also wondered if brass sheeting could work as it is soft enough to sand flush with the fingerboard. But as a metal, might be less susceptible to humidity changes.

    If anyone has done it before, perhaps you could give me some suggestions.
  2. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    I've used maple veneers and styrene plastic.

    Maple veneers are available online and from most hardwood retailers in 0.6mm thickness, and you should be able to get enough to line a slotted fingerboard for less than $10.

    Similarly, you can get 0.6mm styrene plastic strips at hobby shops that cater to model train enthusiasts. You can also get it from Amazon in a big sheet. It should also cost less than $10.

    I used wood glue for the maple strips, and epoxy for the plastic.

    Btw, 0.6mm is also 1/42", which is 0.023", which is the most common width of fret slots.

    Personally, I like the look of maple more. It looks a bit more organic. But the white styrene is a lot more visible in low light conditions.

    I would not use brass or aluminum. It will sprout and dislodge when the fingerboard expands and contracts.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2018
    Matt Liebenau, Jisch and PauFerro like this.
  3. +1 to HaMMerHeD. I’ve use veneer or plastic. I use crazy glue with the plastic though. It’s worked just fine so far.
  4. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    "... the veneer and the fingerboard appear to contract and expand at different rates."

    Yep. Unless you fill the slots with the same species as the fretboard, this is what you face.

    Introducing metal can make it susceptible to temp changes too. Aluminum reacts pretty rapidly to temp changes.

    So, +1 for hammerhed from me as well.
  5. GMC


    Jan 1, 2006
    Wiltshire, UK
    I've used Padouk veneer for a lined black ebony board, that looked nice. I've used Maple on Cocobolo and Rosewood boards. That was a nice contrast too. I used 2 veneers (maple and black dyed maple) on a Macassan striped Ebony that had both brown and black swirls. I liked the black lines on that board, but needed maple edge highlights or some of the fret lines would almost vanish when playing! I was thinking of using luminous plastic strips which would glow in the dark...but in day light it would look like cheap white plastic lines.
    I've not had any issues with veneers lifting or moving, but I would advise quality wood veneers. Glue them in using your normal wood glue (but make sure you use a lot) and once sanded and dry, I take mine to 4000 grit for a shiny polished board, try coating the board with lemon oil. That'll replace some of the water in the board with oil and hopefully stop it absorbing more.
    Store the bass in a case or gig bag so it's got some protection from indirect solar heat and never leave your bass in your car over night.

    More details here:
    Bass 5 Overhaul
  6. RobTheRiot


    Aug 31, 2016
    las Vegas, nv
    I used Sycamore veneers (closest to maple I could get at the time), but just one layer, then used super glue to bond them and fill any gaps that might have been left. For most part tho, the veneer was almost perfect width of gap left by the fret, there was no need to stack them. Actually there’s no way the width of two would’ve fit.

    I’ve been thrilled with it. Easy enough to work with, and no raising of the lines ( so far...).

    I’d highly recommend that, but that was my only conversion so I have no basis to compare other materials...

    Good luck!!

    48949594-0D9B-47B6-965C-1432249D3980.jpeg 487B52A7-CA38-41C9-A0BB-B2A0ECDCDABC.jpeg
  7. Paulabass


    Sep 18, 2017
    I use black epoxy from Home Depot. I tried the same brand white epoxy, but it wanted to fill the pores in the rosewood and wasn't very pretty.
  8. Use superglue to glue veneer in. Works great and hardens the timber around the lines... but make sure you do it in a well ventilated area. Don't ask me how I know this... :D
  9. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
  10. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    Even that won't really cure the issue. the biggest problem is that the veneer gets glued in cross grain to the fretboard. so when humidity affects the wood, the fingerboard expands side to side (treble to bass) but the line inlays expand the length of the neck (headstock to body.) The lack of expansion of plastic is the best argument I know for plastic lines.
    HaMMerHeD likes this.
  11. MovinTarget

    MovinTarget Supporting Member

    Jan 30, 2018
    Maryland, USA
    Odd, on Amazon, the closest I can get is .020" as opposed to .023" for the ABS plastic... is that a non-issue? I know .003" isn't much... but in a way its, .003" x 25 (zero fret) so just want to make sure...
  12. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Wouldn't worry about .003". It won't be a compounding error.
    MovinTarget likes this.
  13. MovinTarget

    MovinTarget Supporting Member

    Jan 30, 2018
    Maryland, USA
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