Permanent lines for fretless

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by teppotyrvainen, Oct 19, 2004.

  1. Hello,

    I am planning my second bass guitar which will be a 5-string fretless. Now I miss information about techniques for adding visible "fretlines" for the fretboard. My question is, what is the material used for those lines? My understanding is that the material should be as hard as the fretboard wood to ensure even wearing. If the material is not as hard (or is harder) the second question is, can I use some coating on top of the fretboard to make it uniformly hard?

  2. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Most people use plastic or wood veneer and don't worry too much about uneven wear. I'm doing two lined fretless basses right now and I am using spar varnish as a coating. It's kind of a pain in the butt, but it works and I'm using it because of the fingerboards I am using -- 1 is wenge (open pores) and one is morado (wears a little quicker).
  3. Hi,

    Thanks a lot for your quick answer!

    I am from Finland and some english terms are not so clear to me: do you mean by "spar varnish" a modern urethane alkyd varnish (for wooden boats) or a traditional china wood oil varnish like LeTonkinois (

    I guess you have used this varnish on the (fretless) fretboards a long time already - how well does it stand up without stcratces?

    In "The Bass Book" there was a picture from a fretless Ibanez Musician used by Sting, and it had an interesting detail on the fretboard. There were short (about 3 millimeters) white lines embedded on the upper corner of the fretboard. I think it looks very good (becaise the fretboard is mostly black) and those lines are not prone to wearing by the strings. I'd like to know has this method been used since and how is it done. I guess those could be inlaid pices of mother-of-pearl or plastic. Anyway, for an amateur it can be difficult to saw those cuts so that the endpoints are exactly on the same line.

  4. For the "Sting" effect, just fill the slot partway with the dark material and complete it with something light.

    I use a technique for inlay that would work well for this. I make a powder from Corian scrap (Corian - synthetic kitchen countertop material) and fill my inlet flush with it and then drop in some CA glue. It fills and hardens nicely and then I file/sand/scrape the buildup off the top and it makes a great colored inlay. I've got several other colors I can do this with too. You could do this with any material you can get or make into a powder - phenolic, bakelite, polyester (bowling balls?), styrene, faux pearl, slate, walnut shells, copier toner, metal shavings (brass or copper filings look great), tempera paint, charcoal, or any of a hundred other materials. I've tried chalk in various colors but the hues turn muddy.

    Good Luck
  5. Tim__x


    Aug 13, 2002
    Alberta, Canada
    Wow, pictures?
  6. Thanks for the advice. Maybe I can use that method for other purposes too. I will try that method immediatly to a scrap pice of wood. At the moment I don't have final material available and my new bass exists only on paper :-|

    By the way, how long does it take to dry before you can sand it (minutes or hours)?
  7. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    My preferred method for lines on a fretless is to cut regular fret slots, which are .023" wide. I then use a contrasting wood veneer, which typically comes in 1/40" inch thickness, which actually works out to .025". I then glue strips of it into the fret slots, and then after glueing the fingerboard to the neck I sand and profile the whole thing at once.

    I cut the strips of veneer longer than the fingerboard blank is wide, and usually about 1/4" wide. That gives me enough wood to hold onto while glueing and placing in the slot. I'll have the glue in a strip on something like an old margarine bowl top or similar, and "saw" the veneer piece into it to get glue on it. I then also "saw" the piece back and forth into the fret slot to get it to seat properly

    Once the glue has dried, I'll shave off the excess with a sharp chisel.

    Here is a pic of an ebony fingerboard with maple lines I'm currently working on for a customer.


    Hope this helps,

  8. Thanks for your detailed instructions and the picture!
    I suppose you don't use any hard coating on top of the fingerboard and these maple inlays (lacquer etc.) but instead some oil or bee wax?

    And then a crucial question: A) where you can by so thin (and exactly 1/40" thick) maple strips or B) how you can make them by yourself?
    Sounds very challenging to me!

  9. Minutes usually - seconds if I use an accelerator.
  10. This is pretty much a standard thickness for veneers. Most are either 1/32" or 1/40".
  11. PasdaBeer


    Nov 2, 2002
    Santa Rosa California
    SandStorm Designs
    ive used 1/32 inch maple vanners, works really nice with rosewood/ebony boards. just be carful scraping off the ecsess and not wail on the board to much, unless you plan on radius sanding it afterwards
  12. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Cute idea! But, you need to find a CA that's really liquid. Most I have found in retail are rather thick.
    And CA is poison! Careful!!

    I have used the veneer method, for partial lining. Considering the freehand sawing (not recommended, use some kind of guide!), the result is great.
    (Partial lining=a line across the edge of the board and approx 5 mm in on the front. Done by angular sawing of the edge, and veneer fill)
  13. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    WoodCraft or other wood working stores usually have a good selection of veneers in stock in plastic bags.

    However, if you're only looking at doing one fingerboard and therefore don't need that much veneer, send me a PM with your mailing address and I'll be happy to send you a piece of either maple or purpleheart veneer for your project.

  14. Tim__x


    Aug 13, 2002
    Alberta, Canada
  15. Thanks very much for your offer! If I can't find this kind of veneers in small packings from Finland I'll e-mail you.

    But first I have to decide which approach I will take with the fretboard- there are three alternatives A) blank fretboard with only side markers (3, 5, 7,...), B) "Sting-style" short lines on bass side edge or C) lines across the fretboard.

    I think alternative A looks the best (my first 4-string bass is done this way and it looks cool) and C is the easiest to play in tune. "Sting-style" is then maybe a good compromise between looks and playablilty.