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Pre-fretted fretboard?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by pi_r_squared, Sep 11, 2008.

  1. pi_r_squared


    Sep 3, 2008
    You all answered my truss rod questions so thoroughly, that bulding a bass went from something I might do someday to something I GOTTA DO.

    I like the idea of building the neck/truss rod assembly, but fretting seems like a jump I don't want to take yet. Maybe I'm wrong, but that seems like where the most highly specialized tools come into play, and it seems like the place where I could REALLY screw things up.

    There are lots of complete necks for sale, and fretboards, both slotted and raw, but it seems like nothing in between.

    If I had my druthers, I'd like to buy a pre-fretted and pre-radiused fretboard, but I have yet to find one online.

    Can a fretboard be fretted before it's attached to the neck or does installing the frets cause the fretboard to bow too much? I guess that might explain why I haven't been able to find one.

    Got the bug bad now,

  2. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Hi Dan,

    I've never tried to fret a fretboard before it was glued onto the neck. You might run into problems, you might not. It would depend on the quality of the individual piece of wood, quality the fret job, etc. You'd also probably have to make a special caul that didn't put pressure on the frets when you were gluing the board onto the neck.

    But, I can give you some alternative suggestions.

    Exoticwoods.com sells pre-slotted, radiused fretboards in some standard scale lengths, that way you don't have to slot the board yourself.

    Get Dan Erlewine's Fretwork Step-by-Step, read through it and see what you think; you might feel more confident about fretting yourself after checking out that book (not to mention that it will teach you some excellent fretting techniques). Fretting isn't actually that hard as long as you have the right information.

    Look at the fretting and radiusing tools available at stewmac.com. They have a miter box and a fret saw specifically for slotting a fretboard.

    I made the fretboard on my very first instrument from a raw piece of ebony. I slotted it, radiused it and fretted it myself. While the fret job wasn't perfect, I was able to level the frets and get a low action without any buzz and I knew next to nothing about fretting (though I did gather a little info).

    So, if you've got a little woodworking knowledge, I'd say try to fret the board yourself. It might not come out right the first time, but you'll never learn if you don't try.

    WARNING: You might get addicted to building basses after your first one :)
  3. Arx


    Jan 22, 2008
    Installing frets isn't really all that tough, and should be pretty easy with a pre-slotted board. I think you're probably right about the fretboard bowing, but also, a pre-fretted board would dictate a specific neck profile, since you would have trouble cutting a wider board to width with the frets already installed.

    If someone did want to make pre-made/fretted boards, I suspect they would best do it by epoxying the frets into a wider slot (no tension from fret tangs)

    I don't really see anyone bothering to do that though.

    Regarding special tools, you don't really need much if you're getting a pre-slotted board.
    A "fret hammer" is just a cheap plastic hammer. I bought one for ~$5 at a local tool store.
    I cut the fret ends with a pair of cutters I ground to cut a little more flush, but a standard pair of wire cutters will suffice, it'll just take more filing. I used it to put the bevel on the ends too.
    To round the fret ends so they wouldn't slice up my hands (after the first time I did it) I just bought a cheap set of mini-files and ground some flat faces/edges on them so I could clean up the ends without marking the fretboard.

    I didn't actually do any leveling/dressing, and it seems to play well. If you wanted to do that, you would probably want a nice long block with a file/sandpaper attached and some specialized crowning files, though I have seen crowning done by taping off the fretboard and then sanding it with sandpaper held by hand. I'll probably buy some proper files when I get to that point on bass #2.

    I second that warning. I was coming up with all sorts of fun ideas while building bass #1, and I just had to build another to try it. Now that I'm on #2, I'm getting some ideas for #3. I'm scared.
  4. T2W


    Feb 24, 2007
    Montreal, Canada.
    Dont be scared... you decided to take the red pill. Its part of the process and now you must live with it. hahaha it is quite addictive for sure.

    I agree with Arx, I bought wire cutters, good ones, and I use a small brass hammer specifically made to tune Tablas. The only tools I bought were the fret saw (damn thing) and the crown file. Never had a problem. I strongly encourage you to try it. If you start with a piece of scrap, you should be at ease. To bevel the sides, I usually try to leave the board with sharp edges, then install the frets so they sit well on the edges, then file em down all the way till im on the wood, lengthwise so I get a straight equal bevel.

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