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Remove fretboard - replace with fretless (not asking about defretting)

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by BryanS, Dec 22, 2018.


  1. BryanS

    BryanS

    Sep 3, 2018
    Portland Oregon
    I have a 1976 defretted Gibson G3. It is great, but not as satisfying as a genuine fretless. I want to buy a fretted Grabber, remove the fretted fretboard, and replace it with a nice smooth, fretless fretboard. I've watched videos about removing the fretboard, but cannot find much about locating and attaching a new fretboard. Anyone able to show me the way? I think the steps are as follows.

    (1) Remove the existing fretboard.
    (2) Locate a fretless replacement.
    (a) Where can I find a smooth, never fretted, fretless fretboard (rosewood, other)?
    (b) How can I make one out of a nice piece of wood (I am an okay woodworker)?
    (3) Attach the new fretless fretboard.
    (4) Make customizations to the nut (I have no clue of the specs).
    (5) Locate the proper place to ink in the side dots (probably not the right term).

    If anyone can walk me through this, I'd be much grateful. Step 2 seems hardest. I'll bet I will need to resort to step 2.b. Some tips on this would be great.
     
    gebass6 likes this.
  2. Check out the build threads in the Luthiers Corner. Lots of fretless builds and fretted neck builds. Just skip the fretting steps on those.

    Bruce Johnson just started a thread where his apprentice, Alex, will be removing the boards from 2 Pedullas. I'm sure he will have lots of pictures.
     
    gebass6 and BryanS like this.
  3. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    Reverse steps one and two. Have the new board on hand before you do anything else. You will be able to use the old nut if you are careful removing it prior to pulling the fret board; the slots will have to be cut lower for the fretless board, but that's a minor issue. Side dots on a fretless go where the frets would other wise go. you can measure from the nut to the different fret positions to establish where to 'ink' [inlays are usually used.]
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2018
    BryanS likes this.
  4. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Chances of finding a pre-shaped fingerboard are just about nil. You will need to purchase a fingerboard blank (available from luthier supply companies) and fit and shape it.
     
    Inara and BryanS like this.
  5. BryanS

    BryanS

    Sep 3, 2018
    Portland Oregon
    Very helpful. Thank you. "Inlays" was the word that escaped me. I read somewhere that the inlays on a fretless neck should be different than a fretted neck. But I cannot find the "formula" for the difference, or why there would be a difference. Wondering if a Fret Scale Rule is needed, or if one exists for fretless dimensions. I find StewMac listed often as a reputable luthier company. Any thoughts? This Ebony unslotted 2 1/2" fingerboard seems right for my ideal Grabber Unslotted Fingerboard for Bass | stewmac.com Any red flags, or warnings, or other suggestions?
     
  6. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    Yeah the inlays for a fretted board go between the frets. For a fretless they go ON the fret position (reason for the difference is the dots indicate where to land your finger; on a fretless this is critical.) You already have the dimensions; they are on your present grabber bass. Once you are ready to put the inlays in just transfer the distances from you present grabber to the new board. One other suggestion, consider side lines at each fret position and dots at 3, 5, 7... with two dots straddling the fret position at 12 (and 24 if you have it.) No other suggestions; you seem to have it in hand.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2018
    BryanS likes this.
  7. Inlays makes me think on the front of the board. Put whatever you want there. As far as side dots, like sissy kathy said, they go at the position the fret would be, not between.

    Let us know how it works out, with pictures. I think a fretless Grabber would be cool.
     
    gebass6 and BryanS like this.
  8. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Have you ever installed or finished a fingerboard? This is not a minor job and there is a chance of you ruining the board as you try to radius it. If you have never done anything like this, I probably wouldn't recommend learning on your vintage number one bass.
     
    BryanS likes this.
  9. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Side dots are inlaid too, just like on the face of the fingerboard, just smaller.
     
    Matt Liebenau and MattZilla like this.
  10. True. Probably overthinking what to OP was trying to say.
     
  11. BryanS

    BryanS

    Sep 3, 2018
    Portland Oregon
    Uh oh, "radius it" is a step I had not considered. How does one go about this? Are there specs or guides?

    And good advice about learning on my vintage number one bass.

    [Footnote: I collect G3s. My number one is a beautiful black 1976 nearly mint fretted G3 that looks like it is straight out of a 1976 showroom. I practically keep that baby in a temperature, humidity controlled clean room under lock and key. I also have my number two, a 1976 fretless (defretted) that's got its share of wear and blemishes. That's the one I play. For this project my strategy is to scour reverb, eBay, and craig's everyday and snag a decent value middle of the road fretted G3 or Grabber, maybe at a lower price due to fret wear, and replace the fingerboard with a fretless.]
     
    DiabolusInMusic likes this.
  12. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Do you plan to accept the radius or level in the lie of the strings after basic shaping?

    Things you're looking for:

    Unslotted fingerboard.

    You'll need a radius block to "mill" the flat plank. Your bass, your choice of radii.

    What else do you need for this project?
    • Lots of clamps.
    • Clamping cauls that have the same radius as the board.
    • More cauls that are padded to adapt to the back of the neck.
    • Leveling beam longer than the fingerboard.
    • Straight edges longer than the fingerboard.
    • Sandpaper starting from 60 grit through 600 with no skipping in between.
    • A working knowledge of fine woodworking and good hand skills

    This is not an inexpensive project. Nor is it a job for the casual tool user or shade tree carpenter.

    Serious disclaimer (with tongue in cheek delivery): If you consider changing a tire as working on your car, have to rummage through kitchen drawers to find your screwdrivers, or think a tool is someone yelling "Freebird" at the top of their lungs during load out, please for the love of Mike and all that is good and sacred, take your instrument to a professional to have the work performed.
     
  13. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
    I second that on Bruce Johnson and Co.
    I had this very thing done two years ago by him.
    Before.
    Lined fretless. Snapshot_2014617.

    After.
    Unlined fretless Macassar ebony.
    Snapshot_20180621_12.JPG

    Side dots were added by Bruce.
    20170422_195738.
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2018
    BryanS likes this.
  14. Bruce’s new thread is actually about replacing the truss rods in those Pedullas but they are trying to save the original boards so I figured the removal step would be applicable here.
     
    BryanS likes this.
  15. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
    When he did mine,he milled the old rosewood board off.
    He had Macassar ebony fingerboard blanks on hand.
    I almost chose Pale Moon ebony.
    But I would have had to buy that outside.
     
  16. BryanS

    BryanS

    Sep 3, 2018
    Portland Oregon
    This is great information! Thanks all. I just purchased a very good condition, but affordable 1977 Gibson G3 for this job. I will post a pic once it arrives. I took the warning from @202dy to heart, and got into contact with a few local (Portland Oregon) luthiers. One told me that it was not uncommon for guitar makers to use epoxy, rather that wood glue to fasten the fingerboard to the neck - and if this is the case, saving the original neck is rather unlikely. Two questions, (1) does anyone know if the Gibson bass guitars manufactured in Kalamazoo Michigan in the 70s used epoxy? And (2) should I contact somebody with nation-wide credit, like Bruce Johnson and Co, or go with the local talent? The front-running candidate here in Portland says he estimates $300 (materials included) and about 3 weeks. Sounded like he knew his stuff.
     
  17. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Gibson using epoxy to attach fingerboards (or anything else) in the seventies is unlikely.

    Bruce is an excellent choice if he is taking on this kind of work.

    Bryan Galloup is also excellent. Decent bass player, too.

    Just remember that someone with national reputation will charge for that reputation.
     
  18. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    IMO, it's a coin toss. @Bruce Johnson has a new associate that could certainly use the experience, but there's the extra cost of shipping. If you care enough about the survival of the craft, talk to Bruce. But there's the support you local craftsman/music to consider as well.
     
  19. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Okay, since you are talking about me, I'll step in and comment.:rolleyes:

    Yes, changing a fingerboard isn't a beginner's Luthier job. It's kind of complicated and does require some knowledge and special tools and woodworking skills. I'm not saying that you can't do it yourself; many folks have. But it will require some learning and sweat.

    I've changed fingerboards on necks maybe 100 times. I've got special routing fixtures and gauges and tools, all ready to go to make it easier. Still, it's a 4-6 hour job.

    On an old Gibson, there's a good chance you may be able to remove the old fingerboard with heat. But you still have to do a lot of cleanup work to the neck before you can fit the new fingerboard. I usually just pop the neck in my fixture and rout the fingerboard off, unless there is some particular reason why we want to save it.

    With the old fingerboard off and the neck surface cleaned up and trued up, the new fingerboard blank is glued on. Just buy a nice fingerboard blank from LMI. Don't waste your time trying to mill a board yourself, unless you really want to get into more woodworking.

    Shaping the surface of a new fretless fingerboard takes some knowledge and effort. It's not as simple as just buying a radius block and sanding with it. You don't even need a radius block; I don't use them personally. A fretless fingerboard has to be trued to the correct geometry, or the bass isn't going to be playable. You can do it yourself without many tools, but it does require some study and technique. I do the main radiusing with a special router fixture, but it can be done with files and flat sanding blocks. Patience and checking with straightedges.

    And there's trimming the sides, putting in marker dots, polishing the surface, etc. Not real difficult, but some reading and practice will help.

    I can't take on your job myself right now. I'm overwhelmed and way behind in my own Scroll Bass work, plus I have other Life things going on.

    But, I hope this gives you some guidance on what's involved.
     
  20. BryanS

    BryanS

    Sep 3, 2018
    Portland Oregon
    Wow, super grateful for this very helpful tutorial. I'm getting really excited about this project.

    I am pretty good with a lathe (not applicable here, though I did my best to imagine a way), semi-decent with routers (but cannot imagine how to apply my skill to this job), and very impatient with hand tools (don't trust myself to do this job, in which I want the results to be perfect looks, perfect play). I will find the best luthier I can and hope for the best. If I do go with my local front-runner, I wonder if there's a good way to judge his/her qualifications?

    Thanks,

    Bryan
     

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