Replacing fingerboards

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by ChaosGwar, May 10, 2002.

  1. What is involved in replacing a finger board?

    I've currently got a rosewood defretted board, and want to change it to an ebony board.

    Is this even practical to do? Price wise, swapping the boards would be cheaper, and if it's worth the trouble, I'll go for it.
  2. 2 ways to go:

    1. Do-it-yerself
    2. Purchase it done.

    1. is very time consuming and requires advanced luthiery skills to complete. Lower cost but the procedure is fraught with peril to do it right. Very rewarding if done correctly.

    2. is much higher in cost - $200-$250 + cost of fingerboard around the Atlanta area. If you want it fretted, add another $200 for a total fret installation.

    Or buy a Warmoth for about $150-$200, bolt it on, and go. Cheaper, quicker, and you don't have to be a Dan Erlewine.
  3. I can get fingerboards from Stewmac for fairly cheap.
    Bonuses, they are already radiused and have fret slots. The unslotted ones aren't radiused, which sucks, since it's replacing the fretboard on my fretless. I can always buy ebony veneer from Stew for fairly cheap and use that to fill the slots.
    That way, I'll end up spending $45 and some time (and gain valuable experience in luthiery) vesus buying a preassembled bolt on from Warmoth at $150.

    This neck in question isn't attatched to any bass currently, so if I screw it up, I'm not gonna be bummed. My fretless was/ is my tooling around bass. I sold the body, to prod me into building my own, and now I want to work with the neck. Like I said, if I mess up, I still have a neck to work from. It's going to be more of a learning tool than a functional neck. If I do a good job on the fretboard work, It can serve as a functional neck, too.

    I don't look at buying and assembling pieces as luthiery. I look at it as a way to put together a really nice bass and not pay nearly as much. Like Nino has some really nice looking Warmoth stuff, and I'm sure he busted his ass putting them together, but I don't consider him a luthier.

    Cutting body woods, cutting necks and fingerboards, installing truss rods, etc. are all things I'm going to have to learn if I want to become a luthier, either part time or full. I can turn screws and solder wires, but that doesn't make me a luthier.

    I plan on building at least one bass, just to say I built a bass from scratch.

    So, what is involved with the removal and application of the fingerboard?

    Speaking of Mr. Erlewine, are his books and videos worth taking a look at?
  4. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    Every fingerboard that I have ever seen removed was steamed off using a steamer and a steam needle.

    You start with a tiny hole drilled at the seam of board and neck, you insert the steam needle to begin loosening the glue. You slowly work the baord loose bit by bit working one end to the other.

    I have also heard of them being removed using a heat paddle.

    Either of these tools is available at Stewart McDonald, I believe.

    This is of course how you would remove one of you wanted to preserve the board. If you have no interest in preserving the existing board. You could just chew it right off using a planer and take the last few 100s of an inch off with a belt sander.

    As for the radius issue and the unslotted board blanks, I would install one and then radius it.

    It is not that hard at all to radius a board using the sanding blocks available from stew mac. You would get the unlined fretless as well the exact radius you want. You could even create a compound radius to get a nice flat neck at the top.

  5. Chas, thanks for the info. I looked at those steamers, and they are pricey.
    I'm a smart guy with a lot of resources, though. I might be able to find an inexpensive alternate option and get that same results.

    What about attaching the new fingerboard? What type of glue, and how long should I wait for it to cure? I know I've got to get several small clamps to clamp the FB to the neck. Can I use regular wood glue, or is there a specific type I should use?
  6. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    I've done this using a regular iron, (of course, I asked my wife first :D), and a modified putty knife, sharpened at the blade. Set the iron to a moderately high setting and place it on the fingerboard. After the wood heats, begin slipping the putty knife into the join of the fingerboard and neck. Heat the board, and continue sliding the putty knife under the fingerboard as you go. There are good how-to's on this technique at

    For regluing the fingerboard, I use Hide Glue... Mixing the glue can be a bit tricky at first, but you get the hang of it eventually. You can also buy pre-mixed hide glue at most woodworking stores... Hide glue has the advantage of proven re-working methods, (i.e. heating for removal...), and a reasonable work time before curing. I always let it sit for 24 hours at least...

  7. I've mixed aircraft grade epoxies at work, so mixing is no trouble.
    The only other question I can think of is this.
    My rosewood fretboard has an acrylic coating on it, would the iron melt that, or will it be ok to try? I'd like to salvage the fretboard if possible. Would heating up the sides work, or should I heat it up from the top?
  8. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    You need to heat the top... if the board was properly glued, then there's an even coating of glue all along the bottom... The heat is actually used to warm the glue to loosen it... Another method that I've not had occasion to try, but have been told works is heating the putty knife. This would have to be after you've already used some method to create a breach between the fingerboard and neck... Again, I haven't tried this, so YMMV

    As to melting the acryllic, I can't help you there. It may be that you don't need heat the board to the acryllic melting point to loosen the glue... I've only done this with unfinished or stripped boards. I'd guess that if the acryllic melts, you'll be owing somebody a new iron!! :D

    Good luck,

  9. Cool, thanks for the info.

    I might just have to go buy a cheap iron, or strip the fingerboard before I try to remove it. Maybe both?