This is the 5 Best Tips for Making an Acoustic Guitar Fretboard. In this post, you’ll learn several great tips for making your own fretboards that will help make the process very easy.
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Making a Guitar Fretboard
Of all the different tasks in making an acoustic guitar, building the fretboard is probably the one that is met with the most terror among guitar makers. It doesn’t have to be though, because it’s really no different than any other part of the process.
The part that makes it scary is that at there is a lot of the final play-ability of the guitar tied up in the fretboard. For example, if a fret is out of place, it could mean the guitar doesn’t play properly. That’s obviously no good.
It’s scary to think that you could spend months building something, and in the end have an instrument that doesn’t even play in tune.
Well, I’m here to show you some tips to help make sure that that doesn’t happen to you. I’ll show you everything you need to know to have a successful fretboard build, and it’s actually going to be a lot easier than you think.
Start With The Best Material
Just like any other project, the foundation is one of the most important parts, if not the most important part. The foundation of an acoustic guitar fretboard is the piece of wood that you choose.
As a beginner, definitely start with a wood species that has a long track record of success in guitar making. The two main species that you should choose from are East Indian rosewood, and Ebony. I recommend the Rosewood as a beginner.
Both of these wood species have been used in instrument making for hundreds of years, and they will not let you down. Avoid any experimental species at this point, at least until you’ve made a few fret boards and you are confident in the process.
Next, screen the wood for any defects, like bends, warps, cracks, knots, and other problems. You want to start with a nice, clean board with straight grain.
If you are worried about this part of the process, simply order a fretboard blank from a guitar making supply house. They will already have selected the best lumber for your project, so you won’t have to worry about any of those problems.
Mill Several at Once for Backups
The other advantage to creating several fretboards in one round is that if you make a mistake, you’ll have another piece of wood nearby. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a back up in case you run into a problem.
Even psychologically this is a huge benefit. Starting over is a pain in the butt, but at least you’ll have the pieces right near you should that actually happen. If you follow the rest of these tips though, you probably won’t have to worry about starting over.
Slot the Board While it’s Square
The fret slots are very important, and it’s also important that you create those slots while the board is still square. This is a key to getting them perfect, and it also allows you to use a jig instead of cutting the slots by hand.
Pay attention as you’re making your fretboard, because it’s easy for this part to get away from you. Make sure that you create your fret slots with a well squared fretboard blank, that is not tapered, and that does not have a radius yet.
The radius and the taper cause alignment problems when you cut your slots, and it just makes the process more difficult than it needs to be. Instead, cut your slots first from a well squared board, and they will be far more accurate and reliable.
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Use a Fretboard Slotting Jig
Of all the tips that I’m going to give you in this post, this one is by far the most important. No matter what you do, do not saw your frets lots by hand. That’s the way your books will tell you to do it, but none of those authors actually do it that way.
Books are written for the most basic of users. Most people won’t have a fret slotting machine, or a dedicated area that does nothing but saw fret slots. These people do, but they can’t show you that, because you don’t have it.
Instead, make my guitar fretboard slotting jig from some scraps in your shop, and you’ll basically have the manual version of the same thing.
This jig will allow you to create perfectly measured fret slots every single time, and the beauty is that you won’t actually have to measure anything. The jig does all of the measuring for you, and you get a perfectly accurate fretboard every single time.
See Also: My Guitar Fretboard Slotting Jig
Work the Radius Carefully
The challenge with putting a radius on the fretboard is that it takes time to create, so it can appear as though it’s not going well, when in reality the process is actually moving along just fine.
The trick to make this work is to either make or buy a radius sanding block, and start with 80 grit sandpaper to rough out your initial shape. Make sure you sand from end to end every single time, this way you keep your board nice and even.
After you have sanding marks on the entire board, you can switch to finer grits to smooth everything out, and remove the scratches from the roughing process.
This is another one of those operations that requires more of your patience and understanding than anything else. Trust in the process, and just keep going to the end.
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know some awesome tips about making your fretboard, it’s time to get out into the shop and take action. If the fretboard has been what’s been preventing you from making a guitar, you don’t have any excuses anymore.
The fretboard is actually not that difficult of a build, it’s just the perception of the fretboard and what it does that makes it sound scary. In reality, if you use a jig, you don’t have to worry about your frets betraying you on your final instrument.
Start with a good piece of wood, keep it nice and square, and use a jig to make your fret slots. You’ll be happy that you did, and in the end you’ll have a great looking fretboard that you are proud to put on your acoustic guitar.
If you have any questions about making your own fretboard, please post a question and I’ll be happy to answer them. Happy building.
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