This is How to Make an Acoustic Guitar – Part Twenty Five – Fretting. In this part of the series I will show you how to add frets to the fretboard, and a couple of things to make the process a little bit easier. Enjoy.
Fretting the Fretboard
Fretting is the process of adding frets to the fretboard, which helps the guitar make a specific note when it’s played by the user. This material is simply a length of rounded wire with a tang at the bottom that is jammed into the wood.
The basic process of installing a fret is just to hammer it into the slot. At the most basic level, this is a pretty rough process. If you can hammer the fret down all the way you’ve basically done the job.
There are however, a lot of things that you can do to make the process easier, cleaner, and get you better results than simply beating your frets into place. The days of hammering frets are long gone, and there are a lot of different options now.
I’ll show you several, including the way that I like to install my frets.
If you missed last week, check out How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Part 24.
Bending the Fret Wire
The first step to fretting is actually to bend the wire. Most fret wire comes in lengths of about 2 feet, and they are flat pieces. It’s actually hard to hammer a piece of wire like this into a curved slot when it’s only a couple inches long.
Instead, it’s much easier to bend a long piece of wire into a nice curve and then cut it into shorter segments that match the width of a fret slot. You can do this process by hand, just be careful, and create an even bend for the entire length of the wire.
If you’d rather use a jig, you can buy one, or you can follow the directions in the post that I link to just below this section, and make your own jig. It’s pretty easy to do, and in an hour you can have a very good way of bending your fret wire.
See Also: Free Fret Bending Jig Plans
Cutting Frets to Length
Once the fret wire is bent, it’s time to cut the individual pieces that will become the frets themselves and fill each slot. For this part of the process, you need your bent fret wire and a set of metal cutters.
These cutters can be anything from a wire cutter to an end nipper. As long as they are strong, and you can cut through the material without fatiguing your hand. Fret wire can be a little dense, so pick a good tool.
Use the wire itself to measure your length, and leave a little less than 1/4 of an inch on each side of the fretboard. This is a pinch longer than necessary, but it gives you the best chance of cutting your wire without bending the tang.
Practice a bit, and cutting the fret wire gets easier.
Storage and Organization of Cut Frets
As you are cutting your frets, it’s important to pay attention to their order. Each fret is going to be only a little longer than the next, and sometimes it’s easy to get them out of order. The best way to do this is just line them up.
As you cut each fret, start creating a line that goes in the same direction as your fretboard. Lay the first fret next to the second, and the third, and the fourth as you work your way down the board.
Once you have all of them spread out, it’ll be easy to see which order they go in. The smaller frets will be nearer to the nut and the larger frets will be closer to the upper register.
Keep them organized, because you need to put them back in the same way you cut them.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Options for Setting Frets
There are a lot of different ways to install your frets. Long gone are the days were the only option you had was to beat them in with a hammer. Though this is still a viable method, it does require a bit more practice.
A lot of things can go wrong when you’re swinging a hammer. The most obvious is you miss the fret entirely and dent to your fretboard. It’s not easy to sand out or remove all of these dents, especially if you make several of them.
One alternative method is to use a fret press. This is a piece of metal that goes into a drill press or an arbor press, and you use pressure from the machine itself to drive the fret into the wood. This eliminates hammering entirely, and is less risky.
If the fret press sounds like your speed, you can pick one up with several different cauls for different radii. It’s a one time expense, because the tool never wears out, and you can use it for several different types of fretboards.
Another option combines the two methods into one that’s a little bit safer when it comes to hammering and less expensive when it comes to presses. Using a wood or metal call, you can hammer your frets in place more safely.
Basically this is a piece of wood or metal sanded to the same radius as the fretboard. You use this to seat the fret, and hammer on the caul instead of the wire itself. This is a lot safer of a method, and you don’t have to spend any additional money.
Trimming the Ends Flush
After all of your fret wires are pressed into place, it’s time to trim the ends to the edge of the fretboard. Depending on how much metal you have hanging over, you may want to start with your cutter.
Cut as close as you can to the end of the wire without bending it. If your cutter isn’t very good, then don’t risk mauling one of your slots by trying to cut off the excess. Get a better tool, which won’t be expensive, and trim as much as you can.
After that, use a belt sander or a flat file to remove the rest of the metal that’s sticking out past the wood. Work slowly if you’re using a belt sander, because the belt can heat up the metal and can pull out the frets if you go in the wrong direction.
When using a belt sander, make sure the direction of the belt pushes the frets farther down into the slot. You don’t want the belt going in the opposite direction, because if it catches, it will remove the frets from their slots.
Advantages to Making the Fretboard Off the Neck
As you just discovered in a previous step, there are some advantages to making your fretboard separate from the neck itself. One of those advantages is that you can use a belt sander to trim the ends of your frets flush to the fretboard.
Another advantage is that if you make a big mistake on the fretboard, and it’s glued to the neck, you might need to throw away the entire thing and start again. With it separated, a big mistake on one piece doesn’t also doom the other piece to the trashcan.
On top of that, when pieces are separate they are smaller, and easier to handle. This means they can be used on more machines, and in more ways than if they were all connected. This is the same reason that I make the neck separate from the guitar.
Coming Up Next Week
Now that the fretboard is finished, it’s time to attach it to the neck. This is a part of the process that requires a little bit of extra measuring and alignment, but it’s definitely not beyond your abilities.
I’ll show you several tips and tricks on how to get the fretboard aligned properly, and then I’ll show you how to glue it down. Once the fretboard is glued down really well, it will be a very strong joint that will last the lifetime of the guitar.
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