This is how to make your own fretboard to give your guitar a custom look. There are a lot of places where you can add your own custom features to a guitar. One of the best is the fretboard, and it’s easier to make than you might think.
The Fretboard is a Focal Point
On a guitar, the fretboard is a focal point. It’s a large section of wood, and the face directly points forward. It’s easy to just buy a fretboard that is already made, but you can use this big area to showcase some custom work.
It’s easier than you think to make your own fretboard. There are ways to get around milling the wood if you don’t have the tools, and there are also ways to slot the board easily.
Once you know a few of these things, you will wonder why you ever bought a pre-made fretboard.
Here are a few tips to get you started, as well as some of the reasons why you should make all of your own fretboards going forward.
See Also: The Easy Way to Slot a Fretboard
You Get to Select the Wood
The biggest reason you should make your own fretboard is that you get to choose the wood species and the look. There are a lot of great looking woods in the world, and among those there are also individual pieces that stand out.
When you buy a fretboard, in most cases you are limited to Ebony and East Indian Rosewood for your species choice. Some places will give you more choices, but the price goes up quite a bit at that point.
Instead of paying more, simply find the wood yourself. There are a lot of places in person and online that you can buy from. The internet has made the world smaller, and you can source wood from all over the world without leaving your chair.
How to know if a Species is Good for a Fretboard
There are a lot of great looking pieces of wood in the world, and many of them will make great fretboards. Some are not as good though, so it’s important to know what to look for. In general, the species needs to be dense, and if you can find wood that is about the same hardness as East Indian Rosewood, you are in good shape.
Another way to find out if the piece you are looking for is a good choice is to do a Google search. Search for the wood name and fretboard, for example, “Padauk fretboard” would be a perfect search. When you see the results, check and see if there are a lot of people making their necks from the wood.
If there are, you are likely to find that you can be successful with the same wood. If not, then use other factors to make the choice. Look up the properties of the wood, and if they are similar to other good fretboard species, you are probably safe.
Cheat Sheet of Good Species to Use
If you want to save some time looking for your own species that is good for a fretboard, feel free to use mine. These species make great fretboards, and most of them are not very expensive either.
Some of the best pieces to use are Bubinga, Padauk, Bocote, Cocobolo, and Goncalo Alves. These are not all you can use, but they all work well. They each bring their own character to the table, and some are really bold in color when you find the right piece.
As you work on your own fretboards, you will find the pieces of wood that you really like, and start using them more often. When this happens, you will develop your own personal look, and the guitar will feel a lot more like yours and your own design.
Picking an Individual Board
One thing that is really important when you pick out wood for your fretboards is to pick out the exact board. This can be a little harder online, but the more you hand select the wood, the better looks you can find.
For example, there are going to be a lot of pieces of a particular species that look ok, but only a few that look really awesome. In most cases, the boards are the same price, and located in the same bin.
All you need to do to make your selection is take the time to dig through the bin. Give yourself enough time, and really look at all the pieces. Find the one with the best look, or maybe pick a few that look great. This is how you make the species and the individual board work together for a superior look.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
How to Mill Your Own Boards
When you select a board from the wood store, the next step is to mill it. If you have the tools in the shop, the process is really easy. However, if you do not, then the next section will tell you what to do instead.
It’s easier to mill the boards into sections that are a few inches wide, and a little longer than you need for a fretboard. Then, send them through a thickness planer and get them down to size. For most fretboards, this is 1/4 inch thick.
Depending on the starting thickness, you might be able to split the boards in half by cutting them through the edge. As long as you can make two pieces that are at least a bit over 1/4 inch thick, you will still have enough room to use the thickness planer or sander later.
Make your passes through the planer carefully. The thinner the pass, the easier it is for the tool to remove wood without causing damage. Run all of your pieces through in a row, and then make a change in the depth adjustment on the planer. Repeat this process until they all come out the right thickness.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Neck Support
How to Find Boards Already Milled
In the event that you do not have the tools to mill your own fretboards, you still have options. One option is to buy wood that is already milled to thickness. The other is to pay the wood store to mill the boards for you.
Picking out boards that are already milled to thickness is the least resistant method of getting wood for fretboards. Look in the section of the store that sells milled boards, and identify the 1/4 inch thick pieces. Make your selection form these, and you will not need as many tools to complete the process.
The other option is to ask about milling services in the store. Typically, a hardwood store will mill your wood for a price, and they can tell you what the price will be. In most cases, you would need a couple cuts and some sanding or planing, so it should not be too much.
Making a Fret Slotting Jig
Once you have the boards milled, the next big objection to making a fretboard over buying one is cutting the frets. Yes, slotting the frets is not an easy job by itself, but you don’t have to saw them by hand.
Instead, make a jig that you can use to saw the slots, and you will never have to worry about missing a measurement again. My fret slotting jig is linked below, and you can make it from scraps in your shop.
Once you have the jig, all you need is a pre-slotted fretboard to use as a template, and it literally duplicates the same slot pattern on your new board. Slotting is super simple, and you never have to worry about sawing in the wrong place.
See Also: My Guitar Fretboard Slotting Jig
Make Custom Fret Dots from Exotic Hardwood
Another benefit of making your own board is that you can use exotic hardwood fret dots. Even a store bought board gives you a lot of options, but this is a basic part of the fretboard and you own it to yourself to make it awesome.
There is a tutorial below that shows you how to use one simple tool to make custom hardwood fret dots, and it’s inexpensive too. With all the great looking wood in the shop, it’s a shame not to put the scraps to good use.
The beauty of this process is that you can literally use small pieces to make fret dots. These pieces may have been too small for anything else, and now you can use them. The tool lasts a long time too, and you will really enjoy the simple inlay process.
See Also: Hardwood Fret Dots
Tapering the Fretboard
Lastly, tapering the fretboard is pretty easy, and you have a few options. You can make a sled for the table saw, and taper it that way, or you can use a router and a flush cutting bit. You can also sand it, which is great for those without a lot of tools.
Most guitar makers use some kind of power tool to make the taper on the fretboard, which is really easy. All you have to do is measure the width at the nut, then the width at the 12th fret. Project the lines down the board near the edges, and cut them.
You can start with a saw by hand if needed, then switch to a plane or sandpaper. Use a block to keep you straight, and the edges will not get lumpy. Also, watch the overall straightness and squareness as you sand. Do this carefully, and the taper will come out really well.
Your homework is to start making your own fretboards. If you have been buying them already made, or buying the blanks, you can do a lot more by doing it yourself. You also end up spending a lot less.
A great way to make it exciting is to find a great looking board first. Head over to the wood store or look online. Buy a great looking board that you would absolutely love to have as a fretboard.
When you get into the shop, start the process and work carefully. As you work, think about how amazing that fretboard is going to be when you are done. It’s so much fun to make a custom fretboard, and it’s really easy too.
How to Make Your Own Fretboard Wrap-Up
In the beginning, there is nothing wrong with buying a fretboard already milled and slotted for your guitars. This is one of the more stressful operations, and it’s around a $20 solution, so many times it makes sense.
As you become more comfortable with making guitars, start making you own fretboards too. The processes pretty easy, and it gives you a lot more choice. That’s the real reason to make your own fretboard.
If you want to make a very custom looking guitar, with a one of a kind fretboard, then making them is your only choice. Follow the steps, and make a slotting jig. After you make a few of them, you will end up making them all.
See Also: Laminated Guitar Necks
If you have any questions about Why You Should Make Your Own Fretboard and How to Make it Easy, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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