The Neck – Part 2
Ok, the next step in building a guitar neck is making the fretboard. I picked a nice reddish brown piece of indian rosewood.
First thing we have to do is make all the dimensions of our “blank” regular. We start by flattening the bottom and one edge on the jointer.
Then throw it on the table saw making sure to put the jointed edge against the fence, and trim off a little sliver. Only enough to insure that the board is the exact same width end to end.
Then we pass it through the drum sander and reduce the thickness to 1/4″ and make sure that the thickness is exactly the same end-to-end. When using a drum sander for rosewood I set the conveyor belt to the highest speed so the sanding drum doesnt stay on one spot for more than a second, and also I only take the smallest amount off with each pass. This keeps the rosewood from heating up. If rosewood heats up too much it can warp.
Now its perfectly regular. Same width and same thickness end to end.
This is a jig I built that allows me to use my hand router to quickly put a very consistent radius on a fretboard. The board in the middle pivots back and forth while the router sits on top. I have re-locatable pins in each side that allow you to adjust the amount of radius. In the case of this board I’m making a compound radius of 9 1/2″ at the nut, to 12″ at the 22nd fret”
This is desirable because I like to play lead guitar so a flatter fretboard above fret 12 can have low action but wont fret out when bending strings, but a more curved (smaller) radius down at the nut makes it more comfortable to play chords .
So I set one pivot pin at 9.5″
I mount the board on the rocker…
Place the router and set the bit depth so that it just touches the top of the board dead center. In case you didnt figure out how this works, the side pins are placed in the rocker so that they are exactly the distance shown from the point where the router bit touches the fretboard.
Now you rock the fretboard back and forth and the bit cuts the board the exact radius you set. You have to slide the router about a quarter inch after each rock. Once the router has gone from one end to the other the board is finished.
Now we just clean up the tool marks with some 400 grit sand paper. We use a really fine grit because we dont want to remove a lot of material. Just enough to get rid of the grooves left by the router.
Our results. Perfect. 9 1/2″ on one end….
12″ on the other end. Thank you radius routing jig! I didnt invent this jig. I saw something similar on-line, stole the concept (its a pretty simple concept), and built my own. Works pretty damn good 🙂
the next jig I built is for cutting the fret slots. I didnt need to slot too many board manually with a Japanese fret saw before I knew there had to be a better way. Stewmac sells a blade made for table saws that has a kerf the perfect width. So I bought that, and built a jig that allows me to make very precise cuts for the fret slots. I attach a notched template to the fretboard thats notched for a 25.5″ scale length.
I put a pin in the fence the exact right distance above the surface of the table saw so that when the slotted template is sitting on a fretboard the pin is the perfect height to slot into the notch in the board. the notches are spaced perfectly to where the fret slots should be. I make a cut, move the board to the next notch, make another cut, etc etc until I’ve cut the appropriate number of slots for the board I’m making
When I’m done I have a perfectly slotted fretboard.
Next I trim the width of the board to just a little wider than the neck.
If you look closely you will see severl tiny pins poking up from the neck at each end. These are staple ends. I put a staple at each end and then nipped it off leaving these tiny sharp pins. I then aligned the board to the correct position and then squeezed the board onto the neck so that the staple tips drove into the underside of the fretboard. These arent to keep it on, but rather, they prevent it from sliding out of place side to side or front to back when I glue and clamp it. The glue, while wet, can act as a layer of lubrication between and then when pressure is applied the board can slide out of place. These little pins just keep it from sliding when clamped.
After cleaning both the bottom of the fretboard and the top of the neck with acetone to remove any dirt or oils that might prevent a good glue joint, I apply a thin layer of glue to both surfaces and spread it around evenly so that every square inch of both surfaces are evenly coated with no bare spots, slot the board onto the little pins, use my vacuum bad system to clamp it in place for several hours. I love this vacuum system. It applies perfectly even clamping pressure across the entire surface regardless of the radius or shape and creates the perfect glue joint.
A little glue squeezeout is normal. Looks a bit frothy too because the vacuum system draws out any airbubbles that may have been in the glue as well. I left the board a touch wider than the neck so that we can trim the board to the exact width of the neck on the router table.
The bearing on the router bit rides against the neck and trims the fretboard to the exact dimensions of the neck.
Leaving a perfect glue joint 🙂
Fretboard radiused, slotted, glued, and trimmed 🙂