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Fretting

After last week's rounding of the neck and fingerboard radiusing, this edition of the guitar build will focus on installing the frets into the neck, along with a little finish work.   The necks at this stage are shaped and sanded, but not finish sanded yet. 

I'm getting a little ahead, truth is there is one little area of shaping left to do.  When the fingerboard is radiused, the transition between the headstock is affected and looks a little off to me.

I use some sandpaper on a dowel and rework that transition - the difference is subtle, but to me makes a big difference. 

Next, I apply some brown grain filler to the skunk stripe to smooth it out a bit.  after it dries a bit, I use a small piece of burlap to rub off the excess: 

 The maple is close-grained, so I don't have to worry about the color from the filler bleeding into it - the filler will sand off once it is dry.   There's a good reason to use filler on walnut, though - it is a very open grained wood - but pictures speak better than words.  Here you can see a fresh slice of walnut next the the freshly filled and sanded skunk stripe on one of the necks:

As you can see, walnut is very porous.  You might not always see it, but your thumb will definitely feel it if you don't fill it.  

Next up is fretting (there's a great page on frets at - where else? - frets.com, Frank Ford's most excellent web site).  Here's where I found it was a great idea to do a "test" neck - the third neck.  I installed all of the frets but none of them wanted to stay in place.  I had re-sawn the fret slots to deepen them, but my first thought was that I hadn't gone deep enough.  But no, looking closer, I think I was OK - perhaps my re-sawing the frets had opened them up a tad too much?  I don't think so..

But here I was with a mess of a fret job, so I just decided to start over.  I removed all of the frets and sanded the fingerboard down a little more to clean up where the little tangs that hold the frets in their slots tore the fingerboard a bit.  I then re-set the fret saw a little deeper, re-sawed all the slots and started re-fretting the board.  The first one I put in did the same thing again.

I figured I had two choices.  I could make a little set of crimpers and add a bit of crimp to the frets so they would hold better, or I could add a little cyanoacrylate glue to help hold them in place.  The glue seemed much easier, so I went that route.

The problem was that the super glue left the light maple looking - dirty.  It basically soaked into the wood, and all the acetone in the world wouldn't clean it up.  Other than that, it worked great...  I would have to adapt for the remaining two necks.

My solution was pretty simple, and effective - after finish sanding them, I wiped on the necks several thin coats of shellac (about a 1# cut of some button lac I had handy)  I sanded the shellac down to 220 grit, then applied yet another coat, which I smoothed off with some old 320 grit I had to knock off the rough stuff.  I figured why not?  I was planning to use shellac as a sanding sealer anyway, this just might keep the wood from giving me fits.

With that I was ready to move on to the others.  I started by cutting the frets to length and placing them in a block of wood with some numbered holes to hold them.  Most recommend the fret wire be curved at least as much as the radius of the fingerboard - the fret I got from Warmoth (#6130, or a medium jumbo size - original Fender brand wire is also available here) came off of a roll that had a radius obviously just a little smaller than my necks' radius, so it wasn't necessary to bend it further, IMO.

So, with the next 2 necks, the process was:

  1. Clean out the slot with a small scraper I have with material leftover from making saws.
  2. Lay down a bead of cyanoacrylate glue along the fret slot
  3. Wipe off the excess glue with a rag soaked in acetone (the coats of shellac worked wonders here!)
  4. Tap the fret into place starting at the outside of the frets and working toward the center - a little shot of the CA glue would shoot out each side of the fret slot as I hammered it home.
  5. Trim the ends of the fret wire with a flush cutting fret nippers.
  6. A couple quick taps on the fret to make sure I hadn't dislodged it when trimming it
  7. A final cleanup with the rag soaked in acetone.
  8. A close inspection of the fret to make sure it had fully seated and that I'd cleaned up the glue adequately.

It might not have been the process an experienced luthier might have taken, but in the end, it went quite well - the frets all went in flush and held quite well, much much better than the first attempt.  Which is the idea, right? 

 I didn't want to do a full setup on the frets at this stage, as I will do that after the guitar is assembled and finished, but I did want to get them a bit further along that just the raw cut ends, so I first filed the ends of the frets flush with the face of the neck with a file chosen especially for it's fineness of cut and straightness just for the purpose of filing frets.

Then I cut a slot into some scrap maple to hold the file at about a 30-35 degree angle, and beveled the ends of the frets: 

I taped the fretboard for a couple of reasons.  First, it allows me to gauge my progress on beveling the frets - I know I'm there when I've just cut through the tape at the edge of the fingerboard:  

It also makes for masking to fill the ends of the fret slots.  I use Liberon shellac filler sticks and a burn-in knife to fill holes, it's the only way to go when filling scratches and defects in wood, IMO.  If you don't want to go to the expense of purchasing a burn-in knife, you can go old-school and use an alcohol lamp and a stainless knife blade to apply the filler - however, I've decided I'm not a fan of an open flame in the presence of all that sawdust and wood.  

Once applied, I remove the tape and then sand the edge of the fingerboard with some 220 sandpaper on a block.  I use a slightly darker color of shellac for the filler because I've found the lighter stuff will just stick out like a sore thumb on maple...

When I've finished, I re-sand the entire neck with 220 grit sandpaper and apply a few more thin coats of shellac.

The shellac will act as a sealer for the later finish coats of nitrocellulose lacquer, and it adds a little color to the neck as well - right now, the tone about matches the color of the neck of my 1996 Strat.  I'm not sure yet whether I want to go a little more amber or not yet, I'll decide that later.  For now, the shellac will protect the wood from getting dirty.

In the next entry, I'll test fit the necks to the bodies, after which I will return my attention fully to those...