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Telecaster Style Fingerboard

This weekend I was focused on the fingerboard. I began on Saturday morning by slotting the Ziricote fingerboard blank on the slotting gear which I had successfully tested late last weekend. The question at hand was how deep to make the fret slots knowing that when I sand the radius into the board, the slots would end up much shallower. I made my best conservative guess and carefully slotted the board without incident. I was careful to lift the sled above the blade and return it “home” before advancing to the next slot pin. Each slot was passed through the blade only once.

I have given great thought to fret markers and inlay in general and have found many alternatives. For this build (my first) I wanted to keep it simple and classy so I used my 1/4″ plug cutter to cut maple dowels from the neck off cuts. I began by running a strip a masking tape down the center of my fingerboard and marking a center-line. Remember it’s always a good practice to measure from your jointed edge. Fret markers for all but the 12th fret could be located by centering between slots. For this I used vernier calipers measuring the span of the slot, dividing by two then resetting my calipers to the half mark. As a check I made a dimple on my center-line from both directions and tapped a small divot with my awl to mark the location. A similar technique was used to find the center of the 12th fret span with each marker being offset equidistant from the center line. The offset I simply took off my purchased Fender neck. Although it isn’t a critical measurement, you must remember that your finger board blank is much, much wider than you neck with ultimately be so you need to keep it somewhat “centered” and on your final work.

Maple fret markers being glued in place.

Maple fret markers being glued in place.

For future reference, I transferred the center-line mark to both ends of the finger board blank using a tiny piece of masking tape and pencil.

After an hour or two of curing I taped off the rest of the top surface of the fingerboard (so as not to mar it) and used my flush cut saw to cut the maple dowels reasonably flush to the surface.

Maple fret markers are in place and the finger board is ready for a radius sanding.

Maple fret markers are in place and the finger board is ready for a radius sanding.

Using my 9.5″ radius sanding block and sticky backed sandpaper I began leveling the fret board. To keep my sanding block centered I attached guides on either side of the fret board all of which have been secured to my table saw bed with double-sided tape. The mistake I made was beginning the work with 150 grit paper and after sanding what seemed to be an hour or so, I broke down and switched to 80 grit which quickly did the job. At that point sanding up the grits from 120, 150, 220 and 320 went quickly.

Radius sanding the fret board.

Putting a 9.5″ radius on the finger board.

I was making progress on the neck and almost ready to glue on the finger board. Before doing so I need to route access to the end of the truss rod which will lie under the fingerboard just below the nut. I hadn’t done this yet because I uncertain about how I was going to do it but in the end I chucked up a 3/8″ straight bit and routed towards the head stock. I made several passes lowering the router bit time until I was level with the bottom of the truss rod adjustment nut. I also limited travel on the deeper passes leaving a stair stepped effect which I turned into a ramp with my 1/4″ chisel. Using sandpaper around a dowel I smoothed out my work and called it good.

I took this opportunity to sand out the imperfections from where I frightfully thinned the head-stock to 1/2″ leaving all sorts of divots and problems. Sandpaper and a card scraper along wasn’t getting it so I pulled out my StewMac Dragon rasp and went to work removing material. When I was happy with it I used the card scraper and sandpaper to get it right. One of the spots that needed additional work was the transition area just past the nut. This is where the rasp shined. I will need to revisit this area once the finger board is in place.

With the center-line marked on both the neck and the edge of the finger board, I placed a brad on either side of the truss rod one towards the nut and towards the heal for registering the fret board on the neck for glue-up. I didn’t actually have any small brads so I snipped off the legs of some small steel staples I had on hand. Using reasonable wisdom, I tried them on some scraps first. They were tiny and worked perfectly.

Staple substituted for a small brad

Staple legs substituted for small brads

Before tapping the pin into the neck I drilled a very shallow 1/8″ pilot hole. My greatest fear was allowing the drill bit to run away and drill all the way through my finger board. That would have been disastrous! I took it very slowly, deepening the recess on the underside of the finger board every so slowly until it would seat onto the face of the neck. It would have been best to not even use a powered drill but I was careful and it worked out this time. Just to bring this point home I did drill right through a test piece before I even knew what happened.

I placed two strips of masking tape on the underside of the fret board so that I could trace the outline of the neck on to the tape making sure the finger board was properly registered using the pins. I then carefully cut just outside the line using my band saw so routing the flush would be straight forward after the glue-up. Before glue-up I applied a strip of blue painter’s tape to either edge of the neck to minimize the impact glue squeeze-out.

Nervous but ready at last I applied two dollops of silicone caulking into the truss rod channel at each end of the truss rod. I inserted the truss rod and wiped away any caulk squeeze out. I then applied blue tape over the truss rod and coated the neck surface with glue, removed the tape and registered the finger board on the pins. Applied cauls and clamps and called it a weekend.


Thanks for following the build.

Although I don’t have a Master to teach me in my shop I sometimes feel like I have learned from Masters through the magic of YouTube. Many (most)  of the tricks I employed this weekend were learned from David Fletcher of Fletcher Handcrafted Guitars. His guitars are amazing and if you really want to learn a thing or two about how they are made you absolutely must subscribe to his YouTube channel. Cheers to you David!


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