Hawaii Ukulele Project Part 5

Back to the fretboard!

When I started to get serious about shaping the fretboard down to the profile of the neck, I took a closer look than I had previously at what I’m working with, and realized something that I probably should have paid more attention to from the outset.

The neck is not straight.

Sure, I get that this instrument probably started its life as a sub-$25 souvenir on a kiosk in a mall in Honolulu (or something like that).  And it’s not like I thought about that, and then thought, “Eh, I’m sure the neck will be good and straight anyway.”  Truth is, I just didn’t think about it.  But now that I have, I need a strategy to deal with the situation.

So, my first thought was to simply cut the fretboard just a little proud of the neck profile, and then shape it down to match the line produced by the neck in its natural state.  That way, I could preserve the character of the original instrument while installing a nice, new fretboard.  However, that would leave me with a fretboard with “wavy” sides, and I just couldn’t convince myself that I could live with a finished instrument with wavy edge on the fetboard.

So instead, I cut the fretboard edges good and straight, and just a little narrower than the width of the neck, intending to then bind the fretboard, making it slightly wider than the neck, then blending the bottom of the binding into the wavy shape of the neck, and leaving the top of the edge good and straight.

I made the first “cut” on the sanding station, and then glued it to the neck.

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I then carved about 2mm down into the neck, following the straight edge of the fretboard, leaving a little ledge on the neck for the binding to sit on, which you can see in the photos below.

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Next, I cut bindings from a scrap guitar fretboard I had laying around.  I believe it is rosewood, though I’m not particularly good at identifying wood species, so I’m not really sure.  I cut the binding strips to rough dimensions, and planed them down to the thickness I wanted with a low-angle block plane, dry-fitting to double check as I went along.

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Once the dimensions were all correct, I notched the ends where the fretboard extends over the body of the instrument, and glued the bindings on.  You can see in the photos that they stand proud of the surface of the fretboard by about a millimeter.

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I then brought the edges of the binding down flush with the surface of the fretboard with files and chisels, and a final sanding down to 1000 grit paper.  I also rounded over the detail at the end of the board by the sound hole.

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The top bindings, at this point, are good and straight down both sides.  The top edge along the side of the fretboard will remain straight.  As can be seen in the photos below, this still left the bottom edge of the bindings a bit proud of the surface of the neck where the curve begins.  This bottom edge will be blended into the curve, and will follow they original waviness of the neck, preserving the character of the original instrument, while giving the new fingerboard a good, clean, straight feel when being played.

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Next time, I’ll finish off the bindings, and see what I can do about some nice dots.

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