So I recently at the beginning of the year 2013 got into learning and building CBG's or Cigar Box Guitars. I am relatively new to it, but when I try making something and only get minor knowledge from reading articles and such, I sometimes feel the need to search out to learn more on the particular area I am working on to make sure I am doing it correctly. In this case, Fretting the CBG.
Most builders I have seen use a saw and a mitre box. The saw most commonly spoken about is the Harbor Freight Japanese Flush cut saw. This is a great tool and sharp. But I am no good at using it for frets. I make more of a mess of the fretboard using this. And I did several practice runs before doing the real cutting. Then it just doesn't look well for what I did. Even with a guide some turned out crooked. I wanted a better way for me to accomplish fretting that will work for me...So this may or may not work for you, but I wanted to share it for those who want to keep learning new ways or options in the building process....This is my process. Hope it helps.
As always, use safety when running any tool or sharp hand tools. Wear safety glasses when needed and hearing protection too.
Step 1: Figure Your Scale....Making Your Stencil
A common scale used and is seen on most Fender, is 25.50" or 25½". There is also the 24.75 or 24¾" scale use on Gibson and 25" for PRS guitars. Here is a link to Stewart MacDonald guitar supplies or www.stewmac.com to give you a run down on scale lengths.
You will then need a fret calculator. I am glad there is this info on the web these days and still amazes me how these were determined in general. StewMac also have a Fret Calculator, and link is here...
So the only thing about there's has a lot of great info and I'll admit some quite a bit above me. But its great to refer too.
I have stumbled upon another fret calculator and I tend to like this one a little better because frankly, its a little more simpler, but still gives you the info you need. and a printable graphic to transfer/copy your frets to the fretbaord.
I chose to go with the 24.75" or 24¾" scale as used on Gibson for a little more warmer tone. I chose to have 18 frets. You can choose to have more and I think 22 would be a little much. But being a CBG, remember there are no rules and my scale may not be for you. And it depends on how you will want to be playing the guitars you make.
I put in the info I wanted for my scale and fretboard. You will see the graphic change as you do this.
Entered 3 strings.
Next you will see the question "string width at the nut" and "string width at the bridge", Since the CBG is using a 1x2 and will technically be 1½" wide. Enter 1.5 for both of these. You will see the graphic change to look like a straight stick and 3 lines running down its length.
Next is Fretboard over hang. I eft this alone because in the end it wouldn't matter much, at least I think.
Then is asks Calculation Method, leave this number at 12. This noting that the 12th fret is you next octave change. This is you middle number. Now if you go with a 25.5" scale and print out the 2 scales, and hold them up together you will see a difference of the fret spaces. All this means is that the program compensated the fret distances. With the 25.5" scale the frets will be spaced slightly further apart than the 24.75" scale.Bottom line what matters is your 12th fret measurement.
For this scale it is from Front of the Nut to 12th Fret. = 12.375. From 12th Fret to break of bridge should also be 12.375.
When you have entered these simple numbers for your scale, save it as a pdf. and print it out. It will print out as 3 pages. The 3rd page you really do not need so you can actually go to print options and select pages to print 1-2. this will leave off the 3rd page.
So you are thinking great I have 2 pages , how is this gonna help me to line them up. On your first page it shoul have printed only 9 frets then take scissors and cut across just slightly behind the black printed line of this last 9th fret. Keeping the black line intact and should not be any white paper thereafter. Since I had noted 18 frets. The second page first fret is again the 9th fret. Trim the top of the page, but in front of the black line this time. Line up the 2 pages and use clear scotch tape to attach them together. This has led up to you making your template stencil and should look like the pic shown. Unfortunately the pic I wrote 15 frets. But you probably get the idea so far.
Next to transfer these.
Step 2: Transfering Frets
So now you should have your neck or fretboard prepped to start this part. Take the new stencil you made and line it up with the front of where your nut will be placed. And carefully line the stencil up with the rest of the neck/fretboard.
Once centered as best you think it is, holding the stencil in place with your thumb roll it back and place the carbon paper face down on the fretboard. making sure it will be under the first fret. No need to go all the way to the nut. Just enough to get the first fret started.
Use a fine point pencil or pen and begin just making a small mark at center of fret line with some medium pressure to make sure it gets transfered. You just need to make a mark just enough to see on the board to line up.
Take a square to make sure that marking the lines all the way across the fretboard will be straight.
When done marking all your frets, you should have your lines on the fretboard.
Step 3: To Fret or Not to Fret....
If you want to go fretless but want to have some kind of fret marked, you can wood burn them in and shouldn't take very long. Just be patient and line it up as best as you can. Remember, this is a Cigar Box Guitar. Don't strive for perfection. If its close, its good enough. I have had some minor crooked looking frets and didn't seem to make any difference.
Or cut the Fret channels using the HF saw I mentioned earlier...as I said I didn't think I had any good luck with using this for frets, but letting you know its another option. Since I don't use the saw for fretting, I didn't take any pics of that process, but didn't really think about it until I was writing this up.
Step 4: Not to Fret or to Fret.....
The Dremel Multi-Max at the time cost me around $80.00 from Home Depot. I mainly got it a couple of years ago for the sanding purpose of it. But you can also get universal cutting blades or attachments from Harbor Freight as well for a little less. But I have not used any yet.
For cutting the fret channels I use the moon blade. I took a piece of Fret and lined it up to determine my depth to cut. Since this blade does not have any adjustable guards, I used some painters tape to give me a visible reference line.
Step 5: Cutting Frets.....
Select the speed to desire number, I recommend at least 5-10. I have been doing it with the setting on 10, since the speed control recently decided to go out on me. but still work awesomely.
Start at the edge of the fret and not directly in the center of the board. Starting on the edge will allow you to gain a starting point and
have better control keeping it on line. Make a starting pass not too deep across the fretboard. As you start backing it for a second pass use a little more pressure to get it deeper. Keeping in mind that the tape is you max depth to cut.
This process can take 15-20 minutes to complete. I'm sure the saw it quicker, but I have seen some vids online where some builders look like they are racing and rushing. And on close ups looked chattered up on some fret channels for not taking alittle extra care. Of course using the Multi-Max it too can make mistakes and the lines be crooked. Either way theres the pros and cons of each.
When all done, you fret board should look like this now. I will also point out that the Multi-Max is using high friction to make the cuts, so lines will be burnt sometimes and this can be cleaned up by sand the fretboard after. Or leave them for a rustic look under the fret. Its a CBG = No Rules !!!!
And since using the tape for a depth gauge technically, you'll have control.
Step 6: Adding Frets...
I had precut some fret wire and cut them just a little over the width of the neck. This way you can fine tune the look. You can also find fretwire precut for CBG necks. cost may be same or just a little more as always research.
I use a cheap mallet from Harbor Freight. I suggest using the Yellow rubber side since its a little more impact resistant. The black side will tend to bounce more thus not totally setting the fret well.
Start at one edge and give a firm tap to inset the fret wire. Then gently line up the fret wire on the other side and firm tap.
This should leave the center high and the edges set into the channel.
Now pound the center down, not getting too crazy or you will bend the wire and will have to extract it and may ruin the fret baord. Pound firm again and then across the whole fret till flat and no large gaps between the wood and the fret wire.
Take your time and do one fret at a time. Carefully not to bend it.
Snip the end and file down or use the regular Dremel and a sanding / grinding drum to even out the edges.
So look what you did. You set some frets !!!! Now you can get more detailed in cleaning them up and doing fret dressing and leveling. As long as you have pounded them into place as flat as you can and feel by your finger to see if it feels even height it too should be good.
I lightly sanded the edge of the frets with the Dremel rotary tool. Just enough to take them down to work with a file. Speed setting was low, like 4-5. Use light pressue letting the sanding drum do the work but keep hold for good control. Then with a flat file ran it along the edge of the neck until it ran smooth. But go slow with this to not damage the wood. You can tape it, but then there is still the thickness of the tape used that will still leave a slight height to the fret edges.
I then taped up the neck using blue painters tape in 2" strips outlining the frets. As they get smaller, just tear the tape in half lengthwise to make them fit. Why are we doing this. Well you need to round the corners of the frets so you don't end up with sharp edges. You will see similar finish work on real guitars.
Using a flat file at a roughly 45 degree angle, lightly file until the height lessens. Best way to know if you're done, is that the tape will be your indicator and you'll start seeing the tape get buggered up. You should only be pulling and pushing the file about 4-5 or 6 times. You are not going fast with this just enough to make the file move.
When you are done angling the edges of the frets on both sides, remove the tape and feel across the frets. If your finger feels burrs or a snagging feeling. Then lightly go over it with the sanding block on the edge as you did before like as doing with the flat file.
Another plug for Harbor Freight, get yourself a set of miniture glass files. You can usually pick them up for about $5. I've had a set going on 10+ years and still works great. They are narrow for doing this type of detail. Better that the large thick flat file in my pictures.
At this point the fretboard and frets are done. You can add your fret dot markers or any other markers or you can do that after cutting the Fret channels. whicever works best for you. I tend to do either way depending on my scheme of the CBG.
Thanks for Looking.