Introduction: How to Make a Fretless Guitar With a Glass Fretboard!

Picture of How to Make a Fretless Guitar With a Glass Fretboard!
Well, I had an old archtop lying around, and being an advocate for the whole 'no guitar should ever die' bit, I decided to test an idea I had. Fretless guitars are interesting, but they lack sustain and bite. Sure, there are a few guitars with glass fretboards, but they're all electric! I wanted to hear what an unamplified acoustic guitar with a glass fretboard would sound like.

I've added a short video to give you an idea of what it sounds like. Cheers guys!

Please excuse my poor playing in the video above...there are no markers, and it's not like a fiddle where one can simply stay in one position and get perfect intonation...I just gambled with what my ear and experience dictated.

The name of the song is 'Vette', and the style is jazz manouche, or "gypsy jazz", as it's called here in the states. Look up Django Reinhardt if you'd like to hear it played the way it's supposed to be.

Thanks to everyone who took part in the Art of Sound voting!

Step 1: Get a Gee-tar and Remove the Frets!

Picture of Get a Gee-tar and Remove the Frets!

Unfortunately, I didn't really plan on documenting the steps to this...mostly because I wasn't sure it would even work in the first place! Sorry for no action shots of removing them.
Much information is available online for removing frets, but it's really quite simple. Take some end nippers, and grab and pull out slowly from the edges. On older guitars (like this one, it was sitting in a Northern Ontario basement for 20 years...) they *may* be glued in, in which case, you'll have to steam the frets to loosen the glue. Of course, if you're putting a sheet of glass over it, it really doesn't matter how well you do it anyways.

Step 2: Sand of Gypsies

Picture of Sand of Gypsies

This step is IMPERATIVE to this project. Almost all guitars will have a fretboard radius, be it nearly flat (12", like in classical guitars) to 7.25" on a strat. You don't want this. Pull out the electric sander, put on some 60 grit coarse, and have at it. I thought about using a plane, but the blade would get caught on every slot. You could try it sideways too, but that would take AGES. You need to devote at least an hour to this for a good job...I only put in about 15 minutes of effort, and it shows in the final product.

Step 3: Glue 'er On.

Picture of Glue 'er On.

I debated with myself over how to go about doing this, and in the end, I settled on getting the poor shmuck at the glass shop to do it. It cost me $18 to get this mirrored piece cut, and I imagine I would have spent easily 3 times that amount buying the glass, film, and cutting utensils to do it myself. Some things are best left for a "professional", as much as I despise that phrase.
I masked off the sides, and used a wonderful 3M adhesive for this, worked damn well in the past. Kind of makes you feel like spiderman when you use it as well :D Unfortunately, I also forgot to take photos, but it's pretty straightforward.

Step 4: Fill the Crevices

Picture of Fill the Crevices

Now, if you had your glass cut to the perfect size, and you sanded out the radius COMPLETELY, you can just skip this step and go have a beer. For the rest of us, take any generic wood filler and get it into the spots where the glue didn't reach. Let dry, sand, and then my secret technique!
Minwax's products have screwed me over many a time before, but they also came out with a wood filler pen, which is essentially just coloured wax, but it works GREAT for this, especially when you're just experimenting and you don't give a damn what it looks like! If I'd tried harder, it might have looked better, it might not have, who knows.

Step 5: Bust a Nut!

Picture of Bust a Nut!

Er...make, a nut. I used some buffalo bone blanks I had laying around, cut the excess off with an angle grinder, and brought out my nut files. These are a GREAT investment, and the money you save doing it yourself once makes it pay for itself. I bought mine from a guy on fleaBay, StewMac's are WAY overpriced. I had to shim the undersides of the nut and bridge because of the added 1/8" from the glass, and I just used some folded up sandpaper.

After this, you're done.

Step 6: Afterthoughts.

Picture of Afterthoughts.

There are a few things I would have done differently. The first would be to either remove the fretboard entirely and sub in a similar-in-thickness piece of glass, or ensure that I COMPLETELY SANDED OUT THE RADIUS! This gave me a severe loss in sustain and tone, and I'd hate to have some kid do this to his only guitar and ruin it. The other would be to make the contact points all of glass, as in the bridge and nut. I think this would change the tonal color in an interesting way, or maybe it would just deaden it? Who knows. You should get all your measurements perfect, as you can see in the pictures, I never allotted for the extra height of the fretboard, and I had to shim my bridge and nut.

Hope you guys liked it!


edwin white (author)2011-01-29

The guitarist for Black Sabbath
has a missing finger.

-Syrus- (author)edwin white2011-03-27

I think that you mean, he is missing fingertips by means of accident with heavy machinery. Thats why he only plays simple powerchords. All by accident.

He plays guitar left-handed. In an industrial accident at the age of 17 on his last day of work in a sheet metal factory, he lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand. After attempting to learn to play right-handed,[6] Iommi strung his guitars with lighter strings and made thimbles to extend his fingers.

Wiki power, though easy changeable. This fact I can confirm.

DovB1 (author)-Syrus-2015-11-21

If were talking about guitarist without fingers, Jerry Garcia was missing his middle finger.

Bjarke (author)2013-08-02

If i made a glass fingerboard, i would add some aircraft aluminum under it for support.

ccurtis6 (author)2011-11-04

Would you ever be willing to make that guitar again and sell it? I am extremely interested in this guitar. The almost cello look is beautiful. Glass fretboards are amazing. My only issue is that it doesn't have a classical neck. I'm currently doing an undergraduate degree in Classical Guitar, and I would love to show off this instrument.

theburn7 (author)2011-07-20

An iron can easily loosen glue from the fretboard to the neck. Luthiers use this trick all the time, when replacing fretboards.

ttacoman (author)2010-07-23

Just finished this project myself and gotta say it was well worth the time. I used an electric guitar instead and it sounds great.

-Syrus- (author)ttacoman2011-03-27

Damn !

That turned out great, I own the same guitar as you!
Pacifica's are great starter guitars :)

guitarman63mm (author)ttacoman2010-07-24

Bravo man, great job! Much higher quality than mine. Cheers!

JKibs95 (author)2009-06-25

This is severely cool... video would make it cooler... Left-handed? Noticed your strings are on backwards...

guitarman63mm (author)JKibs952009-06-25

Indeed, I am a lefty.

So am I but lost part of my middle finger on my right hand and now I can't play a lick :-p

JKibs95 (author)the_eradicator2009-07-02

Oh man... that seriously bites... how'd it happen? (If you don't mind my asking)

the_eradicator (author)JKibs952009-07-02

It happened while on active duty in the Army....thats all I am going to All part of being a soldier.

really? hmm i heard he was in a fire as a kid and they got fused together.. crazy... i will have to look it up.

Artillery crew? Many guys that lose their digits still try to play, with several coming to mind. In fact, in the style that the video is in-gypsy jazz-, the founder, Django Reinhardt, lost the ability to move his pinky and ring fingers, and became one of the greatest guitarists, if not the best, to ever live. I myself am joining the military once I get out of school...

abadfart (author)guitarman63mm2009-07-04

one of the guise from black sabeth was missing fingertips on his left hand and i once played with a bassest who was missing down to the second knuckle on most of the fingers on his right

Jonny Katana (author)abadfart2009-07-09

Tony Iommi is the Sabbath member you're referring to, and he was actually the guitarist, not the bassist. He had prosthetic fingertips custom-made for his two damaged fingertips and strung his guitar with light-gauge strings. And he's still shredding :P

Tsukasa (author)Jonny Katana2010-12-04

Funny side note, it was a record of Django Reinhardt that inspired Tony to continue playing guitar after he lost his fingers.

abadfart (author)Jonny Katana2009-07-14

ya but the basest that i referred to was one of my buddies that we all called blender boy

JKibs95 (author)abadfart2009-07-14

... charming...

abadfart (author)JKibs952009-07-16

he lost them when using a blinder hints the name and he always gave me crap for the nail threw my foot so its ok

Jonny Katana (author)abadfart2009-07-14

Ah, I should've read that better. My bad.

One player comes to mind who excelled with this same handicap, Jerry Garcia! Dont give up just adjust to the challenge adapt brother adapt.

Well Django could only use two fingers on his fretting hand(some would say 3) of course.

JKibs95 (author)JKibs952009-06-25

Never mind... Just looked at your profile... left-handed...

monkeyboychase (author)2011-01-26

GYPSIE JAZZ!! my guitar teacher has told me about him, awesome project i should try have an old guitar lying around. anyways AWESOME!

neffk (author)2010-11-23

Good work. Your video of the final product was a nice touch.

meebit (author)2010-06-17

i would love to see a fretless bass guitar with a glass fingerboard

poopsiedoopsie (author)meebit2010-08-12

i will post pictures. Its an old stingray copy, and sounded good enough.

wellcausedwall (author)2010-05-21

 Southpaws unite! that thing would be perfect for a bit of combining fingering and slide, i always get a little too carried away with my slide on my acoustic and end up bumping over some frets, if i ever end up wih an extra acoustic this is definitely somethign worth trying out.

zer6 (author)2010-03-07

Is there a problem with the stings scratching the glass? I'm thinking of doing this and I need to know. Thanks!

guitarman63mm (author)zer62010-03-07

I hadn't even thought of that before!  Well, after checking, there weren't any visible scratches, although this is more of a wall ornament than a daily instrument to me.  It has been played probably 10 hours at most in its lifetime.  The roundwound acoustic strings I used have relatively little wear, and consquently, few burrs.  I imagine there are many, many scratches that aren't visible to the unaided eye, but they don't matter.
You're only shortening the scale length by pressing down, and the string itself isn't being pulled along the length of the glass, it's just your finger moving to different sections.

teapotking (author)guitarman63mm2010-03-14

 I would have thought that unless you use it every single day the glass would be okay. although doing any kind of bends/using a slide that's not made of glass also could probably scratch it a bit.

Sky Coyote (author)2010-02-04

 Why not try slumping the glass to get the curve of the fretboard?

poopsiedoopsie (author)2010-01-27

imma do this to my bass.

guitarman63mm (author)2010-01-05

My thoughts?  Well, I'm a bit biased, as I only play one or two types of guitars now, both acoustic (a Selmer guitar and a tricone resonator).  I grew tired of the electric sound, and both of the aforementioned have the snappy sound that I heard in my head for so many years.
     But to answer your question:  Look on youtube, and decide for yourself.  They show them with and without distortion.  I personally despise the sound a fretless electric ANYTHING makes, be it double bass, fiddle, etc.  It just sounds poor.

captainrobby37 (author)2009-12-18

what are your thoughts on doing this to an electric guitar?

captainrobby37 (author)2009-08-25

So I want the fretboard to be completely flat, right?

Precisely.  That's the reason I had to use so much filler at the end, if you read my descriptions.  It would be much more professional looking with a perfectly flat fretboard, my filler method was quite crude in retrospect.

ionfreek458 (author)2009-10-18

 hey thanks for an incredible gift idea.  im good friends with joe perry of aerosmith and i think he's gunna love it when i give him this guitar.  thanks again and keep these ideas comin!

Rockerx (author)2009-08-29

Cool! Though, here's an idea. How about having only part of the fretboard glass? Like just replace the last 7 or 10 frets with it. That would be kind of fun, being able to get both sounds even if using the glass would be rather high. But it would be neat for solos. I might do that...I'll let you know. :P

astrong0 (author)2009-08-20

you could even use a glass cutter to mark out the frets on the glass so you still know where they are :)

radiorahim (author)2009-08-07

"The Best of John Coltrane", thats pretty cool. John Coltrane is the best

ander (author)2009-07-21

Man, this is great. Looks very cool too. You'd really need to practice on this a lot, though, to learn to play it in tune. Now you know what all the violinists are up against. ;?)

guitarman63mm (author)ander2009-07-22

Thanks! I actually do dabble with the 'ole fiddle sometimes, so I've a bit of experience in it (makes my playing in this even more deplorable...)

Jayefuu (author)guitarman63mm2009-08-06

Perhaps you could mask where the frets would be then use etching spray to give the rest of the fretboard a frosted look.

FangCool (author)2009-08-05

I was like WOW!

adamvan2000 (author)2009-08-01

Definitely awesome. Not being a guitar player myself, I don't have the experience to suggest this, only my own observations. If one were to desire frets, at least in a visual sense, it should be possible to mask off the whole of the fretboard and slice notches in the masking material where every fret would be, then use a chemical etch to show the fret. You'd still have the mirror effect underneath the frets, as well as visual markers to guide your fingers. Just a thought. ~adamvan2000

A good name (author)2009-07-20

I had just come here to rant on about how it wouldn't make proper sound, but that actually sounds really good.

About This Instructable



Bio: Well, I'm a musician, and left handed. That, and the fact that I like to make stuff. That's pretty much it. Oh, and ... More »
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