Archive for the ‘Fretboard’ Category

A Close Shave

Today I did something I would never dream of doing to my other guitars – I took a razor blade to the fingerboard.  Yep, I gave my guitar a shave today.  There are a few reasons to scrape the fretboard with a razor.  The most common reason is to get rid of years of build-up.  I had a different problem.  One of the biggest problems with my eBay guitar, as I mentioned before, is the build quality leaves something to be desired.  Specifically, the mother-of-pearl inlays in the fingerboard weren’t flush with the wood.

Before I go any further, I have to admit I owe a huge debt of thanks to Roman Rist over on the mylespaul.com forums.  He wrote a beautiful article in the Epiphone forum about how to really set up a guitar.  One of the steps he takes is shaving the fingerboard with a razor and rolling the binding.  He even posted pics and a YouTube video.  I wouldn’t have known where to start or how to do it without his insightful contribution.  Thanks, Roman.

I didn’t need to roll the binding, but, man, did I ever need to scrape the fretboard.  Some of the inlays were so far off it made bending almost impossible on some frets.

First, I set the guitar up on my work table and removed the strings.  Since I’ll be adjusting the neck, too, I made sure the neck was supported down most of it’s length.  I found that an old bath towel folded over several times makes a great rest.

With the strings off, we need to drop the neck pickup out of harms way.  I do this by taking the bracket off and letting the pup fall into the cavity.  Then I cover it with paper and tape everything in place.  Some people put tape right on the pup and don’t cover the it with paper, but I’ve found using the paper  saves me from having to clean tape goo off it when I’m done.  Also, I’m a big fan of using yellow Frog Tape.  You can find it most places that sell painting supplies.  It costs more, but again, it saves me from having to clean goo off the guitar when I’m done.

Now that the guitar is prepped, we’re ready to shave.  Hold the razor blade with both hands perpendicular to the fingerboard and move it back and forth between the frets.  Use only light pressure.  Anything more and the blade will “skip” causing marks in the wood.  Once you are done with a fret, blow the dust away and use the tip of the blade to clean along the edges of the fret.  Again, use only light pressure to avoid gouging the wood or the frets.  It took me about an hour and 3 razor blades to do the entire fretboard.  If your only cleaning out gunk, you probably only need one new blade (always use a new blade).  Since I was also shaving the MOP inlays, it took me a while to work everything down until it was even, and was probably the reason I needed 3 blades.  Once you get the feel for it, you can tell when the blade is getting dull and you should start using a new one.
(* Remember to use both hands to hold the blade.  I’m only using one in the picture because I’m holding the camera with my other hand.  Notice the supply of new blades on the table.)

I ran my finger over the newly shaved fingerboard.  Where before I could feel the difference in height between the wood and the inlays, now I only felt a difference in texture.  I had to go over a few frets more than once until I achieved a nice even feel.  Once I finished shaving the fretboard and I made sure the wood was clear of debris, especially next to the frets themselves, I cleaned the frets.  I like to use cowhide (another trick from Roman).  Some people may use steel wool or 8000 grit emery cloth.  Whatever works for you, but if the strings are off, it’s always a good idea to make the frets shine.

Now, I thought, the hard fretboard work is done, we just have to oil it up.  Oil is essential on all non-sealed fingerboards.  Some people use straight lemon oil, but I prefer Dunlop 02 fingerboard deep conditioner.  I like the way it feels, and it seems to last longer for me.  It’s doubtful that any oil at all had ever been applied to this fingerboard.  After I applied the first round of oil, the places where the razor blade had skipped became very noticeable, so I went back and re-did those frets.  I didn’t get them perfect, but they are much better than when I started, and the skip marks are barely noticeable now.  It took 3 rounds of applying the oil, waiting 30 minutes, and wiping it off before the it stopped sucking up oil like a sieve.   Here’s a pic where you can see a huge difference between the oiled and non-oiled frets during the first round.  The difference was barely noticeable during the second and third rounds.

After the shaving the fingerboard most people would make sure the truss rod is adjusted correctly and check for high frets.  I don’t have the tools yet to work the frets, so I started putting things back together.  Next, I took off the protective tape and reseated the pup.  I used a set of Ernie 10’s lying around for restringing the guitar.  After a quick adjustment of the pup height with the strings on, I decided to check the neck with a straight edge and check the intonation.  Both were way out, so I adjusted the truss rod and reset the intonation.  I’m not going to go into detail about how to adjust the truss rod or set the intonation.  There are hundreds of sites and YouTube videos that do a better job explaining that I can.

So, how did I do?  Did I totally screw it up? Nope! Wow is all I can say.  It plays like a completely different guitar.  The action is nice, and I can easily bend notes on any fret.  It’s starting to play and feel like something more than a cheap guitar.  I think I’m going to take it to my local shop (Heights Guitars) and have them check and level the frets.  Then the action should be fantastic!

On a final note, I’m happy I had my cheap guitar to practice on.  Considering a new neck for my strat costs more than this entire guitar, I felt I could practice on it without doing too much damage to my wallet.  Now that I have experience and confidence, I won’t be so shy about doing this to my other guitars when they need it.

Until next time, have another drink.  The more you drink, the better I sound.  🙂


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