The first task for day three was marking out the fret positions. Three years ago when I first considered building a guitar it was fear of today’s challenges that put me off. Having now done it I can confidently say that with a bit of planning and a lot of patience it wasn’t all that bad.
To kick things off I made a simple measuring jig. This consisted of a strip of beech the same width as the steel ruler and the same thickness as the fretboard blank, less the thickness of the ruler. These bits were stuck together, and to the bench itself, using double-sided tape. Then I taped the fingerboard next to it, this way nothing could move at all during the whole marking out process.
Using a square I was then able to mark the nut position and all 21 frets at an exact right angle to the fretboard. The telecaster plans I have had the fret position measurements from the nut given in milimetres. Rather ridiculously the measurements were given to two decimal places which initially caused some confusion with rounding errors. I decided to cross out the original measurements and make a new list to just one decimal place. The steel rule had half milimetres marked on it so measuring to this accuracy was much easier than I expected.
Once I had measured and marked all the fret positions from the nut I went back and measured the distance between each adjacent pair of frets. Using the original dimensions I could then work out if what I measured was what it was supposed to be.
For example — if fret one is 36.3mm from the nut and fret two is 70.6mm from the nut, the distance between them should be 34.3mm. Once I had done this for all frets I circled any discrepancies that were greater than 0.1-0.2mm and remarked them. This was the reason I had initially decided to mark the frets with a propelling pencil and not by scribing a line with a marking knife… phew!
The next daunting task was to cut the fret slots. This presented several challenges. Firstly, all the cuts had to be perfectly parallel to each other. Secondly, I had to ensure all cuts were vertically straight down into the fretboard. Thirdly I had to do all the above 21 times without making any mistakes and scuffing the fretboard! Time for another jig…
The fret slot jig consisted of a fence the same thickness as the fretboard which was screwed onto a meticulously planed and squared block of beech. I then set up a clamp which would lock the jig and fretboard firmly in place. Whilst cutting the slots with a Japanese cabinet-making saw I used my left hand to reach over the saw and push the blade against the jig. I also rubbed some candle wax on the left side of the blade to make the saw run smoothly against the block.
To start with I tested the process on a dummy fingerboard which I created from beech before moving on to the macassar ebony.
About half an hour later I had cut all the slots with no mistakes, this was a big relief and I finally started to believe that I might actually be capable of building a half decent guitar.
Next up was drilling the fret dots. Once again I started this process on the dummy beech fingerboard using a 6mm drill bit in the drill press. The paua shell inlays (which were 6mm in diameter) unsurprisingly, fitted perfectly.
With that under my belt I lined the drill press fence up with the middle of the fretboard and proceeded to drill the real ones. To mark the position of the dots I drew two diagonal lines between each pair of frets and drilled where the lines crossed.
Compared to cutting the frets this was easy and didn’t take long at all.
The next task was to glue the fretboard to the neck. In preparation for this I drilled a miniscule hole in both the first and last frets using a tiny fretwork drill bit. Next I aligned the centre line on the fretboard with the centre line on the neck and hammered some tiny panel pins through the drill holes to make locating marks in the maple neck below.
Using these holes I was then able to quickly and accurately realign the two parts once they were covered in slippy, slidy glue.
I removed the fretboard and applied a generous layer of titebond glue to the neck.
Working quickly, I realigned the pins in the fretboard with the holes in the neck and clamped the pieces together with a series of clamps. Using a wet toothbrush and a damp rag I cleaned away all the excess glue that oozed out of the joints and left it overnight to dry.
That was that! I had accomplished in a day something that I had been worrying about for many weeks and it had all gone extremely well. I headed off to the house for a well earned beer and an awesome BBQ with the neighbours.