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15 July 2012

How to fit fret markers

So I'm building an electric ukulele... and I'm making all sorts of mistakes along the way.

This might have been an interesting fret marker

In my last post I revealed that I had "forgotten" to fit the fret markers - the little dots that are strategically inlayed into the fretboard. I should have done this before I hammered home the fret wire so that I could have sanded and smoothed to perfection without risk of damaging the frets. I didn't and that's just the way it is unfortunately. Here's how I recovered...

If you're going to fit fret markers then you're going to need some fret
markers to fit! I wanted some mother of pearl dots. Nothing fancy. So
I hopped onto ebay and ordered some. This is what arrived. How I
laughed! Look at the size of them! It turns out that I'd only gone
and ordered some of the markers that you fit along the side rather
than the front! I'll confess that I wasn't paying too much attention to
the size. What a numptie! So I got back on ebay and did it properly.

My research revealed that I should have used a forstner bit for drilling the holes. I
didn't have one the right size and didn't really want to spend the money on one
specifically for this one job. I convinced myself that surely I could do this with an
ordinary drill bit! There was only one way to find out and this was to have a trial
run on an offcut. It all went according to plan. The problem I had was that the hole
left by the ordinary drill bit isn't flat, rather bowl-shaped. That was okay... I had
a plan! 

Here you can see a soft-focus picture of the fretboard having been set-to with a drill.
I marked the places I wanted the holes to be and drilled away. Typically you would sink
the holes short of the depth of the fret marker and sand the proud bit flat. Since I didn't
really want to be doing any sanding at all if I could get away with it, my plan was to sink
the holes deeper than you would usually do and to try and inlay as close to level as
possible. Knowing that I also had a bowl beneath, I filled the hole first with a tiny wad
of paper before gluing. Then I pushed it level and let it dry. It's a hack, but one I was
prepared to make. One other thing to note here is that I used wood glue to fix the dots;
my research showed that super glue is a popular choice here. 

Here's the finished product. The dots are pretty much level as I set out
to make them. There is a slight misalignment if you look down the neck
against the centre line. Over all though, this is looking a lot like I hoped it
would! If I was to to do this project over, I would definitely fit these
prior to hammering in the fret wire. I have chosen not to fit the markers
along the top side of the neck. I've got them, but I don't want to fit them.

And that's it. I've got the body lacquered and hanging to cure. I've also just lacquered the neck and left that to cure too. The next challenges will be to finish/buff the lacquer somehow, and to then try and fit the neck and body back together again. What's the bet that they don't fit now they've been lacquered?


  1. where do you measure your scale length from and where do you measure it too. is it from the peak of the nut to the peak of the saddle?

  2. "where do you measure your scale length from and where do you measure it too."

    Imagine drawing a line split down the middle of your neck, right down through the saddle. This is the line you must measure your scale length on.

    " is it from the peak of the nut to the peak of the saddle?"

    If I understand the question... yes. It is the length between where the bridge starts and the saddle starts

  3. " is it from the peak of the nut to the peak of the saddle?"

    meaning, that the nut and saddle usually have a rounded top (where the strings rest on) so is it from the peak of that rounded top? thanks!

  4. Yes - you've got it!

    I talk a bit more about this on the following post:

    Check out the bits about "compensation".

    Also, at the risk of complicating things... this might be worth taking a look at for a more rounded explanation...