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25 May 2014

Highwayman Banjo - Snakes Alive!

I've been having a bit of a break from by Banjo-building. My self-imposed hiatus came about when I decided to change how I'm doing the pot. More on this in another post. I'm waiting for a part to arrive from China and then I shall reveal all. You know me... I've been unable to sit on my hands for too long.

In today's post I'm going to talk about my work to fashion a fretboard...


Some crazy ideas just need a little bit of time to bed in. Other's, never seem to make it to the mainstream. Take these brilliant snake boots. What's not to like about these?

Why all this talk of snakes? Read on...

(photo courtesy of Geekologie


I figured that I could make a fretboard to attach to the neck without having actually made the neck. As you know, I have some plans I've drawn up. The only thing I haven't quite figured out is exactly how long I want to make the length of the neck. Sounds a bit remiss I know, but even now, I haven't decided. I need to factor the length of the tailpiece I've bought and where I want the bridge to sit... a problem for another day.

In this picture, you can see that I've taken a thin strip of mahogany (the same mahogany that I'll make the neck out of) and I've drawn on a few key lines. I'm going for 15 frets in true clawhammer style. 


Having got the fretboard all measured I then started to think about fret markers. My intention all along has been to do some big rectangular fretmarkers with a contrasting wood. Here you can see me laying some maple blocks on top of the fretboard blank for size. It was at this moment as I pondered how I was going to cut the hole for the fretmarkers that I had a revelation... What if I ran the fretmarker along the full width of the fretboard! I wouldn't need to bother with side-dots! 


While I'm talking fret-markers I want to call out a wonderful site I happened across the other week. Banjo Thimble has an article called "Why Stewart Marked the 10th" which needs to be read. There are soooo many great little banjo insights in the article that I think you should go and read it right now!

For the Highwayman Banjo, I'll be marking the 1st, 3rd, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th and a magic 21st!


This picture of a Gibson Mastertone has been pinched from the Dream Guitars site. I show you it to give you a hint of what I might do with my "magic" 21st fret. Whilst I won't have any actual fretwire this high up the neck, I've thinking of maybe doing a "KING UKE" marker.

By the way, I love the thick fretwire used on these old Mastertones. I might be tempted to go fat on the Highwayman. Does anyone know the dimensions of the Mastertone fretwire? Drop me a comment if you do...


Hold on a second! There are two fretboads in this picture!. Yep, unfortunately, I buggered up the first and had to embark on a mark 2.

Having had the brainstorm with the fret markers, I then decided to use my table-saw to cut the slots. Despite specifically trying to make sure that did it all right, you can see here that in a lapse of concentration, I cut a bad slot in completely the wrong place! It was all going so well too!

No matter... the Mark 2 was soon in production!


I almost blew the Mark 2 by cutting the slots too deep. I only left myself with 1 mm to play with and forced myself into making new maple markers that were thicker. What a mess! It could have all been avoided if I'd only done a trial slot first. It wouldn't have been difficult to do... a lesson for next time!

Here you can see the markers being tested for size. Perfect! 


I glued and clamped it overnight and this is how it looked this morning. Pretty good. If you look really close you might also see that I've cut the fret slots while the board is still square. 


I cut the fretboad out with my jig saw and filed it slightly larger than the final fretboard will be; I want some wriggle-room for when I glue it to the neck. Then I set to the markers with a rasp to bring them down to the level of the fretboard. It took a while, but I was loving every therapeutic minute. 


Here's the finished fretboard. I've roughly sanded it and given it a brush to get the sawdust off it. I reckon it looks a bit like a sea snake with the pattern. I'm dreading buggering it up by messing up the frets! I will practice doing them on another bit of wood until I'm happy. Promise!

My current thoughts are to varnish the fretboard prior to fitting frets. Am I being crazy? Now's you time to stop me! ;-) 


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