Installing the fretwire in the Ebony fretboard.

I now switch from woodwork to metalwork to install and dress the fretwire. I have an arsenal of specialy tools to assist in this phase. A bound fretboard like Dan’s takes over twice the effort to fret because the fretwire does not extend to each end of the fretboard like it does in an unbound board. The part of the fretwire that is installed in the fret kerfs is called the tang. The tang must be cut to the total width of the opening and then the crown of the fretwire must extend to the ends of the fretboard, overhanging the binding.

My fretting tools: a fret hammer, a tang nipper, a tang crimper, a fret cutter ground flat, and a fret leveler.

My fretting tools: a fret hammer, a tang nipper, a tang crimper, a fret cutter ground flat, and a fret leveler.

The fretboard was radiused 14 degrees so the fretwire should also follow that radius. I built a little jig that gently bends the fretwire.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

The fretboard was radiused 14 degrees so the fretwire should also follow that radius. I built a little jig that gentlly bends the fretwire.

I insert the fretwire upside down in one end of the jig and turn the handle to feed it through to the other end to create a radius.

I insert the fretwire upside down in one end of the jig and turn the handle to feed it through to the other end to create a radius.

I cut the fretwire to span the first fret kerf and nip off the tang to fit in the kerf.

The tangs need to fill the entire kerf to make sure the ends of the wire rest tightly over the binding.

The tangs need to fill the entire kerf to make sure the ends of the wire rest tightly over the binding.

I then run a bead of luthier’s glue on the bottom of the tang. The glue does not actually help much as an adhesive but the moisture in the glue slightly swells the Ebony in the kerf to help grip the tang.

Many luthiers do not use glue in the kerf but I prefer to use any method that helps the long term integrity of the frets.

Many luthiers do not use glue in the kerf but I prefer to use any method that helps the long term integrity of the frets.

I insert the fretwire in the kerf and use the copper end of the fret hammer to pound in the tang.

I hammer one end then swith to the other end and then hammer the middle.

I hammer one end then swith to the other end and then hammer the middle.

I repeat this process until all the frets are installed. Then I use the fret cutter to snip off the ends of each wire.

Care is taken with the last three or four frets because they are not over the neck; they will rest over the guitar top.

Care is taken with the last three or four frets because they are not over the neck; they will rest over the guitar top.

After the glue has had a day to set, I then angle the fretwire in about 35 degrees toward the center of the fretboard. I use a special fret file for this.

There is still about 1/2" of the Mahogany neck that extends beyond the fretboard and this serves as a guide for the fret file.

There is still about 1/2″ of the Mahogany neck that extends beyond the fretboard and this serves as a guide for the fret file.

In order for the strings to intone correctly, the frets must be perfectly level or else two adjacent frets will play the same note or there will be excessive buzzing. I use the fret leveling file to run across the tops of the frets.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

I use a fret rocker to test the middle fret between the two adjacent frets. If it rocks even slightly I need to file down the middle fret. I do this across the entire fret. This process takes between one and two hours.

The fret rocker has four different lengths to span three frets down the fretboard.

The fret rocker has four different lengths to span three frets down the fretboard.

A small metal file is used to file down any fret that is higher than its adjacent frets.

A small metal file is used to file down any fret that is higher than its adjacent frets.

Many of the frets are no longer crowned so I must re-crown them. I have two crowning files that re-shape the top of the fretwire.

The crowning file has two sides, each having a different grit pattern - medium and fine.

The crowning file has two sides, each having a different grit pattern – medium and fine.

All this filing has left the edges rough and sharp. I don’t think Dan will want to run his talented fingers over sharp frets to I must dress the frets. I have chosen a nice polo shirt and khaki pants for this. OK, OK – I’ll stop with the stupid jokes and stick to guitar building.

Dressing the fret edge is done with a special fine file that is smooth on the the bottom so it won't damage the wood. I use a rounding motion.

Dressing the fret edge is done with a special fine file that is smooth on the the bottom so it won’t damage the wood. I use a rounding motion.

After the fret ends are smooth, I run sandpaper up and down the frets to remove the file marks and to polish the frets. I start with 150 grit, move to 220, 320, 400, 600, and end with 800. The frets look like new!

MDR-

Glueing the binding to the body.

After the purfling dries, the next step is to glue in the Mahogany binding. The beautiful quilted rays in the binding will really shine once finely sanded but it is very brittle and must be handled carefully (don’t ask me how I know this). I first loosely tape the binding in the channel to locate where the two strips will be joined using a 45 degree angle.

Two binding strips are needed for the top and two for the bottom.

Two binding strips are needed for the top and two for the bottom.

Next I apply a stream of luthier’s glue to the channel and press in the binding. holding it in place with binding tape.

White luthier's glue dries fairly rapidly so the binding must be pressed in quickly.

White luthier’s glue dries fairly rapidly so the binding must be pressed in quickly.

Strong binding tape is used to place the binding in the exact location. Unlike purfling that conforms to the body shape and thus only needs tape to hold it in place, wood binding tends to pull away from the body so it needs more than tape.

Using tape to position the binding in the channel.

Using tape to position the binding in the channel.

I use rope to wrap the binding to the body to make sure of a good bond. The kerfs in my workboard serve as anchors for the rope.

The rope is pulled tight over the binding down to the workboard and back up around the body to the other side.

The rope is pulled tight over the binding down to the workboard and back up around the body to the other side.

The same procedure is used to glue binding to the back.

Binding roped to the body and left to dry overnight.

Binding roped to the body and left to dry overnight.

MDR-

Placing a radius on the fretboard and glue it to the neck.

Classical guitars traditionally have a flat fretboard but steel string guitars have a radius between the E strings. I will use a 14″ radius and I have a special jig that I use in conjunction with my drum sander. Dan expressed that he wants classy but understated top position markers. What can fit this description better than 1/4″ round mother-of-pearl dots? That is what I inlaid in the board.

The fretboard attached to the radius jig. The fretboard passes through the sander and after each pass it is rotated 1/4" until completed.

The fretboard attached to the radius jig. The fretboard passes through the sander and after each pass it is rotated 1/4″ until completed.

After the drum sander rough radius process, I use a special 14″ radius sanding block to sand the fretboard to 800 grit and it starts to shimmer like the bridge. Then it is time to glue it to the neck. The neck still has the fretboard layout so I position it exactly and drill two small holes to accept positioning brads. This is necessary because fretboards tend to slide when glued and this placement must be exact.

I spread the glue on the neck and fretboard.

I spread the glue on the neck and fretboard.

I press the brads through the fretboard and make sure they are in the pre-drilled holes in the neck.

The brad hole will be covered by the fretwire.

The brad hole will be covered by the fretwire.

Somewhere in there is the fretboard?

Somewhere in there is the fretboard?

The fretboard is glued to the neck using a series of clamps and cauls. I clean up excess squeeze-out and let it cure overnight.

MDR-

Carving the bridge.

I really enjoy creating the bridge because I get to work with beautiful dense woods and it allows me to be creative. A bridge is so important because it is the mechanism that transfers the vibrations of the strings to the entire top. When a string is excited (i.e., strummed or picked) on a fixed bridge instrument like this guitar,  it vibrates  lengthwise or “longitudinal” and so it pulls across the saddle and thus the bridge is rocked back and forth. This bridge movement transfers energy to the top causing it to vibrate. This vibration results in layers of compression and rarefaction that act like an air pump. The mass of the top makes the vibrations loud enough for us to hear!

The bridge must be strong enough to withstand constant rocking but it must not add undue mass to the top, thus damping the sound. I typically use Ebony but for Dan’s Ziricote guitar I am using a beautiful piece of Ziricote. First I take the block of Ziricote and sand it to a rectangle slightly larger than the final shape. I layout the saddle slot – it is compensated to the side that will accept the bass strings so it is about 1/8″ farther from the neck than the treble strings. I then locate where the holes will be for the bridge pins. I use a special proportional ruler to space the holes due to the differing thicknesses of the strings.

The bridge blank layout for the final shape, pin holes and saddle channel.

The bridge blank layout for the final shape, pin holes and saddle channel.

I will use a 13/64″ brad point drill bit in my drill press to drill the bridge holes.

Drilling the holes for the bridge pins.

Drilling the holes for the bridge pins.

I use a router and bridge jig to route the 3/32" saddle channel.

I use a router and bridge jig to route the 3/32″ saddle channel.

The next step is to use the band saw to cut out the shape. I then use a combination of belt sander, chisel, wood file, and sandpaper to contour the bridge. I bring the Ziricote to 800 grit sandpaper and it shimmers and looks awesome!

The finished bridge - extremely lightweight but very strong.

The finished bridge – extremely lightweight but very strong.

I then took a saddle blank made from natural bone and sanded it until it fit very snug in the slot. I made sure the entire bottom of the saddle rests evenly in the bottom of the slot to make sure all vibrations are transmitted to the bridge.

MDR-

Inserting the purfling around the body.

Once the purfling channel has been routed and cleaned, the decorative purfling will be glued in around the perimeter of the top and back. On the top I will glue the Ebony edge against the Cedar and on the back I will glue the Maple edge to the Ziricote to make it stand out more.

I place a thin stream of luthier's glue in the purfling channel and then wrap the purfling around the body.

I place a thin stream of luthier’s glue in the purfling channel and then wrap the purfling around the body.

The purfling is secured by regular masking tape doubled up for strength. You have to be very careful with the type of tape that is used on the Cedar top because of grain pull-out that occurs with stronger adhesives used in some tapes. I leave the tape on overnight.

The top purfling completely glued to the body.

The top purfling completely glued to the body.

The same procedure is applied to purfling on the back.

MDR-

Cutting the binding and purfling channels.

The next step is a bit anxiety-producing because it involves routing out channels to receive the body binding and purfling. Purfling is decorative lines between the top and the binding (and also the back). I selected purfling that has two alternating strips of Ebony and Maple in the configuration. For the binding, I was able to obtain some beautiful quilted Mahogany. This will shimmer when it is finished with lacquer. The binding channel is cut first using a special binding jig attached to a small router.

The binding router is set to cut out the binding channel to the exact dimension of the Mahogany binding.

The binding router is set to cut out the binding channel to the exact dimension of the Mahogany binding.

Routing around the cutaway is very difficult because the router can't reach all areas with consistent depth.

Routing around the cutaway is very difficult because the router can’t reach all areas with consistent depth.

I have to re-cut some of the cutaway channels by hand with a chisel to maintain constant depth. After the binding channel is cut, I do the same thing for the purfling channel.

The purfling channel is cut out next.

The purfling channel is cut out next.

After the channel routing is finished, I use a sanding stick to clean up any excess and to even out the channel.

After the channel routing is finished, I use a sanding stick to clean up any excess and to even out the channel.

The guitar body ready for binding and purfling.

The guitar body ready for binding and purfling.

MDR-

The fretboard.

For a change I turn to my piece of Gaboon Ebony from Africa. I use my drum sander to sand it perfectly flat on both side to 1/4″. I then attach it to my fret scale guide and insert it in my fret sawing jig. The guide stops at a special pin for each fret to make sure of perfect spacing – this is necessary for proper intonation.

The fretboard in the fret cutting jig. The Japanese saw has a kerf width of just .024" and cuts to a depth of 1/8".

The fretboard in the fret cutting jig. The Japanese saw has a kerf width of just .024″ and cuts to a depth of 1/8″.

After the fret kerfs are cut, I layout the pattern of the fretboard and draw it on the Ebony. Dan wants a bound fretboard so I will use Ebony binding. I considered a contrasting wood for the binding but I really feel Ebony will look the best. I then use the bandsaw to cut out the outline of the fretboard.

Carefully sawing the outline of the fretboard.

Carefully sawing the outline of the fretboard.

After sawing the outline (it is so close to the lines I even surprise myself), I use a good old fashioned block plane to shave off the lines.

Using the block plane to shape the fretboard.

Using the block plane to shape the fretboard.

After the fretboard is planed to size, I glue on the fretboard binding. First I drilled 2mm holes in one of the binding sides and inlaid mother-of-pearl dots as the side position markers. Next I applied glue to both binding strips and attached it to the fretboard and clamped it in my makeshift jig.

Glueing on the fretboard side binding.

Glueing on the fretboard side binding.

The glue will dry and cure in 24 hours so I leave it clamped overnight.

Carving the back braces.

After the braces have been glued to the back, carving is done to remove mass while maintaining strength. I used quartersawn Mahogany for this purpose. The braces are rounded in the middle and sloped on each end where they will meet the sides.

Rounding the middle of the brace using a very sharp Crown chisel.

Rounding the middle of the brace using a very sharp Crown chisel.

Sloping the braces on each end. When a chisel is sufficiently sharp, the wood should cut easily and curl while cutting.

Sloping the braces on each end. When a chisel is sufficiently sharp, the wood should cut easily and curl while cutting.

The completed back next to the top and sides ready for the next step.

The completed back next to the top and sides ready for the next step.

The back is placed on the sides and marked where the braces meet the sides. Some of the kerfing will have to chiseled out to accommodate the sloped braces. When the fit is just right, it is time to glue the back. I follow the same clamping procedure using my homemade clamps.

The back clamped to the sides to "close the box"

The back clamped to the sides to “close the box”

After the glue is dried, I use a flush trim router to remove any excess overhang of the back. It is now getting exciting – I can start to imagine the sound this instrument will make!

The shape of things to come!

The shape of things to come!

MDR-

The sides are glued to the top.

The sides are glued to the top by running beads of luthier’s glue on the kerfing and clamping the side down on the top. I created round clamps using a 6″ bolts, round wood heads and cork that presses against the side.

Applying a bead of glue to the kerfing on the side. Notice the homemade clamps.

Applying a bead of glue to the kerfing on the side. Notice the homemade clamps.

The sides are placed on the top and the first task is to glue the cutaway to the heelblock.

The sides are placed on the top and the first task is to glue the cutaway to the heelblock.

Next the sides is glued to the endblock followed by clamping the sides down using the homemade bolt clamps.

Next the sides is glued to the endblock followed by clamping the sides down using the homemade bolt clamps.

After the clamps are removed it is beginning to look like a guitar!

After the clamps are removed it is beginning to look like a guitar!

The Ziricote back.

By now you know how much I really love Ziricote. In addition to sounding incredible, it looks fantastic. I sand the back to 90/1000″ and true the center seams. I glue it the same way I did the top.

After the clamps are removed it is beginning to look like a guitar!

After the clamps are removed it is beginning to look like a guitar!

After it is glued, I sand it to the final thickness with 150 grit paper. I then layout the bracing lines. I use quartersawn Mahogany for the back braces and center seam reinforcement.

The back with bracing pattern drawn.

The back with bracing pattern drawn.

I glue the braces on much like I did the top using the go-deck and go-bars.

The back braces are glued in place by the go-bars.

The back braces are glued in place by the go-bars.

On deck: shaving the back braces.

I have noticed that there are many of you viewing the blog every day but there are very few comments. Please feel free to make comments, ask questions, or tell me about yourself! I would love to hear from you.

MDR-