I have a long neck banjo with a lovely pot, and a fretboard that has been a bit botched, albeit in a way which is playable. I think I may be ready to attempt to tackle this, but here are my questions. I might decide against, depending on the wisdom that comes back!
1. Current scale length is 32 inches. I am able to buy a pre slotted fret board with 31.5 inch scale. This will obviously bring the bridge closer to the centre of the pot, but still "behind" the centre line. Any reason not to do this? The pot is a 11&15/16ths" tubaphone. (I wouldn't want to cut my own slots.....)
2. I'm thinking of getting Laburnum wood. Any comments? (Is it hard to work with, too hard / brittle / soft, highly toxic etc etc?)
3. I have seen the various methods of removing old boards, and I will use an iron. Easier with frets pulled or frets in place?
4. Is it easier to fit frets to the shaped board before gluing, or vice versa?
5. What are the "must have" tools for this, and the "nice to have" tools?
6. Any other advice??
Edited by - Andyrhydycreuau on 11/27/2022 07:19:57
I only make banjos so there are more experienced people than me to advise you on how to approach the repairs. On scale length though, you could juggle the position of the pre-slotted fingerboard to give it a slightly wider nut if you are reluctant to bring the bridge position too close to the centre of the head for your liking. If you really have to push it, give it a nut that blends in colour wise.
Since the old fretboard is getting pitched, may as well pull the frets.
I run a utility knife aling both sides of the fret, put an icepick under the end, and give it a push, to start the end up.
Got me a cheap end nipper......and ground the end off flat, so it does the same job as the StewMac fret lifter.......... which runs upwards of $40.
Then the iron, and a frosting sreaper spatula...... $1.25 or so, unger the end, and slide it along as the heat progresses.
A thin nail behind the spatula keeps the fingerboard from settling back onto the glue and re-sticking..
Best wishes for a successful project.
Originally posted by mike gregory
Thanks Mike and @martyjoe.
Good advice in both (the nail to stop regluing is really useful, and the wider nut if necessary.....)
The neck I built for my main player has a ZERO nut about a half inch from the real nut.
That's where my capo clamps on when I'm playing in standard tuning.
So, just leave that space blank, fill it with a bit of hardwood of the proper thickness, and you needn't worry about it looking too odd.
OR- - -
Fill it with a piece of brass the right size, with "Customised by Andrew Taylor" engraved on it.
I use a steam iron at a low setting with no steam.
I leave the frets in to conduct heat.
Everything lets go around 160 F
A small water spray will flash steam and help
Like Mike, I have a thin blade scraper or spatula
Work from both sides.
You can feel it let go.
1. A 31.5" fingerboard will result in a bridge placement that is 1/2" closer to the center of the head. The tonal effect is hard to predict. There may be no significant difference, or the tone may be less snappy with less treble response and more bass response. If the banjo can be strung up as-is, you can evaluate how moving the bridge forward will affect the tone. The instrument won't play in tune, but you'll get at least some idea of whether there will be a change in sound.
2. I can't help you on the laburnum question, except that a quick google search indicates that it is a poisonous tree.
3. I generally leave the frets in when I pull a fingerboard. Supposedly, it improves heat transfer. It also minimizes scorching of the old fingerboard, in case you have use for the wood elsewhere at a later date. I prefer to use a 2" x 5" 50 watt heat blanket, available from industrial supply houses [in the US, McMaster-Carr or MSC International]. It minimizes the possibility of accidentally scorching the neck finish. You can use a router speed controller as a temperature control.
4. For a banjo fretboard, I would fret after the board is glued to the neck.
5. You will need a couple of spatulas, perhaps some sandpaper glued to flat blocks of various sizes, and the standard fretting tools. I use a hardware store sharpening stone for final levelling, 2", 3", 6", and 12" straightedges to locate high spots, a small triangle file with the corners ground safe for rounding the fret edges, and either an old-fashioned 2 sided crowning file or the Gurian style crowning file. These, plus a hammer, a razor saw, some end cutters, and a couple of flat files of differents sizes are the essential tools. You'll need some good clamps and clamping cauls. Your upper caul should be very flat. An optional tool would be a 60 degree filing block/holder for beveling the edges.
6. Read Frank Ford's articles on fretting and pulling fingerboards at frets.com. A technique that I use is that I start each fret by using a hardwood block between fret and hammer, and work my way across. Then I chase across again with just the hammer. This reduces problems with fret ends popping up. Another technique I use is to pin the board in place with small brads or nails through a couple of fret slots to keep the board from sliding around when I clamp it. You can drill a couple of holes in your upper caul to accomodate the pins.
Edited by - rcc56 on 11/27/2022 11:17:56
For whatever it's worth, the 32" scale of the typical Vega Pete Seeger longneck banjo is made by adding three frets to a standard 27" Vega scale. That puts the bridge back closer to the tailpiece than today's common 26 1/4" scale or the PW Gibson 26 3/8" one.
Making a longneck banjo 31 1/2" scale makes the "normal banjo scale" capoed at the 3rd fret be 26 1/2", which I have found to be just fine, and that's the way I make longnecks nowadays, because most people like slightly shorter scales—the vibrating string lengths for a 31 1/2" scale longneck are in the correct range for the intended string tensions of a normal set of banjo strings, so I would not be concerned about that scale length.
The hot iron or heat blanket method is a very good way to remove the fingerboard and heating the spatula can be helpful, also I would put little wedges between the fingerboard and neck, just enough to keep it spread apart as you work onward with the spatula.
Thanks @ken_levan and @rcc56 - really helpful.