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View Full Version : machined aluminum fretboard. Good/bad idea?



UkuLincoln
03-03-2016, 11:00 PM
A friend told me they have access to a CNC machine when I told them I've been thinking about making my first ukulele. It's going to be a solid body travel electric with nylon strings. Based on the one like the Risa Stick that you can see by "Circuits and Strings" on youtube.

I was thinking about probably still making the body and neck by hand out of wood, but I don't want to have to buy special tools for the fretboard so I am either going to be buying a pre-made fretboard, or possibly machining the board and frets out of one piece of aluminum.
In other words, I wouldn't be adding frets, but rather carving out part of the aluminum to create frets.

Has anyone done that? Is it a good or bad idea from a play-ability point of view? I would think that this method would mean that all of the frets would be perfectly level, and it could be pretty cool looking.

Thanks for any help,

Lincoln

ProfChris
03-04-2016, 12:11 AM
The Dixie banjo uke had an all-metal construction:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-CYeAP76BD4A/UJzEGRx2hvI/AAAAAAAAQWY/5wcKNgGWPrk/s1600/Dixie.JPG

I've not played one, but from what I've heard they're not the finest instruments around. But of course, pre-CNC.

Your biggest problem might be expansion and contraction of the fretboard with temperature changes. If you're planning a soprano that suggests 8 inches or so of fretboard - it would be worth researching how far such a board would expand with, say, a 10 degrees C temperature swing. [Ran a quick check which suggests the lengthwise expansion is around 1/100 inch - if I got the decimal point right, should be OK]

Make sure your aluminium is hard enough to resist fret wear from playing.

Booli
03-04-2016, 01:34 AM
The only problem I see is as a travel uke, the TSA (at the airport) is going to give you a hard time once they x-ray your carry-on or checked bags and see an 8"+ metal object in your bag. On x-ray it will look like a Bowie knife...so big hassle when they pull you aside for the cavity search....LOL

Were it me, for this and other reasons, I'd go with wood, but whatever you do - Good Luck!

ksquine
03-04-2016, 06:56 AM
I think it would work fine. Aluminum frets will wear faster but should last a long long time with nylon strings

greenie44
03-04-2016, 07:53 AM
The only problem I see is as a travel uke, the TSA (at the airport) is going to give you a hard time once they x-ray your carry-on or checked bags and see an 8"+ metal object in your bag. On x-ray it will look like a Bowie knife...so big hassle when they pull you aside for the cavity search....LOL

Were it me, for this and other reasons, I'd go with wood, but whatever you do - Good Luck!

I have produced a laugh a couple of times with my Risa stick. I tell them it's a uke, but they just don't believe me.

chuck in ny
03-04-2016, 08:49 AM
sounds like a pretty cool idea. there is some kind of effect a heavier or lighter neck has on sound and response, but i wouldn't worry about it.

pointpergame
03-04-2016, 09:16 AM
Ergonomically not such a great idea, IMHO. Cold to the touch. Sweat and body oils are going to sit on top with nowhere to go, encouraging ugly corrosion, quick string erosion, and unpleasant touch. in addition: Heavy neck weight. You ( Well, "I" ) can't CNC finished frets without a fret-crown-shaped cutter or with step-wise shaping. Meaning you'll have to machine the frets rather high and then bring them down to ideal size and shape. This is how it works even with brass in wood. I don't mix aluminum files with brass or steel files so for me there'd be an expense for separate file or diamond hone required for fret leveling Crown dressing will also require a dressing file ( can be a little expensive but you need one for traditional keyboard anyway ). You can probably clean the teeth of the aluminum so it can return to normal duty on SS or brass frets, but still considerable expense.

If it were me, I'd just buy a slotted wooden fretboard. There's a great deal to be learned by doing it the traditional way, THEN, performing the plastic or aluminum fret experiment. BTW, I just played one of those plastic ukes with laminate tops and molded-in plastic frets ( Is it THE FLEA? ) and the fingerboard felt pretty good. But, still, all the same problems. And you're not supposed to use wound strings because of potential fret abrasion.

Allen
03-04-2016, 09:30 AM
Two things come to mind without getting into the machining aspect of this.

Unless you use some exotic alloy or anodise the aluminium, it's going to corrode. In my workshop I have lots of jigs and various machine parts that are made from aluminium. They all corrode. And while a bit of a disappointment and unsightly when it was a nice and shiny part for a bandsaw fence, I can live with it. As a fret board, there is no way I'd be happy. Dull grey and white bloom with eventual pitting isn't a good look.

Depending on where you travel with this instrument, that fret board is also going to either loose heat, or soak it up. These past few months in Cairns if you touch any of the metal in my workshop during the heat of the day, you can burn yourself. And don't even think of letting the seat belt buckle touch you. I wouldn't be surprised at all that it could get hot enough to easily ruining a set of strings.

UkuLincoln
03-04-2016, 10:57 AM
Thanks for all the feedback everyone. It all made a lot of sense, so I am going to go with a traditional fretboard. Now to figure out where I should get it from. I'll start a new post for that after I've done some research to see if there are any other recent threads on the subject.

My main concern with buying one is will I still need to by tools to make sure the frets are level and not cause any buzzing. I'd prefer to not buy those tools. If I have to, I would think that I may as well put the frets right into the wood for the ukulele since that is what Risa does.

Lincoln

pointpergame
03-04-2016, 12:47 PM
L...
In my instrument building I wouldn't dream of putting the frets directly into the neck. There are multiple reasons. You can buy a slotted fingerboard and you can find one with frets already installed. Many mandolin builders install the frets before glueing to the neck. I've always glued it first, but will try this new way the next build.

But after glueing it onto the neck, leveling the frets is almost unavoidable. Maybe not so, but you need the confidence that you have built a buzz-free system. I use a fresh, large mill file ( 12" ) . I have bought boxes of best-quality files by the dozen for this. But if you buy a single from a good filemaker that should work pretty well. They are usually dead flat. Some people use diamond hones which are, in my experience, always dead flat. And I'd guess you can get away with a cheap one...but I wouldn't use very coarse variety because it could gouge the fret tops beyond dressing out. I don't actually know this, I'm just guessing from my sense of things.

You can also carefully glue a sheet of wet-dry sandpaper to a dead flat chunk of wood. If there's even a slight ripple in your glue job, the frets will shred the sandpaper i I have used a 14" long hunk of maple 2 X 4, planed really, really flat. If you have a friend with a jointer, they can probably find a chunk of wood ( a fir 2 X 6, for instance ) and flatten it on their jointer.

You can put masking tape on each side of each fret and carefully dress ( refine the mushroom shape ) each fret with a fine triangular file. It's a little tedious, but quite doable. Or just look on Stew-mac to get an idea of what a fret dressing file might cost. You could possibly shop around for one on eBay(?) or a cheaper luthier supply store. If it's a one time job for you, why not just do it by hand? Afterwards, you will know, deep in your soul and for the rest of your life, exactly how the frets on a fretboard should look.

My many hours in the shop building instruments have all been "good time."

Good luck

Allen
03-04-2016, 07:18 PM
You can level the frets with a hard flat block and 320 grit sandpaper. Or a small diamond file. I got one from a fishing tackle shop designed for sharpening hooks. Or a small flat file. Lots of ways without spending heaps of money. I'd still purchase a fret crowning file, but they aren't expensive unless you go for something exotic.

UkuLincoln
03-04-2016, 08:35 PM
L...
In my instrument building I wouldn't dream of putting the frets directly into the neck. There are multiple reasons. You can buy a slotted fingerboard and you can find one with frets already installed. Many mandolin builders install the frets before glueing to the neck. I've always glued it first, but will try this new way the next build.

But after glueing it onto the neck, leveling the frets is almost unavoidable. Maybe not so, but you need the confidence that you have built a buzz-free system. I use a fresh, large mill file ( 12" ) . I have bought boxes of best-quality files by the dozen for this. But if you buy a single from a good filemaker that should work pretty well. They are usually dead flat. Some people use diamond hones which are, in my experience, always dead flat. And I'd guess you can get away with a cheap one...but I wouldn't use very coarse variety because it could gouge the fret tops beyond dressing out. I don't actually know this, I'm just guessing from my sense of things.

You can also carefully glue a sheet of wet-dry sandpaper to a dead flat chunk of wood. If there's even a slight ripple in your glue job, the frets will shred the sandpaper i I have used a 14" long hunk of maple 2 X 4, planed really, really flat. If you have a friend with a jointer, they can probably find a chunk of wood ( a fir 2 X 6, for instance ) and flatten it on their jointer.

You can put masking tape on each side of each fret and carefully dress ( refine the mushroom shape ) each fret with a fine triangular file. It's a little tedious, but quite doable. Or just look on Stew-mac to get an idea of what a fret dressing file might cost. You could possibly shop around for one on eBay(?) or a cheaper luthier supply store. If it's a one time job for you, why not just do it by hand? Afterwards, you will know, deep in your soul and for the rest of your life, exactly how the frets on a fretboard should look.

My many hours in the shop building instruments have all been "good time."

Good luck

OK, Thanks!

I will try to find some youtube videos or other information on dressing frets so I can feel more confident about that and try it myself.

After reading what you wrote I still don't understand the disadvantage of putting the frets right into the neck. The Risa Stick that I have has the frets right into the neck.

ProfChris
03-05-2016, 04:28 AM
There really is no problem fretting direct into the neck provided your neck wood is up to the job of being a fretboard (mahogany is fine unless unusually soft but Spanish Cedar would be too fragile in my view). If your neck is attached like a Fender guitar, which it could be on a solid body, all the work on the frets becomes as easy as if you use a separate fretboard.

UkuLincoln
03-05-2016, 07:09 AM
There really is no problem fretting direct into the neck provided your neck wood is up to the job of being a fretboard (mahogany is fine unless unusually soft but Spanish Cedar would be too fragile in my view). If your neck is attached like a Fender guitar, which it could be on a solid body, all the work on the frets becomes as easy as if you use a separate fretboard.

I am not sure of the type of wood this is, but I am sure it is a very hard wood. I started a thread with pix of the wood, and will post my progress in case anyone is interested or wants to help answer questions along the way. http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?119052-Building-my-first-ukulele-(An-electric-solid-body-travel-concert)-step-by-step&p=1819655#post1819655

Michael N.
03-05-2016, 07:18 AM
Weigh that piece of wood and work out it's density. That will give a better idea of how suitable it is as a neck/fretboard.

Inksplosive AL
03-06-2016, 11:12 AM
I would buy a soprano or concert made in the style of the Gittler guitar.

Wood is overrated for amplified instruments.

88971

http://gittlerinstruments.com/about-gittler

UkuLincoln
03-06-2016, 12:49 PM
I would buy a soprano or concert made in the style of the Gittler guitar.

Wood is overrated for amplified instruments.

88971

http://gittlerinstruments.com/about-gittler

Funny you would bring that up. I have been a fan of the look of that guitar for quite some time, and it is on my list of experiments to try making an ukulele in a similar minimalist style. We'll see how this slightly more traditional one comes out first.