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RyanMFT
08-11-2010, 08:10 AM
I was playing my old Kumalae last night. It has no fretboard, the frets are set directly in the neck. It got me to wondering why no one makes ukes this way anymore?

I realize that fretboards are made from hard wood which resists wear, but my uke is in the 80 year old range and has held up pretty darn well. I also have an old silvertone and a regal built this way. It makes the ukes pretty light as well.....so I keep wondering if there is some other reason that it makes more sense to have a fretboard, or is it just the norm now?

lindydanny
08-11-2010, 08:33 AM
Basically the same discussion:

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?34276-Anyone-tried-fretless-ukulele&highlight=fretless

The problem is that fretless instruments are much harder to play due to the fact that your fingers have to be in a specific position to produce a good tone. Some people don't even have fingers long enough to do this for chords. The frets make the position of the fingers less crucial as long as they are in between the frets.

~DB

RyanMFT
08-11-2010, 09:05 AM
Thanks DB but I am asking about why have a raised fretboard on top of the neck as opposed to setting frets right into the neck of the uke. Seems like it was done a lot in the old days but not now?

Here's and example....the Kamaka on the left has a fretboard that sits above the height of the soundboard, and the Kumalae on the right has the frets set directly into the neck, at the same height as the soundboard.....

http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/Kamaka3.jpg

erich@muttcrew.net
08-11-2010, 09:16 AM
....The problem is that fretless instruments are much harder to play due to the fact that your fingers have to be in a specific position to produce a good tone. Some people don't even have fingers long enough to do this for chords. The frets make the position of the fingers less crucial as long as they are in between the frets.

Sorry lindydanny but I think you missed the point - the question was not about frets or no frets, but about why there is an extra fretboard on top of the neck with the frets in it, rather than just having the frets directly in the neck.

Ryan, there are definitely instruments that are still made that way - without a fretboard. I know that Sven has made some sopranos like that, not sure what else. Maybe he'll chime in. And yes, the fretboard means more weight - not just the FB itself, but also the extra height you have to put into the bridge.

On the other hand there are real advantages to having a fretboard - in my absolutely worthless opinion. I've made necks out of cypress, walnut, maple and pine, as well as mahogany.... As a player I want a fretboard that is as hard, smooth, tight, even and fast as possible, not soft or grainy or sticky or varnished... So to me it's definitely better to add a thin fretboard made of rosewood or ebony or some other fast wood.

bryanperk
08-11-2010, 09:17 AM
I could be wrong, but wouldn't a raised fretboard allow for lowered action without the possibility of the strings hitting the soundboard? Just a thought I had...not really sure about it at all haha

mzuch
08-11-2010, 09:36 AM
I could be wrong, but wouldn't a raised fretboard allow for lowered action without the possibility of the strings hitting the soundboard?

The strings wouldn't hit the soundboard, but your fingers might. Personally, I like to dig in sometimes, and I like some breathing room between the strings and top. Also, it seems to me that fingerboards make repairs easier, providing more wood to plane out a hump or slight twist, for example.

lindydanny
08-11-2010, 09:42 AM
My mistake. I guess I read it wrong.

I would add, though, that it would seem that a raised fret board would be easier to maintain and build than one with the frets on the sound board...

~DB

erich@muttcrew.net
08-11-2010, 10:03 AM
I could be wrong, but wouldn't a raised fretboard allow for lowered action without the possibility of the strings hitting the soundboard? Just a thought I had...not really sure about it at all haha

I was thinking along the same lines, but then why would Sven and Kumalae and others be doing it - we need to hear from them or from the players whether there are issues with the action, deflection, playability, etc.

Hualani
08-11-2010, 10:06 AM
Think the hard, smooth fret board is an evolution of design and availability of hard, smooth woods like ebony. In Hawaii, when these instrument were first made, you use native woods that were more readily available. Take too long to ship imported woods and more costly.

If your target market are Hawaii locals who don't have much to begin with, then business is going to fail if production costs prices your product out of the local consumer base. Although, these days, it is the native woods that are pricey and the market base encompasses the enitre world.

For people that do sliding action (like the Filipino grandfather that loved using spoons) with fingers or slides (or spoons, lol), for that country western inspired flavor you hear at old time luaus, the smoother woods tweak-in cooler slide wahs and hums. You also wear the surface wood faster too.

erich@muttcrew.net
08-11-2010, 10:13 AM
....In Hawaii, when these instrument were first made, you use native woods that were more readily available. Take too long to ship imported woods and more costly.

I'm not sure but I think I've heard the term "island style" used for ukes like the kumalae where the fretboard and top are level or are made from one piece, not sure which.

Sven
08-11-2010, 10:41 AM
Yes, I make some of my ukes with no separate fretboard. Take a look at this pic, where an ancient Kumulae-style piccolo is flanked by three of mine. I like it, but as I said in a neighbouring thread (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?34199-Questions-about-refreting!) only yesterday; it is more work and less forgiving to build that way. Oh that's right, one of the ukes in the pic actually has a fretboard. It was a prototype.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_gXMDRA552Y0/TFXpmb1A8KI/AAAAAAAAA3U/P_nicVXPWMw/s320/bild-776503.JPG

If you like, go to http://argapa.blogspot.com and click on the label "piccolo". That will show you all that happened to me since I first saw the oldie in the pic, exactly one year ago.

And why not a video of one, hope it works, it's on facebook.
http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=415180992277&oid=114560478558573

I build my piccolos of cherry, and a cherry neck works well enough. It can get a little grubby from your fingers though, I am still experimenting a bit to find the best finish on the neck.

One downside some players can see is too few frets. And I put too big an angle on the first necks, action (and bridge) was way too high.

I plan to make sopranos the same way, but the lovely cedar I got from Pete Howlett to use for necks is too soft I think. Maybe cherry again.

I agree that an instrument with nylon-ish strings doesn't need the hard wearing fretboard a steelstringed instrument does. And island style looks extremely clean. I have also thought of building with a recessed fretboard, level with and ending at the soundboard. Might look corny, might look great. I'll never know for sure 'til I try.

Oh well. Rant over. Thanks for talking about me, it's a subject I feel we should discuss more often...

Sven

Konala
08-12-2010, 04:44 AM
And, there you have it. Hidden within Sven's comments is the dreaded neck set angle. When you use a fingerboard, the thickness of the fingerboard with frets approximately equals the bridge thickness and there is no set angle for the neck -- it is flat with the top. The playing action is then fully controlled by the saddle height.

Other than the minor difference in weight between rosewood or ebony and mahogany there is little added weight from a fingerboard. The total thickness of the neck and fingerboard can be thinned to approximately the same thickness as a neck without a fingerboard.

Konala

SweetWaterBlue
08-12-2010, 05:52 AM
I think everyone has pretty much touched on all the reasons a separate fretboard is nice to have. The way I see it you want a wood that is very hard so your finger (or really the fingernails) don't dig into it. The problem with hard woods like ebony is twofold - one, they are expensive, and two, they are much heavier than something like cedar. It is also true that you want a wood that you don't have to put much finish on for it to stay playable and good looking. The finish would be rubbed off quite rapidly. Rosewood, ebony and several others have enough natural oils to fill the bill.

ksquine
08-12-2010, 07:39 AM
How could you do a bound figerboard with no fingerboard?? :confused:

Sven
08-12-2010, 10:34 PM
And, there you have it. Hidden within Sven's comments is the dreaded neck set angle.
Don't be afraid of a little neck angle. It's easy once you learn, as with everything else. I found a very nice way of doing it, and it's right on target every time now.

Sven