Laying Out Fret Board

Just share stories or offer advice

Laying Out Fret Board

Postby Riverman » Sun Nov 02, 2003 12:49 am

I have been working on 4 dulcimers as Christmas gifts and they have been coming out great with some new ideas from this board. That is with the exception of today. In the past I have used a large venier caliper for laying out frets prior to cutting them, and today it took a dive on the concrete like it has in the past. The problem is that this time it is binding. I think I bent the stem, or maybe the rack it rides on. I can get it repaired (probably), but I have to ship it out, so I am looking for ideas for laying out the frets. I am thinking I can get the bridge in place by ball parking it with a tape and then checking it with a tuner. Any ideas out there? They would be much appreciated at this point.I am doing a 27" and 25.4" scale. I am using a full length fret board, and I would like to have a fixed bridge. The longest scale I have right now is an 18". Thanks in advance for any help.Smile
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Postby KenH » Sun Nov 02, 2003 1:22 am

What I use is the PC freeware program WFret, which prints out a paper template that I tack-glue down with spray mount. WFret is available for download via the Musical Instrument Makers Forum - www.mimf.com on the Links pages, search for "Windows" fret calculator. The program lets you specify number of frets, VSL, diatonic vs chromatic (in Print setup) and whether or not to include 6+ and other + frets....
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Postby Davef » Sun Nov 02, 2003 10:49 am

Hi Riverman Ken gave me the same advice and I downloaded the wfret calculater and it is easy to use and it prints a template. I have used it on 3 or 4 different instruments and it has worked well. Just remember to set it up in diatonic. Dave
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Postby kwl » Sun Nov 02, 2003 6:15 pm

I'm also a fan of WFret. It works very well and is extremely accurate.
Last edited by kwl on Mon Nov 03, 2003 4:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Fret Template

Postby Riverman » Mon Nov 03, 2003 3:21 am

I found the template and diatonic scale adjustments at MIMF. I have been there many times and never seen that. Thanks for the help.
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Postby Dru Lee Parsec » Mon Nov 03, 2003 1:38 pm

I'm going to be a voice of desent here. I don't like to use calipers to measure fret positions because of a build up of tolerences. That is, if I'm off by only 0.004" (four thousanths of an inch, about the thickness of a dollar bill) on each fret then by the time I get up to the 7th, 8th, and above frets my instrument will be hopelessly out of tune. As far as printing templates: I use to use a steel fret rule which is essentially the same thing (that is, if you trust your printer to print lines accurate to a couple thousanths of an inch). I would double stick my rule to the fretboard and using a steel machinist square I would then strike a line at each fret with a marking knife (it gives a sharp, fine line rather than using a pencil). I'd then remove the rule and use the same machinist square to align my fret saw (always placing the saw on the same side of the line). That was a lot better, but there were still tuning problems from not getting the marking line exactly on the right spot.. I now use the Stewart MacDonald aluminum miter box with plexiglass fret templates. http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_su ... r_Box.html I double stick tape the fretboard to the template which has notches in it for each fret as well as the nut position. A brass pin in the miter box fits the notches in the template exactly. That gives me very accuarate and repeatable fret positions. I have two dulcimers ready to go out right now that were done with this method. I compare those to my personal instrument that was done with the steel fret rule method and I can certainly notice a difference. I also set my bridge about 2 millimeters too close to the nut. I then file little ramps on the nut to bring the intonation back to perfection. This helps a LOT. By compensating my bridge I can get the octave (7th fret) to play within 2 or 3 cents of the theoretical perfect note (1 cent = 1/100th of a semitone). That allows not only for the differences in string guage, but it also compensates for the string stretch that happens when you press a string down to the fretboard. It's great to be able to play all the way up to the 14th fret (2 octaves) and look at a digital tuner and see that you're still in tune. And, of course, it sounds a lot better as well. With 4 dulcimers to build the StewMac system might be a worthwile investment. It's expensive if you're only building one, but if you continue building it will save you both time and aggravation. You'll only need the miter box and one template with your scale length. I've been using 25.5" Of course, with other templates I use the same miter box for guitars and mandolins. (I can't wait to show you folks my mandolinwhen it's finished. It's going to be beautiful) Hope it helps. Greg
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Postby Skip » Mon Nov 03, 2003 8:37 pm

I made my own miterbox from a piece of 1 1/2" square alum tubing that I removed a side from and four pieces of rectangular brass to guide/support a little back saw. I make my own templates from a strip of 1/8 x 1/2" alum. the box kind of looks like the commercial one but the templates are taped to the side, instead of on the bottom, of the fretboard blank and is keyed with a hole in the side of the box frame. I get the dims from FretCalc and drill holes in the strip using a mill/drill. So far it seems to be working out OK. Skip
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Fret Board Lay Out

Postby Riverman » Tue Nov 04, 2003 2:23 am

Greg, Templates are great, but how do you build a custom scale, like say 26 5/8"? Do you need to build a template for each custom scale length?
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Postby KenH » Tue Nov 04, 2003 12:04 pm

Yep - you'd have to make a template for each new VSL. That's why I like the WFret thing - it gives you a template for whatever dimension you type in. With the template tack-glued to the fretboard, and a good tight mitrebox, you can watch your saw coming to the line and adjust things just before you start to tear wood.
Last edited by KenH on Tue Nov 04, 2003 12:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Dru Lee Parsec » Tue Nov 04, 2003 1:34 pm

Orginally posted by Riverman Greg, Templates are great, but how do you build a custom scale, like say 26 5/8"? Do you need to build a template for each custom scale length?
If you don't want to make your own templates then you could look at a longer scale length (like maybe a 30" bass template) and see if the distance from one of the frets to the bridge is the length you want. For example. (and I'm making these diminsions up, I have no idea if they would actually work) it may be that on a 30" scale length template the distance from the 2nd fret to the bridge is 25 5/8 (or is pretty darn close). If you could find a situation where that works then just start cutting your frets at the 2nd fret of the longer template.
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