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How thin can a finger board be?

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How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Eldon Howe » Thu Jun 22, 2017 9:26 pm

I working on a kitchen cabinet project that has a lot of curly Hickory, all veneered.
It just got me wondering if anyone has used veneers for a finger board. Maybe the thickness of the fret tangs?
How thin can a finger board be?
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:08 pm

The "usual" thickness for a fret board on a guitar is 1/4 inch.
Some builders thin that to 3/16 or somewhere in between.

The problem I see with a veneer top on a fret board is longevity. It may look OK and last for a little while, but eventually the player will wear through the veneer to the wood underneath.
I see this in older, or well played guitars that come in for repair. There are grooves worn in the fret board from the player pressing down on the strings.
Or a player might have a strumming style that puts his strumming hand over the end of the fret board, and it wears out there also.

It would have to be very thick veneer to be able to carve a radius into it too.

My opinion for what it's worth, is that you may waste some time making a fret board out of that material.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Fri Jun 23, 2017 8:12 am

Occasionally you see violins with veneered fingerboards as a money saving device. (usually they just dye a hard light colored wood). I have an old Martin guitar whose fingerboard is not much more than 1/8th inch thick - probably worn down and resurfaced a few times. Lutes have relatively thin fingerboards, some with elaborate inlay schemes. Ukulele fretboards can be as thin as 1/10th of an inch.
If you bind the edges of the fingerboard you could avoid the appearance of an overly thin board, but as Gordon mentioned, with a little wear you will be down to the neck wood.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Bryan Bear » Fri Jun 23, 2017 10:21 am

I was going to say the same thing as Clay. put the veneer down on a FB sub-straight then bind the whole thing. I'm not sure if you are asking because the veneers you have are "sawn" veneers and close to FB thickness or if the veneers are the really thin modern type. If thick veneer, just make up some thickness with mahogany (or something) on the back end and bind or laminate veneers to make up the thickness then you may not have to do any binding. If thin veneer, then the issue of wearing through becomes more of a concern. You could still laminate a few layers of veneer so any wear through would be less noticeable. Obviously, if they are thin veneers, you would have to radius the board before you but the veneers on.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Alan Carruth » Fri Jun 23, 2017 3:10 pm

Many old or 'Early' instruments used veneers on the fingerboard. We just finished working on an English guittar from around 1780 that has a thin (~1mm) ebony veneer over what is probably beech for the fingerboard. The beech was bound with ebony, and the surface radius formed before the top veneer was applied. Ebony was very expensive stuff. Early violins also used veneer over a light wood core to save weight. The necks were set more or less level with the plane of the top of the ribs, and the fingerboard was a wedge to get the correct projection at the bridge. A slab of ebony that thick would have been very heavy.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Eldon Howe » Sat Jun 24, 2017 10:38 am

Thanks guys, this is just more of a curiosity.
Would there be any reason the fret board could not be sized to the thickness of the fret tang and just insert sections between the frets?
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Barry Daniels » Sat Jun 24, 2017 11:50 am

I think the integrity or stability of the frets would be diminished.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Beate Ritzert » Sat Jun 24, 2017 2:14 pm

Let me take up Allan's point: the light core of the neck in old instruments. If i am informed correctly, especially lutes had their neck made of spruce, which was fully covered with some veneer.
Such a constructions brings together the outstandig stability (comparatively large Young's modulus) at light weight - a prominent property of spruce - while at the same time diminishing it its biggest disadvantage, the high sensitivity against point pressure.

Maybe we should keep in account the the central European woods of the time mainly consisted of beech, alder, oak, maple and a few others. And probably more often pine - spruce is important only in colder regions like the Black Forest or the Alps or the Böhmerwald (a historical region of lutherie).

So it is not only the high price of ebony or bux (which must have been a bit less rare than it it today), there are also technical reasons for this.

But today's guitars are different, and especially the steel strings might even profit from stiff and relatively heavy necks. IMO it makes a lot of sense to install a really thick fingerboard of a wood with extreme stiffnes. You even have the chance to avoid the necessity of a metal truss rod doing so.
(14 years ago i did a 5 string bass with a 10 mm Katalox fingerboard and also a very stiff wooden core which is still perfectly straight)

In other, shorter words: a fingerboard may be pretty thin but You should take care of the stiffness of Your neck - fret slots not deeper as absolutely necessary, and stiff but not too heavy wood for or in the neck
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Sat Jun 24, 2017 3:28 pm

"Would there be any reason the fret board could not be sized to the thickness of the fret tang and just insert sections between the frets?"

It would be hard to keep things properly aligned if you are inserting sections between the frets. The barbs on the tang are supposed to compress and grip the wood at the sides of the slot so you would have to glue the frets in place. It would be much easier to veneer a substrate and then slot it and install the frets in the normal fashion.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Alan Carruth » Sat Jun 24, 2017 5:28 pm

Poplar, linden (basswood), and willow also figured into European instrument construction. Strad used willow for blocks and liners, and made a number of violas, and maybe even 'cellos, with willow or poplar backs, if memory serves.

Slotting an already applied veneer would be the usual way to do it. That's the way the English guittar was done (and, no, that's not a typo: they called them 'guittars').

A thin hard veneer goes a long way toward stiffening up and stabilizing a light wood core. The ultimate of that was the Parker 'Fly' solid body guitar, with a soft wood core and .005" of unidirectional CF overlay.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sun Jun 25, 2017 10:43 am

I've thought of this, though not a single veneer layer, but "laying up" a stack of veneers to create a radiused FB of more conventional thickness. This would allow you to use an outstanding piece for the face, and less-attractive flitches in the lower plys. However, it also seems to me that I'd just be making plywood, and have never heard plywood spoken of as a great FB material! :)

Still, if you us an exotic wood for the veneers, some epoxy, maybe with a CF backing layer it could work. It'd be an interesting experiment.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Mark Swanson » Sun Jun 25, 2017 6:49 pm

If you look into some of the older Fender electric guitars, they have fingerboards that are hardly more than a veneer. It looks to be no thicker than the fret tang.
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Re: How thin can a finger board be?

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Mon Jun 26, 2017 12:13 pm

"Still, if you us an exotic wood for the veneers, some epoxy, maybe with a CF backing layer it could work. It'd be an interesting experiment."

If you stack(dark colored) sequence matched veneers and glue them up with clear epoxy they will appear to be solid wood even after the top layers wear through. I do that to make back and side sets and when I've had minor "sand throughs" they were not easily detected.
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