In my last post I described how I put the finishing touches to my electric ukulele body. I also mentioned a few nerves about fitting the frets to the neck. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’ve been avoiding it, but I’ve certainly been waiting for the right time to do it! Okay, so I’ve been avoiding it. ;-P
|I luv ukes… but not so much fitting frets…
It took a supportive push from Gavin MacMillan to make me finally take the plunge. He told me to “man up and get the frets on!” Thank you Gavin. I gone and blinkin’ done it… and here’s how I did it…
|You will know that I’m not a huge fan of specialist equipment, but this was one part of
the build where I felt the risk of failure justified the spend. In the picture you can see
the Irwin ‘pull saw’ I used for cutting the slots for the frets. I think that this saw is intended
for delicate dove-tailing work. It was perfect for the frets too. It was long enough to
allow me to use a fairly wide jig. Also worthy of special mention is the fret hammer. I bought
this from Universal Jems in America and it was brilliant! Everyone should own one!
|The fret wire I opted for in the end was advertised as “High quality Medium/Medium fret
wire 18% Nickel Silver suitable for Martin, Fender, Guild, and Gibson Acoustic and
Electric Guitars. This fret wire is identical to that which is also sold by
Stewart-Macdonald 0148. Fret wire tang to fit 0.023″ 0.58mm fret slot.” It came in 24
pre-cut pieces, each 60mm in length. Having fitted them, I’m really pleased with the
end result and would easily recommend. In this picture you can see that I did something
that I haven’t done at all previously in this project… I had a practice run. Aren’t you
proud of me! It did help, so I’m glad I did.
|I knew before I started this part of the build that it was going to be very
important for me to get the frets perpendicular to the centre line. Pretty much
everyone I’ve spoken to on this subject has had some horror story to tell.
A lot of the videos you see on the net showing you how to do this cheat
(sort of) in as much as they always seem to start with a fixed-width
straight neck. My neck is tapered and it’s got an awkward fat head… a bit
like me The answer I figured would lay in getting the jig right. So I
built one especially for the job. Here you see it fitted inside a crappy
shop-bought mitre box. The jig is a “U” shaped channel with a flat board
that can slide length-ways inside it. And on this board are 4 plastic blocks
screwed at strategic places to hold the neck in exactly the right place
to ensure I get perpendicular frets. I’m almost as over-the-moon about
this jig as I am the whole bloody uke build! It’s a marvel! And I invented
it all myself! So there! Ha!
|I marked out all the frets with a pencil. My starting point was with the nut
which I measured from the bridge knowing the scale I was aiming for.
Then, starting at the nut I cut all of the slots. This was scarey stuff! One
lapse of concentration and I knew I was done for. It didn’t start well when I
almost fluffed the first bloody fret! But I was able to recover. I did it
in three or four sessions taking a breather in between. When I got to
about the 16th fret I started to have second thoughts. Perhaps I was
putting in too many frets! The gap was too small. Perhaps I should
stop. In the end I decided to stay true to my pattern end even if it
doesn’t play right in the end… it will look ace! Hey… It’ll play just fine!
|Next I banged the frets into place. This wasn’t always as straightforward as you might
think. The trick seems to be to get the tang in place at one end and then to work your
way along the fret. I started off gingerly but it wasn’t long before I was annoying the
|Finally, I cut the frets down closer to size with a razor saw and then set
to them with my trusty bastard file (heh! got a mention in again!). The last
step was to sand the ends smooth. I may do some more work on them. I
don’t want my superb playing to be compromised in any way by rough
frets! 😉 I know I’m biased, but I’m really pleased with the outcome. I think
that there is only one fret that I let myself down with. It’s slightly in
the wrong position. It’s something like the 18th fret, so no worries there.
I’ll just avoid playing that one. ;-P
|Gripped with a new braveness and enthusiasm I cut the slot for the nut and
fashioned a blank out of a piece of bone I had laying around. Before you start
worrying, the bone was left over from a banjo ukulele restoration project I did a
while ago. It might have even been this one. But then again… it might have been
this one. I don’t actually want a bone nut, but I didn’t have any plastic to hand.
It’s easy enough to change later on down the track if it doesn’t work out.
|Here’s the end result. I love it! I’ve been walking 10 feet tall ever since
and I keep catching myself sneaking a peek to make sure that everything
is still where I left it. Ha ha! I’m chalking this up as a King Uke victory!
|Remember my comment about specialist kit. Yeah, If only I practiced
what I preached. Look at this monstrosity! Can you guess what it’s
for? I wonder if it’ll be any good. You’ll just have to wait and see.
That’s it for now. I’m taking a break to attend the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain. I’ll be the one in the Headhunters T-shirt if you’re desperate to buy me a pint.
I’m not sure where I’ll go next with the build. It could be to paint the body. It could be to finish the neck. Decisions, decisions…