Workshop: Those Dang Ebonized Maple Fretboards

This is a little Harmony all-birch parlor guitar I've been working on. It's had some rough old work done to it so my job was just to refret it, add a bridge, a few cleats, and set it up. As usual, though, the original ebonized-maple fretboard is brutally mealy and dried-out and is going to be a chore to refret as the slightest mucking-about with it turns it into a million little splintered pieces.

The above shot is of me having taken the first pass with my sanding/plane job and then drop-filling glue into the cavities in the board which have torn-out during fret removal (believe me, I'm careful, but this stuff is a nightmare).

That looks terrible, right?

After another pass, it's leveling-out and distributing sanding-dust in the low spots.

I soak that up with some thin-viscosity superglue and it makes its own filler. I'm not trying to make this perfect, mind you. On a guitar this beat-up it's not imperative to make the job neat and the inclusions actually add story to it.

Still, after the final plane, buffing-up, fret-slot deepening/clearing and sealing-job it's starting to look more like a respectable old board.

Here I've pressed the new frets in. My fill areas are slightly darker but there are also lighter fill areas where someone squirted glue willy-nilly around the 13/14/15 fret spots in a desperate bid to hold the original frets in place.

Do you see my method for pressing in frets over the extension? A block with one of my trusty StewMac radius-matched brass fret press gizmos wedged in a slot gets clamped into the board (carefully) with a block supporting the top behind it. By using soundhole clamps you can get the same effect via f-holes on archtop guitars if you really need to.


Warren said…
Takes Patience! Nice work and I like the binding on that Harmony.

I've got a Dixie Wonder Supertone 5 string banjo with a fragile fingerboard that I have to try and refret soon. Will be a similar challenge I'm afraid!
Jake Wildwood said…
Yeah, the Lange products and many Regal products have the same issues. Harmony and Kay ones seem to be the worst, with Lange a close 3rd. :)
I don’t think these are maple. Way to soft, even after ebonization (I call it “ebolizing”) and, I usually end up replacing the whole board. Nice work!
Jake Wildwood said…
Hm -- you think it's more poplar maybe? I suppose it could be. I know that many of the ones that're more painted-black are definitely maple -- Nationals, Oscar Schmidts, some Kays and Regals... but I figured this was just maple that's been eviscerated by some devilish chemical.