I’m not talking about theory, scales, patterns, etc. or the free form tactile response you get from hours of playing on the board. Those are all good and a totally different place than what this post is about. This post is about the connection you have creating a fretboard from scratch. It’s a different perspective and I’ve recently found there are two.
So far I have taken a very organic approach to building guitars. Raw lumber, working it with tools, constantly checking the surfaces with your hands and fingers until you get to the “that’s it” point of shape and feel. In this process you get very close to the materials various grains, defects, hardness, and so on. It does get personal and the result is a great experience. You feel your way to a finished part and eventually a completed instrument. Very rewarding.
I have recently started trying out an “engineered” approach using a CAD program called Fusion360 to draw and spec parts – specifically a fretboard model. The completed drawing shifts to a CAM step to define tooling and eventually to an output program (gCode) that drives a router (CNC). This process has introduced a new intimacy with the design of a fretboard and a connection to the fretboard I hadn’t considered previously. You really get deep into the exacting measurements needed to create the part and logic behind programming instruction sets for tooling to actually make the part. It gets “heady”. A significant departure from hand tooling your way to a finished part. I definitely don’t look at fretboard the same way after stepping into this.
I’m not sure how I feel about this approach yet. I am finding it very interesting and certainly the repeatability factor is very high which could be useful for series work. Once you’ve nailed down the drawing, tool selection, and tool paths you can make parts all day long that will only vary based on how the material reacts. Yes, there is still an “x-factor” – not all pieces of wood are the same and the tool does react somewhat accordingly. So I am curious if the personal tactile response will still be there as the parts are fit together, finished and fine-tuned by hand. Will the reward on the finished instrument still be as great?
Here are some pics illustrating the fretboard journey so far…