Q's: Necessity of Fretboard, Using Fretting Scale Length Template, Using Miter Box

Hi There,

I enjoy woodworking and decided to make a small guitar for my brother. I've got a couple of construction questions and I'd appreciate any help.

1.I just learned that there is a difference between a fretboard and a guitar neck. In professional guitars, it seems the fretboard is used to hide a truss or to show off a nice wood on a budget. It doesn't seem there would be that much tension with the three strings. Is the fretboard necessary?

2. I ordered the "Fretting Scale Length Template" from CBGitty.com. With normal woodworking patterns, you size the patterns to fit the project. However, these templates that I ordered are already to size. Would most people cut the template out, lay it on their guitar neck, mark both sides of the template in pencil, and then cut the frets?

3. CBGitty.com also sells a plywood miter box called a "fret-cutting jig." What is the advantage of this over a traditional miter box and square jig? Will one of these suffice for cutting the fret trenches? Is there something special about a "fret-cutting jig?" (I have seen the very expensive jigs used by the pros and there is no way I'm investing in one of those!)

Thanks for your interest and help.


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Welcome to the addictions. You will enjoy your building experience and will likely build many more.

1. For a three or four string CBG using a hardwood neck, you will not need a truss rod nor a fret board. If you want frets, you can cut them directly into the neck.

2. How you use the fretting template is totally up to you. You can use it for reference measurements, tape it to the neck, or beside the neck. I don't use templates since the fret locations can be easily calculated and marked off using a scale in mm.

3. There is nothing "unusual" about cutting fret slots. They need to be perpendicular to the neck and in very specific locations. A fretting jig does help hold the saw in correct alignment for cutting, so it is worth having. I have built several such jigs for saws with different width blades. A bit of hardwood, some 1/4" particle board for the vertical sides and you are in business. The Gitty tool works fine and saves you a bit of construction time.

You will be amazed at how much you learn from your first build. You will want o start number two immediately after finishing number one.

Good luck

Thanks, Tom. I appreciate the thoughtful advice.

Regarding the template, I think I will use your advice and tape it to the neck with painter's tape, then mark off the fret locations in pencil. I bought the templates hoping to avoid some calculations that I read about in a book, but then I read it is simply a matter of counting off the frets starting from the nut.

Thanks for saying that there is nothing "unusual about cutting fret slots." That's the sentence I was looking for. I've got a nice Japanese saw that seems perfect for cutting the frets.

This does seem like a good hobby that brings together two worlds: music and woodworking. Thanks for your advice, Tom!


Tom covered it all, as you already have wood working skills, any method that allows you to cut a true line where needed will suffice, jigs can be restrictive at times as they don't allow for various neck widths in some cases.

It's good that you said that, Darryl. I looked at a few videos and I could not really understand the need for these jigs, although the very advanced mechanical "stampers" looked nice. I like what you say about "any method that allows you to cute a true line where needed will suffice." That seems like what I'm going for. The saw I plan to use has a tiny kerf, so I think I can start small and enlarge the slots as it goes. Thanks for your help! --MB

Tom nailed it. The only things I can add - A fretboard can add to the appearance if it is a contrasting wood.    For your next build, you can find free fret calculators online for any length you want.  Stew mac is my favorite.  Lastly, consider cutting a couple fret slots in some scrap the first time to see if your saw and the frets get along, also gives you a chance to figure out the depth needed.

I will look for those calculators and I'll definitely use some scrap to work on those frets. Thanks, Kigar. --MB

Hi ,I have found it depends on the timber used for the neck whether a fingerboard is used or not. Some neck timbers do not grip frets very well. It also adds some stiffness to an unreinforced neck, especially if the grain is not orientated in the best way. it also allows for a bit more break angle of the strings at the nut, and allows fretting past the end of the neck, over the body.

But nothings set in concrete.

Cheers Taff

It sounds like you're saying the strings need to be up pretty high off the neck. I'll try to do that. --MB

No, if you are fretting the strings need to be very close or else your fingertips will feel like they are being pushed into a cheese slicer and you will find no end of headaches trying to adjust the bridge to get the intonation right.

Break angle is the bit of guitar string after the nut going down to the tuners.  if they don't angle down somewhat they might buzz in the nut slots.

same thing at the other end, the strings need to bend over the bridge a bit down to where you anchor the ends, or else they may buzz there.

It can be a real pain cutting fret slots that are too narrow and then having to widen them, while keeping them correctly aligned.  If possible it's a lot better to find a saw that cuts the right size to start with (experiment on a piece of scrap wood) and use that.  But it's up to you of course. 

Good advice, Gwil. I'll try a couple saws and see which works best. --MB

Tom got most of this, but as in any endeavor, the more you know, the less you know.

Regarding your Japanese pull saw: great for cutting fret slots. But if it's a double-edged one, with fineand coarse teeth, use the fine-toothed side. Why? Your kerf. A fret tang will typically be .023", while most Japanese pull saw fine-tooth kerfs are .022" or .023". Anything larger, and your frets may pull out, won't seat properly, or may have to be glued in.

Kigar's suggestion to practice on a piece of scrap is good: try to use the same wood as your neck wood, so you get the feel; also, you'll discover a need for a depth stop of some sort, although if you're careful, you can just cut to where the saw teeth disappear. You can also make a depth stop with masking tape, or get fancy and put a couple of holes through your saw, andblt on a wood or plexiglass stop.

Regarding fretboards or not: depends. Doing without, a hardwood neck, like oak or other tight-grained dense hardwood, will be required, so as to 1) prevent neck bowing, and 2) grab those frets when you tap 'em in. However, even with woodworking skills, it's easy to boof setting the neck properly: flush to the box, and you have little room for adjustment when the inevitable mistake occurs. Leaving your neck fretting surface approx 1/4" above the box top allows for all kinds of minor adjustments to string height, bridge and saddle height, and "action." Which is why you may want to consider a fretboard on build #2: you can set the neck flush to the box,then add a 1/4" fretboard slab atop that, allowing for 1) eye-catching different wood, 2) covering yor scarf joint for your headstock, assuming you cut one, and 3) giving you the ability to make all those adjustments mentioned above.

Not trying to overwhelm you, just giving you some things to think about that you will run into, on your first, and every subsequent, build.


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