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wolfbass

Re-fretting Jazz Bass neck with binding

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Hello everybody,

I just bought a 74 maple Jazz Bass neck which has been converted into a fretless by some ... intelligent ... person back in the day. There was also put a fair amount of laquer on the fretboard.

I'd like to restore the neck to its former glory but I have no idea on how to get this laquer out of the fret slots. If there was no binding on the neck, I could easily re-saw them.

Doas anyone have experience with that kind of problem? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

 

Cheers, wolf

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Hi Wolf and welcome tho the forum.

That is a tricky one. To be honest I would approach this by sanding away the lacquer on the fretboard, cutting or routing away the fretboard binding, use a fretsaw to open up the fret slots, glue a new (or maybe the original if it can be re-used) binding on the fretboard and fret as usual. Be aware that this means that you need to refinish the neck.

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Thanks, Peter! Is was afraid someone might tell me something like this (:

Seems to be the only real way to go. Except from cutting through the binding, which is one of the things you just DON'T DO ...

I found this on yt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=40&v=KChTczU0dqw Any chance it might work? I wonder where he got that 'custom bit' from.

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The dremel router might work to clean a slot that's already clean but filled with pretty much any thing i would be afraid of the bit walking and making it even mor of a mess. 

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The dremel might work, but as Tim says I would be worried about the bit wandering away. You could also think about using a fret slot cleaning saw http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Refret_Saw.html

but the issue is that without anything that guides that short saw it too can start to wander and then you end up with a too wide slot. Or misaligned. And it will be very hard work. I once salvaged a Gretsch Double Anniversary were someone had scalloped the fretboard (on a rockabilly type guitar!!!) and I sanded down the fretboard (it was reasonable thick) to get rid of that and then had to deepen all of the fret slots with that type of saw. It was a nightmare even though I have at least some fret slot left after I sanded down the fretboard.

 

 

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Great! Thanks for your input everyone. I didn't know about the refret saw. Maybe a cnc router might also work, I know a luthier that owns one. It will be a nightmare to program it but at least it won't wander ...

Thanks again. I will tell you how it worked out in the end.

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I see most of the issue - CNC included - being about reliable work holding. I would likely make up a dedicated sled for the neck to work on a table router. Not the easiest to explain, but the safest way of cutting binding channels. Thankfully, Fender necks are built in a flat plane. I'll explain more when I get to a desktop. 

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Haha, cool name, crew slut (: I will consider what you said. Seems to be a wise thing since you can use it over and over again. Tell me more, please!

Edited by wolfbass
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Good that we're thinking along the same lines there ;-)

My initial thought about the binding channels was a sled to be used on a table router with a bearing guided cutter. The bearing runs along a straight edge of the sled whilst the neck is held fretboard down against that edge. It's difficult with the fingerboard having a radius of course. Nothing that a little modelling epoxy and cling film/saran wrap can't fix. Cutting the fret slots first before removing the binding is wise if you are fitting new binding strips. That way it protects the fingerboard from splintering at the ends of the cut.

I'll draw out a picture if that helps?

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Wolf - does this drawing make any sense?

IMG_7183.thumb.JPG.eb3400b01cbc6684b896e

A thin layer of cork might work well underneath the fingerboard. Not sure if you have any Bessey toggle clamps (or similar) to hand. Cork should compress sufficiently to allow the neck to sit stably despite the radius, and it can always be shimmed with pieces of paper to raise one end if it is lower than the other. There are many ways to improve this sled depending on your confidence and experience.

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RE: Dremel tools.

I've long had the intention of writing an article on routing from a physics perspective. It is adequate to say that a Dremel tool does not have sufficient weight and stability required to perform satisfactory and repeatable binding routs. It requires a sub-base with a larger surface area to bear on the workpiece to reduce it deciding to twist out of the cut. I also do not like the collets; even a well-maintained and tightened collet can slip under load, causing more damage than you really can afford.

For cuts like these, a better hand tool would be something like a palm router (Bosch Colt/GKF/POF500 are easily available plus the DeWilt, Makita equivalents) or better on a table router as shown. Dremels can easily leave an inconsistent channel instead of a crisp clean one. On a neck of this heritage, it is worth considering investing in a tool specifically to restore it. Whilst it won't be worth anything near what an original would, a good restoration will maintain value offsetting the investment. Even paying a couple of hundred Euros to a pro to fix it up would be a valid option.

That said, there is nothing preventing this work being done by anybody with a passing knowledge of repairs.

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Well said. I absolutely share your opinion on the historic and material value on the neck I'm working on. Considering the growing amount of fretless conversions you see on ebay these days (the 80s were a bad time for Fender Instruments, finish-, fretwork, and pickupwise), one could probably make a business from that. 

Thanks for the drawing, too. I'll post the outcome of the enterprise here as soon as there is one.

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Definitely, do. It'll be good to see how the neck is now (as "proof of guilt"?) and how it progresses. It's not a difficult fix when you break it down to certain steps, however that's from my own personal perspective. I don't think I have the chops to restore a classic piece to maintain its value. It's possible that it might be "too far gone" thanks to needing to deal with that lacquer. I might be wrong.

What do you think Peter? @SwedishLuthier

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Trying to drag me back into this one Carl? ;) 

 

I think I would start with sanding away the lacquer on the front of the fretboard. Just to see how deep the lacquer has penetrated the fret slots. If whoever did this used some type of epoxy (What Jaco Pastorius used, a lot of people converted their J-basses just to be like him...) it might not has gotten as deep into the slot as one might think. So first sand the front down to wood and then try to pry out the lacquer (epoxy?), possibly with this tool http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Fretting/Fret_Slot_Cleaning_Tool.html (forgot about that one before...) and it that doesn't work try the refret saw. If those steps fails, I'd check to see how well anchored the bindings are. I would try ever so gently to pry the binding away before I start with the jig Carl drew up. If you are lucky you may be able to get the the binding off that way. And if that didn't work, the routing jig is the next step. However I would be very cautious around the butt end of the neck. You need to change from the straight routing line to a jig that lets you follow the perimeter of the neck butt. i would probable change from a router bit with a bearing closer to that shank to a bit with a bearing on the tip (often called a lamination trimmer bit)that will follow the maple.

 

In short, gently ramp up the degree of "violence" as each step might be more invasive and/or risky.

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Of course I'm going to drag you back into the fray, Peter! It's posts like that which make it almost a necessity than a choice ;-)

If it IS epoxy, the only option is just to sand it back into the radius. Any residue in the pores should more or less visually disappear once the Rosewood is oiled and re-darkens with age.

I'm unsure whether you're aware of this since it hasn't been mentioned, however Fender did use thin veneer pieces of Rosewood instead of the more common thicker slab fingerboards back in the 60s and 70s. I'm uncertain of the exact period this was done and whether it applies here. This should be observable at the headstock end, and certainly once binding is removed. I'd try and judge whether you've got enough material to work with for sanding back the epoxy/lacquer. Worst case would be that you need to apply a new piece of Rosewood and inlays. Not the worst problem, but even more invasive to the value nonetheless.

What sort of binding material did they use back in the 70s, Peter? ABS, cellulose, etc?

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Oh, shoot forgot about the veneer boards, how could I do that? The veneer boards were used on Telecasters between mid 60's and up to -83 so this should be a veneer board, the Basses would presumable follow roughly the same pattern. I have seen different thicknesses of veneer boards though, some not thick enough for the depth of the fret tang, and some a tad thicker. It should be possible to see and measure at the head end as Carl said.

 

You got me with the binding material there... I actually have no idea. However my guesstimation, based on the general Fender production approach, would be ABS. There is a sure way to check, but it is destructive. Scrape the material with a razor. If it starts smelling like Vic vapour rub, its celluloid binding material.

Edited by SwedishLuthier

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I once sanded a burr off a Fender tortoise shell pick.....I know-- why not just grab a new one? Well the fine sandpaper was right there and the new picks were across the room.:P I was totally surprised by the menthol eucalyptus smell coming from that pick. Celluloid huh?

SR

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