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Fiber Optic Sidemarkers Tutorial


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Installing fiber optic sidemarkers isn't too hard once you have a grasp on what needs to be done and how to (try) and do it best. In no way am I a pro at this, I learn something new everytime and that makes each project better than the last.

If you are wanting to do this, I STRONGLY urge you to try it out on a cheapo neck and not your #1 baby. In all honesty, you most likely will mess up and that's ok. Just learn from that and you will know what not to do next time.


-Inlays and sidemarkers can start to ooze out if they are "cheapo" inlay material. If you have one of those model nameplates at the 12th fret where it looks clear with text written on paper, you can pretty much kiss that goodbye and better plan to fill it. This is something that is caused by the heat from the iron, it's a delicate balance that you need to feel out. You need enough heat to warm up the glue so you can separate the join, but not too much heat otherwise the inlays will start to come out.


Tools needed:

-Ironing Board (or similar flat surface)


-An old thin shirt

-Thin/flat metal spatula

-Possibly a thin knife/blade

This is probably the trickiest part of the entire process (as well as gluing the board back on), so a lot of care is needed when starting. Bottom line is, you need to be very cautious of what you are doing and what is happening.

I can't tell you how long this step will take, it really is different everytime. I've done a few where it's taken well over an hour, others come off around 30 minutes. Usually, about 45 minutes is the average.

This depends on a few things:

-Neck end: Some necks are easier to do than others and the easiest ones are those that have the fingerboard OVERHANG with no neck wood underneath this overhang. Meaning it's ONLY the fretboard wood. This lets you easily use your spatula and get into the neck/fretboard join once the glue starts to heat up and melt. Other guitars are harder. These are the kind where the neck wood is attached/underneath the fretboard wood, overhang or not. This requires more care and you probably will need a knife/blade to start digging into it and try to separate the join a little bit. This will be hard to do and it takes time, just be CAREFUL, you don't want to mess up and split any wood.

-Glue: Some necks have a ton of glue and some necks have stronger glue too. This makes the entire process take longer to complete. On the other hand, not as much glue or glue that isn't quite as strong will come off fairly easily. The good thing about this is it is quick and also usually leaves you with very clean surfaces.


Ok, so at this point, you should have your neck taken off your guitar and lying on your ironing board or other flat surface. Fill up your iron with water and set it to the 5th steam setting. Place your old shirt on top of the fretboard (only one layer) and make sure it's nice and level with no wrinkles. The shirt is used to protect the fretboard wood in case any water were to come in contact with it. This way, it just hits the shirt and keeps the board nice. You might want to adjust your truss rod so that it pushes up against the fretboard just a bit. IF yours is already doing this and it's doing it alot, you might want to back it off and make it more level. Ideally, you want your truss rod to be flat with no pressure on the fretboard. If there is pressure, it could bend the board too much and damage it.

Place your iron directly on top of the shirt/fretboard (start at the end of the fretboard, not the nut side) and let it slightly overlap the end of the board.

**NOTE** Once you get started, try and work constantly and always pay attention to what is happening. You want the steam to work for you and do most of the job, but leaving the iron in one spot for too long will cause that area to heat up too much and the inlays/sidemarkes could start to ooze up/out. Do NOT apply upwards or downwards pressure with your spatula, keep it level with the fretboard as much as you can. IF you pull up or push down, you can damage the fretboard.

Ok, again I can't say for sure how long this should take. Sometimes it takes a long time and sometimes it's really quick. These days, I have kinda developed a feel for how it goes and so I steam for a good 8 minutes or so, then check it with my spatula. Again, keep an eye on those inlays and sidemarkers, they could start to loosen up. Insert your spatula in between the fretboard/neck join and simply go back and forth, left to right while GENTLY and carefully moving towards the nut. It should move really smoothly and with little resistance. The moment you start to feel the resistance increase and it's harder to move, STOP. You do not want to increase the pressure on this area. If you do, you WILL end up splitting either the fretboard or neck wood. This will probably happen anyway though, so don't worry too much if it does. Just make sure you move slowly but surely. Keep moving down the board as much as you can in between steamings, but stop when you need to.

Ok, so after you are able to move your spatula down and come to a point where you are unable to go further, refill your iron and steam it again.

It's really that simple, just steam for awhile (at least 8 minutes or so before you seriously check it with your spatula), then move the spatula down the board and keep repeating.

When you get to the last few frets, you will probably notice things taking a bit longer than normal. That's fine...Just turn your iron backwards or to the side so you have a good amount of the iron making contact with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd frets.

Once the board is off, let everything dry and cool down. You don't want to start working on warm sidemarkers.

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I forgot to mention another slight warning about too much heat. In addition to the

inlays/sidemarkers heating up, the frets could potentially heat up and not remain properly

seated. Be careful, it probably won't happen, but it could...




Iron Setting:


Fretboard end: This kind is the easiest to work on...


Shirt on the fretboard, ready to steam:




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Spatula goes in:




Last section to be removed, area near the nut. Back that thang up:




Oozing inlays/sidemarkers...Here's what I was talking about. It's pretty much always gonna happen. I didn't worry about the inlays too much with this one because they are going to be removed and filled then the entire board will be stained ebony. To clean up this oozing, you need a dremel tool with a small sanding disc. Simply go straight down on the portion of the

sidemarkers that stick out until it's flush again.




That's it for the fretboard removal. Next up is prepping the board for the fiber optic strand installation. This will cover routing of the fretboard's underside and drilling into the stock sidemarkers.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Alrighty, I had a bunch of stuff that kept me from working on the fiber optic project until now, so lets try and pickup where we left off, prepping the fretboard for routing and fiber optic strand installation.

Last time, we covered how to remove the fretboard and in doing so, I also showed you one thing that could go wrong, haha. This was the inlays and sidemarkers heating up too much and starting to rise out of their seated positions. Well if you remember, I said this didn't worry me too much because the inlays were coming out of this neck anyway and the sidemarkers could always be filed back down nice and flush.

Now things went a bit further than just oozing sidemarkers, one of them actually caved in and I was left with a clean empty hole and NO sidemarker materal at all. To fix this, I just grinded down some of the inlays that I had removed (drill into the center, then get a screwdriver and simply pop/turn them out), mixed in a little glue and filled the empty sidemarker position with this composite material. Let it dry, then get your trusty Dremel with the sanding disc and sand that sucker back down nice and flush until you are left with your new sidemarker :D



After (and drilled):


Ok...moving on...


For this step, you will need a hand drill and the right sized bit that will work with the fiber optic strand you are using. I am using .75mm strands in this guitar and I think the bit is a 3/64 or something like that. It's a tiny guy. This size works best on Gibson style guitars with the larger sidemarkers, but it will also work fine with smaller sidemarkers. You could also go with .50mm strands and use a 1/32 bit (again, I think) but these guys break REALLY easily.


Now all you do is carefully line up your drill/bit directly in the center of the sidemarker and slowly push downwards. Don't go fast, you might slip or break the bit. Go slow and work evenly. CAREFULLY work the bit back out, you don't want to pull what's left of the sidemarker or you will be making a new one :D


Now I'm not gonna lie to you, this is a hard step and you most likely will mess up and have a few that are drilled slightly off center. You can either live with it, or pull the entire sidemarker out, install a new one and try again.


Now that you have all your sidemarkers drilled, we need to route out some space under the board for your strands to lie in. For this step, you will need a Dremel tool and a routing assembly.



There are two sections that need to be routed:

1) A line parallel with the fretboard on the TREBLE side:



2) Individual routes from EACH sidemarker location that MEETS up with the #1 route. I deleted this pic, sorry. But it's pretty easy, it's just a route that goes from the side marker and curves down towards the #1 route so that the fiber optic strands can go from the sidemarker, cross over the board length and run in the #1 parallel route.


Ok, so for this step, you will need:

-Fiber Optic strands (.75mm used on this project)



-Wire Cutter

-Wood Glue

I used to purchase my strands from the Fiber Optic store, but sadly they have gone under so I am looking for a new supplier at this time. Assuming you have strands, we can move on B)

Now that you have drilled the sidemarkers and routed out the necessary channels, you should be able to insert your strand into each marker and measure/cut the lengths you need.

What you want to do is leave a few mm sticking OUT of the sidemarker, out of the fretboard. This is necessary because once it's all ready, you use your dremel sanding disc to sand it flush against the fretboard (more on this later).

So you have a little bit sticking out, then you curve it down through your channel (remember you need to be gentle with the strands, you can't bend them too much or they will not carry as much light or worse, break. So curve those suckers through your channel and down into the #1 parallel route. Go all the way down the length of the fretboard until you reach the neck joint. From this point, keep measuring it out following the pickup wire routing in your guitar body (you will most likely also need to create another route here, but more on that later). Keep following the general route through the pickup cavities and into the control cavity area. I like to stop around the location of the switch, usually in the middle or so. Then take your wire cutters and cut the strand at this point. Then get a piece of tape, tape it to the end of the strand and write which sidemarker location it is for.

REPEAT this process for each sidemarker location, from 3 (or 1) all the way up to 21, 22, 24, however many sidemarkers you have.


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For this step, you will need your tape and wood glue.

First, grab one strand and place it in through the sidemarker and into the route just as you did to measure the length you would need. Remember to LEAVE A FEW MM OF STRAND STICKING OUT. Now when you have it settle in a good spot, TAPE the portion of this strand that is sitting in the #1 parallel route. Make sure you push the tape INTO the route so it holds the strand down nice and neat.


Next, grab your woodglue and fill the route that leads from the sidemarker to the #1 parallel route:


Then take another piece of tape and tape OVER the glued section:


You can see that I prepped a few more locations in that last pic.

Repeat this step all the way up the fretboard: position the strand, tape on the #1 parallel route, glue the individual route, tape over the individual route.

When you are done, it should look similar to this:


Now you gotta let this dry, I suggest leaving it overnight just to be safe. When this is dry, we will remove the tape and glue the other sections so that all routes will be sealed again.

The next steps will cover:

2.5 the rest of the gluing steps

2.6additional routing of the fretboard AND neck end

2.7routing at the body/neck join

2.8Final work on the strands at the sidemarker (sticking out) and terminating end in the body cavity

2.9LED/Switch wiring

3.0 Gluing the fretboard back onto the neck

3.1 any other stuff... :D


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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 5 weeks later...

I would really appreciate if this tutorial was continued. It would be great to know how to do it. Maybe a holoflash guitar with LEDs as fret markers and fiber optics on the side. That would be nice :D

Please continue this.

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  • 1 month later...
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just been searching the forum for this kind of thing, the link didnt work :D

so plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz continue it.

if you dont have the time right now fine just say man the suspence is killing me

good luck

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  • 4 weeks later...

If you have a junker neck lying around or would just like to play with it, you can get similar effects to fiberoptics using heavy guage nylon fishing wire. is it the same no....... not by a long shot, but however it can help you get the basic ideas down on a scrap piece of wood before you go and spend money on the optics.

i am doing a body inlay and thinking of utilizing the fiberoptics. mainly cuase the two pieces will be controled by tthe same switch, and it would be easier to just have them light up via the same source.



ps for those who doubt this, remember the 80's..radioshack had this little light that would change colors and it would shoot off, the light from its strands. that wasn't fiber optics, that was cheap plastic,.


bed now


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look foward to the pics

but i have some questions,

did you route the channel on the treble side and gently arch the fiber optics because if you did it on the bass side the angle the fiber optics would have to turn woulf affect the internal refration?

also did you have any problems with the truss rod pinching the fibre optics once you out everything back together?

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did you have any problems with the truss rod pinching the fibre optics once you out everything back together?

i wouldnt imagine he did, they are in layed and therefore below (or actually above) the gluing surface so i dont think they affected anything

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look foward to the pics

but i have some questions,

did you route the channel on the treble side and gently arch the fiber optics because if you did it on the bass side the angle the fiber optics would have to turn woulf affect the internal refration?

also did you have any problems with the truss rod pinching the fibre optics once you out everything back together?

Yep, the channel in the fretboard is along the treble side and each strand gently curves down towards that channel. Basically, I just fit it through my drilled sidemarker and watched it naturally curl as I held the length against the channel. That way I had a good idea of how the strand would behave and how much room I had to work with. If you tried it on the bass side, it most likely wouldn't work very well since the bend radius would be pretty tight. I like the treble side because it has no strain and it exits the fretboard/neck in a clean line directly to where most neck cavities are drilled for the pickup wiring.

No trouble with the truss rod. What I did was measure everything out, the way I wanted the channel on the treble side and the curved routes from each sidemarker to the channel. Then I installed each strand (one at a time) and held it in place with some tape. Once I had everything in place, I went back to the beginning and lifted pieces of tape, then filled with wood glue and covered it back up. So essentially, you are plugging up the routes and if it's done nice and neat, you won't have any problems :D


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thanks for the answers 4nkam and Nitefly SA

the second question was a bit silly i should have been paying more attention to the thread :D

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  • 2 months later...
  • 1 month later...
  • 3 months later...

Sooooooooooooooooooooorry for leaving ya guys hanging for so long. Here are some more pix. Once the strands are glued in place, you can remove the tape and sand down any extra glue or whatever that is under the fretboard so it will go back on the neck nice and flush. Then you are ready to glue and clamp it down:









That's really all that's left to it. A few things though:

1) You must be careful with your clamps. You want them tight to hold the neck/fretboard together but you do not want to run the risk of damaging your fretboard or neck with imprints of the clamp.

2) Leave it clamped for awhile, the longer the better.

3) I use normal wood glue, you could use that or something similar.

4) Once the neck is finished, you simply run a piece of heat shrink tubing over the ends and shrink it down. I like to then cut the ends nice and straight so the light from the LED is sure to get into all the strands.

5) Wiring up the LED is simple but I don't remember it off the top of my head. If you're interested, lemme know and I'll dig up my wiring diagram for it. It's just one LED, resistor, and switch.

A few other notes:

1) I HIGHLY suggest using fiber optic strands that are .75mm or even .50mm (if you have a nice drill bit that won't break on you). The reason is this looks the cleanest IMO since the fiber optics sit right in the middle of the stock side marker. That way you still have your sidemarker which can be seen in normal light. If you use a strand of a higher gauge, you probably won't have much sidemarker left and when the fibers aren't lit, your sidemarkers will be black.

2) Excuse the caps here, but it's very important. PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS ON A BELOVED INSTRUMENT. TRY IT ON A BEATER OR CHEAPO FIRST. MANY TIMES, YOUR FRETBOARD WILL ACTUALLY SHRINK DUE TO LOSING SOME OF THE MOISTURE WHILE STEAMING IT OFF THE NECK. This causes problems once you go to glue it back on. Sometimes it's ok, sometimes it's a disaster. There's really noway of knowing what it will turn out...although I will say Ibanez necks seem to come off and replace the easiest.

Again, sorry for the long delay. If there is anything else I can help with, feel free to ask and I promise I'll be on top of it :D

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Couple questions:

Can you give us a shot, with the neck on, of the end of the neck? Kinda to see how and where you send the wires, whilst still staying out of the way of the neck pickup.

Also, the 24th fret.... you have to slowly curve the fiber cable... but the 24th fret is right at the end there!? If you could clear that one up that'd be great.



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