Friday, May 13, 2016

We can work it* out

* where "it" denotes any individual guitar fret

Another Friday, another step forward in converting my ESP LTD EC-256 guitar into a fretless model. As advertised last week, today I applied painter's tape on either side of each fret, heated the fret with a soldering iron, and then carefully extracted the fretwire from the slot. Lather, rinse, and repeat 21 more times ...

The curtain is lowered for 30 minutes to denote the lapse of a half-hour.

Adjusting the truss rod to bow the neck slightly backwards resulted in much, much less splintering than in my previous effort (mauling an Epiphone LP-100; I'll have to dig around to see if I still have a photo of those ragged slot edges). Here's a close-up of the empty EC-256 slots; you can see some ribs (un-ribs?) where the barbs on the fret tang took teensy bits of wood with them on their way out, but the damage is minimal:

In another refinement of the process, rather than remove the frets in consecutive order from nut to body (or vice versa) as I did on the LP-100, this time I first removed only the odd-numbered frets, resulting (briefly) in a custom whole-tone instrument:

Removing the frets in this sequence made the work on the upper frets much, much less claustrophobic, especially on the second pass (i.e., removing the even-numbered frets). If nothing else, it simplifies applying the painter's tape, because on that first pass you don't have to clear all frets; rather, the tape can overlap and cover the even-numbered frets.

Okay, now the asymmetric placement of the fingerboard inlays in the above photo is starting to unsettle me, so here's a photo of the completely emptied fingerboard:

Ahhhhh, much better. Next week (schedule permitting), I'll fill the empty slots. Maybe I'm imagining it, but the clean(er) edges make the slots look narrower than the aforementioned LP-100 slots, which in turn makes it seem as though it will be even more challenging to fill the EC-256 slots.

The last time around, I discovered the hard way that the wood filler I used didn't offer a sufficiently fine resolution to truly fill the LP-100 slots. I haven't ruled out using wood glue instead: 1) I'm not trying to fool anyone into thinking this fingerboard was never fretted, and 2) the 12-EDO slot lines will provide a handy 100-cent reference grid for placing the "gut" (actually nylon) frets ... so, with that in mind, filling the slots in a contrasting color becomes a feature, not a bug.


  1. Excellent! Why is it that the odd ones (frets) seem to always be removed first?
    I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Bert Fenner right before he retired! Ah the Electronic Music Lab!

  2. I had no idea that anyone else removes the odd-numbered frets first, so I'm glad to hear that I'm in good company.

    Last I saw Burt was at a Homecoming weekend in the 1990s, I think. Alas, I didn't maintain a steady correspondence with him, partly because I thought he didn't approve of the direction in which my music was evolving. In retrospect, I likely read too much into his remarks ... or even if not, then I wish I'd kept in touch with him regardless.