Thank you for the admission here. I'm at a loss and have been searching for info on cutting fret slots in a violin fingerboard. A google search brought me here so I hope you don't find me too awfully irritating. While waiting for my admission here to be approved I search your forum posts for anything about violin frets and found nothing.

I have a Yinfente 5 string electric violin with a standard fingerboard and wanted to get a fretted (24 total) fingerboard and replace it... guess what, nowhere can I find a fretted fingerboard for a violin, especially a 5 string version. One company that does work, builds instruments and on occasion takes in other jobs, wants $600 for a total fretted fingerboard! Holy smokes... about double what this violin cost new! I don't think so.

So I've searched for the tools but every fret making jig or saw is made with the intent of flat frets on a flat board, and the violin has a multitude of complex curves and although I have made a violin from scratch for a personal project, I'm at a loss to cut frets in a blank. I know the spacing based on a 330mm string length. At one end my fingerboard is 28.9mm wide and the opposite end (bridge end) it's 44.8mm wide. With a standard (?) radius of 42mm at the bridge end and tapered to nothing on the nut end, how would you cut those fret slots and install the wires? Make the fretted fingerboard non-scouped and symmetrical?

I have thought of using that tool tile layers use to transfer irregular shapes to tile to maintain the correct curve of the board to a 'stop' on the side of the fret saw, perhaps I will have to fabricate a jig of my own to hold it perpendicular to the surface.

Any help or links or guidance would be greatly appreciated.

I have enclosed a fretted fingerboard found on the Woods violins as a reference as to what I want to make. Also a picture of my electric I want to modify.

Tags: fingerboard, fretted, violin

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Dennis,welcome to the forum. I follow the discussions however. Post just once in awhile. I couldn't pass up on this thread. That's a very cool picture, no idea why you want to turn your fiddle into a five string bowed mandolin. But I've fretted a few 4 string Mandolins but they had flat fretboards. It would be a challenge,definitely,but I'm sure you should be able to fret it. Just a regular fret saw from Stewmac probably would accomplish the feat. The problem would be keeping the kerf in the correct position. I would mark it then start it with a Japanese woodworking saw. Then after you've started the fret slot change to the Srewmac saw as it has a depth gauge Attached.
Go to HomeDepot get a large dowel if you can fret that you can fret your fiddle. Just sayin good luck Lonnie

Thank you so much for the reply.. I have several spare leftovers here I can practice on that are from a 4/4 violin so that is no problem. I also looked over the saws on Stew-Mac and found a #5745 and a #5756 ranging in price from $38 to $50 which isn't too bad for what you get and both have a .023" wide kerf which matches up with the same width fret material I have found in low and narrow configs. I suspect the radius changing is going to be the hardest part of slot making. I have thought about a nice flexible 1/4" tall piece of aluminum bar stock I can lay over the board which would follow the curvature and then clamping it & the board down should allow me a guide to follow with the saw depth gauge and blade edge. Just throwing out some of my ideas but thought I'd ask others since I can't possibly be the only one who has fretted a violin board. LoL

Thanks for joining our little group here - welcome to the sandbox!

As you plan your process, here's something to consider.  From the standpoint of fret installation and neck stability, there's no particular benefit in having the fret slots of equal depth, or of having them the same depth as the tang of the fret.  It would be perfectly reasonable to cut the slots by hand, judging the depth only by eye, guessing as you go.  If some slots are twice the depth of others, there will be no practical difference in how the frets fit and seat in the slots.

That said, please bear in mind that this is likely to be a project that will give you some other serious challenges! 

Another thought I've had is whether it would be better to do this fret project on an ebony board or perhaps use a different material like rosewood or other hardwood. When I shave pegs made of ebony they sliver off dramatically and I wondered if that wood would be more prone to splintering next to the edge of the fret slot?

Hi Dennis... welcome aboard!    

That's an interesting project you've got in mind. I'm in agreement that ebony is more prone to chipping, so maybe the "first run" can be done with rosewood... and you might even like that look better when all's done.

At any rate, I was thinking about what Frank mentioned (regarding no benefit to having slots of equal depth, etc) and that triggered the thought of maybe slotting a squared-up flat blank to a depth that would accommodate all of the fret depths once the blank was profiled.  

In other words, maybe slot first while everything's squared-up... then profile later?

If you wanted to go back and fill some extra-deep slots for appearance's sake, there's no reason that couldn't be done.

Admittedly, this isn't "fleshed-out" but was just a thought before falling asleep last night!   Good luck to you.

I visited the shop Jonathan Wilson last month in Fillmore CA. He has gone this road in depth and may be able to guide you? He's a busy man? He makes the "Togaman".  He is currently making his fret boards as all-in-one piece out of a cast resin. Here's a photo I shot during my visit.

I think I'm not very inclined to go with that type of fretboard. It is very restrictive in that you can only hit the fret and nowhere in between for a note, which would preclude much if any vibrato and certainly would make a slide impossible to do smoothly if at all.

There's a guy In Nova Scotia Canada that makes a polymer "fiddle fretter" which is a similar type of device. It has very short frets made of plastic or ABS or other very hard abrasive resistant material to use on a typical 4/4 violin. I bought one to see how it was made, what the size was and the overall design of the frets as it has quite a positive feedback score and following on YouTube of more than average players who said they all pretty much liked it, a lot. I had him make one specifically for my 5 string which is wider than a standard 4/4 violin fingerboard, and it play quite well with vibrato, slides, etc. as you would normally play on a violin fret-less fingerboard. That is what led me to the decision to go ahead and make one for my own in a more permanent way. Here's a pic of the fiddle fretter for a 4/4 violin installed on my 5 string. I took this pic before my 'big' one you can see the physical difference in what my fingerboard is as compared to a standard one.


He has fretted this difficult shape was the point I was not clear about. When I look at this project, I am thinking $600 is a good deal.

OK, I have been working on a jig to handle the compound angles found in a violin fingerboard. This is a rough draft and I think I will make it about an inch narrower than shown. I can adjust the angle for whatever difference there is in the f'board. The angle of taper over the length will need to be addressed if I choose to make other models with different dimensions than what I have currently to work on but that is a simple angle adjustment on the top piece and perhaps a different slot face to get that perfect. First things first though. What do you think of this?

I think you will need at least one wedge shaped to keep the centerline of the fingerboard aligned with the centerline of the jig. In fact, I suggest a wedge on each side and a way to hold it all together as you saw the slot. If you cut it as you have it drawn, the slots will be at angles rather than straight across. I don't know how you could do it on a violin FB with it's arch but most fretted instruments have their slots cut before the board is tapered for just this reason. Cutting them as you show it now would mean that every slot will be at an angle. (You could also fix it by angling the fence.)

Another possible point to address is that moving the FB to the centerline of the jig will mean that it will be harder to cut even depth slots because the sides of the jig will be in the way of the saw as you roll over the FB, particularly on the narrow end. Maybe you can design a tapered jig and move the fence. BTW, I think the fence may need to be redesigned too because, depending upon the saw design, the fence you have designed may interfere with the depth gauge on the saw. 

OK, I'm a bit of a opinionated busy body so I'm going to run out on a limb here. I'm going to make a personal observation about the citizens of this forum and how they may relate to this project.

They are a GREAT bunch of people that are extremely generous with their knowledge and time... but they sometimes, particularly when presented with a problem they haven't seen in a while if ever, forget that not everyone has the same level of experience and skill they have. It's completely possible to get a lot of very good advice that may not  actually contain a lot of information that you are ready to take advantage of. Ultimately, it's always up to the person asking for advice to determine if they can follow what they get. You are the eyes and hands on the job. \

It's also not so easy to suggest to a new member that they may not be ready to take on a job, given the apparent level of knowledge/skill they demonstrate in their posting. It's a hard thing to judge in this medium and it's easy to default to just not mentioning that a person doesn't appear to be ready for something they are suggesting. 

I'm a hobbyist that's been messing around in this field for a while now so I'm not completely inexperienced but I routinely read about and look at pictures of work the professionals do that's way beyond my ability. I don't usually let it keep me from trying but I figured out some time ago that I am often better served by finding a more developmental approach to learning to do what they, apparently do fairly easily... now.  I've blown a lot of repairs because I wasn't able or willing to back off until I had better skills. NOW I only do it once in awhile... and it can take me forever to finish a project because I take it pretty slow to insure that I actually know what I'm doing.  Your "milage" may vary but slow and careful can save a lot of heartache later.

What you are pursuing looks to me like a pretty advanced fret job even for a lot of the pro's here. Not to besmirch your skills because I don't really know what you can do, but fretting a standard fingerboard the first time is a really good way to learn the importance of small details and the relationship a small mistake can have to a big problem later ( my personal experience talking.)

Right now you are focused on getting slots cut but, my personal experience is that slotting the fingerboard, while exacting, really boils down to accurate measurements and careful cuts and I don't think that it's really the most difficult part.  You will need to prebend each fret into a slightly overbent arch to fit each slot which can be a lesson in frustration without a fret bender. You can research and build one of your own or you can purchase one.  Once you cross that hurdle, you will need to learn to drive them in with a hammer (I"m assuming that you are not going to want to make a fret press, which is a whole different thing) and it's probably better to use a soft faced hammer, at least to begin with so you don't dent the frets and fingerboard too much. If you don't have one already, you will probably need to purchase one. BTW, make sure to purchase more fretwire than your fret job needs because you will probably ruin some in the process of learning to hammer them in. You will need to have some equipment to flatten and finish the frets once you have them installed so you should do some research, if you haven't already and purchase/make whatever tools you do not have now. Please trust me that it's worth it to make these preparations even for a single fretboard if yo expect to have a workable fretboard at the end. There are guys here that can probably take a brass brazing rod and a welding hammer to a strip of wood and end up with a functional fretboard but it certainly wouldn't be me and probably wouldn't be you, yet. 

Hammering frets properly takes some practice. I think the arch of a violin's fingerboard will make seating the frets more complicated than it is on  a guitar fretboard. Once the frets are in place you will need to flatten them, shape them and polish them to make the FB operational.

I'm not saying that you can't do it but I'm thinking that you may not completely understand just how complex this is on a standard fretted instrument much less one that usually isn't fretted.  Can it be done? Yes. Can it be done by you? Yes.  Will you be ultimately be satisfied with the results? ... maybe but I think it may not be  before you have made a few tries at either reworking what you've done or  made some completely new tries down the road. .  

My suggestion to you, if you actually solicited it ( but I'm giving it anyway), would be to say that I think you should consider building a mandolin first. It is an instrument which I think can be played very much like what you appear to be wanting on your violin plus it would give you some practice in fretting and setting up an instrument with many shared characteristics with a violin but also one that has the luxury of access to a lot more information about the process than you can find on setting up a fretted violin.   

Anyway, that's my two cents (zinc, not solid copper) worth and you're, obviously, free to take it with a grain of salt. It's not my intention to be insulting in anyway or to anyone, I just think a longer term approach to something I see as pretty complex might serve you better in the long run.

BTW, given the possible expenditures you may need to make to do this properly, $600 may not look so bad unless you are intending to make many more fretted fingerboards in the future.

Since I've written yet another long and meandering post anyway, I have to ask;

 Why?  Why fret a violin if you want to be able to hold and slide notes between the notes that frets are designed to enforce? Why even do it in the first place if you intend to learn how to defeat it after it been done?  

WOW, that's a very detailed and precise reply Mr. Knepp. Thank you so much for your concerns and interests. I think many points you have made will be of great interest to many of the members here. I had wrongly assumed that the membership here was mostly far more advanced in both abilities and experiences. Never the less, here's some answers to your most important concerns.

First, it might be hard to see but the top block is now actually moveable so it can be adjusted and just a fixed angle for my particular fingerboard. I can now cut fret slots in just about any taper found on a fingerboard. I could cut a 4/4 or other size as well as a standard 4 string or 5 or 6 or even 7 string f'board for that fact. Adjusting the moveable slide board would be done by laying a flat plate on top of the side strip pieces and then sliding the fingerboard up against it insuring it makes total contact the full length and then tighten down the front clamping screw located in the slotted hole. You would simple take the f'board and lay it on the moveable base, slide it back tight against the saw which would be against that block and tighten it down. Then no matter where on the f'board you slide to cut it will always be perpendicular to the f'board centerline, assuming the f'board is tapered symmetrically on the centerline. The adjustable 'fence' for the saw to ride against has a sufficiently short height to not contact anything except the blade so any error introduced by the spine of the saw is non existent.

The width of the base board to slide the f'board on is in no way going to interfere with 'rolling' the saw over the edges. I have provided a relief on the more open side to accommodate this fact. Most of the narrow/low frets like the #764 from Stew-Mac are requiring a slot depth of only .060" or so, and the ability to roll the saw to get that much depth on each side is easily obtained in this design according to the movement of the 3D models I have built here and use as a prototype.

I have done a few frets on a guitar fret board and found it to be simply time intensive and not difficult at all. Flattening the board, cutting slots, installing (with a press) by hammer starting, and the finished hours of polishing to mirror brightness were not difficult at all, just took a lot of finger work and time. I was working part time as a "hired gun' and although my forte is with mechanical design engineering, I dabbled for years helping an old luthier here locally take part of the work load in his later years. I have built my own violin from scratch per his guidance and play it from time to time. I also use computer sound analysis to optimally position the sound posts and do bridge work, but this isn't about my qualifications as it is about design critique, which I thank you for your observations!

I have a sufficient amount of tools gathered over the past 4 decades to easily roll the curve required (which changes slightly from fret to fret on a violin f'board) and my skills are far better since I'm not under pressure from a time deadline or persistent customer waiting for my work to be done. The fact that I'm my own worst customer will no doubt slow the progress as I'm meticulous in measuring and building such things as a jig which if built incorrectly or has excessive errors will just transfer such errors to the finished product.

I have no interest in building a mando or guitar or any other instrument for that fact. I am quite content with my 6 violins I own, part time work I do on others violins, part time engineering work I do at home in my office for outside customers as a design consultant and this fretting project for my 5 string. I'm going on 60 yrs old this year and living alone has it's obvious advantages! I can work until the wee hours of the morning if I want and sleep during the day if necessary...a nice benefit of making your own schedules. Ha. I find your interest and concerns very interesting and would certainly welcome an afternoon to sit and discuss things with you over a cold drink of some kind and again thank you for your observations and noted areas of concern and interest. I think we both could learn a lot from each other and smile thinking of the accumulated knowledge we each harbor waiting to be shared with the fellow members here.

I have included a photo of my latest refined jig for you to see. Maybe the adjustable angle block on top and the slot I have already cut in the f'board will allow you to see this adjust-ability concept better.

I'm sorry to have underestimated your abilities, Mr. Boring.  It seem that I have little to offer to this thread so I'll continue on to other matters. Good luck.


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