Bandsman Guitar – Day 1 – Preparing the Fretboard
It’s November and it’s pretty chilly. I arrive early afternoon for a 2.30pm start after negotiating back roads and country lanes which lead up to the house and workshop. It’s a beautiful and peaceful setting, I’m a bit nervous but looking forward to the days ahead so hopefully the setting will rub off on me!
I and the other two attendees are welcomed by Carol Bailey – Mark Bailey’s other half – and taken through workshop health & safety over coffee and biscuits. We’ve yet to meet the man himself, he’s sorting out the workshop and making it ready for us newbies.
We head over to the workshop and meet Mark who starts by showing us a film which is basically him doing what we’ll be doing, only speeded up and crammed into 22 minutes. Mark does a running commentary while it’s going on, advising on the main parts of the build.
As this is the first afternoon of the course, the first thing we do is to choose the woods we’re going to use. It’s exciting as although we’re all building the same kind of guitar, we’ve all chosen different materials so all three guitars will be unique.
I’ve chosen a cedrella (spanish cedar) body with a birdseye maple cap; a maple neck with a cocobolo fingerboard will hopefully complement it nicely:
The rest of the day is pretty relaxed and all we have to do is prep the fingerboard. Mark emphasises though that this is the most important part of the guitar and as all things stem from it, this is what we will start with.
The prep involves getting the piece perfectly flat on both sides and for this we use a thicknessing sander – a conveyor belt which passes underneath a variable-height sanding drum. The wood needs to be thinned to 6.5 mm although once it’s been radiused, it will end up about 5.5 mm thick. With each pass, we bring the sanding drum down by a 1/8 turn which equates to 0.2 mm so it takes a while for my 10 mm fingerboard blank to come down to the right thickness.
What’s amazing is the smell of cinnamon from the wood as it’s warmed by the sanding – the smell has filled the small workshop! No less impressive is the way the colour of the wood changes with each sanding pass – there are reds, yellows and pinks now; this will settle down and become darker says Mark – it’s either an oxidation or a UV reaction so I’m looking forwarded to see how it appears tomorrow.
Once completed, we mark the centreline along the fingerboard blank on the side we want to face upwards and then apply double-sided sticky tape to the back. Tomorrow we will mount this onto a scale in order to mark our frets.