Study in Microtonality and Lutherie – four

This post details the developments in my designs for fretboard installation.

The first plan focused on a rail running the length of the guitar’s neck. So that the fretboard could be slid over the neck but beneath the strings, the base of the fretboard and the length of the rail were to be perforated with matching holes. The female parts of each component could pass through the male parts of the other component. The male and female parts could then interlock by moving the fretboard in a direction perpendicular to that formerly described. It doesn’t matter if these words make sense – it was too complex of a design, I scrapped it.

I wanted to come up with something much more organic. I’m building the instrument mostly with hand-tools, and, having become intimately attached to the woods I purchased, I wanted my design to flaunt the aesthetics of woodwork. Yet, I had trouble coming up with something reasonable, sensible. The next design I settled on was simply to screw the fret-boards into the neck with hardware similar to that which comes with ikea furniture – they tighten with just a quarter-turn. The screws would double as fret-markers – two near the twelfth, one near the fifth. I had the concern of selecting which frets to mark because some microtonal fret-boards would house frets in places where others wouldn’t; I couldn’t have a fret installed in the same position that a screw was meant to be. Thus I intended to have a series of holes running up the bareneck, different holes for different fret-boards.

Yet, I wasn’t happy with the need for hardware or the time that it would take to install the hardware. If my prototypes fail, I may choose to pursue this design, after I graduate.

The next plan was simple and it is the one with which┬áI am currently working. Two thin slots run the width of the neck, and the fret-boards have two appendages which fit into said slots. To keep the neck from sliding, a spring-loaded clamp sits at the soundhole. By putting pressure around the point where the fretboard is cut to curve around the soundhole, there cannot be much slippage perpendicular to the neck. Even so, the bulk of the applied force is aimed down-neck. The opposing forces of the nut and the two aforementioned slots abate slippage parallel to the neck. I fear that I don’t have the skills to be exact in my craftsmanship. If this is so, the fret-boards could slip up and away from the neck, towards the strings. This would be a mess, and I pray that I succeed.

I have one more design that I am interested in and with which I may experiment. I understand that my previous descriptions are hard to follow without visual guides, and this last design is impossible without that aid. Tonight, I will return to this post and drop in a few drawings.

I note that there is available for purchase a kit to convert a regular guitar into one with interchangeable fret-boards. However, the design is all about magnetivity and I find that unattractive, and potentially unreliable. The majority of microtonal guitars have a single fretboard. There is a popular set of classical guitars built by Harry Patch. Each instrument is fretted for a specific piece. There are many microtonal electric guitars. Thin steel strings fret more easily than do thick steel strings or nylon strings. Therefore, frets can be closer together on electric guitars. Because microtonal electric guitars can have so many frets, they are often intended to be played in many keys or many tuning systems with a single fret-design. Jon Catler is the forerunner in the design of such instruments.