Cavaquinho Fret Installation

July 15, 2011

The fretboard is now perfectly flat and ready for installation of the frets.

I will use narrow fretwire (0.053″ wide) on this instrument.   This wire is standard on mandolins and ukuleles.  A typical guitar fret is 0.080 to 0.100″ wide, but that would feel strange on such a small instrument.  I buy fretwire in 2-foot lengths.  Before I use it, it has to be cleaned to remove any oil or other residues that might keep it from staying seated in the fret slot.  The fretwire is bent to a smaller radius than that of the fretboard, as illustrated in this picture:

Bending the fretwire in advance helps it conform to the radius of the fretboard a bit more easily.

After bending, the fretwire is cut into pieces that are a bit longer than the slots on the fretboard.  Then the pieces are installed using a hammer with a brass head.  Brass is soft, so this hammer reduces the chance of damage to the wire and the fretboard itself if there are any misdirected strikes (not that such a thing would ever happen to me!).  The back of the neck is supported by a block of wood to increase the efficiency of the hammer strikes.

After all of the frets are in place their edges are trimmed with a fine file.

Next I use a leveling stone to assure that the tops of the frets are all on exactly the same plane.  This is essential to getting good action and playability when the instrument is strung up.  Any high or low frets would create buzzing problems.

After leveling the tops of the frets I use a fine file to “recrown” the ones that might have had their tops flattened a bit too much by the stone.  Here is a picture of a fret being recrowned with a file.  A small metal plate protects the fretboard from being gouged by the file.

Next, the edges of each fret are rounded.  This gives the fretboard a nice finished look and makes it more comfortable for the player because it eliminates any stray burrs that might otherwise remain on the fret ends.  This step is done with a specially made quarter-round concave file.

Finally, I sand the entire fretboard with 320- 400- and 600-grit paper to polish the frets and smooth the ebony. 

The fretboard is now done and the next step will be to carve the neck to its final shape.



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