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Thread: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

  1. #1

    Default Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    In setting up this nice bowlback. (identified as a probable Stridente by Garber), Id like to lower the action by shimming the fretboard, as the bridge is quite low already. In the photo, (tape added to make it more visible) the board is only marginally thicker than the fret tangs, and measures right about 3mm or 1/8. This, I think would make board removal unsafe.
    So the question: is a very thin fretboard unusual, and what do luthiers do about repairs?
    Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    Thin 'boards are not uncommon on certain old instruments, like 20's Gibson banjos for example, some of which are well under 1/8".
    The photo is kind of blurry so I can't tell if you have bar frets there or T frets, but either way removal will most likely result in breaking the 'board at at least some of the frets, with bar frets being perhaps the most likely to break the 'board.
    Replacing the 'board would be easier than shimming and probably more stable, and if the frets are bar frets that would be a way to switch over to modern frets as well. It also means it doesn't really matter what condition the old 'board is in after removal... it could even be dust under the belt sander.

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    Default Re: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    Ditto John.
    And if you need to, you can taper the new board a little to adjust the geometry in a manner that will allow you to raise the bridge height.

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    Thanks! It was puzzling since my other older bowlbacks weren’t built this way. However, there’s some very good inlay, that I want to keep, and the current board is adequately flat, so I think I’ll just replace the fancy bridge with a simpler new one, maybe widening the base (fore and aft) to make up for any effect of structural strength. I suppose that these bridges generally have little or no strength of their own and depend on the underlying braces. So maybe an hour or two, versus a major project!
    At first I wasn’t excited about how this one sounded compared with somewhat ‘richer’ tone from others, but I like it better after a bit of playing. This seems to be a pattern lately, where I don’t always prefer the same, or the best, instrument day to day. Not a sign that I’m turning into a musician in my old age though.

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    Thanks! It was puzzling since my other older bowlbacks weren’t built this way. However, there’s some very good inlay, that I want to keep, and the current board is adequately flat, so I think I’ll just replace the fancy bridge with a simpler new one, maybe widening the base (fore and aft) to make up for any effect of structural strength. I suppose that these bridges generally have little or no strength of their own and depend on the underlying braces. So maybe an hour or two, versus a major project!
    At first I wasn’t excited about how this one sounded compared with somewhat ‘richer’ tone from others, but I like it better after a bit of playing. This seems to be a pattern lately, where I don’t always prefer the same, or the best, instrument day to day. Not a sign that I’m turning into a musician in my old age though.
    The above advice is right on.

    I've done the above described fretboard replacement operation on numerous bowlbacks, and one of the major side benefits in starting with a pre-slotted fretboard blank is that you'll have proper intonation.

    I've owned a few of the MOR Italian bowls such as this, my hunch made in Sicily to be branded in Naples, but that's another story.

    They are very lightly built and with even just a little top sinkage north of the soundhole the neck can rotate out of position to make playing unlikely.

    Since the neck and neckblock are one, resetting the neck is an ordeal.

    From my experience the fretboards were slotted after attachment to the neck which often resulted in the slots cutting all the way throught the fretboard.
    Hence the fretboard comes off in pieces, some of them very tiny.

    A little gentle heat and the old (hide?) glue gives right away.

    US made bowlbacks weren't made this way at all, though some old bowlbacks I've seen from the PA / NJ / NY / MA range show some very 'Italian' details in the fretboard craft.



    I made a simple little jig to mount the (new) fretboard which allows for various degrees of taper as I sand it on a series of shooting boards.

    Setting and dressing the frets are the fiddliest steps from my non-professional experience.

    Maybe I've done this to a half a dozen bowls. I was into buying this inexpensive MOR Italian bowls for awhile: Stridente, DeMureda, Lanfranco, etc.

    They are bright and cheerful and sound good, but the fret spacing is often erratic.

    When I finally saved up and bought my first Vinaccia mandolin I was rather delightly shocked to find the intonation spot on...or about as good as one will get on a mandolin.

    Once you've got the intonation and action sorted out, and some proper strings, even these MOR bowls can be sublime.

    They aren't gong to sound like bowlbacks from Chicago, or Nazareth, PA. To my ear, Vega and Favilla have come the closest to that classic Italian sound.


    "The shimmering sound of Italian bowlback mandolins...." as our friend, Martin Jonas, so delightfully put it.

    Take your time and yours will shimmer as well.

    Mick
    Last edited by brunello97; Jun-25-2022 at 7:38pm.
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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    If it's Italian made (Stridente's usually have labels in them BTW) then yes the fretboards are thin and usually cut right through.

    You will need a minimum of 4mm hight at the bridge to make a playable instrument from these, as less than that and your pick will be constantly hitting the top. I will often pull the frets on these, and level the board making the nut end slightly thinner, this gives you a bit more angle to play with, as as these were often made right on the limit to begin with, every little helps! Save the original bar fretwire, and you can re-use it too.

    An "authentic" shelf-style bridge can be made that low if required too BTW. But yes, a simpler "stick bridge" is well simpler

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    I agree with my colleagues above. If all else fails replace the fretboard with a reasonably thick one, refret, and shim up the bridge if necessary.
    Jim

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Very thin fretboard on a bowlback

    I haven't taken in a stray in mezzo alla strada Italian bowl for some TLC in some time now.

    Y'all are making me feel the itch.

    Mick
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