This is only partially a "new" article because this fretted 5-string banjo is the exact same one whose construction is described in my fretless banjo article entitled, "Yet another simple, very inexpensive banjo -- this one fretless" except that I FRETTED it. Nothing against fretless banjos (I still love them) but I must say that when I put frets on this particular fretless instrument, I immediately fell in love with it's sound and playability -- so much so that it has become, by far, the very favorite banjo I've ever owned -- even over the commercial jobbies of mine. It's my main banjo now. All that remains for this article is to talk a bit about how to fret the thing.
First of all, click here & build the fretless banjo mentioned in the first paragraph.
A word about the mysteries of fretting instruments. AIN'T no mystery! It's quite easy & altho said many times, "anyone can do it", this is very true as concerns fretting. While fancy fret-saws & jigs might be nice, the job can be done easily with just "around the shop" tools. On this banjo, not having a fingerboard as such, the frets are mounted directly onto the top surface of the neck itself. I placed a single layer of masking-tape over the entire neck before plotting where the frets-slots should go.
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Cut the fret-slots deep enough, but not too deep - lest you weaken the
neck. Experiment on scrap first. The most important thing being
to make the fret-slots the proper width -- not too tight nor too loose.
It's pretty easy - just take your time. When sawing the frets, you
might use the simple jig I built that made the job easy.
Carefully measure & cut each fret. Size, angle (+/- 45 deg)& de-burr the
ends of each fret then carefully tap them in. When done, lay a good
straight-edge at various spots along the fretboard -- any high spots will
become very obvious -- usually just requiring a slight tap to settle things.
In all my time clawhammering, I've never had the need to use more than 14 frets
but if so desired - just add more. There are many fret-calculators on the web.
I made the string-length a small bit shorter than when it was a fretless banjo
to better accomodate the fret-spacing I used.
Dennis Havlena - 8/24/2011
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