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The Guitar Maker's Backsaw for Cutting Fret Slots

The overall correct process of placing frets in a guitar fingerboard ("fretting"), is far less straight forward than most people believe. A perfect job, for perfect playability, requires some careful preparation.

Anthony Lintner, guitar maker



Twenty five years ago, I bought my first fretting saw from Luthiers Mercantile. It was made in Germany and had a straight handle on it, basically it was a gent's saw.

First thing I did to the saw was to take off the straight handle and make a nice handle for it from some wonderful Claro walnut that came from a Cottonwood Creek bottom wild grown walnut. I used it to cut fret slots in dulcimer and classical guitar fret boards. The saw served me well for several years until I made the mistake of cutting some brass with it.

Well, I never did get around to sharpening the thing.

The blade is .015 of an inch thick with the teeth set at .022-.023 of an inch. I think it has 22 teeth per inch. It is a great saw and I was very sad to see that the company that made it went out of business a few years after I bought it.

Then I bought a fret saw from StewMac, which turned out to be far less than stellar. The saw blade was exactly .022 inches wide, which meant that the teeth had no set to them making it almost impossible to cut a straight slot in an ebony fretboard. That saw got put in my carpenter's tool box for everyday job site work.

I limped along with the saw from Germany.

Soon, I purchased another fret saw from LMI and once again, no set to the teeth, the blade was .022 inches wide which made life difficult for cutting ebony.

At that point I decided to use the fingerboard fret slotting service that LMI offers, they slot the board and all I had to do was glue the fret board on and use the new fret saw to deepen the slots after I tapered the fret board to final dimensions.



I was never happy with the LMI fret saw even for deepening the fret slots, so one day I broke down and purchased yet another saw from StewMac, this time a Japanese style back saw. It works reasonably well for deepening the slots, though I have to be mindful to always clean sawdust from the teeth gullets with each slot and apply paraffin wax to the teeth to make the saw operate fairly well. I still use the fret slotting services at LMI.

I wish I had a better saw even for cleaning out the slots!

Over a year ago, Kieran, at overthewireless mentioned on his blog that he was working with the folks at Bad Axe Tool Works to make a high end fret saw.

That saw is now available to order. Yep, I will be putting down the $100 non-refundable down payment for a saw.

I am sure that the saw will be worth every penny!

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