Pearl Inlay Problems and S-Shaped Necks

This is almost another before and after post like the last one. Although, probably, the photo below is more of a 'during' and after. 

This pearl inlay dot needs to be replaced (obviously)

The photo shows what's left of a pearl inlay position marker in a fingerboard. I was pretty sure I'd encounter this as I performed this particular job (although, I'd been hoping it wouldn't).

A little background is called for. 

You'll probably know that, ideally, you'll want your guitar's neck to be straight, or with just a smidge of relief (the slight bow that string tension pulls into the neck). That's all good. Sometimes, however, necks (and I'm really talking about the fingerboard/frets here) can take on funny—more annoying, really—shapes. 

A rise or hump at the end of the fingerboard, around the last few frets, isn't unusual and it's a relatively common fix. Slightly more rare is the S-shaped neck. This ailment leaves us with an extra hump/dip along the length of the fingerboard. 

On an S-shaped board, we'll often have a hump at the end and a hump around the third or forth fret. The first couple of frets dip back. This scribbly sketch from my crumpled, pocket notebook gives you a pretty exaggerated idea of what I mean.

S-Shaped neck

S-Shaped neck

Depending on a few things, it's sometimes possible to improve matters by removing the frets and levelling the fingerboard so that it's back to a proper straight plane. When one of your humps or dips is large, however, this can cause the problem you see in the first photo above.

In this case, the first couple of frets dipped so much that I had to take off quite a bit of fingerboard wood to try get things straight again. Along with the wood I was removing from the high bits, I was also removing inlay. I hoped I'd get away with it while knowing, deep down, I wouldn't.

I didn't.

Oh, well. Add inlay replacement to the job list.

Nice new pearl dots. 

In the most ideal of ideal worlds, I'd remove the whole fingerboard from an instrument with as much S-ing as this one, and replace it with a new, good one. That tends to be a pretty involved and expensive job, though and it can be difficult to justify in this, less ideal, real world.

It's worth my mentioning that—I think—there was at least some of this S-shape thing going on from the factory. It's not a particularly old guitar and the frets themselves have a level that's different to the fingerboard. This leads me to think that there was some S-ing happening already when these frets were levelled. If that's the case (and this fact, and others, leads me to think it is), that's pretty poor form. 

Repair To Damaged Fingerboard

Rather invasive repair for cracked heel

This venerable old girl suffered a cracked heel at some stage in the distant past. As you can see, the repair wasn't the least invasive solution that could have been imagined at the time. 

These big-ass screws have kept it (sort of) together but the instrument deserves better. I'm not going into detail on the heel repair here—take my word that it's all glued up and sound. Instead I want to look at how we can minimise the damage those screws have caused.

Damaged guitar fingerboard repair

Damaged guitar fingerboard repair

With the screws removed, things don't look too pretty, do they? Incidentally, the two small holes in the fret slot are mine—I drilled them when trying to steam out the neck to repair the heel and they'll be plugged and covered by a fret. The medium hole is a loose pearl inlay dot that'll be replaced later. 

The holes we're worried about are those big, jagged ones.

Of course, we could squidge a pile of coloured filler into them and smooth off the top but that's not going to be the nicest looking repair. We could cut some plugs and glue them into the hole. If we get a reasonable grain match, that'd be a better option but still not the neatest. 

What we're going to do is to replace the entire section of fingerboard between these two fret slots. Effectively, we're going to remove the rectangular section with the damage and *inlay* new wood. 

A bit of digging around my rosewood stock (and scrap pile) turns up a piece with a similar colour and a pretty close grain match.

Inlay good wood to repair damage to guitar fingerboard


If you look closely in the photo, you can see that I've actually routed out the damaged part but left a tiny sliver along the sides of each side. That sliver will keep a nice contiguous look along the edge of the fingerboard and save messing about trying to match the aged lacquer.

As luck would have it, this instrument needed a refret too. It'd be much more difficult to accomplish this well without refretting.

You can see the new fingerboard wood in the photo below. It's a good match for colour and grain and, once it's all clean and oiled, it looks pretty damn good. Stung up, you'd be pretty hard-pressed to notice anything. 

Much better than filler.

Guitar fingerboard repair