Putting regular frets on a guitar might be within my limited woodworking abilities, but a just fretboard requires partial frets, and I wouldn't even know how to saw partial fret grooves, at least not in my living room. After mulling it over I hit on the idea of using regular ole' #16 Ga. wire and epoxy. It ain't no big thing to cut 1cm pieces and glue them on. Having done three strings so far, it works great and is not so permanent that I can't consider changing my plans. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
First I had to mark off the locations. Now I always thought you just measured the scale lenghth and computed from there. But its not so easy to tell exactly where the string begins or ends as it lies across a bridge or nut. So, knowing that harmonics never lie, I thought to find the 1/2 point of the strings by using the harmonic. I did so with the first string, good enough. But rather than assuming that was all I needed to cut a wire that would span the whole fretboard, on a whim I checked the octave harmonics on the other strings as well and marked them. Imagine my surprise when they were all in a slightly different spot! Then it dawned on me (duh), thats why electric guitars have a separate adjustable bridge for each string - the varying thickness and tensions of the strings change the way notes are produced. So, if you want to have one fret for all six strings, each string has to be a slightly different scale length so they will be in tune. But my classical guitar, and all other classical guitars I have seen, have ONE bridge for all six strings, AND one fret for all six strings. What does this mean? It means all these guitars are out of tune! Yikes! Suddenly it all made sense - whenever I check the octave harmonic against the 12th fret note on a classical guitar there is always one or two that seem not to match up. I had always ascribed this to an untrue string, or had just glossed over it because I had no explanation for it. Now I know why, but its not pretty! Now, it seems to me that it wouldn't be all that difficult to make a bone that had angled segments for each string that would correct this, and I have a hazy memory of seeing just such a bridge somewhere, but its definitly not the norm. So many guitars, some with high price tags, and all of them out of tune!
It was clear that measurment was not going to give me the accuracy of intonation that was the whole reason for this endeavor to begin with. What to do? It just so happens that there is a program by the name of JIcalc that is the very soul of Pythagoras incarnate. Yes, it will tell you fret positions, but better still it will play you the ratios you want. That way, I can, using my fingernail, find that exact location of the ratio in question and mark it. And I can do this on each string and place the frets for that string just where they need to be. So, every string has its own frets.
Now, finding the exact spot for each ratio is a meditative exercise
in itself, and great ear training. I mark the spots, go away for awhile
or a day, come back and check them again. After doing this a few times,
I glue my wires. Then I color in the frets to help orient myself red for
2 and 3-limit, green for 5-limit and blue for 7-limit. So far I have the
first three strings done, and I play with what I have. A couple of the
frets here and there are pretty close together, but still managable. The
intervals are beautiful. When I had one string done, it was a matter of
hearing each ratio against the drone of the open strings. Now with two
and then three strings fretted, other intervals and triads are being heard.
It just a matter of hours and hours of improvisation and experimentation
to hear what sounds like what with what. So far its been heaven. I will
write more after I have all the strings done and report on my progress.
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