Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Refretting the Princess Banjo-Mandolin

Finally got a chance to get back to the Princess banjo-mandolin.  I'm looking forward to finishing it since I have other projects in the queue.  And my friend is probably wondering where on earth her little Princess has gone to.

Originally I had planned to just level and crown the old frets.  But with all the handling, they all started falling out!  The old frets are so tiny and fragile that they bent if I just looked at them, so a refret was in order.

Here I am pulling out the last few old frets.  You can't get modern fretwire quite this small.  The new fretwire is close, but's it's a bit taller.

Note the infamous Green Gunk® that lives in the fret slots of all old fretted instruments.  It got cleaned out during the refretting process.

I gave the fingerboard a light pass with 320 grit paper on my corian fret leveller to ensure the board was flat.

You can also see my new Stew-Mac guitar repair vise.  I was thinking about getting one for some time, and I'm SO glad I did.  You may be able to see how the jaws swivel to hold odd-shaped things such as headstocks.

The quality is ok...the paint job is not the best and the fit of the drive screw is so-so.  But it's a great vise, especially for the money.  I'm going to finish the raw wood on the jaws with Tru-Oil I think - they're already getting marked up.  There is a soft urethane pad on the jaws to prevent scratching instrument finishes...a nice touch.  And I love the crank knob - fun and useful at the same time.

A lot of reviews on the Stew-Mac site say something like "I can't believe I lived without this."  I agree.  It makes this kind of work so much easier.  I would have been chasing this neck all over the workbench trying to work on it.

Now we deepen and widen the old fret slots to take the new frets.  I needed to deepen the slots about .050 of an inch, so I just measured that distance up the fret slot saw and set the guide there.

A couple of passes and we have slightly bigger slots.

The fingerboard is so delicate that I started using the old hammer method with the frets, but I found that since the frets were so small and relatively short (across the board) that the middle would be set but the ends would tend to bend upward.

So I put the fret press to work, carefully and gently.  They came out fine.

I still needed to seat the frets with a hammer on the section over the neck heel and on the fingerboard extension.  I ran them through the fret bender to put a gentle curve on them, which helped keep them straight when hammered in.

I'm not going to show the leveling, crowning and polishing - I've described that on other posts.

But I did want to show how much metal gets into the crowning file on a job like this.  I did about 20 back-and-forth passes on 2 frets and you can see how much material got into the file.  I have a small file brush to get it out.

I find that I clean the file after 2 or 3 frets.  You need to keep the teeth clean or they'll just clog up and will just scratch the frets instead of filing a crown on them.

Here's the finished board after the refret.  You can see some crack fills here and there; these will be less visible when I put finishing oil on the board.

Also note how I supported the fingerboard extension with a wood block (green arrow).  The board is so thing and flexible that I was concerned it would snap off.  Need to treat it gently.

Now I can put the Princess back together!


Post a Comment 2 comments:

  • Dave said...
    August 6, 2015 at 1:10 PM
    I love your blog. Thanks for posting about your instrument repairs and everything else.

    I found a tenor banjo cousin to your friend's princess banjo-mandolin. In one of your earlier posts you called it a mystery make possibly by Regal or a Chicago maker. I found some information on the maker that I thought you'd be interested to see.

    The cousin tenor was on an ebay auction that ended about six weeks ago. The original listing is still up and has pictures. It has the same princess logo headstock inlay and moon shaped fingerboard inlay and generally similar construction.

    A brand back then could have been made by multiple manufacturers, but there's a good chance this tenor and your mandolin have the same maker.

    The tenor has a patented tone ring that makes me think the maker was Gaetano Puntolillo. Here's a link to the patent.

    There is some information on Puntolillo banjos online. Here are some more interesting links.
  • Yr Fthfl Blggr said...
    August 10, 2015 at 1:28 PM
    Thanks for the kind words and the great info on the banjo. Very interesting.

    The mandolin-banjo I'm working on doesn't have that same style patented tone ring, but it has the same type of laminated rim and obviously the same fretboard inlays. I'm sure it was made by Puntolillo.

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