Fingerboards are traditionally ebony or rosewood, although other hardwoods are used. The fret slots must be meticulously accurate. These are cut using a precision cut template that is attached to the fingerboard or neck. The notches in the template register on a stylus on the sliding jig and hold the wood secure while passed over the .023 thick saw blade. It is then moved to the next notch and repeated until the entire fingerboard is slotted. With our Bridgeport mill, we can cut templates to different scale lengths accurately to the ten thousandths of an inch. Fingerboards can be bought already slotted and profiled, but that doesn’t allow us to use woods like persimmon (the Ebony of the Allegheny’s) and Purpleheart. On the mountain banjos, there isn’t a separate fingerboard as the slots are cut into the neck itself. Once the slots are in place, the inlay work can start. The fingerboard is glued onto the neck and by this time the customer has chosen inlays they like and what material each one is made from. Bedford County banjos often have themes that go throughout the neck. One of the fun parts of the process is talking with the customers to find out what is important in their lives and incorporate that into the inlays and other parts of the banjo to make it their own family heirloom. As always, there is the DD and a Cross inlaid somewhere. Once the inlays are glued in and sanded flush, the neck binding can be glued on and frets cut to size, ends notched and rounded, then pressed in place until tested level several times.
The next step...Contouring the Neck.