Jul 20, 2017

How to roll guitar fretboard edges

The difference in feel between a $200 guitar and a $2,000 guitar is largely the sum of small tweaks that just take the feel to the next level.  Rolling the fretboard edges is one such tweak that can take the comfort and playability of any guitar one notch higher.

For this demo I'm using a Fender P-bass with a rosewood fretboard.  Rosewood, and to a slightly lesser extent ebony, is ideal for this because it is unfinished, as opposed to a clear-coated maple.  Necks with a finish applied can still be rolled, but with pressure only and without filing.

We can see the fretboard at the start - the edges are almost as hard as when it came from the factory a decade or two ago.  Playing (and playing hard) will roll the fretboard edges a little bit in time, but we can speed up our path to "broken-in blue jeans" feel from a few decades to a few minutes.

I used a small metal file, which is probably the most aggressive abrasive you should use here.  (Alternatives include emery boards, sandpaper, and steel wool).  All we're doing here is taking off the hard edge from the corner and maybe a hair off the fret ends too.

If you're looking for a very subtle rolled effect, or have a clear-coated fretboard, you can skip filing altogether.

A substantial and noticeable roll - you may prefer to go subtler

The rolling - all we're doing is using some hard, smooth surface to compress the wood at the edges into a hard and silky smooth roundness.  A guitar slide is the perfect tool for the job - just hold it at a 45 degree angle and run it over the edge of the fretboard while pressing down onto the corner.  Repeat at a few different angles to give it a nicely rounded profile.

Personally, I love the comfortable touch this adds, but it's not completely without risk - by compressing the wood, it's possible to make the fret ends stick out a bit more (filing could fix this, but would not be a terribly pleasant task).  Also, of course, toying around with irreversable modifications of any sort to a billion-dollar family heirloom Les Paul is risky, so try out any mods on a cheap guitar to decide if you really like it before committing to a guitar worth more than a few dinners out.

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