Getting it out of the way
The Mandolin Fingerboard End
© Frank Ford, 8/1/98; Photos by FF, 8/1/98

The most popular mandolin style is the famous Gibson F-5. It has been recognized as the epitome of mandolin design ever since it was first introduced in the 1920s. The F-5 style instrument combines power of tone and great playability. Great playability, that is, except for the fact that decorative "tongue" of the fingerboard that lands right under the "sweet spot" and can interfere with picking:

Now, this isn't a problem for all players. Some play with high enough string action to avoid the fingerboard even when picking in that area. Some play only in the area between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard. But many pickers would simply like to have some picking clearance in that area.

So, how do we get the end of the fingerboard out of the way of the pick? We could simply cut the end off square, but that leaves an unfinished area of the top, and makes the fingerboard look "incomplete" and short. My favorite solution to the problem is to remove the frets and "scoop" the fingerboard thinner in that area. The result is attractive, and if done neatly, can look as though the instrument was designed that way.

Some modern mandolin makers, such as Red Diamond, use only 24 or 25 frets instead of Gibson's standard 29. So, by making he end of the fingerboard a bit shorter to begin with, they avoid the problem altogether. Obviously, this procedure has a negative impact on "vintage value" so I don't recommend it on old F-5s or other collectible instruments.

I'll start by pulling the frets:

I could leave the frets out, and simply clean up the end of the fingerboard, but that would leave the slots exposed. Even if I fill the slots, they'll look a bit strange.

Next, I'll cut down into the surface of the fingerboard with my Dremel router mounted on the end of six inch flat base:

The long base gives me a handle to guide the router firmly and allows me to index to the top of the frets, so I can rout through the end of the fingerboard to a uniform depth.

At the end of the router cut, I'll use a small gouge to round the cut upward to a smooth transition:

Notice that the fret slots are still visible.

I'll sand the end of the fingerboard with a hard block which has one corner rounded to match the upsweep I made with my gouge:

I'll sand with 80 grit until I remove the last traces of the fret slots, and then move to progressively finer grits until I get a smooth flat surface.

Now, I can play over the end of the fingerboard as though it weren't even there:

No matter how deeply I dig in with the pick I can't hit the fingerboard.

Best of all, the board looks great:

That scooped out tongue gives a nice finish to the end of the fingerboard. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine what to do with frets up that high anyway!

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