Subfretboard rethinks guitar neck construction
The neck on many guitars today is made up of some wood topped by some more wood that has strips of metal inserted at precise points along it. The Subfretboard system takes a different approach, laying a long metal plate on top of the main neck wood, which has frets standing to attention along it that are filled in with blocks of wood to form the fingerboard.
The makers of the Subfretboard are currently raising funds on Kickstarter to get a limited number of models into production while also planning to present the design at NAMM 2020 at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. So what's the thinking behind this luthier oddness?
Spain's Javi Alonso and Pablo del Real began looking at ways to improve the tone of electric guitars and basses, aiming for better sustain and letting the instrument's natural harmonics sing. The main component of the new system is that slab of metal that runs the length of the neck and continues on into the pickup cavity of the body down to the bridge.
This block doesn't have the frets welded onto it, but is machined from a solid piece of metal, in this case aluminum alloy. Where traditional frets are forced into slots made in the wood of a fingerboard, wooden blocks are inserted inbetween the frets of the Subfretboard structure and finished to spec.
The result is reported to be rich harmonics and greater sustain up to around 2,500 Hz – you can see the results of an inhouse test of the prototype vs. a standard (unspecified) guitar below, and hear them on the Subfretboard website.
If you like what yo see and hear, the project has a few guitars up on Kickstarter to bid on. Pledges start at €4,500 (about US$5,000) for one of six custom-made guitars rocking the Subfretboard system. Should all go to plan, shipping is estimated to start in February 2020. The pitch video below has more.
Sources: Subfretboard, Kickstarter
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HOWEVER, since it's aluminum, and you've got steel strings that will be grinding on the frets - what is going to happen in 5-10 years (only a small portion of a guitar's lifespan, esp a $5-10K guitar) when a normal guitar might get a refret job. You couldn't refret this? Would you have it resurfaced and the inlays lowered? I think that's my only "dubiosity" (heh) with this. It looks and sounds really interesting and cool. . . just the durability of the frets. . .
The aluminium neck core idea has merit. Making the frets integral to it is very silly.
The work would be done in the same way as in any instrument with a standard construction type. If there was to be any more levellings, which I doubt, we would have to reduce the height of the wood between the frets. This wood has more than 5mm, which would allow other more levellings and if this was not enough, you could change the piece.
Any type of metal can be used. Steel, iron, titanium or any other hard metal, would not have practically wear, which would not have to be levelled.
i.e. the rate of wear and pitting could be high!
Aluminium also has a tendency to oxidise (presume the alloy improves on that feature) which does protect somewhat - but does aluminium oxide build up alter the sound after a time?
On the up side Aluminum Oxide can act as an antiperspirant, so making those sweaty fingers hold the strings down better - Jjust ignore its links to Alzheimer's!