Music

Subfretboard rethinks guitar neck construction

Subfretboard rethinks guitar n...
It may look like an ordinary electric guitar, but this prototype features a new neck setup called the Subfretboard System Project
It may look like an ordinary electric guitar, but this prototype features a new neck setup called the Subfretboard System Project
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From the top, the prototype Subfretboard guitar looks pretty much like any other
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From the top, the prototype Subfretboard guitar looks pretty much like any other
The Subfretboard prototype from the back
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The Subfretboard prototype from the back
A single block of aluminum alloy is machined to create precisely positioned frets standing up from a metal back plate, with bits of wood slotted in and finished to form the fingerboard
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A single block of aluminum alloy is machined to create precisely positioned frets standing up from a metal back plate, with bits of wood slotted in and finished to form the fingerboard
Sound chart for the Subfretboard prototype
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Sound chart for the Subfretboard prototype
Sound chart for a standard electric guitar (model not known)
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Sound chart for a standard electric guitar (model not known)
The Subfretboard's designers say that any metal can be used for the system, but selected aluminum alloy for the prototype
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The Subfretboard's designers say that any metal can be used for the system, but selected aluminum alloy for the prototype
The Subfretboard system is reported to result in improved harmonics and better sustain
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The Subfretboard system is reported to result in improved harmonics and better sustain
It may look like an ordinary electric guitar, but this prototype features a new neck setup called the Subfretboard System Project
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It may look like an ordinary electric guitar, but this prototype features a new neck setup called the Subfretboard System Project
The frets are not welded onto the back plate, but the whole thing is machined from a single block of aluminum alloy
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The frets are not welded onto the back plate, but the whole thing is machined from a single block of aluminum alloy
View gallery - 9 images

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.

The Subfretboard's designers say that any metal can be used for the system, but selected aluminum alloy for the prototype
The Subfretboard's designers say that any metal can be used for the system, but selected aluminum alloy for the prototype

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.

Sound chart for the Subfretboard prototype
Sound chart for the Subfretboard prototype

Sound chart for a standard electric guitar (model not known)
Sound chart for a standard electric guitar (model not known)

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

Subfretboard System Project - Magic of sound transmission.

View gallery - 9 images
5 comments
socalboomer
So my two thoughts on this are: first - COOL. Neat idea. My (very) old Applause acoustic had a metal neck and fiberglass (I think) body, which made it very nearly indestructible. This seems to extend that all the way to the pickups and bridge, which is neat. 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. . .
BartyLobethal
@socalboomer - exactly. The aluminium frets will wear much faster than traditional copper/zinc/nickel frets too, so your 5-10 year interval will be more like 2-3 years for anyone who puts in multiple hours per day. This would retail in Oz for ~AUD$7500. $7500 for an instrument that the frets can't be replaced on without major disassembly of the neck involving replacement of the entire sub-fret plate for a price greatly exceeding the cost of simple fret replacement - and that's assuming that this start-up still exists and is able to supply the replacement part. Otherwise it will be a case of draw-you-own CAD model and off to the local CNC shop to machine a whole new assembly - that ain't gonna be cheap. The aluminium neck core idea has merit. Making the frets integral to it is very silly.
toyhouse
The closest thing to this that I can think of, is the old musicraft messenger from the 60's. They had a metal neck, (though capped with a wood fret-board), (aluminum alloy I think), that extended through the body ending in a large tuning fork that was actually tuned to 440. The thinking was that it would add resonance, (what these folks are trying to do), but accomplished differently. Almost in a reverse fashion. At least, with the messenger, a re-fret was a standard affair. Not sure that's the case here. Also, I interpreted the sales pitch to say that the prototype is currently aluminum,... but perhaps not the final product? Hopefully not. Stainless then? A solid piece of machined stainless just like what their drawing shows,... equals pricey. My two cents.
SSP
Hi socalboomer, the material that has been chosen to be inserted in the prototype is Zicral and even though it is not the most resistant, we estimated it's to be able to do between 3 and 4 fret levellings. 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.
Brian M
Seems ok - but expensive, not sure about the choice of aluminum alloy though, don't know what the electro potential value is of the alloy, but aluminium could create a battery with the metal guitar strings via galvanic action aided by the conductive sweat courtesy of the ace guitarist! 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!