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Article: Un-inlaying a fretboard

Removing funky home-made inlays on a vintage mandolin.

At some point, someone with pent-up creative energy and not as much woodworking skill added some extra fingerboard dots on this 'teens vintage Gibson A mandolin. They were off-center and crooked, so the current owner of the instrument asked me if I could make 'em go away. The instrument also badly needed refretting, as well as some other work. With all the frets out of the way, it wasn't too difficult to turn back the clock on this otherwise charming mandolin.

I managed to lose the "before" shots of the whole fretboard, but here are some photos of the procedure I used to return this fingerboard to its original look.

Here one dot is marked for routing and the other has already been removed. I used a Dremel tool attached to a router base, with a small, flat-bottomed bit.


Here, over on the left, one of the new ebony pieces is glued in. Another is ready to glue, and one is marked for routing. I used a straightedge to mark, but just routed by eye and carefully fitted each patch to fit snugly.


Compare this with the first photo. Sanded level the new ebony disappears. I used thin, clear cyanoacrylate glue (CA). Since my patches fit really close, I knew the glue line wouldn't show. I still need to clean up that fret slot a little.


Here's the same area again, with the frets replaced. Ready for strings!


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