|Pat Bianculli's 1823 Lacote|
The flush fingerboard of Pat Bianculli's Lacôte is a hold-over from baroque era in which it was important to keep the strings close to the soundboard. Utilizing a low bridge and a flush fingerboard accomplished this. I find it curious that this feature endured as long as it did. The transition to six single strings had started thirty years previous to this. The development of a saddle and fixed metal frets swiftly led to the raised fingerboard. Yet, guitar builders continued to use flush fingerboards even though it is a feature that made demands on musicians and luthiers alike. Perhaps guitarists and makers were hesitant to discard this feature because the aesthetics of both tone and sight were pleasing, evocative, intimate? I had not built this style of Lacôte before and that was the attraction for me.
On baroque era guitars the belly frets are slivers of ebony or boxwood glued on the surface, but sometimes inset, on the soundboard. Once metal frets were used on the fretboard they needed to be continued onto the soundboard for consistency of tone. Keep in mind that 19th century frets were not the T-shaped fret of our day but straight pieces of metal that were about 0.8mm thick. The spruce of the soundboard is too soft to support metal frets of any kind adequately. Lacôte bordered his bar frets with ebony. This ebony/metal fret/ebony sandwich is a little less than 3mm wide. I wanted to insure that my belly frets played in tune so my problem was how to inset a 3mm wide fret assembly in the soundboard precisely in the correct location.