35th Anniversary Stratocaster-replacing the fretboard

I was contacted by Peter about replacing the fretboard on his 35th Anniversary Stratocaster. Fender Custom Shop only made 500 of these Strats and each one is identified as 1 to 500. Unusually for a Strat, these models have an ebony fretboard and a birds-eye maple neck.

First of all, why do this? Well, a previous owner had taken out the frets and tried to create a compound radius fretboard. In all honestly, this had not been done at all well. Peter wanted to return the guitar to its original condition.

To be honest, I was reluctant to take on this job. It is one of those jobs that is hard to price as it is a bit of a guess as to how long the whole job would take. For instance, it is impossible to know for certain how long it will take to remove the fretboard. I removed a fretboard recently and it only took me 30 minutes to do so.  Removing the fretboard on this Strat took a lot, lot longer than that!

Anyway, after discussing my hesitations with Peter and agreeing a reasonable pricing structure, I agreed to take on the job.

I filmed the whole repair process. If you want to watch that video click on this LINK and look for the ‘Replacing the fretboard on a Strat’ video.

Here are the essentail steps in the repair of this 35th Anniversary Stratocaster.

  • Remove the truss rod plug and nut

Before I could take off the fretboard I had to remove the screw that sits below the 7th fret dot marker. This screw is connected to the truss rod support block. In the video I say more about this device and its purpose.


  • Remove the fretboard:

This was an extremely difficult and time consuming part of the repair. You can see just how difficult this was in the video.

  • Make a new fretboard: 

The original fretboard was a very black piece of ebony. Fortunately, I had something similar in my stock of fretboards. Mother of pearl dot inlays were fitted and the fretboard was given a 9.5″ radius, as per the original specification.

  • Glue the new fretboard onto the neck:

Medium jumbo nickel frets were installed. Again, as per the original specification.

  • Install new side markers:

This was a particulaly challenging part of the repair to get right. The video explains why in more detail. Once installed the white side markers were given a light amber tint using an airbrush.

  • Touch up the finish where the new fretboard meets the maple neck

To do this I used an airbrush to apply finish along the length of the fretboard edge. This was then levelled and blended into the existing finish.

  • Final steps were to fit a new walnut truss rod plug, fit a new nut, install strings and set up a guitar.

Without doubt, this was the most challenging repair I have undertaken to date. Peter was hoping for a job that made the neck look original. Not that he wanting to sell it or pass it off as original. There are a few clues that the neck has been worked on but I think that only another luthier or an experienced eye would have spot them.

At times I did regret my decision to take on this repair. But having agreed to do so I was determined to do as good a job as possible.

I did receive this email from Peter which made it all worthwhile:

“David, the guitar has arrived safely, thank you. This is exceptional workmanship, thank you very much. I am truly impressed. I have now been playing this guitar for two weeks or so. I have to say, you have recovered a very badly mistreated and abused instrument into a very presentable and elegant thing of beauty. It also plays well – a lot better than before. As you say, the fretboard for a 30 plus year guitar looks a bit good, but I am not really that bothered by that. My other two are mint, so such instruments do exist. The action is impeccable, with absolutely no fret buzz at any fret, any string. It truly plays extremely well. It is a difficult comparison, but it may well be better than either of my other two, it really is that good. Definitely a very high class job, thank you once again, I am truly impressed. I would so love Fender to see it, since they turned me down for a repair or a new replacement neck.”