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How to Install a Fret Dot

Most of us regard our guitars as a part of the family, holding them in high esteem, and since most of us spent a good sum of money on them it’s with good reason. Because of this most of us tend to avoid doing small “repairs” or “upgrades” to our instruments for fear of irrevocable damage! A small upgrade everyone can do, however, is installing a fret dot. A fret dot allows you to avoid using whiteout or another semi-permanent alternative. I recently put one in both my new Michael Thames guitar as well as Chris’ new Thames. Here is what you will need!

A Fret Dot

One fret dot up close.

You can obtain both a brad point drill bit as well as the 2mm fret dots from Luthiers Mercantile for about ten dollars (with shipping). The importance of the brad point bit is that it has an extremely sharp, needle-like point that prevents the drill bit from “skating” uncontrollably over your expensive guitar.

The Process

First lay a piece of scotch tape parallel with the fingerboard over the appropriate fret. Then put to more pieces perpendicular to the first one covering the fret entirely with tape. This does two things: (1) allows you to mark your position for drilling without fear, as well as (2) prevents any finish damage on your guitar due to chipping during the drilling process.

Taped of Fret

Next mark the spot on the tape where you want to place the dot. Before drilling blindly I suggest finding the rough depth of your dot against the bit and subsequently marking it by wrapping a small piece of tape around the bit. This is a visual cue for you to stop drilling once you have reached the tape on the bit.

The Drill Bit

And now for the scary part, begin drilling by placing the point of the bit firmly on the tape, wind up the drill bit very slowly so as to further prevent any accidental “skating” of the drill bit. Once you have hit the wood it is good to stop every couple seconds to clear the drill bit of the ebony dust. Ebony is a very dense wood and the shavings slow down the process as well as obscure your depth. Once you have reached the appropriate depth you can then either put a small dab of glue (elmers would be fine) or place the dot in “dry” as I did with both Christopher’s and my guitar. It is very important to NOT remove the tape before putting in the dot! If you place the dot and you did not drill deep enough it is much easier to have tape in place to have something to protect the guitar if you want to either pull the dot back out or sand it flush with the top of the fret board!

I hope this is helpful for those of you looking for an alternative to whiteout or the semi-permanent dots you can get online. This is not as scary as it sounds and can be completed in less than twenty minutes, but don’t rush through this, no sense in risking your baby!

Fret Dot

The fret dot on Chris' guitar.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 May 26
    DFP permalink

    I have done this many times in a similar fashion. I always use glue, and always leave it a little high and sand it flush with very fine sand paper while one layer of tape is still in place. Support the sandpaper with a very small, flat stick. Any scuffing of the finish will buff out or French-polish easily.

    There seems to be a trend to do the 7th fret, only. I like 5 and 7, and have done 5, 7, and 9 on request. Recently I did a very conspicuous Tulipwood inlay at 5 and 7 – visible on both the side and front of the fingerboard. Yeah, very non-traditional on a classical!

  2. 2010 May 26
    Dan permalink

    Are you crazy? Don’t do it!!!! You will spoil your instrument forever. If you need help with positions on the neck use some removable adhesive stickers. A drill bit on my guitar? Sorry, I can’t believe what I’m reading. This really is the worst piece of ‘advice’ I’ve ever seen, you must be joking, surely????

    • 2010 May 26

      I don’t think it ruins the instrument. I don’t buy guitars so they look pretty or so I can sell them. I bought my guitar so I can play it. I’d rather not have to worry about the dot falling off. And since I’m probably going to be playing this instrument for the next ten years or more…I don’t see a problem.

  3. 2010 May 26

    I sorta agree with Dan. First off, I am a big fan of having a marker, all my guitars have had them. Sometimes, like my current concert instrument, it comes with the dot ready to go, probably installed by the luthier. But most times there isn’t any dot. In that case, I just use the Klingon fret dots (I only put one on at VII) I have never ever had one fall off.

    The possibility of seriously messing up the guitar is too high. And, you never know, this isn’t like getting married :) you might find something you like better and its usually better to sell a guitar sans dot, as sometimes buyers (who can be very flakey in this market) balk at dots. Typically one at VII is okay, but anything else just becomes too personal.

    I would never, ever do this…but thats just my not so humble opinion…

  4. 2010 May 26
    Michael Moncur permalink

    Thanks, Seth and Christopher – I plan to SPOIL MY INSTRUMENT FOREVER next week with the help of this article.

    (Sheesh, if you have a $20,000 bespoke handmade guitar, don’t do this. I don’t think my $400 Takamine is going to spontaneously become worthless after I drill a couple of tiny holes…)

  5. 2010 May 27
    Lee permalink

    I can understand why someone would be hesitant to do this themselves; especially if they don’t do a lot of DIY projects. This is a very, very easy type project for someone who does projects like this (you’re just drilling a little hole- albeit very, very carefully), but there are nuances to using a small drill correctly that the inexperienced may not pick up. If you want to try it and are unsure, why not talk to someone you know with more experience in carpentry? You could also practice on a scrap piece of wood or an old guitar.

    Chris- I know you’ve had that Thames for awhile, what made you decide to do this? I just bought a new guitar myself that also does not have the dots. Since I am a beginner, I just assumed that I needed to learn to play without them.

  6. 2010 May 27

    Lee, when I ordered my guitar I actually specified that I wanted a dot. But Michael had one come up that someone couldn’t buy when it was ready. So I took that one, and it didn’t have a dot.

    Seth did his guitar first, and I was tired of putting white out on mine. Seemed like the right choice. I very happy with the dot.

  7. 2010 May 27
    Lee permalink

    It seems to me that this post was meant to be a “how to” not a “whether to” thing. If you don’t want to do it, don’t. If you do, then this seems to be a nice, easy way to do it. ;)

    Chris, thanks for the reply. I haven’t really been hindered yet by not having a dot, well, because nothing I play (except for some scale exercises) is outside the first position yet! ;P (not to mention I haven’t memorized any of my pieces, so I hardly look at the fingerboard anyway)

  8. 2010 June 3
    Elías LópezCruz permalink

    My solution to the white dot on the guitar is even easier. You need only a small amount of white nail varnish and mark the arm of the guitar on the different places. I have done that on three guitars, no problem.

  9. 2010 June 16
    Nuno Guerra permalink

    Hi

    I simply used white text correction fluid. Dried up, and that it!

    Best Regards
    Nuno Guerra

  10. 2011 June 9
    Jeff Stanley permalink

    Whoops. Uh oh. I should have read through first…

    “…I suggest finding the rough depth of your dot…”

    …so I guess the drill bit wasn’t supposed to come out the other side of the neck, eh?

    /sarc

  11. 2012 November 25
    H.Jackson permalink

    I am a Novis and person’s who have placed there remarks on this subject could well know a lot more than I do, and know what they are talking about in the field of Classical Guitar, but surely anything ( which is in the correct bounds of the Guitar ) that helps you play the score correctly aiding you also in your fluent playing is a great help.
    When did these indecater’s first appear ? was it 18th Cent or 19th? and I assume they were not placed at these Vital Location just for decoration, there must have been a deffinatr reason do you not think ?.
    Well that is my two penny worth from a Novic.

    Hj

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