Doing Your Own Fretwork Part – 2  by Bill Wilkat Sept. 28, 2018

Doing Your Own Fretwork Part – 2  by Bill Wilkat Sept. 28, 2018

Radius Block

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If you read my blog post Doing Your Own Fretwork Part – 1  by Bill Wilkat Sept. 16, 2018, then you’ve already got a better idea of what fret dressing is all about. That being said there’s a lot more it and today I’d like to start with how to deal with one or two random frets that might be causing you grief by fretting out or buzzing badly; or it might only fret out when yo do a full string bend. Needless to say, all of these conditions appear to be caused by a high fret, which is very common.  Another common cause can be due to flat fret tops that are not properly crowned. 

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If you’ve run into this type of thing, the first thing you should do is to check if the high frets are fully seated.  How do you do that? The easiest way is to take thin sheet of paper and slide the corner along the fingerboard where the fret should contact and see if it penetrates underneath the fret.  Obviously if it does, then there is a gap, and if you can get the fret re-seated, the problem may be resolved. However, this is often easier said than done since hammering them can result in a spring-like effect where the fret simply bounces back up.  This also occurs if you can’t get the neck solidly supported (a sandbag placed under the neck is one of the best way to reduce bounce in the neck and help the impact to drive the fret back down).  But, it can also be due to the fret tang no longer having any gripping action within the fret slot.  This happens when the embossed triangular-shaped beads on the sides of the fret tang have depressed the wood on the inside sides of the fret slot, and it simply has no more resistance, allowing it to pop up. In cases like that, the two methods used to fix the problem involve gluing the fret in place, or replacing it entirely. Replacing a fret or frets requires re-levelling and re-crowning which is a lot more work.

Fretwire showing embossed tang with triangular beads
Thin Wax Paper to check for gaps under frets

To glue them back in place, you’ll need to use a fast curing fast drying super glue and clamp them securely right after applying the glue. If you have an arbour fret press or a handheld press like this one from StewMac called Jaws, then you’re going to find this task a lot easier to accomplish.  But, you’ll still need to take precautions to prevent accidental gluing of fret cauls to the frets and to minimize or simplify cleaning of glue residue afterward.  I often used a light furniture wax, and even wax paper placed between a radius block clamped in place—there’s a number of tricks including taping off but you need to be sure the glue will not be prevented from penetrating into the fret slot.  Here’s a link to an excellent short video from StewMac that explains and demos it well.  Yes I know the Jaws tool is darn expensive, and while you can get by without one, I’d definitely consider getting one if you plan to do a lot of guitar building or repairing.

There have been times when I even after re-seating a raised fret I found it was still not level than the adjacent two frets, and required some filing down.  If you run into this, mark the top the high fret(s) with a permanent black marker, and gently file it down until the black marker line disappears, then re-crown it.  I’ve done this using only a crowning file, but it’s not as simple or reliable as using the fret levelling file and then re-crowning and polishing the frets affected.  And, I’ve also found that using the triangular fret file has been the most reliable and quickest way for me to re-crown frets, even though there are a variety of different crowning files available on the market—I suggest you buy one and learn how to use it.

Triangular Fret File

Hopefully you’ve just saved yourself a lot of time and money by fixing just a fret or two and be sure to visit again for future information on fretwork.

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Bill Wilkat

Retired Luthier, and now a blogger writing about food including recipes, restaurant and product reviews, and guitar related information which includes "how-to" info. and more.