Guitar Specialist - Guitar repair and restoration services - Guitar Repair - Fretwork


Fret Work

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Here's a Martin 000-18.
It's frets were worn and flat as a result of an extremely poor "Grind & Polish" - a euphemism I abhor, by the way.


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While removing frets, I use a soldering iron to heat the fret. The iron I'm using is specially ground to fit over a fret & ensure that I don't slip and burn the fingerboard.
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Heating the frets helps minimize chipping as the fret gets walked out with a pair of flush cut pullers - ground down to fit under the fret as it bites.
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All the frets are out - you can see that the board is going to need a little prep work.


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Over to the leveling bench - this is where most of my fret work is done - filing - leveling - crowning & such. This setup not only allows me to control the relief of the neck, but it keeps the guitar elevated above the bench so debris falls under and away from the guitar.
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Half the frets are installed first - every other fret so I can read the board and how it's reacting to the fret compression. This way I can make adjustments in the boards stiffness along the way. That hunk of metal on the guitar is "The Taylor Fret Buck"
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It's an indispensable tool if you're hammering in frets like I do - I just wish they came up with a better name.



After installing the remaining frets & cutting off the overhang ...

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... it's back to the leveling bench so I can bevel the ends, square up the fret tops & crown them.
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Here we are - Good as new!

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Here's another old Martin in remarkably good shape with the exception of the frets.
The frets have been removed and the board has been prepared in the same fashion as we saw above.

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Once again the prep work on the board amounts to 90 percent of a perfect re-fret.
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This guitar has a particularly nice piece of rosewood on it. Lots of color and very dense.
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I usually fret with a hammer almost exclusively. I feel it gives me the most control & consistency.
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The frets are installed with a fair amount of overhang to help keep the fret ends from springing up as I hammer in the rest of the frets.
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Occasionally I will reach for "Jaws", a Dan Earlwine invention. It's a portable fret press - a great tool from the king of fretting.
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All the frets are in - this job will need only a minimal of leveling before crowning.
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By the way - the neck is resting on two bags of 25lb buck shot to support the hammer blows - It acts as a great anvil.
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I always tape up a board during the crowning stage - yes it's a pain and it takes longer ...
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... but I'd rather spend time pulling tape off the board than worry about file marks in the wood.

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Here's an electric neck being crowned. The body is safely put away in the case.  (I wish we could do this with acoustics - dream on)
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A crowning is followed up by hand polishing the frets to leave them feeling as smooth as - well - polished frets - what else.
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The finished product.  A dream to play on. You'd be surprised what a difference well shaped frets can make in your playing.

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Here's an Epiphone archtop from the 30's, I believe.  The frets were so loose I didn't even need the fret pullers for mast of the fret removal.
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With the board prepped as we saw above. Half the frets go in- this one gave me a bit of trouble - the wood was very old and on the weak side.
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All the frets are in and I'm ready to bevel the ends.
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With a good grip on the neck I'll bevel the frets to a 30 degree angle, then polish them up.
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All the leveling & crowning is done and it's ready for strings.
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Just have to set it up to get it playing just right.
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Gotta love these old guitars.

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Here's one you don't see often - a 1961 Gibson ES335 Dot. This was the last year they made them with dot inlays before
they converted to block inlays. It didn't have a scratch on it - the only problem was that someone got there hands
on it and filed the frets down to next to nothing. The fret height measured about seventeen thousandths of an inch high -
unplayable by any standards.

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The board was very weak due to poor fret compression. The frets came out way to easily.
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Cleaning up any minor chipping and leveling takes place immediately.
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Before installing frets I chamfer the edges of the fret slots to aid in seating the frets squarely.
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It's now ready for frets.
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The traditional hammer in method will do very nicely for this guitar.
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The only thing I had to concern myself with here was to match the size of the fret tang to the slot to get good fret compression.
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Here's one happy guitar owner.

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Here we have a Guild 12 string - great sound but the frets were worn down to the wood.
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After fingerboard prep, the first couple of frets were being stubborn - they kept springing up at the ends.
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Rather than beat the frets into submission, I'll reach for "Jaws".  That'll keep 'em from going anywhere.
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All the frets are in and I'm ready to cut, level & crown.


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That's what I like to see - perfectly crowned shiny new frets - this should play like a dream now.
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All strung up and ready for some strummin'.

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These old Guilds keep sounding better the older they get.

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One of the most frustrating aspects to re-fretting a guitar is pulling the frets only to find that
some one, at some point had re-fretted the same guitar with what is known as the "epoxy in"
fretting method.  Not that it's an invalid way to refret a guitar; however, it makes the misguided assumption that
the guitar will never need another re-fret. My personal opinion is that using the epoxy in method is
never necessary and it make life difficult for the poor slob who may have to re-fret it again in the future.

With that said...

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The frets have been removed (not an easy task
due to the epoxy).
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The board is not in the best condition - and the fret slots are equally as bad.
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Whatever epoxy remains gets removed with a small saw.


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This saw cuts on
the pull stroke so I have more control.
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After the frets are installed, the board gets taped up and we're ready for crowning.
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The primary crowning tools I use are three different size triangle files and a polishing stick. I can get the most consistent profile to the fret with these tools.


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A fret perfectly crowned and polished to a mirror- like shine. Only 19 more to go.
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That's much better !

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All strung up

Plays like a dream.

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