This project brought new life to an old friend. The Telecaster that was pieced together by my customer. It was loved and played for many years to the point where the frets had divots all up and down the neck. Normally, frets have enough material on them to get at least one or two fret levelings before replacing them is needed, but at the customer’s request, they needed to go.
With the guitar pieced together, the height of the neck at the heel didn’t match the neck pocket. The action was still quite high even with the bridge lowered all the way down. The customer actually placed 2 outdated credit cards as shims…
To remove the frets, I heat them one by one, with a soldering iron and working each out with a fret puller. It’s important to keep the frets warm so the teng pulls the least amount of wood grain with them.
Once the frets are out, I measure the radius of the fingerboard so I know what to bend the new fretwire into. This Tele has a particularly round radius of 7.25″ After cleaning off the new frets, I run the wire through the fret bender. Usually takes a few times of trial and error to get the correct curvature. After that, I prep the existing slots in the neck with a saw which matches the new fret wire’s teng. Not much is needed.
Next, I pre-cut the bent fret-wire and begin pressing the frets into the fingerboard with my handy arbor press. This tool is amazing. Traditionally, a neck is re-fret with a hammer, which is loud… really loud and takes at least 5 hits per fret to sit properly. Multiply that by 21 or more frets and you have angry neighbors.
Sometimes, I like to use glue when pressing in the frets. I chose not to this time and let the teng of the fret work its magic. After all the frets are pressed in, the next step is to file the edges flush with the fingerboard. As you can tell the picture with the sleeping cat, I was working late into the night… or maybe early afternoon, or… I don’t know. Cats sleep 2/3 of the day apparently.
Next up, I take a small, 3-corner file and round out the fret ends. If you’ve ever played a guitar off a factory belt that skipped this step, you’ll probably remember it for the rest of your life because those cuts are nasty! I mask off the fingerboard with tape and file each fret end, both sides
After that, the new frets need to be leveled. Although they look to be at the same height at a glance, there are always high spots. and check each string position with my handy fret rocker and make a note of which spots that will need leveling. Then, I get to work with my leveling file. I check the marked areas with my fret rocker as I go. Once everything is at an even height, I take a crowning file and re-shape each fret. This same procedure can be done with the 3-corner file, but for the sake of time, this is my method. Then, I sand out any remaining scratches with wet/dry sandpaper and finish them off with some rubbing compound. I remove the tape and apply a bit of lemon oil to condition the fingerboard.
Lastly, I discarded the credit cards and shape a piece of 1/8″ maple to the neck pocket to aid the neck height. I cut the new bone nut, (which I’ve explained my process in a few other blog entries), strung the guitar up and VIOLIA! This guitar’s got a brand new start in life.
Does your guitar need some a re-fret leveling or re-fret? Call Andrew with South Austin Guitar Repair 512-590-1225 for fast friendly fret work.
Wow, it’s almost been a month since I’ve had time to blog about Austin guitar repairs. Despite the summer rush for repairs being over, the rush itself seems to continue on. I guess it’s a good problem to have?
So, down to the nitty gritty.
After many years of love and play time, the owner of this guitar made an honest attempt to re-fret the first four frets on his own. Unfortunately for his efforts, murphy’s law is especially true when doing any kind of work on your frets. So after his replaced frets completely fret themselves out, he brought it in to my shop for a fix.
The main issue, was the frets were not a good replacement size (too short in crown height) and I couldn’t simply mill them down to match the others. In this case, it was faster and easier to replace them entirely.
First the frets needed to be pulled. The customer didn’t use any glue, so they were only being held in by the teng of the fret. Once they were out, I cleaned out the inside of the fret slots for any debris.
Next, I use a gauge to determine what radius the fingerboard has been manufactured. This guitar was 10″. To translate, imagine a 10″ diameter circle; the top of that circle is the shape of this guitar’s fingerboard, which the frets are placed.
Using my handy fret bender, I fed the fret wire through and cut sections to place on the neck. Because this fingerboard had binding on its sides, I also needed to undercut the ten on the ends so it could sit flush on the fingerboard.
After applying a bit of glue to the bottom of the frets, I hammered them into their slots using a brass-tipped hammer. Once they were in, I clamped them down with a radius block that matched the fingerboard’s profile.
After a night of the glue curing, I removed the clamp and beveled the edges of the frets for any sharp corners. Using that same radius block and a bit of 150 and 220 sand paper, I leveled any imperfections in the new frets and it’s older neighboring ones. Then, using some wet/dry sandpaper, I gave them each a “once over” to smooth them further.
Next, I polished each one with a bit of rubbing compound to buff out any additional scratches. After removing the masking tape from the fingerboard, I apply a few dabs of lemon oil to coat and enrich the rosewood fingerboard
Once that’s dried, I string out the guitar and it’s back in action! Fret work, to say the least, is a series of steps. But when performed correctly, bring a tired, worn guitar, back to life.