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 The customer actually placed 2 outdated credit cards as shims…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.