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Can't straight fretboard completely to level frets

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Hi everybody.

I just signed up here to get some good advices, looks like I ended up at the right place.

I have a Strat copy which is now more than 20 years old I guess,

when I was a boy I swapped the guitar for a Skateboard.

Since then I tuned her bit by bit.

Now I am trying to level out the frets, and watched some videos on YouTube.

My favorite one was this:

I made a copy of an notched straightedge out of an aluminum bar and converted my spirit level into a fret leveler.

I'm conscious that these are no perfect precision tools but for now I wont spend 100€ just on tools,

It's more about learning for future projects.

I took the neck off, got the nut out and marked all high spots,

BUT I released the thrust rod completely and the neck is not getting completely straight.

I has still a slight back curve, the straightedge marks like 2mm backward bending at the 21 fret.

I waited for one day, releasing bit by bit the trust rod tension, but I fear after (maybe more) than 20 years the wood wont get straight again.

What do you guys think is best to do now?

I really like screwing around on my guitar, but I already miss playing her...

I tried to add a picture but I dont really get how to add it to my post...

...bit by bit...

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First I would make sure that your notched straight edge is actually straight. Do you have a verified straight edge to test you homemade version against? The reason for me to zero in on that is that you say that there is a 2mm backbone when the strings is off and the trussrod is loose. That is IMO huge and the guitar would probably be more or less unplayable if you use normal string gauges. So I would first turn my attention there.

Secondly, you do not actually need to use a notched straight edge. You do not actually play against the fretboard... It is of cause very nice to start with a dead flat fretboard and all, but it is the tops of the frets that are the important parts here. If you can adjust the neck so that the tops of the frets are reasonably level you can go ahead and work the frets from there. Having said that I always start a fret job by adjusting the neck so that the fret board is flat...

Re: pictures, you can either post picture here or host them somewhere else and either just link to them or embed pictures via the "normal" funktions of the forum

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First of all thanks a lot to SwedishLutier and Guitar2005.

Both were completely right.

My notched straight edge was not as straight as I thought, and when I finished with all my work, the string tension lifted the whole neck slightly up and now I got it exactly where it should be.

I'll resume a bit what I did:

We are surrounded of a world full of right angles and straight lines, but when you need a perfectly straight line it's getting a bit complicated. To straight out my diy notched straight edge y used my diy fret leveler always changing positions to avoid possible imperfections of the spirit level.

After having read the advices above I had enough courage to start sanding.

I already marked all high spots with a black marker and all lower spots with a blue marker.

This turned out to be really helpful and I repeated it several times.

This way I was able to see all the time the evolution of my work.

To compare the higher and lower frets I broke a cutter knife into several pieces according to the desired fret distances.

Than I sanded with 500 grid paper along the frets, I preferred finer grain to advance slower (the whole process took me 8 hours...).

Especially my 8th fret was extremely high so I sanded it separated a tiny bit down before continuing the sanding of all frets.

When I finally got all of them leveled, I taped it all up with electricity tape and started to file with a triangle jewelry/key maker file.

The big file in the video above was far to clumsy for me, and for the final rounding I switched to a straight file.

Than I sanded directly with 1000 grid sandpaper to get the scratches out. I was afraid of sanding too much, that's why I chose such a fine grain.

Finally I took my Dremel Tool with the polishing tip and polished all the frets using white polishing paste for jewelry.

I have no idea how you guys are used to polish metals, in several videos I saw people polishing by hand with car polish.

Jewelry polish allows you to smooth curves, scratches and edges with few effort and you get an amazing shiny surface quite fast.

Now my strings are half as high as before, I need to get used again to play my own guitar!

I wanted to paste a final picture but somehow I still don't get it done.

When I click on the small picture icon I get asked for an URL direction.

Pasting directly is also not working. Is there no easy way to upload directly into my post?

I also saw the my media button.

All my friends always told me to never sand the strings!

I made it and it feels really cool.

A friend of mine told me I should buy a decent second hand guitar instead of "wasting" so much time (and money) in my low quality old guitar.

But I told him the important thing for me is not to have a perfect guitar (would be great anyways) but to learn more and to get a deeper comprehension of how things work and how to do it.

I'm really happy that I found this web, I'll post soon again, I'll go now for a proper design with AutoCad, looking forward to read the next chapters of the tutorials.

Enjoy sanding...

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Glad it worked out for you! It aslo sounds like you are on your way to get hooked on this. Be warned, it is addictive! :)

When I click on the small picture icon I get asked for an URL direction.

Thats right, for that funktion you need to have the picture hosted somewhere. Most of us use photobucket. Just copy the direct link and past it when the forum software asks for a URL. IIRC the same aplies to hosting the pictures here on the forum.

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Hey SwedishLuthier.

I'm hooked up with modifying my guitar for about 20 years already.

And every time I start again, I tend to push my limits a bit further.

After trying out with more patience my leveled frets,

I figured out that the 5th and 6th string (E,a) are buzzing a bit up to the 8th fret aprox.

I had to rise them quite a lot to get a clear sound.

I checked my frets, but they seem perfectly straight.

I guess my problem is that if have no upper bone curve at all because of the thrust rod problems described before.

My neck is completely straight now.

I saw a video from WillsEasyGuitar and he put such a neck into the oven!

It might also be that I sanded a slight "v" shape along the neck, because of the exaggerated high 8th fret I had,

which caused my leveler to rock back an forth, but I don't think so.

I installed AutoCad 2016 with a free 3 years student license and started to design completely from scratch.

I even created an Excel sheet to make my own fret scale calculations (based on Wills Youtube clases...).

Anyone has an idea where the number 17,817 comes from?

He uses it to divide the scale length to get the fret position.

I also found a really cool website which calculates you the whole neck to print int out directly:


Yesterday I stepped on some guys in the design section talking about carbon fibers,

the idea excited me a lot and I started to integrate it into my plans.

Got some decent contacts for fiber works.

Thanks again to all of you guys for sharing your knowledge, I hope I can also add some useful hints.



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It's a worthwhile addition to the knowledge bank that necks don't stay straight, especially bolt-ons which can develop an S-shaped hump. This is a combination of the neck not being the same stiffness at all points (profile taper, neck width taper, heel position, etc.) so a little tuning beyond simply "straight" becomes necessary sometimes. A common one is dialling in a little "falloff" from some point beyond the 12th fret. This is just another compromise built on top of other compromises in order to turn an inherently imperfect instrument design into one that is a more of an approximation of perfect. Funny game, this.

A straight fretboard is certainly useful when fretting a new instrument since the frets always follow the standard of levelling of the board. A badly-levelled board equal bad fretwork out of the gate. Older Fenders do develop into some "personal shapes". The hump is one. The most drastic fix would be defretting, re-levelling and re-fretting....until the next time the neck decides to throw shapes around the room. It's good to get to know where the issue is coming from and applying yourself to that and that alone if possible. Minimally invasive.

Polishes are polishes. I rely a lot on a compound which is a paste version of "blizzard", or the white compound metal polishers use for softer metals. Autosol chrome polish is more or less the easiest DIY "off the shelf" blizzard compound. I keep that around since I polish my freshly sharpened chisels like a razor off the strop with a little of that. For harder stainless frets, you'll need a more aggressive polish; green rouge. For normal NS and Evo wire, blizzard-like compounds do the trick admirably.

As for using sandpaper on frets, buy a fret shield or cut yourself one from a soda can. Essentially a piece of metal (sand those sharp edges off so you don't cut yourself or scratch the patient!) with a fretwire-width slot cut out. Sandpaper around 400 grit is good to start with, but move through alternate grits to remove scratches from the previous grits (400-600-800-1000-1200-2400). You don't need to obsessively go through each grit. Skipping every other one is economical and produces the same results. Then go to compound polishing.

I've used toothpaste before. Worked nicely as a light polish but guitars are not meant to be minty.

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Any idea how I could get a bit of upbow without putting my neck in the oven?

I don't really like the idea...

About the falloff, could I make it just on the buzzing strings (E and A)?

Would be the best solution to find perfection in imperfection;-)

Indeed a funny game...

To prevent the fretboard from scratching I taped it completely with white conductive tape,

that way a could also see by the color change how much I worked on each fret.

I was also thinking of some kind of fret shield, but the only tape was working quite well.

I'll try it next time, got the feeling that on some point I'll refret completely...

The good thing about my cheap and old guitar is that I'm not afraid on working on it,

and for now it just got better.

I see you know much more about polishing than me, I'll stick to what I learned from the jeweler.

What are tapers by the way?

Thanks for all those patience words.

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Whoever tells you to put your neck in an oven is an idiot. You don't even want to leave a guitar in it's case in the car on a hot day! Falloff is an artificial drop in fret height above the area where the neck stops bending upwards under tension. Strings vibrate in a parabolic manner with maximum deflection in the centre. Upbow and falloff are simply different ways of ensuring that the strings have room to move.

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