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Neal Moser Fret Levelling/Action Technique


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Below is a quote from Neal's site, I thought it was a pretty informative post and worthy of reprinting here.

Thanks Neal. :D


Fret work is just a process. If you know the process you can do it. However, time and experience is what makes you do it successfully.

It's easy to teach the method, it's hard to teach the feel. Good fret work and action work is done more by feel than measurements. There are many measuring instruments and gauges you can buy from places like StewMac, all of them good, however, I don't use anything but a small ruler to measure the height of the string off the 24th fret. The string height at the nut I always do by eye and feel.

There's nothing I hate more than a "dead fret". It takes all the "feel" out of setting up a guitar.

The re-fretting process is this:

1. Pull the old frets.

2. level the finger board with a sanding block. I start with 120 grit, then

220, then 320.

3. Install new frets.

4. I always glue in the frets with Aliphatic resin. (Elmer' Glue). After they

are dry, then I mill them with a 12" mill bastard file. I like using the file

better than the stuff they sell for that job on StewMac. All we ever used

at BCR was mill bastard files.

You must also run the file down the length of the edges of the frets to get the correct angle on them. I usually sand the edges to completion at that time and then blend the tops of the frets into the edges. This is just my personal taste to do it that way.

5. After the frets have been leveled with the file, you sand out the frets.

120, 220, 320, then round the tangs, 600. Then I go across the frets

with 600. Remember, frets are extruded length wise, so the grain of

the metal runs lengthwise. The frets will polish better if you do the final

sanding of the frets in the direction of extrusion.

6. After the frets have been leveled and sanded I go across them again with a fret rounding file with 600 sand paper on it. The rounds and polishes the frets. Then I steel wool the frets going across the board with #0000 steel wool.

7. Next, you can get crazy if you want and run the whole finger board on a buffer and polish the board and frets. I don't do that very often, but I do buff the edges of the board with a buffer using "stainless steel" compound.

After you've used a buffer you have to buff down the whole board and frets with a standard kitchen paper towel. I always keep a roll of paper towels in the shop for all kinds of uses.

Now, if you do this process about 1,000 times, you'll get really good at it. Actually, you can start to get the feel after about 100 times. There IS a specific "feel" to the mill file when the frets are correctly milled, and when they aren't. It takes some time to recognize that "feel". That "feel" will tell you if you need to mill more in one spot or another until the frets are leveled correctly before you start to even out the frets across the whole board. Wink

If the frets are not correctly leveled you cannot get a really good action on the guitar.

This is the reason that you hear people say that they have never felt an action like the one I put on guitars. That's mostly due to the basic fret work being correct before the action is done.

Very few companies do the frets correctly before a guitar is sent out. Even if they do the fret work, usually the guys doing the work are just come and go employees that have very little experience and don't really care anyway.

This is not true in every case, but it is true in many cases.

I went through a number of "millers" at BCR. It was hard to get anyone to do this job 8 hours a day 5 days a week for minimum wage and keep them for very long. It's a nasty job to have to do every day, all the time.

I know this to be true, because that is what I've been doing for GMW (as well as nut bones) for many years. I stopped actually building guitars for GMW in around 95, so it's been 9 years that I've been only doing fret and bone work. That was during my "semi retired" years.

Wink Cool






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No big secrets there, but he does mention something that most people don't consider, and that's his explaination of "feel". It's exactly that, that makes me sigh everytime I see someone say " My Fender, Gibson (or any other decent guitar) needs fret-work, and I've never done anything like that, but I'm going to do it on this guitar, because I want to learn, and the info about fret-work on the internet gave me more confidence than an injection of crystal meth "

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Very true, doing fretwork good isn't easy as everyone thinks, it takes alot of practice to get the hang of it. That's why I refretted my friends guitars first.. haha.. But now I need to go back and at least redo two... :D Oh well, you learn by doing not by watching. Don't get me wrong, you can do a good fretjob without the neck jig, but man, you can really do a superb job with one. I do know for a fact that Jaros, Driskill, etc. etc. all use Neck Jigs on their new guitars before they go out, and that's the reason why they play so good.

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Don't get me wrong, you can do a good fretjob without the neck jig, but man, you can really do a superb job with one.

You can do a real crappy fret-job with a neck-jig too. It can very well just make it harder to do a decent job, if you really are not good at fretting yet, but go ahead and build a neck-jig. That's exactly how it went for me. I built my neck jig in the fall of 1988. I was 19, and had yet to do a decent complete re-fret. Not the neck-jig's fault because my fret-work sucked for a couple of years before that, when I'd attempt a *complete* re-fret. I did manage to do some good fret-leveling jobs in the 2 or so years before that, and no jig was involved. Funny thing is that even the crappy fret-jobs *looked* great.

I had to do those crappy fret-jobs to get the "feel" needed to get better and better in the following years. I certainly wasn't "self taught" with all of it. When they weren't turing out good, I wouldn't just do another one the same way. I'd ask some pro fret guys about what they thought I was doing wrong. I didn't settle for the opinion of the local repair guys either. I contacted a guy who had famous guitar players going to him for fret-work. I had contacted Dan Erlewine before the other guy, but he actually wasn't much help. Things were different then. hardly anyone was interested in fret-work, so that's probably why this guy didn't think too much of giving me some good tips (he didn't write a detailed book for me, he just gave tips that steered me the right way).

These days there's so many people doing good fret-work, I'd have to say the competition is pretty stiff. And you're also competing with people who do lousy fret-work, because they scare people away from ever letting someone else work on their guitar again.

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Your exactly right Soap, if someone has no clue on how to fret or refret, then the neck jig won't help. But if you've been doing fret jobs and they are going good, but you want that extra edge that will make it so you can lower the action even more without buzz or fretout, then it's great. I'm not saying it will make you do great fretwork, not in the least. You still have to spend alot of time working on your craft, watching the videos, reading everything you can on it, applying what you learned, then learning what works and what doesn't for you. There is no doubt that to become good at fretwork you have to spend hours on end practicing, I know I learn each time I do one. I really recommend anyone serious about fretwork pick up Dan Erlewine's complete fretting DVD's, and watch them over and over then go out there and apply what you've learned and see what works and what doesn't. That being said, if you are someone who can fret good already, then the neck jig will make your guitars play that much better. In my opinion that is.

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I really recommend anyone serious about fretwork pick up Dan Erlewine's complete fretting DVD's, and watch them over and over then go out there and apply what you've learned and see what works and what doesn't.

Thanks for the video reference, I've eyeballed these but balked at the price.

This tread has taken me from 'I'll give it a shot' to 'DON'T TOUCH THAT FRET, YOU'LL KILL IT!' and back to 'Gotta lot to learn.....again'. :D

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