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Is Leveling A "must" On A New Guitar?


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Yes, I have been lucky enough to have a couple of fret jobs turn out this good. It all depends on how well you level the fingerboard first and if your frets fit the slots perfectly and have been installed properly. The more time you spend getting a level fretboard the better. Also, the way you prepare the slots for the fretwire makes a huge difference, since every fret must press or hammer in level with one another. If you get certain wire, you'll need to bevel the tops of the slot also or they won't seat correctly. To get a more consistent result your going to want to have fret press system, it's just a lot easier to get them all level when you have it. So it really comes down to the fingerboard, you get that level and you'll end up with a much better fretjob, sometimes good enough to not have to level the frets afterward. I personally love using a neck jig and a long radius sanding block (18") to make for a very level fret job. So, sometimes you can get by without leveling, but it is always a good thing to do for a professional job if your looking for the best playing guitar. The main reason I get the fretboard as level as possible before beginning is that when you do level the frets you don't have to take too sand too much fretwire away. Good Luck

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I always level the frets, using the radius block that I use on the fretboard. I draw a fine line with a new Sharpie on the very tops of the frets, then start leveling. Most of the time the line disappears within a few strokes (meaning things are already good & flat), occasionally it takes a little more effort (mostly near the edges of the board). I just like the feedback this gives me.

Then I sand a small amount of fall-away into the upper frets (14 & higher) before going on to bevel.

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Great. I used a Stew Mac 16" radius block. What grits to you recommend I start with? Would 220 be adequate to start? What about finishing? I know what the process is I just would like to know what you guys prefer in terms of grit.

Oh! And do you all go ahead and use a crowing file or just leave it as is after the levelling?

Thanks.

Dave

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I love the 16" radius!

I start with 400 grit sandpaper on the radius block; I think anything coarser leaves too many deep scratches in the fret wire. Then I crown with the StewMac crowning file (light touch), and then go with 1000-2000-4000 Abralon foam pads on a random orbital sander, and finally buff with a teeny bit of swirl remover on a dremel buffing drum.

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I love the 16" radius!

I start with 400 grit sandpaper on the radius block; I think anything coarser leaves too many deep scratches in the fret wire.  Then I crown with the StewMac crowning file (light touch), and then go with 1000-2000-4000 Abralon foam pads on a random orbital sander, and finally buff with a teeny bit of swirl remover on a dremel buffing drum.

That's a great help. Where do you get the foam pads? Stew Mac?

Dave

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I have been using a fret press for about two years and on a good, flat board, I don't need to do much leveling at all (if any) to get to the next step. I think I still level just to check the ends of the frets and get a feel for how the neck is gonna setup. As mentioned previously, a good fret install takes very little leveling.

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Yea, I have a classical one. That's what made me thinking. What are the pros/cons of using a flat board?

---------

Jimbo

pro:you can bend forever with out fretting out.

con:harder for chording

pro:easy to fret and level(slightly radius frets first so they seat better though)

con:err I dont believe there are any more cons

thats 2 against 1! :D

Edited by Mr Alex
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That's why compound fretboards are the best of both worlds though. A 10" to 16" compound radius neck is a great compromise, so you still can chord comfortably in the 1-7 fret range without tiring out your hand. Yet, you can get those extreme bends and fast playing up the neck. The main thing to understand about compound necks are that you must have the proper radiused bridge for what your doing. The nut of course will be slotted for the 10" radius, so the strings at all times follow the compound radius contour. Some people forget about this and end up with some action problems.

As far as leveling the frets I basically do what erikbojerik suggested, except that I start with 320 grit make a couple of swipes sanding with the neck. Next, after the they show to be level with the marker trick, I go to 600 grit for a brief time with the neck to remove the 320 scratches, then I use the 600 still but this time moving it with the direction of the frets until they show hardly any scratches running with the neck. Then it's 800 grit with the same method, then gradually to 1000 grit on the same radius sanding block until the fret tops look smooth. Then to the 3M compounds and a Dremel wheel to polish them so the frets slide like glass over them after your finished.

If you have a problem with bending a string and it feels like it's passing over grit, you can be sure you haven't got all the scratches out that leveling got you. But I've got two Les Paul Custom guitars and both have visible scratch marks going along the fretwire (not bad, but you can still see them), but they don't affect play one bit. So that basically tells me that sanding in the direction with the neck can cause alot of problems if you don't know how to get the sand marks out, more so than sanding side to side. Just a tip for the day.. lol

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Fretwire isn't perfect. The same batch will have inconsistencies throughout. So it's not necessarily bragging rights that you didn't have to level the frets because they were so flawlessly installed. I mean to a great extent the amount of levelling needed passes judgement on the quality of the fret job. But no matter what, I'm levelling, usually with worn out 600 grit for every fret job as part of the buff. So while I'm not really taking anything off, I might catch a couple inconsistencies in the wire. But more importantly I don't want to play on the factory extruded surface of the wire. I want to buff that surface out. Especially with Dunlop wire. I've seen some Dunlop wire that's practically textured when you look at it closely. So I will "level" the frets regardless, as part of the final buff if nothing else.

Sometimes I'll level a slight fall away or compound radius into the upper frets too. So while they don't need leveling per se, I'm actually changing the radius surface slightly. Satriani's tech does that to all his guitars. It's sort of like "compensated radiusing" You can do it to the board directly, but if you have a 9.5" or smaller radius board I feel like its best to just hit the problem areas of the fret surface if the wire is tall anyway.

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I love the 16" radius!

I start with 400 grit sandpaper on the radius block; I think anything coarser leaves too many deep scratches in the fret wire.  Then I crown with the StewMac crowning file (light touch), and then go with 1000-2000-4000 Abralon foam pads on a random orbital sander, and finally buff with a teeny bit of swirl remover on a dremel buffing drum.

That's a great help. Where do you get the foam pads? Stew Mac?

Dave

I got my Abralon pads through Homestead Finishing Products (PO Box 360275, Cleveland OH 44136-0005). Wes hooked me up, they've got some good stuff.

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