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Fret Level Vs Refret


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I basically have to guitars with uneven frets that require some work so that I can set the action correctly.

The first guitar has wide and high frets that are uneven on a bolt on neck, and I have preferance for low/wide frets. Because I require to change the fret profile as well as giving it a general level, Am I better refretting the entire neck or perservering with a fret level.

The second guitar is a les paul copy with a set neck that generally just has uneven frets. Iam worried about this because Ive not fret levelled a guitar with a set neck before and when I usually level a bolt on neck I remove it from the guitar. Basically iam worried about upsetting the set neck when I perform the fret level

as I obvisouly dont want to damage the guitar

Help anybody?

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I can't give a proper answer without having the necks right in front of me. There is a point in unevenness where an attempt to level using the usual techniques will often lead you nowhere (or actually lead you to a neck that plays even worse than it did before).

Golden rule : *No fret-job* beats the hell out of a *bad fret-job*

I don't know how the existing fret-job compares to a complete fret-job by you, so I'd be afraid to make a guess as to what you're "better off" doing.

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Fret levelling can't 'upset' a neck set. Just make sure you don't knock the nut out, or scratch up the pickups or anything.

Honestly, I'd probably try starting out with a level+dress, if the frets are all more or less equally worn/uneven (ie, not a specific area that's been overplayed and might require a partial refret). Otherwise, partial referet, or a full refret.

I very much reccomend Erlewine's books on the subject; guitar player repair guide for a general type overview, and the StewMac Fretting: Step by Step for a really in-depth treatsie on various (re)fretting methodologies.

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Well the bolt on neck guitar isnt playable to my own standards currently because of the fretting issues with it. Instead of having a fret drop off on the high frets, its actually ramps up slightly which makes the fret buzz in tolerable. Either that or the action is ballistically high, which is undesirable as its not worth playing!

If iam looking to change the profile of the frets is hard to achieve this with a fret level or is it impossible........I dont mind lots of hard work I just want my guitar to be right

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Instead of having a fret drop off on the high frets, its actually ramps up slightly which makes the fret buzz in tolerable.  Either that or the action is ballistically high, which is undesirable as its not worth playing!

You're certain it's the frets? I mean, I haven't heard of frets growing taller over the years... maybe you just need to reset the relief on the neck...I'd try that first before going into major guitar-altering repairs.

How about having a tech look at them?

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Well the bolt on neck guitar isnt playable to my own standards currently because of the fretting issues with it.  Instead of having a fret drop off on the high frets, its actually ramps up slightly which makes the fret buzz in tolerable.  Either that or the action is ballistically high, which is undesirable as its not worth playing!

If iam looking to change the profile of the frets is hard to achieve this with a fret level or is it impossible........I dont mind lots of hard work I just want my guitar to be right

How are you judging the frets? Hopefully by using a long accurate straightedge. Just saying it isn't playable doesn't mean the frets need work, it could be with the way the guitar is setup. Unless you can really get a staightedge on it, with proper background so you can see the fretwork better, your basically just guessing. Buzzing can happen when you have backbow etc. and could be solved by a simple truss rod adjustment, so like Soapbar was saying, it's hard to tell if leveling the frets will do you any good, until you have gone over everything first and eliminated everything else as the problem. Here's where I'd start, with the standard setup method.

1. Using a long straightedge and feeler guages, adjust the neck so that you have a relief that's in a workable range. You can check the relief by sliding a feeler guage between the bottom of the straightedge and top of the 9th fret (or whichever fret has the gap to the bottom of straightedge). I personally like a relief of .006" , but anything from .000" to .012" is good, as you can see I just split the difference.. lol Adjust the truss rod until you have the relief your wanting.

2. After the relief has been adjusted, you can capo the first fret to eliminate it from the equation for setting up your action. Using a 6" steel ruler you can adjust the bridge so that you have 4/64" (1/16") action at the 17th fret on each string. You can lower them later if you want it lower, but this is a great starting point.

3. Take the capo off the first fret and check for proper nut slotting. You can measure the distance between the first fret and bottom of string with feeler guages. Make sure it's not too low on any.. under .006" or too high for the bigger strings, over .020". You can also use another method that works fairly good. Press the string down at the 3rd fret and if the string touches the first fret it's slot it probably too low.

If you do everything above and the guitar still doesn't play good or buzzes a lot, yes it's safe to say you need to either level or refret it. But I'd definitely do a good setup on it first before I did though. Good luck..

Matt V

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