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Ok, Time To Place An Order With Stew Mac

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Ok, here's the dealy-yoyo. I'm very keen on guitars. I love playing them, tinkering with them, and otherwise learning about them. I've invested in a number of books, including Dan Erlewine's "Guitar Player Repair Guide" and "How to make your electric guitar play great!", Hideo Kamimoto's "Complete Guitar Repair", Pieter Fillet's "DIY Guitar Repair", Martin Koch's "Building Electric Guitars", Melvyn Hisock's "Make Your Own Electric Guitar", and a couple of other books about acoustic and electric repair, setup, and construction.

I've read this books, but have only been able to apply the knowledge I've learnt to a small degree. I consider myself as being able to do a decent setup on non-FR equipped guitars, but apart from that, I haven't had much to work with.

However, I've just bought a new guitar, which means my 20 year old beat up Strat copy is now available for messing with B) It sure needs some work, but it wasn't worth paying someone to do because the guitar would cost less than the repairs needed. Now that I've got another guitar I can play, I'm free to try my hand at fixing this one up.

So, I need some tools and supplies to work with. I'm thinking of ordering some basic fretting and nut making tools from Stew Mac, and getting some practise in refretting, fret dressing, making nuts, and electronics stuff. Some points I'd like to emphasise:

- I have more time than money at the moment. Also, I'm just a beginner, so I'm not ready to spend big $ on professional tools.

- I know the value of having the right tools for the right job (haha, learnt through good old experience :D), and I'm looking for advice as to what is necessary from Stew Mac, and what I can just get from the hardware store.

- I'm in Australia, so postage is a bit prohibitive.

I've currently got:

- Somewhere to work

- Basic tools for assembling and disassembling the whole guitar (screwdrivers, drill, deep-sockets, allens keys etc)

- Soldering iron, soldering iron stand, solder

- Multimeter

- Pliers and end-nippers

- A nice long metal ruler, a short one, a tape measure

- Feeler gauges

- Patience

- A strong interest in learning

- Good resources (books, the internet, project guitar :D)

Here's what I'm thinking about getting at the moment:


- Fretting hammer

I think it's a good idea for me to start with the basic tools. However, if people think fretting hammers are now crude or obsolete, I may be able to stretch the budget to include a Jaws fret press.

- Neck support caul

Seems like a very handy caul for hammering frets in.

- A couple of feet of Medium fret wire

- Radius gauges

Some fretting questions:

- Are notched radius gauges worth the extra money? They come in a set of four... is this just two identical sets of two?

- Is it worth forking out the money for a Fret cutter or Fret pullers? It seems like a lot of money to spend, when I can just buy some pliers and end nippers and bench grind the jaw faces flat... what do you reckon?

- Is it worth buying files for shaping and crowning the frets from Stew Mac? If I just hit the hardware store, will I unltimately end up frustrated at my poor results?

- Are there any other tools you would strongly recommend I get from Stew Mac rather than buying locally/making/doing without?

Nut making

- A couple of assorted shaped Bone nuts

- A couple of assorted shaped Graph Tech nuts

- A couple of assorted shaped Slip-Stone nuts

Some nut making questions:

- I don't think I can justify the price of any of the Stew Mac nut files. Does anyone strongly advice I invest in the right tools, or will hardware store gear do the job?

- Are there any nut related items I should get from Stew Mac that I can't make or buy?


Some electronics questions:

- Is there any reason to buy things like pots and caps from Stew Mac? Can the same items be purchased from local electronics suppliers?

- Is the shielded wire the same as what you can buy at the hardware store?

- Are there any electronics items I'll need from Stew Mac purely for rewiring?

I'm greatly appreciative of any input you've got B) Please keep in mind I'm an amateur who is happy to make, borrow, scrounge etc. tools where necessary, and I'm looking only for the bare essentials needed to get started with fretting, nut making, and wiring.

Thanks everyone :D

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I can add a few recommendations to this as I just spent half the day installing frets on a neck I'm making.

1. Radiusing the fretwire is VERY important. I'm fighting against the ends popping up because I didn't radius the wire enough. As the books and this site says, radius the wire a bit smaller than the radius you plan on using. I need to adjust the homemade fretbender I made to make a smaller radius.

2. Hammering the frets in is not obsolete. It is a cheap and effective way of installing them. Just make sure you follow #1 above. I've never used the Jaws or any item like that but I imagine it is somewhat quicker & easier. Personal choice really here.

3. You can use a hammer from home instead of buying one, but do some tests first. I had 2 small hammers but one of them was harder than the wire, therefore dented it. I managed to find another hammer that didn't dent the wire no matter how hard I hit.

4. If you run into problems with #1 above, a radiused sanding block is very effective as a clamping caul. LOL

5. Can't remember if I bought the Fretwire pliers from Brain or stewmac but I can say this. It is not that great for clipping the ends off. The pliers are somewhat short and make it hard to get some decent leverage. I ended up using a larger pair of pliers and filing the ends down. With that said, those pliers are definitely handy for removing frets so I would still recommend getting them.

Can't help you about the nut making tools though. I'm using a Floyd Rose with locking nut so that's already taken care of heheh.

Anyway, that's all that is fresh in my mind from todays work. Keep in mind that this is my first fret job so I'm by no means an expert on any of this. Good luck.

Forgot to add. Definitely get the neck support caul. It has made holding the neck so easy and I'm not worried about damaging it. Also it took 2 1/2 of the 1ft long fret wires to do a 24 fret guitar. That will help on deciding how much to buy.

Edited by wolfcoast
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For refretting your strat, just get some of those plastic headed hammer from Bunnies instead of ordering from the states. What do you want to use the radius gauges for? If it's just for refretting and you don't plan on sanding the whole neck down then you don't really need it (if you do sand the neck down, you'll need them) If you're really tight on cash you can make your own gauges.

you don't need notched radius gauges unles you're going into business and think you'll setup tons of instruments per year. For the fret cutter and puller, you got that right, you can grind it down yourself if you want or buy stewmac's. Their stuff is good quality but again, if you're tight on cash...

For crowning and shaping the frets you can either use triangular files you'll get in a hardware store or the proper crowning files for luthier. Be prepared to spend a lot of time getting used to those triangular files before you get decent results.

For the nuts, if you want pro quality work you'll need the proper nut files.

For the electronics, I've never seen guitar pots in an electronics shop, they usually only carry that plastic pcb stuff, i'd stick with the proper ones. The wire you can buy in a local shop

Since you already invested in tons of books should I mention that stewmac dvd's are a good source of learning? The basic fretting dvd might be something interesting for you.

Where are you in Australia? I'm in Brissie

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Awww, I made a StewMac order about 3 hours ago. If only I would have known, I could have bought some stuff for ya. :D

Seriously though, their catalog is like a bag of potato chips. You can't just eat one then close up the bag.

Luckily, the other day I bought something on ebay for $16.00 that StewMac sells for $40.00

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Well, here's my saved list so far...mine differs in that I'm looking to build my own necks, not to do refrets, not yet at any rate. I have some questions though. I'm looking at buying fretwire elsewhere, possibly pre-radiused if I can find that.

1058-R Gibson 24-3/4" Scale Fingerboard - Indian rosewood

0003 Pearl Dots - 6mm (15/64") dia.

0964 Side Dots, 3/32" (2.38mm) –

Fret End Dressing File

Fret Cutter

Fret Press Caul - With 4 fret press inserts

Fret Beveling File - 8" length (If I can get away without this one, I will!)

I'm not sure how much I need the next items in parentheses:

(Neck Support Caul)

(8" Wooden Radius-sanding Blocks )

(5432 Radius Gauges - Original (smooth), set of 2 )

The fretboards are already radiused, so in theory I won't need the sanding blocks or the radius gauges, right? Or do I need the sanding block anyway for the dots?

And since I'll be using new fretwire, do I still need crowning files or is that only for refrets?

About the Neck Support Caul ---this one might be too big to carry...and it depends on whether I have to install the frets on a shaped necks, or whether I can install the frets BEFORE shaping the neck (which makes more sense to me).

Anything I overlooked?

I'll be in the States in a couple of weeks, and I get to spend my hard-earned US dollars...I figure I'll be making at least two necks, and probably more, so I don't mind laying out a few bucks upfront, but I don't want to spend where I don't need it...

I don't mean to hijack the thread, hope my questions help with yours too... :D

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Fret Beveling File - 8" length (If I can get away without this one, I will!)

Brian's got a tutorial on the main site that shows how to make one, that'll save you 50 bucks :D but even then you can do that job with a file yourself by angling it with your hands and going up and down the fretboard carefully.

The radiused sanding block is pretty usefull for sanding your fretboard (even if its radiused) and sanding you frets after they're installed.

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Thanks for the input so far guys :D

What I'm picking up is that you only have to buy guitar specific parts (ie nuts, fret wire, pots) from Stew Mac, and can improvise/hardware store all the required tools. This is good news!

However, I do have some money to spend on tools, and I reckon it's worth forking out in some cases to be sure you're getting the good stuff. I'll have a bit more of a think over the next few days as to what I'm gonna definitely get then I'll check back here.

Phil Mailloux - I'm in Brunswick, Melbourne

Thanks guys, keep the opinions coming :D

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For fretting what about this kit:


I though there was a kit for nut making too, I guess not. I myself REALLY like THESE for slotting nuts and just pluncked down the $$$ for the entire set (minus the three I already have) yesterday after selling my double-sided Stewmac brand files to a member of this forum.

As for the more expensive tools, it's been said here before if you can't justify the cost of a certain tool you are probably not ready for it, though some of the tools you can make/modify by yourself.

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It bugs me that they call that kit *essential*. I'd have a hell of a time doing a good fret-job if that's where my fretting tools began and ended. It should be called a *basic* fretting kit, and even still, not a *complete* fretting kit. I'd certainly never even begin a fret-job with a straight-edge of only 4" long max. Well, I think anyone will find that out quick when they read the free book that comes with the kit, and see how how many more tools Erlewine uses.

They do sell a nut kit too. Comes with that neat little vise, right ? I almost included that vise in my order the other day, but then a light-bulb went off and I have an idea for an alternative that cost $4.00 (when it's on sale)

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They do sell a nut kit too. Comes with that neat little vise, right ? I almost included that vise in my order the other day, but then a light-bulb went off and I have an idea for an alternative that cost $4.00 (when it's on sale)

You're right:


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The smaller gauged ones file narrower-than-the-listed-gauge square bottomed holes.

Edited by M_A_T_T
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Well given the endless supply of fretting type tools it comes down to "what do I really need to get the job done" right? It was a good move to get the fret cauls! The importance of a radiused sanding block can not be overlooked. I find it to be an extremely usefull tool. Though you might be getting a pre-radiused fingerboard, after gluing it on there will be some irregularity to it that should be sanded out prior to fretting. By doing that you will have a very even foundation for your frets, then there will be less leveling work to be done.

Personally I like the V shaped fret files because the thin flat ones can create a slot that is kinda tight unless you rock the file side to side a bit. The V ones do it naturally so it's faster.

You can easily make a nut seat file from a hard piece of wood 3/8" thick. Glue a piece of 100 grit abrasive to the thin edge and trim it off carefully. Then only one edge at a time will contact the surface you want to flatten.

Another thing that's very handy is a double sided fret crowning file. You can use it to do do end dressing, and to recrown. The one Stewmac has is very shallow which helps prevent you from nicking fingerboard while dressing the ends.

Make yourself a fret end beveler by using a block of wood and a flat file. Stewmac sells one, but it can be made in just a few minutes from scrap.

I still use my fret hammer on every job to initially seat a small portion of each fret before putting it on the press. It's just very handy. I gues you could use some other kind of small hammer since you would only need a couple of light taps to set them, the nuse your new caul to actually do the fret install.

Other misc. files can be bought from a hardware store as you need them depending on your techinque.

Of course if you are going to do more than one you'll quickly figure out what tools can make each successive fret job easier.


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I think I've seen that $14.00 version being sold in Europe as a fret notcher. But realize that with either tool you posted a link to, they are *modded* for the ability to notch fret-wire.

I don't know anything about the quality of the $14.00 ones.

I have 2 of the yellow handled ones. I think I paid $20.00 each. I can't remember where. They are the same as StewMac's, except you need to grind the slot in the table, which is not much fun, even for a guy like me who's managed to do "amazing" tool making/modding (without real machinist training).

One thing about those yellow handled ones, is that you can buy new blades for them ( $10.00, last time I came across them)

And you probably know that StewMac sells two versions. One for small fret-wire and one for large fret-wire, which is why I bought two of the tools, but then I came up with a device that I attached to the nippers that seems to allow small fret-wire to work on a nippers that's been modded for large fret-wire. I've been told to keep my mouth shut about that, by a friend. LOL

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If you have fret cutter, either the Stewqmac version or end nippers flattened off, you can easily clip the tang way and use your Dremel with a 3/4" stone to grind the excess away. You need only take the remaining stubble of the tang off so it takes just a few seconds with the Dremel. Besides, I can hardly imagine building a guitar or doing neck work without one. So if you're wondering what to spend money on... well the Dremel is a great tool.


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Even with the tang-notchers, there's usually a little "stubble" still left, which I take off with a file. Dremel works a little too fast for me with something like that.

I think it's the Tacoma guitar factory where they have a cool jig, where they lay the piece of fret-wire into, after notching the ends, then a file lays on the jig, with roller bearings holding the file and also working as a "depth stop" to keep from filing the "stubble" on the fret too much.

Can somebody here with too much time on their hands please build me a jig like that ? (late Christmas present, ok ?)

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Hi guys, thanks for your ongoing ideas.

I'm putting an order together right now, here's what I've got so far....

- 5432 Radius Gauges - Original (smooth), set of 2

- 5212 Luthier's Digital Caliper

- 4479 Neck Support Caul

- 4895 Fretting Hammer - Hammer with plastic and brass faces

I think the radius gauges will be invaluable for doing setups, making nuts, and fretting with compound radiuses. The calipers should be useful for a lot of things (I was going to get some anyway, but I like the fret bead measurer and the depth gauge for fret height) including measuring fret wire, making nuts, and setting up/calibrating tools and machinery. The neck support caul and fretting hammer seem to be essential and worth the money to make sure I have the right stuff for the job.

I've decided there's no way I can justify the cost of fret cutters, tang nipper, pullers, or benders though at this time... without any experience I think it's best if I try my hand with hardware store tools, then get additional tools if I need them.

I've hit a little bit of a problem as well, which is deciding what size fret-wire and nuts to buy. I'm not keen to be placing orders once a fortnight for 6 foot of fretwire for each of the different guitars I'll refret (because postage is the dog!), but I don't know what I should buy now as I only have one guitar on me to refret at the moment. Is there a standard fret-wire size that is also the majority? I'll be getting no-name cheapo guitars, so I'm afraid there won't be one fretwire I can buy in bulk to do them all... has anyone got any suggestions as to what I can do?

Thanks again for your time, it is much appreciated

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Since we're talking about fretting tools, I just got this hammer on ebay.

That looks similar to a Cluthe that a pro guitar builder friend swears by for fretting, though he's only ever seen the two he owns. I got one at the flea market for $2 and made him jealous. :D

I'm putting an order together right now, here's what I've got so far....

- 5432 Radius Gauges - Original (smooth), set of 2

- 5212 Luthier's Digital Caliper

- 4479 Neck Support Caul

- 4895 Fretting Hammer - Hammer with plastic and brass faces

Regarding the digital caliper, I got the same one at a tool store for about $25 :D on sale. Maybe look around a little.

EDIT: I didn't see the notch on the bottom, nevermind.

Edited by M_A_T_T
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Have you checked out the guitar supplies that I believe Ormsby guitars of Australia sells ?

But if you must buy fret-wire from Stew-Mac, my personal favorite would be a toss-up between #155 and #152. I have the #155, but not the #152, although the 152 is right between 2 sizes I do have. I mean, I'd be nuts to buy any because I have some that's .095" x .047".

I made my own radius gauges. I modded my own calipers that were $20.00. Made my own neck support cauls. 20 minutes ago, I made a 2-1/2" long, safe-edge, 3 corner fret dressing file that will fit onto a handle. Was looking through the Erlewine repair guide last night, and came across a part where he said he made a short 3 corner file that fits onto one of those fret-file handles that take the 3 screw-on fret dressing file pieces, so I just made something very similar.

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