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Fretting Before Carving?

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Sorry, if this has been asked--the search function isn't working. :D:D

In the Hiscock book, he carves his neck (and paints it too?) before fretting. But in the 'building the strat' tutorial, Guitarfrenzy frets first before carving.

I'm wondering what the concensus is for the best way to do this -- it makes sense to fret first, because that will give you the full feel of the playable neck. And I imagine it's easier working while the neck is still flat.

Most of my fretting tools are in a box somewhere on the way over here...might be a few weeks until I get them. But I already have the fret press thingamajig from Stewmac and the radius block, so I'm able to seat the frets now --I won't be able to dress them, or bevel the edges or anything. Which is probably a good thing, I can spend the time practicing on the beater necks I've been saving. But should I wait until all the tools are here before seating the frets and trying to carve?

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Both methods have their virtues.

If you fret first the frets themselves will protect the fretboard against dings if you are sloppy while carving (I have bad luck, I’m not sloppy).

If you keep the fretboard flat (don’t even radius it) it is much easier to clamp the neck while carving it.

I have tried both. My current sequence is this:

- taper the fretboard

- cut the fret slots

- install bindings

- glue the fretboard to the neck blank

- use a router to trim of as much of the neck blank as possible and use the fretboard as a guide

- while the neck is now tapered but uniformly thick I install the frets using the press cauls in my pillar drill

- rough out the thickness of the neck on the band saw

- carve a and sand the neck to final dimensions

I never dress the frets until the guitar is completed. I dress them in a home made neck jig.

Fretting before or after FINISH?


It is much easier to get the fretboard good masked off, but it is possible to chip the finish when you fret. This is caused by the pressure against the finish caused by the fret

Before: As above but the other way around

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Other people are more qualified to answer this than I am, but I will mention my experience.

I did the fretting on all of my necks after I finished everything else on the guitar. I will say, it's easier to level the frets without the nut in the way. Tuners and bridges get in the way too if you're using a long sanding block. Mask everything off, as you will get grit and grime everywhere, and while it's fairly easy to clean off a finished guitar, it's easy for any bigger particles to scratch up the finish. I don't know if I'd want to level the frets on an unfinished guitar, as I can see all the that muck being a pain to clean off bare wood if it got on it.

I also accidently heated up one of the the frets too much when I was cutting the extra bit off, and it softened the finish a bit.

Also, when you say fret press thing - are you using the cauls in an arbor or drill press? I've no experience with those, but I can say with the "jaws 2" deal (the fancy clamp thing) if I was going to use that again, I'd want to do it with a flat neck blank - it takes some finangaling to get it to press the frets straight if the back of your neck isn't parallel with the fretboard (i.e., if the thickness of your neck tapers towards the nut.)

Also, you mention helping to get a better feel for the thickness of the neck with the frets in - I've honestly done necks just based off of measurements for the thickness and eyeballing and feeling for the contour, and been really happy. I'd be more concerned about the perceived thickness added by strings rather than frets. It definetly helps to take the strings off another neck to get a good feel though, they add a lot of perceived thicknesss. (Especially on a bass - I'm not really a bass player anymore, and building a bass, I thought I a had a fairly "thin" neck - it turned out to feel rather thick after the strings were on. But I've grown to love it, it feels like a baseball bat or a nice tool handle.)

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Also, when you say fret press thing - are you using the cauls in an arbor or drill press?

Yes, that's right...I have the cauls, I'm going to buy a drill press this week (one with a laser!), been needing one of those for a while.

My goal is to reproduce the neck on my Melody Maker ---I'm thinking of picking up one of those profiler rigs (bunch of plastic strips fastened together), that way I'd take the profile of the MM neck in various locations and build a set of gauges...to check my progress as I'm carving --unless someone has another method they use?

Maybe once I've built a couple of necks, I'll feel more comfortable freehanding it. My practice neck is already ready to go, so I'll have something to make mistakes on....

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Fretting after finishing is how I do it. I've found this to be the easiest way to go when building the whole guitar. It's much easier to get all that tape goo and excess finish build up out of the way. As mentioned, you do have to be careful about chipping the finish at the fret ends, however good preparation of the tip will eliminate most problems.

Steps I use to make the neck:

Completely shape the neck shaft

Slot the fingerboard

Taper the fingerboard

Attach the fingerboard

Radius and level fingerboard

True up the neck profile with curved sanding block

Finish the volute


Fine tune the raduis and level

Fret (I use a press)

Level, dress, and polish the frets

There are 3 reasons I leave the fingerboard flat:

I prestress the necks and the jig works best with a flat fingerboard.

Even clamping pressure for a consistent glue joint.

Radiusing and leveling afterwards creates a very consistent foundation for the frets.

I suppose attaching the fingerboard to the shaft first has it's advantages to some, however I've found it to be sort of 'odd'. Maybe it's because I'm so used to makeing them the other way.

What it comes down to, Mickguard, is whatever you're comfortable with.


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I pre-radius, pre-slot the fingerboard (because I've got jigs that'll do it off the neck, not on the neck, and it's easier; also do inlay on pre-radiussed, pre-slotted boards unless we're talking dots/very basic stuff, in which case, whatever..). I taper the board, glue it on, and carve the neck to match; I also don't leave the edges of the fingerboard square to the glue surface/theoretical flat face, but fair them in. Then I at least give it a seal coat, install side dots (superglue, any drips are on top of the finish, not under it). I only fret once everything else is done, and if it's a set neck, once the neck is on the guitar and I can do a final check to make sure everything is dead level. I do usually fret before finishing and buffing, but only because I'm less likely to mess up the finish if there's no finish on there to mess up, like. Final dressing gets done after everything's done, as part of initial setup.

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  • 2 weeks later...

HI all,

im new to this site and i have a question about leveling frets.

im not sure if has been posted before (search isnt working)

do you level frets with the neck perfectly straight ? or after you

apply a little pre-tension to the truss (just enough to stiffen neck before leveling)

then level the frets ?

i understand a new neck with truss installed but not tightened has alot of flex

forward and back so my thought was to "set the truss" for just enough tension

to give the necka good starting point for leveling.

or am i thinking too far into things ? thanks in advance. Rob :D

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If you fret first the frets themselves will protect the fretboard against dings if you are sloppy while carving

I wouldnt rely on that one bit. You'll just tear the hell out of the fret ends. At my work we fret necks after they are carved and sanded, but before finishing. When carving a neck I stay off the fingerboard until the final round of sanding. That way I can maintain the taper of the neck. You can generally do all the necessary blending with 220 grit, works for me at least.

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