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New Guy With A Fret Leveling Question


Mind Riot
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Hello everyone, nice to be here. I've run across this site before and read some of the excellent tutorials from the main page, but I just never noticed there was a forum until a few weeks ago! First, I suppose I'll tell you all a little about myself as an introduction. I've been a musician since I was twelve, I'm now twenty five. Picked up guitar then, bass a couple years later, drums about the same time, then singing. I'm a multiinstrumentalist and am about the same skill level on all three (vocals a bit less). I played bass in a band for about six years, played some gigs, recorded two full length demo albums with about twelve songs each. Then the band split, and I went on my own.

I liked playing in the band, but my real passion was always recording and writing. To that end, when the band split I started really focusing on recording. Over the course of about five years, I slowly built a home studio. I take care of my disabled wife for a living, and we live on a fixed income, so I've never had much money to work with. I also like to build and fix things, so I built as much as I could to save money. I learned all about acoustics and built acoustic absorption panels for my studio. I also chopped up my poor old Tama Rockstar drum set from the seventies and converted it to an electronic set using scrap plywood, Radio Shack and hardware store parts, and some seat cushion foam and paint stencils from Wal Mart. I also make my own cables out of Belden and Canare wire and Neutrik and Switchcraft connectors.

Here's some pics of my studio and drum set if anyone is interested.

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/E-set.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Bassdrums.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Basstrap4.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Basstrap7.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/cbe701e9.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/30248322.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/c6b90acb.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/0b611d6e.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/36e43cb1.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/d0d6201e.jpg

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpic...methodsmall.jpg

As far as guitar work, I do all my own setups (intonation, truss rod adjustment, action), and I've installed many a replacement pickup. I've built a kit guitar or two. But what I've been wanting to do for a while now is get into doing my own fret work.

The simple fact is that for someone like me who lives on a limited budget, cheap guitars are going to be what I see the most. And although you can get a lot more guitar for your money these days than you used to, fretwork is really where most manufacturors seem to cut corners on cheaper models. I currently own two electrics, one bass, and one acoustic. I've set them all up to be the best they can be, but I know at least some of them can be better. And of course, even the ones that don't need it now eventually will.

Now, my tendency is to do a lot of research before I go diving into something, especially when it will cost money to get into it. So I've been doing a LOT of reading on fret leveling, basically anything I can find online, and I also own two very helpful books: Dan Erlewine's Guitar Player Repair Guide and Melvin Hiscock's Make Your Own Electric Guitar. Like anyone who starts learning about this, I found that there are almost as many methods to fret leveling as there are people who do it, so I had to do some choosing.

On the one hand, there are those who use the most basic and simple of tools to do the job, and absolutely zero guitar specific tools. And they seem to do a great job. On the other hand, there's the very specific, precision, completely idiot proof tools that seem to be easier to use without messing up but are more expensive. Being that I was on a budget, yet also a beginner, I went as far up the idiot proof ladder as my funds allowed.

Thus far, I have purchased these tools and supplies from three different sources:

From Stew Mac:

1 18" precision straightedge (I know there are other sources, but not in my area, so I went for it)

1 Small fret end file

1 Sand stick with 400 and 600 grit bands

1 set of fret guards

1 rectangular rule (I can see this coming in handy all the time)

5 sheets 320 grit sandpaper

2 sheets 400 grit

2 sheets 600 grit

2 sheets 800 grit

From ebay via a member here (I think he's called guitar guy here):

Five 8" radius blocks in 9.5", 10", 12", 14", and 16" radii

From ebay:

1 offset 300 grit diamond crowning file (looks identical to the Stew Mac on, with a buy it now of $40)

I haven't recieved the radius blocks or the crowning file yet, they're on their way. I'm going to stick sandpaper to the radius blocks with double sided carpet tape. I already have masking tape and 0000 steel wool I already use for fret polishing.

So you can see my method here. Set the neck straight, level with radius blocks and sandpaper, crown with the crowning file, reshape the fret ends if necessary and polish.

I know everybody has their preferred methods, but after all the reading I did I decided this would be the easiest for me to get into fret leveling on my budget. I've never owned a guitar with a compound radius and in my budget range I don't see myself getting one, so for now the radius blocks should do the job just fine.

So! After all that, we finally come to my actual question. (And if you read all that, give yourself a cookie. You've earned it!) I have a junk neck with fret damage that I'm using to mess around with (it could be salvaged by a refret so I'm being careful not to mess up anything but the frets themselves). I was curious about the kind of cut these sandpapers would have so I gave a fret a couple swipes with 800. Noticable scratching as you would imagine, a bit more that I expected really.

So just out of curiosity, I used the rectangular rule to check three of the frets for flatness. No rocking, we're good. I then swiped one of the frets with the 800, and rechecked it. Now we got rocking. :D

Now, in my reading I've run across many tutorials where people use sandpaper of this grit (and others) to polish the frets after leveling and recrowning. This was why I bought it.

But after this little experiment, this procedure no longer makes sense to me. I mean no disrespect, and I'm not one to question conventional wisdom without reason, but if this grit of sandpaper is capable of altering the height of a fret with just a few swipes, why would anyone use it on a fret they just painstaking leveled and crowned? Aren't you just ruining the precision flat contact point you just worked to make?

In Dan Erlewine's book, he specifically mentions using the sandpaper on the top of the leveled and crowned fret, not just on the sides. Even if someone was careful to use the same finger pressure and number of strokes on each fret, this seems like a really imprecise way to go about it.

Another thing I tried was swiping the 320 grit on one fret and the 800 on another, then polishing them both with 0000 steel wool only. It seemed that they both polished up the same. Seeing as how my crowning file is going to be 300 grit and even the 800 grit paper seems to really cut through fretwire metal, I'm not sure what I'm really gaining by using extra abrasives on my frets after I level and crown them.

So what am I missing here? Does everyone just sand the sides of their frets after leveling, being careful not to touch the contact point on top? If so, what's the preferred method for doing so? I have the sand stick, and I filed a notch into one side of it, but I don't think it would completely miss the top of the fret no matter how big I made the notch since the sandpaper will be stretched over the space in the notch anyway.

Perhaps this is a stupid question, but if it is I couldn't find anyone else who's asked it in a LOT of searching. I read stuff on google, I've read a LOT of threads on here (I feel like I know some of you already), and anything else I could find, and it just doesn't make sense to me and I can't find any information on this specific question. I understand wanting to get the best polish you can on your frets, but if it means compromising the levelness of the frets then I don't really get it.

Thanks in advance for any information anyone can give me, and if you've read ALL of this, give yourself one really big cookie. :D

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Hello Mind Riot

Welcome to the forum. After reading the entire length of your post, I have a very good idea as to where you're going wrong. After leveling and crowning and dressing your fretends, use the 800/1000/1200/1500 grits to remove scratches NOT BY SANDING ON EACH INDIVIDUAL FRET but by "flapping" the paper over the frets up and down the length of the fingerboard. I use a foam brush with the paper wrapped over it to avoid digging in too much. 7 or 8 swipes over the entire board (don't do one area at a time, that will mess with your leveling) will do.

I use 800 then 1000 and sometimes 1200 and 1500 then pollish with 0000 wool and finally rubbing/pollishing compuond (mask off wood first). Then you can hold that baby in the light and blind yourself! :D

Hope that helps,

Dezz

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Hi I have read everything. yes I need a cookie

here is what I do.[ this works for me]

first thing is to tape the fret board with masking tape so the only thing showing is the frets.

now I use a fille from home depot and slid it up and down the frets to get them level.

work from the edges into the center of the frets you need a lite touch when doing this.

not a lot of pressure on the file is needed you just want to level with a lite touch.

now using a black marker mark all the frets so they all look black. [ no silver is showing]

now use your fret file to crown the frets. if you have a diamonde file this don't take much.

when done I use the black marker again to cover the frets. I use the marker to see where the fret is been filed or sanded.

start with 320 grit sand paper that is wraped around a small piece of rubber that is

2X2X 1/4 thick . I found the rubber at a auto body supply store they cost about 1.00 each.

I filed a grove in one edge that when sand papaer is wraped around will be used to polish the fret. this is what I use as a sanding stick.

start with 320 grit and polish untill you see just a slight black line left in the middle of the fret. then go to 400 grit and then finish with 600 grit.

now at this time there should be all nice and have a good shine to them. finish off with some steel wool. I forgot at some point you need to file the ends of the frets with a small file to round over or leave the stright what ever you like.

now check to see if the fret are level with each other. if one or two rock a little you can go back and take a little more sanding at that time.

I have found fret leveling take time and not to rush it.

I hope this helps you and once you do a couple fret jobs it is like a ride in the park no big deal.

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From ebay:

1 offset 300 grit diamond crowning file (looks identical to the Stew Mac on, with a buy it now of $40)

So just out of curiosity, I used the rectangular rule to check three of the frets for flatness. No rocking, we're good. I then swiped one of the frets with the 800, and rechecked it. Now we got rocking. :D

For the eBay file, I got mine from FretShop. Its OK and is fairly wide. I would have preffered a narrower file. Also, mine is 150 grit. Where on ebay did you get yours?

A for the frets rocking after doing a light 800 grit pass, my suspition is that some of the frets on that neck aren't seated properly. Make sure that the frets are firmly in place. if not, put a small dab of CA glues and clamp.

I always clean up with 600, 800 and 1000 grit paper and never had problems like you have.

:D

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For the eBay file, I got mine from FretShop. Its OK and is fairly wide. I would have preffered a narrower file. Also, mine is 150 grit. Where on ebay did you get yours?

A for the frets rocking after doing a light 800 grit pass, my suspition is that some of the frets on that neck aren't seated properly. Make sure that the frets are firmly in place. if not, put a small dab of CA glues and clamp.

I always clean up with 600, 800 and 1000 grit paper and never had problems like you have.

:D

I didn't get it from a store, just from some guy, an individual seller.

Thanks for all the responses everybody. It's interesting that I got three different responses from three different people, each with their own suggestions and methods. Just like everything else in fretwork, there seems to be numerous ways of going about things. :D

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Let me add another way

I use a home made neck jig to simulate the string tension on the neck. This way I eliminate any twisting that sometime only happens when the neck is in tension. I also always mask the board completely before starting and I also mark all the frets with a magic marker. I use blue because I fool myself to believe that I get a better contrast with blue…

I sand all frets level with a loooong, heavy, dead flat aluminium beam (I’m going to get the Stew-Mac radiused beams soon) with Stick-It type sanding paper attached. I sand with grits down to 1200. Now the tops of the frets are quite smooth but with sanding marks “in the wrong direction”. That will be dealt with later.

Next I crown with 150 and 300 grit diamond files so I have the thin line on top of the frets. Next step is what differs me from most other. I wrap a piece of fresh 400grip wet-and-dry paper around my index finger and use that as a flexible sanding block and gently rub the fret lengthwise long enough to remove the magic marker. The trick now is that I COUNT how many times I back and forth, and then repeat the same amount of times an ALL frets using fresh paper on all of them. This round of the slight edge that is between originally sanded surface and the surface that has been worked on with the diamond files and also gives the frets sanding marks in the right direction (for string bends and so on). I go through progressively fine paper down to 1200 grit and. Then I polish the frets with the Dremel, a soft polishing wheel and some polishing paste. Mirror lie finish and a super soft feel

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Let me add another way

I use a home made neck jig to simulate the string tension on the neck. This way I eliminate any twisting that sometime only happens when the neck is in tension. I also always mask the board completely before starting and I also mark all the frets with a magic marker. I use blue because I fool myself to believe that I get a better contrast with blue…

I sand all frets level with a loooong, heavy, dead flat aluminium beam (I’m going to get the Stew-Mac radiused beams soon) with Stick-It type sanding paper attached. I sand with grits down to 1200. Now the tops of the frets are quite smooth but with sanding marks “in the wrong direction”. That will be dealt with later.

Next I crown with 150 and 300 grit diamond files so I have the thin line on top of the frets. Next step is what differs me from most other. I wrap a piece of fresh 400grip wet-and-dry paper around my index finger and use that as a flexible sanding block and gently rub the fret lengthwise long enough to remove the magic marker. The trick now is that I COUNT how many times I back and forth, and then repeat the same amount of times an ALL frets using fresh paper on all of them. This round of the slight edge that is between originally sanded surface and the surface that has been worked on with the diamond files and also gives the frets sanding marks in the right direction (for string bends and so on). I go through progressively fine paper down to 1200 grit and. Then I polish the frets with the Dremel, a soft polishing wheel and some polishing paste. Mirror lie finish and a super soft feel

If your results are good then there's the answer, but that seems like a really imprecise way to go about it. At least for a beginner like me; you're probably much more experienced at keeping even pressure on the frets with each stroke of the paper. It just seems to me that after using all these precision methods and tools to get a perfectly flat surface and a perfect little thin contact point on the top of the fret that simply hitting it with sandpaper and trying to keep things even by feel seems like a very fallible way to go about it, leaving a lot of room for human error. Whereas with the precision tools they remove at least some of the potential for mistakes. At least for someone just starting out like me, using sandpaper like that is somewhat intimidating. I shift my foot, lean the wrong way a little bit, or think of something that stresses me out and suddenly I've removed too much off the fret top and ruined the level and crown I just did.

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