Mind Riot Posted November 15, 2006 Report Share Posted November 15, 2006 (edited) Hi everybody. Once again, I want to express my appreciation for any information I've attained here, as it all helped to make this job successful. I've been gathering my tools and supplies slowly over the last few months to get into doing my own fret work, and with the arrival of my crowning file from Stew Mac yesterday I could finally try applying everything I've learned. Now, I understand that there are numerous methods for doing this, and I'm not for one second touting mine as the best or only way. This is just how I decided to go about things after learning about various methods, and the way I did it is relatively idiot proof and involves some tools that are perhaps more expensive than some folks would prefer. The guitar I decided to try this out on is an inexpensive guitar I've had for about a year, a Squier '51. I really like these little guitars, and in fact I now own two of them since Musician's Friend is blowing them out and I couldn't stop myself from ordering another one last week. The one I've had for a year I modified by routing the body and cutting the pickguard to install a matched pair of humbucker sized P-90's. I also replaced the bridge with a top loader from GFS. In addition to the fret leveling I did today, I also installed a preslotted Graphtech nut from Stew Mac on this one. So, without further ado, here's how I went about things. I start out by removing the old nut and strings the night before, and I also adjust the neck straight at that time as well. I then take it out to my father's shop this morning, where I went about taping off the fretboard, clamping the guitar in position, and supporting the neck. I use a 1/8" sheet of 60 duro neoprene rubber to hold the guitar in place as well as protect it from the work table and clamps. I support the neck with a stack of copy paper, which works very well as it's easy to build it up to just the right height; you just slide more paper under there until it's just right. Of course the travel, time and temperature changes can mess with a neck, so I recheck the neck straightness with my straightedge, using both a backlight and a .0015" feeler guage. Over the course of adjusting things the night before I came to realize that the 7th fret was high to the point of messing with checking the straightness on the whole neck, so I checked the straightness on both sides of the 7th fret; 1-6 and then 8-21. There was JUST enough distance to where I could fit the straightedge in between the D and G string saddles on the bridge to do this. I couldn't get the feeler guage under any GROUP of frets checking this way; of course I could get it under a few of them or else they'd already all be level. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Straightedge.jpg I then color the frets with a Sharpie marker. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Fretscolored.jpg I very carefully place double stick tape on one of the radius blocks I got from guitarguy (thanks again) so that there is no gap between the tape to mess up the surface. I then cut a piece of 320 grit sandpaper with about 1/8" extra on all sides to attach to it. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Tapedblock.jpg Once it's attached, I bend the edges upward so the sandpaper doesn't catch on the frets. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Radiusblock.jpg I level, using light, even pressure at first, being careful to keep the block straight with the center of the neck. I say at first because this particular guitar needed more aggressive leveling than I thought it would, so I used a bit more pressure once I realized there would need to be more metal removed to do the job. When doing this, it's very clear the kind of advantage the marker trick gives you in watching what's being removed. I took this pic midway through leveling, so you can see where there's still some marker left on the tops of some of the frets. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/51leveling1.jpg After some time (more than I expected, I have to be honest, it took more than I thought it would), there is a fresh contact point on all frets. Although it's not pictured, I then put four layers of tape on the 12th fret and did a few more strokes on frets 13-21 to add a bit of fallaway. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Levelingdone.jpg I recolored the fret tops with the Sharpie, and then it was time to bust out my brand new recrowning file I got from Stew Mac. I decided to get the diamond file just in case I keep persuing guitar repair and end up refretting one of my guitars with SS fret wire. I'm fascinated by the concept of SS wire, and I didn't want to use a regular toothed file only to have to pay again for a diamond file later. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpic...rowningfile.jpg Recrowning is some delicate stuff, and I don't mind admitting that I overdid it the first couple frets, removing all the marker from some spots, and had to run the radius block over the board again a couple times and start over. But the second time I was more careful, and was able to get a pretty neat, clean contact point on the tops of the frets. I'm sure I'll get better at this the more I do it. (I hope.) http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Recrowning2.jpg After the recrowning was done, I used the 'hand swipe' method up and down the neck with 400 and 600 grit sandpaper wrapped around my hand to remove filing marks. I now think that this was unnecessary, for two reasons: One, the 300 grit diamond file doesn't leave much in the way of marks on the frets, and two, I use Micro Mesh for polishing the frets and it removes marks just as well from the sides of frets. As for the tops of the frets, I'll explain more on that later. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Handswipe.jpg I used the Micro Mesh pads from Stew Mac to polish the frets and remove some marks, going up through the grits all the way to 12000. Micro Mesh is some cool stuff, and leaves a polish that is really something to see. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Micromesh.jpg http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpic...etspolished.jpg Now, here's my only real mistake that I can find here, and it is a bit of a big one, in my opinion. I went about polishing the frets, and they looked very nice, but it wasn't until I knelt down and looked very closely and from different angles that I noticed that there were still marks from the 320 grit paper on the contact points on the frets that the Micro Mesh did not remove. So the frets were highly polished, but the contact point was a highly polished rough spot, if you can dig that. I could feel the roughness when I ran my fingernail over it perpendicular to the neck, just barely. The hand swipe hit the sides of the frets only, because I didn't want to mess up my contact point. I could have hit the fret tops with 400 and 600 and then 800, but I was afraid that would mess up the levelness of the contact points. I thought about it for a bit, and decided to leave it and see what happened. (I can tell you that aside from being able to see it if you look really close, it turned out fine. You can't feel it when you play.) What I learned from this was that on my next fret job I'm going to do my primary leveling with 320 grit paper, but after the flats are all exposed I'm going to attach progressively finer grits to the radius block, up to 800, and use the radius block to remove the marks. That way, the levelness of the contact points will be preserved, and I'll only have to worry about removing marks from the sides of the frets which isn't a problem at all. So, no biggie, but I was frustrated with myself for a bit there. There are a few things that are not pictured, because of redundancy and the fact that I was alone and only have two hands. For one thing, I checked and rechecked the straightness of the neck every five minutes or so out of paranoia that something would go wrong while I prepped everything. Another thing is that in the middle of leveling I checked the straightness and found, to my dismay, that the neck had developed a hump in the middle. Thankfully I caught it before it really screwed things up, made a minor truss rod adjustment, and was back in business. And finally, instead of bringing all five of my radius blocks like I should have I just grabbed the one that I had left out of the box I keep them in, thinking that I had been using it for something on my '51. In fact, I had been using it on my scrap neck, and so I grabbed the wrong block, the 10 inch radius instead of the 9.5. So, I had to drop everything after prep and drive ten miles round trip back home to get the right block. After all this crazyness was done, I went about installing the Graphtech nut. This was a preslotted, preshaped jobby as I don't yet have nut files at my disposal, the best I got is a few needle files in a few different shapes. I had already cleaned the slot the night before to remove glue residue, so it was all ready. I could tell just by looking at it that the new nut was way too tall, but I was afraid to go about messing with it before I knew how the frets had turned out. So I installed it with just a bit of CA and let her dry for a few minutes. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Newnut.jpg Here you can actually see what the whole guitar looks like. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/51done.jpg After all this, I packed everything up and went home to a cleaner environment where I could put on a fresh set of strings and do some setup work. I didn't take any pics of the setup stuff, but here's a synopsis. I first installed the strings and, curious as to how it turned out, played it a bit. I was less than impressed, there was buzzing all over the place and I was certain I had screwed something up along the way. But then I remembered reading in Dan Erlewine's book (the Guitar Player Repair Guide) that sometimes it can take a little while to settle in after all that work and to be patient. So I passed some time by lowering the string slots in the nut. They were WAY too high, as I expected, so I brought out my feeler guages, measured the first fret with my digital caliper, added 15 thousandths to that height, stacked the feeler guages under the strings, tuned down the strings enough to move them out of the way one at a time, and started filing the slots down. I'm sure you all know this method, just file down until your file hits the feeler guage, thus ensuring you don't go too low. This worked splendidly, even though I don't have actual nut files. My high E, B, and G string slots are too wide because I simply don't have a file that narrow, but they still work just fine. The slots are buried into the nut quite a bit now though, I'll take some off the top of the nut at a later time so it doesn't look like the strings are slicing black cheese. I then started setting things up a bit more, which took some time. I was curious about some of the stories I'd heard about the super low action some people get just after a fret leveling, so I lowered the action to about a 32nd of an inch all over and tried it out. Didn't work, buzzing and note choking, but hey, I had to see. I messed with it some more, compromising a bit on the action here, adjusting the truss rod just a hair, playing it a bit, making mental notes. It seemed to get better the more I played it, and after a little while I got it dialed in pretty good. I'm sure I'll still mess with it a bit as I have a pretty aggressive pick attack and that will require higher action no matter how good the fretwork is. But as it stands now, I have the action set at just a hair over 1/16" at the twelfth fret on the low E, and it's lower on the high E. The relief, at the moment, is about .004", measured with a feeler guage at the seventh fret with the first and seventeenth frets fretted. No real buzzing to speak of unless I hit it hard, so I know I'll have to raise things a bit more. http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Action.jpg All in all, I'm pleased as punch. This thing is now arguably the best player of all my guitars, and I'm still dialing it in. Most folks I know would be ecstatic over having 1/16" action with no buzzing, and not only am I not that demanding but I have no problem with setting it a little higher to deal with my playing style. I've never had a guitar professionally leveled and dressed, and now I know what all the fuss is about. It's such a nice feeling to have the guitar HELP you play better instead of fighting you. This guitar was already a decent player stock, but nothing like this. It's just effortless. The simple fact is that I can't afford expensive guitars. And even if I could, I'd probably still do this myself just because I like doing things like this on my own. But being able to do this opens all kinds of doors. We all know that one of the biggest differences between expensive guitars and cheap ones is the fret work. Now I can get a cheap guitar online without fear that there will be horrible buzzing and the thing will be unplayable, because even if it is like that I can fix it. And not only fix it and make it playable, make it play really, REALLY nicely. Not to mention being able to keep my guitars in tip top shape, and maybe even helping out some of my friends. I'm stoked, as this is a very useful new skill that will save me money and make playing music even more enjoyable. Next up: My OTHER Squier '51! http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y42/MRpics/Dual51s.jpg Edited November 15, 2006 by Mind Riot Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.