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I'm Excited Because I'm Getting Tools For Refretting Soon

Mind Riot

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I've been saving up some spare dough to get some tools to get into refretting for a while now, and it looks like I'll be making a Stew Mac order within a few days. Yippee!

I'm very interested in trying out SS fret wire, but I think I'll hold off on that for a little while and get started on the traditional 18% stuff. A friend of mine has agreed to let me cut my teeth on his cheap, fifteen year old Epiphone LP Special.

Thus far on my list for Stew Mac, I have:

Fret press caul with inserts

Extra 14" and 20" inserts to round out the set

Neck support caul

Fret end nippers

Fret saw with depth stop (I figure it would work best for making sure the fret slots are the right width and depth for the Stew Mac wire I'll be using, and I won't be working on any bound boards to start with)

Two types of jumbo wire, a bulk tube of the big stuff for my projects and 6 feet of the medium jumbo for my friend as he likes them wide and a little lower

I have access to a very sturdy free standing drill press I'll be using to press the frets in. I'll be picking up a plastic faced hammer locally, Stew Mac is out of theirs.

I'm also picking up a few nut blanks, a slightly bigger nut file I've been wanting, and the string spacing rule. Preslotted nuts have worked for me so far, but I'd like to try making one for real.

It'll be about $240 all told, which for me is a lot. I'm not a kid (though my excitement may make me sound like one in this post), I'm just poor.

I already own a set of radius blocks, an 18" precision straight edge, fret leveling and recrowning tools, some nut files and feeler gauges and such, and some other tools. I've been doing fret levels and nuts for a bit under a year now, but it's time to take the next step.

So hopefully I'll be posting pretty soon about my first refret and how it went! Wahoo! :D

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Cool stuff man and I wish you the best. That is cool of your friend to let you try a refret on his guitar. I'm sure you'll be able to do a decent job. The proper tools and knowledge is basically as good as you can prepare. I can imagine this is quite a difficult task for most people. I wonder if even well accomplished repair people still think of this job as one of the more difficult ones? I would think so, but who knows. I am not looking do try this job anytime soon, I would like to do a bunch of regular fret installations prior to doing a refret.

Oh yeah, no worries on the money thing, I'm right there with ya, being broke is rough. I saved up for a long while and just recently blew my load on a nice little bandsaw that I'm extremely happy with. Being broke makes building guitars go very sloooowww. But thats ok as I spend that time learning what I can.

Let us know how your refret goes and maybe some pics before and after just for fun, though with frets you might not see a huge difference. Well, after reading your post, I'm excited for ya! So, best of luck man and I hope it all goes smoothly for you. J

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Mind Riot, sounds like you will be getting some decent tools. Nice!

I just wanted to pass along the thought that the drill press may need to be blocked underneath the table as they really aren't designed to take the downward stress that pressing frets would cause. I have heard a few times about the table cracking under the strain (it happened to my little Delta after about 12 fretboards). I would hate to hear about another cracked drill press table but a simple 2x4 set underneath it will support it just fine.


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Yeah, David's right. I have done about 50 fret jobs with my little bench drill and it still works great. the first time i did it it flexed a little so i grabbed some offcuts to support the table - never had a problem since.

I always forget to mention the supports when i tell people they can use a drill press for frets but thats because its just something i did without thinking about it

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Say, I had a little question. I was going to get Stew Mac's regular fret saw to make sure the slot width and depth is right. It's cut matches their fret wire tang width, and their little refret saws don't.

So I'm just wondering if this is a sound idea. I'm not going to be working on any vintage instruments, all the stuff I'll be doing will be on modern guitars with working truss rods, so am I right in assuming that I shouldn't need to be doing any compression fretting? Will just setting things up to where the slot width matches the tang width work on an average neck with a working truss rod?

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Oh Lord, do I wish that was true. I get my hands on plenty of modern necks that are border-line basket cases (In this case, I'm talking about necks that have way too much relief with a truss-rod cranked dangerously tight). In my experience, it's been Asian import basses that top the list with the worst problems like this. I guess I can often blame these kind of damn necks for often making me want to stop doing re-fret work for other people.

For cleaning/deepening existing fret-slots, I like a really short little blade (my own version of Mac's "re-fret" saw). I also like thier little slot cleaning claw. I lucked out that I already had an old handle that worked with that perfectly. I inherited the handle from an uncle who was a sign painter.

I think if you have a decent woodshop, you can make the neck backing caul yourself.

Don't forget Mac's CA glue is foil packed, so will probably go longer without drying up than the stuff you get locally (they should all just foil pack the damn stuff, I'll pay a buck more).

I haven't made a Mac order in quite a while. Everything I want in the current catalog is trivial. Wish they'd come out with a 'just gotta have' $50+ tool, so I could justify an order.

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I really do appreciate your input, but I don't quite understand from your response what I should do. Is it likely that I'll need to get into compression fretting on modern necks? Should I be using a fret slot saw that is smaller than the fret tang?

It just seemed logical to me to get their saw since it matches their fret wire, if the neck doesn't present with any other problems like you mentioned. Should I get a different saw?

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If you can use a blade that matches the existing slot exactly, then that would be my first choice, although, I don't like the blade any longer than 1/2". But a more narrow blade works too, if at least one side of the blade has no set to the teeth, so you can bear that against the slot wall, then same on other wall.

I won't reveal all my tricks for making crappy necks better. If I can get crimped tanged frets into the slots for a tighter fit, that's usually the first and most important step, in trying to get the neck more straight. Yes, often on modern necks.

I suspect some of those import jobs were built in high humid conditions, then after the neck's in a drier climate, the big bow starts happening. There's a hell of a lot of crapped necks like this sold on Ebay.

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I won't reveal all my tricks for making crappy necks better.

Nuts! :D

I agree with your points though. Particularly on cheaper import instruments, even aside from climatic problems there has to be cost cutting going on with the wood. I doubt they maintain their dryness levels as strictly, and they certainly aren't as picky about their wood selection.

I guess I'll start with the matching saw from SM, and if I run across a need to do some compression fretting later I guess I'll have to get into some more tools for tang expansion and probably some more saw sizes as well.

Thus far, I've got three guitars in line for a refret. The first is my friend's, and the frets on that thing are almost gone. The other two are mine, one of which has been the brunt of my fret leveling experiments and so has low frets and the other I just want to try out a flatter radius on it to see what it's like. All three of them are able to be adjusted straight with their truss rods, so I suppose I'll be okay with using matching wire and saw for these three to start with.

Edited by Mind Riot
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I guess you're probably aware that it's easy to over-compress on a well-behaved neck. Let's say I had a Mexi fender with .021" fret slots, and fretted with Mac's .022" tang wire. Probably gonna be some buckle/backbow happening. I mean, if you left the slot width stock, which I would prefer to do. I think I'm off for the night. Have to walk by the Gas station and see if I can find another winning lottery ticket.

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I wouldn't count on me being aware of all that much, I'm just starting out. :D

I mean, I've read Hiscock's book cover to cover more times than I can count, and the same with Erlewine's book, in particular the fretting section. I've read everything I can find on here and anywhere else I can find things on the web, but it's all just book knowledge. I'm just taking my first step into practical application when it comes to refretting.

So I hope these tools I've chosen will be enough for me to do the job properly. I picked the .023" fret saw so that if I ran across slots that wouldn't fit the wire I could carefully widen the slots to fit the tang instead of having to find a bunch of different kinds of wire. As I said, I won't be working on any vintage instruments; the stuff I'll be doing won't have it's value hurt by having the slots widened. An old gentleman friend of mine has a '66 Gretsch Country Gentleman worth about eight grand that he wants me to work on, and I told him I would not touch that instrument. I told him if he wanted I would look around and try to find someone qualified, but that's it. :D

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