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Getting Ready For Fret Job.


Blackdog
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So this is my second ever fretting attempt.

The first one went OK, it took a few hours of leveling/tweaking and it's quite nice and playable in the end.

But I would like to plan a few details in afvance for this one to try to minimize the afterwork. To put things in context, this is a rosewood neck for a set-neck guitar, RW fingerboard slotted and radiused (12"), with maple binding, 24 frets. It has twin CF reinforcements and a HotRod TR. It is not yet attached to the guitar. i.e. this guy here.

After the inlay work I have made sure that the radius is close to perfect and that the fret slots are still more than deep enough. It is now pretty close to straight too, but need your expertise to settle a few small details before I start pressing the frets in.

So my questions to you, experience fretters, are the following:

1- How perfectly straight should I leave the fingerboard: Should I build-in a little "up-bow" to allow for the back-bow that inserting the frets sometime cause (how much, if this is the case) ?? Or should I work it straight and assume any fret-tang-in-slot induced back-bow will self compensate with string pull and/or TR adjustment ??

2- I usually hear about leaving a "drop" on the fretboard at the upper frets. From which fret should this apply ?? How much "drop" are we talking about ??

3- Where should I leave the TR for all this ?? I'm assuming it should not be excerting any pressure in any direction for this, right ??

Many thanks in advance.

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You could give a little backbow to the neck while putting your final rough sanding/radiusing on the fingerboard. However, I caution you not to use too much or it might look funny (fingerboard thinner around 12th fret than the rest). Did you prestress the neck with relief when you attached the fingerboard? If so then skip what I just said. If the slots are properly wide enough you should still be okay. The CF will add some stiffness to counteract the back-bow potential.

As for dropping the frets on the higher registers, just don't go crazy. Some is nice. I do it on all my necks by default, but the jury is still out in my mind as to its effectiveness. I usually start about the 12th fret, but only lightly. Recently I've done this on a couple of my custom guitars. It might make it easier to get closer action, but like I said, I've not decided that yet. This is one of those 'opinion' things so prevalent in discussions. If you decide to try it, you'll be the one to decide if it does what you think.

Make the fingerboard straight (level) before leveling the frets.

-Doug

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To minimize your fret levelling, you need to have the fretboard surface as close to perfect as possible.

Leave the truss rod loose....not torquing the neck in either direction.

Make sure the radius is as close to perfect as you can get it....hopefully you have a radius gauge to check it with (shine a light behind), otherwise you won't know.

Make sure the fretboard surface is as level as possible...almost no light should shine underneath a straightedge laid along the fretboard...hopefully you've got a real straightedge, otherwise you won't be able to tell.

Now take a small triangular file and bevel slightly the edges of the fret slots to round them over, otherwise the frets won't seat all the way down into the slots.

Now install your frets; I like to do this with the StewMac fret cauls and an arbor press (a drill press also works great), I HATE to hammer them. Check to make sure they're seated all the way into their slots everywhere along their length, for every fret.

After the frets are in, use the straightedge to check for back-bow. There's usually a little (the straightedge will rock slightly with the fret tops high in the middle), but with a bound fretboard already glued onto the neck, there shouldn't be much. Still leave the truss rod loose, support the neck under the heel & nut and flex it by pushing down gently in the center. What you're doing here is driving the tang barbs into the sides of the fret slots to help relieve some of the backbow without using the truss rod. Check with the straightedge again and repeat a few times if necessary.

If you still have some persistent backbow, then use the rod to bring it back to perfectly level. If you've done a good job on the fretboard, AND all the frets are seated flush, AND the fretwire is a consistent thickness, you should have no gaps between the fret tops and the straightedge. Check each fret with a feeler gauge (if you don't have one, get one) to see if there are any bad actors.

If you have any frets that are out of level by more than the thinnest feeler gauge (us. 0.0015), then you'll still need to do some minor levelling.

As for fallaway, I start at #12 and mill in a gradual slope that ends up 0.005" lower at #22...lay the straightedge along the fret tops, and you should measure this kind of gap at #22 (with smaller gaps as you approach #12). This is just a start, as the "right" amount will really depend on your playing style. Heavy downstrokers will need more than guys with a light strumming hand....playing the guitar will tell you this. I actually end up fine-tuning the fallaway with the strings on the guitar....you may find you need a little more fallaway on the bass side compared with the treble side.

Now string it up...with everything at proper tension, and nut & saddles set up properly (action & intonation), check your mid-neck relief. You should have a gap of something like 0.005" around #5 to #7. If not, then loosen the strings, tweek the rod, tune up and check it again until you're there. Go back & forth with this and the fallaway, and tweeking the action, until you've got it nailed for your preferred string height & playing style. This tweeking of truss rod, action and fret tops is really where you fit the instrument to the player.

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Erikbojerik, that's one comprehensive 'how to' reply.... nice. :D

Pre-stressing is a wonderful thing... Does that squeezing method work on hard fingerboards? It seems like it would be more effective on softer woods. Maybe it's hair splitting... :o) I've actually never tried either approach (sanding or squeezing) so I'm just curious.

Sounds like the fall away trick seems to work for you too.

-Doug

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Erikbojerik: Very comprehensive indeed !!! Thanks for that.

To check the radius of the FB I'm using the same fret caul I'll use for pressing the frets in. Other than that I have the radiused sanding block, but that's not so great for checking the final results.

I have a real straightedge, 50cm (20") long. While not really covering the complete FB should still be enough, right ??

I like the trick of the triangular file to bevel the slots, will do that.

I'll be pressing the frets in with the SMD caul and a drill press.

I also liked the idea of flexing the neck a bit after the frets are in (to drive the tangs into the slots sides) and compensate the backbow, will definitely do that too.

So in a nutshell: with TR loose, board as perfectly flat as possible, radius as perfect as possible. Carefully press frets in, flex a bit to compensate backbow and that should be it (if done properly).

I understand that you implement the fallaway at the fret levelling stage and not at the fretboard preparations stage. And you don't say anything about glueing the frets in (I'm not planning to use glue, unless there's a clear advantage in doing so).

Doug: Tell me about pre-stressing ?? How do you do it, I guess is with the TR... Sounds interesting. Too late now, as the FB is already glued to the neck, but would like to know for the next one...

When I glued the FB on the neck I kept the TR loose and planed the surface as perfect as possible. Then glued on and clamped tight.

Thanks again.

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Doug: Tell me about pre-stressing ?? How do you do it, I guess is with the TR... Sounds interesting. Too late now, as the FB is already glued to the neck, but would like to know for the next one...

When I glued the FB on the neck I kept the TR loose and planed the surface as perfect as possible. Then glued on and clamped tight.

Thanks again.

It's an arched fixture that holds the neck with forward bow while the fingerboard is being glued. After allowing proper set time for the glue, it's removed. I add a little tension on the truss rod to straighten the neck then I level the fingerboard. Once the frets are pressed in the neck is remarkably straight with no tension on the truss rod. This provides maximum adjustment when the neck is put into service.

-Doug

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What the guys said, but I reccomend the 'Rick Turner Special' method of levelling frets: string up, adjust the truss rod until it's as flat as you can get it, then level under each string with a piece of aluminum angle iron with sandpaper glued to one edge. Level under each string. Remove strings, recrown frets, adjust truss rod for the desired relief, voila, done. No need for big, complicated neck jigs or similar, or pre-stressing. If you want a little forward bow, make a gluing caul that's bowed slightly.

Other than that, what Erik said about levelling the board BEFORE pressing anything in.

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The fret pressing caul may not be quite as accurate as the gauge; I'd spring for the gauge next time you order from SMc, it doesn't cost much. Otherwise, sounds like you're well equipped for the task at hand.

Oh yeah, I do glue the frets in with Titebond.

I mill the initial fallaway before stringing up, but I find I always have to mill it a bit more after I play the instrument for awhile...I have a pretty heavy strumming hand. I use the "Rick Turner Special" method except I have a small piece of flat marble tile with sandpaper stuck on (I loosen the strings first).

Doug, yeah this seems to work fine for ebony, rosewood, whatever. Actually I normally fret with the board off the neck, then it is easier to flex. Bound boards definitely have less backbow after fretting than unbound boards (should have been obvious, but I was really surprised by that).

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Loosening the strings sort of defeats the purpose of the angle iron method, though; the point is that wood is variable, and doesn't bend entirely predictably (also because the neck's not even thickness or shape along its length, and string guage isn't balanced). By levelling while strung to tension, you get rid of any quirkiness.

I also glue frets with titebond. CA for fret ends, titebond for the whole fret.

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Just to be clear, I'm loosening the strings only to mill down the fallaway between #12 and the end of the fretboard (mostly at the end), not to level the whole board. My piece of marble is a good 1/2" thick, too thick to do this with the strings under tension.

I've not yet tried the Rick Turner method on the whole neck, but will for my next build. I may also try it on the 8-string I finished last year, since the neck now seems to have settled in.

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Thank you guys for the replies.

Yesterday I fnished prepping the fretboard according to your instructions. Left it as perfectly straight as I can tell with my straightedge, and lightly beveled the slots with the triangular file too.

Next time I order something from SMD I'll get me one of those radius gauges then, but measuring with the caul, the radiusing looks perfect. I would guess it's probably close enough for this time.

So I will be glueing the frets with TB, then. I guess I'm looking at a very small amount of the stuff, right ?? I was thinking a syringe might help in applying this.

I've read about the Rick Turner method before. It seems quite clever and I might use it. Hopefully I won't be needing a lot of fret leveling after following your advices.

I might be cutting the fretwire pieces tonight.

Will keep you posted on the progress, many, many thanks !!

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So the frets are in.

But this wasn't exactly a trivial job.

Many things I learned here, while it is definitely a better job than on my first attempt, there's lot's of room for improvement in several places.

I need a proper arbor press. - The hand-drill attachment I used was a pain for my first build, as the whole drill would slide up, out of it's support (only held by friction), when trying to apply some pressure to the frets. This time I took the hand-drill out completely. I made a wooden piece that holds the caul in place and attaches to the device. Now that it couldn't slip at all at that point, other things began to slip. And even the lever bent and begun to crack !!! This device was not meant to be used in any stress involving situations. Finally it completely collapsed. Fortunately I bought me a proper drill press last week. Nothing fancy, but much better, as the one depicted never had any precision (too much free play in every direction). Why didn't I use the new drill press for fretting ?? Well, it's new and looks reasonably well built and solid but it is still chinese manufacture. Right now it works perfectly, very accurate, so I didn't want to mess with that. I wanted to retire the above shown device for arbor press duties... I guess it was not good for that either.

I need a flat back for fretting - A lot of force was lost in defective and uneven support of the neck. I have made a couple of wooden neck supports, about 4cm long, with some rubber padding, quite good for many operations. But the neck wanted to roll within the support when applying pressure, and the frets that seated the best (and easiest) were those at the end of the fretboard, where the heel provided positive and flat support. I'm thinking that the next time I will fret when the back of the neck is still uncarved (flat) or better still: I'll fret the fingerboard before glueing to the neck, like obviously some of you do.

I don't have to over-radius the frets too much - I buy the fretwire from SMD straight in 2ft lenghts and am using a radiusing device similar to the one SMD stocks to gently radius the frets a little more than the fretboard. I thought it wasn't really enough so some of the frets I overradiused more. These frets kept wanting to spring out of the slots. I had to radius another 2ft of wire gently as before and re-cut new frets to use instead of the springy ones. Sometimes a little goes a long way...

So, many lessons learned and still not a major disaster. Some levelling is in order, hopefully much less than in my first one. It should be quite workable.

Next time will be even better. Thanks for the help.

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If you can find a harbor freight nearby you can get the arbor press for cheap like $30-$40 on sale sometimes, which compared to over $100 at Stewmacs, is a good deal. Right now the site shows it on sale for $31.99. For the price I would go with the arbor over using my drill press as I wouldn't want to risk the damage, cheaper to just grab the arbor ya know. The fretting looks good though, nice work, project look great. J

Edited by jmrentis
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Come on, you don't need a tut to figure that out. Look at the photos and realize how you can do the same thing with scraps in your workshop. Ok, you will have to buy the radius cauls if you don't want to make those yourself. But Jeez, it's a freakin' radius block with a caul holder stuck on the end. How hard can it be ?

I have not built or used a SM one, but already figured out how to do it. Obviously not the fastest fret presser there is, but I figure a big plus with the 'Jaws 3' is if you fret slot is not absolutely consistent, you can concentrate more pressure where the fret doesn't want to go in as easily, while at the same time, putting less pressure where the fret does want to go down easily. I think that can help against the fret mashing down into the wood in some places.

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I need a flat back for fretting - A lot of force was lost in defective and uneven support of the neck. I have made a couple of wooden neck supports, about 4cm long, with some rubber padding, quite good for many operations. But the neck wanted to roll within the support when applying pressure, and the frets that seated the best (and easiest) were those at the end of the fretboard, where the heel provided positive and flat support. I'm thinking that the next time I will fret when the back of the neck is still uncarved (flat) or better still: I'll fret the fingerboard before glueing to the neck, like obviously some of you do.

Anyone install the frets on a flat, uncarved neck? I've never tried it.. I use a neck support caul, never had any 'pressure' problem.

I'm wondering if it is a good idea;

- That would probably prevent backbow, assuming an uncarved neck is usually +- 1" thick.

- Frets would be probably be a little bit harder to press in, but will seat firmly in place.

My concern is what happens when you carve the neck? I'm afraid build-up pressure may cause some frets to pop-out when the neck is thinner? Or maybe not, since the tangs will be firmly 'anchored' in the slots.

I don't know... I never tried it. I'm fretting a neck-thru neck in a few days. I thought I'd give it a shot, but not without opinions from people who tried it. I'm curious to see if that would make a better/worst fretting.

Edited by MescaBug
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The "stew" arbor press is EXACTLY the same as the harbor freight one...I do not mean similar,I mean exactly...

But Soapy is right...it is a bulky,cumbersome thing,and can easily damage your neck with all of the manuevering and blocking required to use it effectively....

I think before I start my next guitars I am going to look into the jaws thing...I hammered in my last frets(on the exploder),and the job is every bit as good as pressing them in.

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I need a flat back for fretting - A lot of force was lost in defective and uneven support of the neck. I have made a couple of wooden neck supports, about 4cm long, with some rubber padding, quite good for many operations. But the neck wanted to roll within the support when applying pressure, and the frets that seated the best (and easiest) were those at the end of the fretboard, where the heel provided positive and flat support. I'm thinking that the next time I will fret when the back of the neck is still uncarved (flat) or better still: I'll fret the fingerboard before glueing to the neck, like obviously some of you do.

Anyone install the frets on a flat, uncarved neck? I've never tried it.. I use a neck support caul, never had any 'pressure' problem.

I'm wondering if it is a good idea;

- That would probably prevent backbow, assuming an uncarved neck is usually +- 1" thick.

- Frets would be probably be a little bit harder to press in, but will seat firmly in place.

My concern is what happens when you carve the neck? I'm afraid build-up pressure may cause some frets to pop-out when the neck is thinner? Or maybe not, since the tangs will be firmly 'anchored' in the slots.

I don't know... I never tried it. I'm fretting a neck-thru neck in a few days. I thought I'd give it a shot, but not without opinions from people who tried it. I'm curious to see if that would make a better/worst fretting.

I would never fret an uncarved neck because carving the neck may affect its flatness. I carve with the fretboard on, re-check for flatness with a precision straightedge and fret when i'm 100% confident that the neck is true.

Never had the "pressure" problem either, not with a generic neck support.

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Wes... "easily damage your neck..."? :o) I thought we were in control here...

Make a wood "base" to cover the feet. Then make a saddle for the neck shaft like 10" wide. Line it with cork. Then shim as necessary. Honestly I've used this method for years on hundreds of necks and there's only about 2 shims I ever use. The saddle supports the neck shaft. As I get close to the heel I add the shims under the heel. This way it all stays level. You only need just enough pressure to seat the fret then move on to the next one.

I'm actually thinking of making it pneumatically actuated this summer.

-Doug

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Don't remember ever seeing anyone fretting a set-neck all the way with a 1/2 or 1 ton arbor press. So it has quite a limitation.

Also in case there's any confusion :

Jaws 1 : French vise-grips modded to press frets

Jaws 2 : Bar clamp modded to press frets (I made one and use it all the time)

Jaws 3 : Radius block with bracket on end to hold fret press caul.

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