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Stainless Steel Fretting Tips


jbkim
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Below are some tips about SS fretting I got in some e-mail. All the words are by "The Tube Doctor" mentioned in this thread here. I just organized them here in a central location.

Please peruse the above thread for the full story on availability/prices/etc. But in the meantime, here is the contact info for Kevin ("The Tube Doctor") and a table of available sizes.


   Crown Width     Crown Height   Tang width

   0.094           0.051          0.024

   0.106           0.039          0.024

   0.110           0.055          0.024

   0.083           0.037          0.020

   0.105           0.035          0.020

   0.090           0.055          0.020

   0.109           0.055          0.020

   0.105           0.045          0.020

   0.090           0.045          0.020

If anyone else has a tip regarding SS fretting, please post here.



  • Bear in mind that when this wire goes in, it pays to be supremely meticulous when seating the frets. Levelling and recrowning standard Dunlop fretwire is like sculpting butter, compared to this stuff. When I do a refret with SS frets, I make certain that there is less than 0.0050" difference in each trio of frets. Otherwise, the time and effort to level and recrown uneven frets makes doing the work a money-loser. Also, if you take the time and effort to keep the frets as even as possible when installing them, you won't have to take off any significant height when levelling. I'd love to see what a Plek fret dress could do on one of these refrets!

  • I buy the fretwire in 25.250" lengths.  For most guitars, two lengths will suffice. This stuff must be cut with an abrasive wheel, and for the fingerboard edge, the tang should be undercut, also using an abrasive wheel. It's terribly labor intensive to use, but the end results are well worthwhile. Tommy Chung, who is Hong Kong's premier blues guitarist, is now playing Steinbergers exclusively, and I've got his #2 in my shop right now, getting a set of SS frets installed. Tommy prefers the frets which are equivalent to the Dunlop 6105 (0.054" crown height, 0.096 crown width). That's the size that I've installed on his #1, which he recently used on a tour of some Japanese clubs.

  • Buy some of those diamond abrasive recrowning files from StewMac. The regular tool steel crowning files will dull down quite quickly if you use them on SS.  They also get plugged up after just a couple of file strokes. You'll spend as much time clearing the teeth as you will filing.

    When I expressed concern about the cost of the diamond files, Kevin offers these words. -- nyjbkim

    The Diamond files are very useful, but not essential unless you are doing full-time guitar repair. I refret at least 10 guitars each month, and my time is better spent doing that, rather than going out to buy new files three times a month. You can use regular files, as I did when I first got hold of the SS, but it's like the hobbyist who works on his own car; Craftsman is okay, but the pros insist on Snap On. It's important, but only vital if the tools are in your hands every day.

    Just as a refresher, I've picked up my regular files to work on this custom shop Les Paul that's on the bench. Instead of 20 minutes levelling the fret ends and putting the initial bevel on the ends, it's taken me 45 minutes. This is with a single cut (lathe file) which has no teeth on the narrow edge. The file is not new, and is cut down to 6 1/2". I prefer not using a holder block, as I always cut the bevel at a steeper angle than most commercially available blocks allow. I learned a few tricks from a real "Old World" machinist, back when I was doing my machinist's apprenticeship, and they've served me well in luthiery.
    Below are some pictures of the process with non-diamond files.


  • The diamond fret levelling blocks are also high on the list of must-have tools. They work great for bevelling the fret ends.

  • I've been using an abrasive wheel on a flexible shaft to polish the bevelled fret ends. It's time consuming, but worth the work. (my mantra)

  • If you must hammer the frets, use a plastic face. SS is tough, not hard. It will dent easily with a brass hammer, and then you've got to sweat and swear to get the marks out and recrown the fret. I use one of those JAWS fret presses, plus a few judicious taps with a plastic face hammer to seat and level the frets. Do check them in groups of three, make sure they're level, then move on to the next three, checking against the previous trio. This will really save you time when it comes to levelling/recrowning. You'll need to do less of that onerous task, and will preserve much more of the original fret height.

Here are some of the photos of the refret in progress on this sparkle top custom-shop Les Paul. This, by the way, is a brand new guitar, which the owner purchased at a warehouse clearance sale put on by Hong Kong's largest retailer of musical instruments.

As purchased, the guitar was virtually unplayable. The way Gibson insists on building fingerboards means that there was a huge gap, both in height and in width, between the end of the fret wire and the nub of plastic left at the fret end by the trimmed binding. The high E string would either fall completely off the edge, or it would get stuck in the gap between the fret end and the binding. This on a Custom Shop guitar, if you can believe it!

Uneven%20fret%20end.jpg

The photos show the original fret end, then the frets in place, being measured for any height difference from one to the next. The three sided brass straight-edge is something I made myself.

Feeler%20Gauge%201.jpg

Feeler%20Gauge%202.jpg

The vernier caliper is showing the true thickness of the feeler gauge I use to measure the difference.

Feeler%20Gauge%20Check.jpg

Frets are either hammered in or pressed in, by groups of three. The height is checked with every trio, then against the next trio, and so on up the board. Needless to say, the truss rod is adjusted to provide zero neck relief when the frets are going in.

Hammer%20And%20Check.jpg

Angled%20By%20Eye.jpg

You can tell by the photos, that I haven't used that poor file in some time. Please, don't give me hard time about a little surface rust. Hong Kong languishes in 70 plus% humidity (at least) nearly all year. Tools suffer for it. I do clean and oil them, but even so, there's no keeping the rust away. The neck is taped off, and the frets are evened out until the tape is just being peeled back. That tells me that I'm close enough. Then the file is tilted over a bit (eyeball measure) and the bevel is worked on to the fret ends. I never allow the file to come in contact with either the binding or the edge of the fretboard (on unbound necks). 

Old%20Faithful%20File.jpg

SS%20Fret%20w%20Filed%20Bevel.jpg

After all the heavy filing work is done (see, you can do it without diamond abrasives, it just takes a bit more effort) it's time for the cratex rubberized abrasive wheel on the dremel flex shaft, and a bit of shaping and polishing on the fret end. Repeat 44 times and you're nearly all done!

Polished%20end.jpg

It's actually taken me longer to edit these few photos and compile this message than it took me to perform the guitar work!

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Wow! Thanks again for posting those photos for me NYJBKIM. I'm really pleased to have been introduced to this board. I hope my humble contributions will be helpful to at least one or two folks here.

I have just been in contact with my fret supplier, who has informed me that he will gladly cut and package any size frets I choose, 24 pieces, 75mm (3 inches) long for the same price as the straight lenghts. With the kind of service this guy offers, I just find it hard to believe that other suppliers of this "Precious Commodity" are demanding such huge minimums and enormous premiums.

So to clarify; you can select whichever size you need from the table posted at the start of this thread, and it can be supplied in pre-cuts, $45 for one set, or $200 for 5 sets. And you can mix and match sizes, no need to order 5 sets of medium and 5 sets of jumbo etc.............

I believe that being offered in precuts will greatly reduce the price of shipping. The 25.25" lengths have to be packed in a sturdy plastic tube to avoid damage during transportation. A little plastic baggie with 24, 3" sections won't require any more than a padded envelope.

The three sizes I have on hand here in Hong Kong, which I can ship immediately after receiving payment, are; 0.109 crown width x 0.055 crown height x 0.020 tang width. 0.094 crown width x 0.051 crown height x 0.024 tang width. 0.110 crown width x 0.055 crown height x 0.024 tang width.

All other sizes will have to come from Japan to Hong Kong (a really short trip)

then over to you in North America.

I don't currently have any payment options available except for Western Union.

Conducting business on the internet is not something I had planned on doing. If the need arises, I'll check into Paypal. Otherwise, just e-mail me if you want to discuss any fretwire. I'll try to keep submitting some of the photos of SS refrets in progress, if it suits the other members of this board. I really believe in the stuff, and I know once a few of you try it, you'll never want to go back to nickel/copper.

I've got a few pounds of Dunlop 6150 that has been gathering dust since the SS became available.

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To make things easier than having to go to a Western Union office and pay their service charge, I've registered with PayPal. The account name is The Tube Doctor.

Christmas postal traffic will soon reach its annual, chaotic peak, so please be patient when awaiting delivery. My elves will be working around the clock to insure that your orders are promptly filled.

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I have just been in contact with my fret supplier, who has informed me that he will gladly cut and package any size frets I choose, 24 pieces, 75mm (3 inches) long for the same price as the straight lenghts.

May I suggest instead of 3" lengths, you consider 6" lengths. Some people like to pre-radius the wire before installing... with either that funky can opener looking thing from stewmac or the fret bender jig that Brian made. It might be easier with 6" lengths than 3".

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btw ss will dent with brass.brass is very rigid and something as narrow as a fret would be bound to be affected.

i have worked on a number of ss handrails and i know that the ends dent rather easily.

for informative purposes ss is 100,000 psi tensile strength...carbon steel(mild) is 70,000...i don't know what nickel frets are,but i would think less

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You'd have to have a screwed-up brass hammer, or really poor fret-tapping technique to put dents on SS frets using the hammer-in method.

I don't hammer frets, but have watched some pros do it, and they don't even make dents in regular frets with brass hammers.

What's the great price you're talking about ? $45.00, plus shipping from Asia ?

Hmmm, and Warmoth only adds $20 extra.

I'm holding out for either the stuff Warmoth is using, or if someone else makes something equal.

I've heard bad things about a particular Japanese wire, so I'm avoiding Asian SS wire until I hear there is some that's as good, or better than the real deal.

And for the guys concerned about the sound, go to Driskillguitars.com, and watch/listen to the "ABC news story" to hear what a SS fretted guitar sounds like. I won't write my opinion, because I'm wondering if anyone else will say the same thing I think.

Normal frets are only about 18% nickel at best. If there are some with a higher nickel content than that, I'm not aware of it, but would surely be interested.

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Well Soapbar, I don't know about the rest of the repair techs out there, but as well as there being varying grades (relative to Rockwell C or B scale hardness) of SS, there are at least as many, if not more variations of brass. Having refretted several hundred guitars in the past few years (okay, maybe more than a few) I can attest to the fact that some of the hammers I've used, do in fact leave less of an impression than others.

However, since I added a little bit of lead weight to the side opposite the plastic face of my fretting hammer, I've found that I don't have to remove nearly as much material from the frets when I level them. That means more fret left for my customers, and more material for subsequent levelling and recrowning, before refretting becomes necessary.

Unlike Edenhaus, I offer a variety of different sizes. I don't imagine that I do nearly as much business as they do. They must buy fretwire by the 100 weight, while I am simply a humble repair tech trying to make available to others, an item that seems suspiciously rare on your shores. If you wish to use 6105 equivalent size from Edenhaus, your choice certainly does not rely on my approval or the approval or opinions of others. Freedom of choice is one of our most valuable freedoms.

I had the freedom to choose the SS offered by Warmoth, and was mostly impressed, which set me on the path to find a supplier who would sell me fretwire that I could install without having to buy an entire neck.

The profile of the wire supplied by Warmoth is more elliptical than round, so when you've got to level the frets and recrown them (their initial installation is somewhat uneven) restoring an identical profile to all the frets is unlikely at best.

Where have you heard untoward comments regarding a particular Japanese made fret wire? To the best of my knowledge, and based on comments posted on this website, it seems that finding ANY SS fretwire has been an exercise in futility, up until now.

The fretwire I'm now using is made in Japan. The stainless steel used was an alloy arrived at after significant testing and experimentation by the manufacturer.

It's certainly not as tough as 316, but if you know anything about SS, you'd know that 316 or 304 would be impossible to draw through a die with any uniformity. Look on the Parker website for KP's extensive comments on the development process his company went through in trying to get the formulation right.

Our local (Hong Kong) blues guru, Tommy Chung, plays his guitars more than anyone I've ever met. Normally, he'll wear through a set of frets in a year or less.

Since I've refretted his #1 Steinberger with SS, he's become a convert. In more than 5 months of HEAVY playing, the frets have shown so little wear, that I've got to use a dial caliper to measure the change.

I'll try to dig up some of the translations on the development of the fretwire I'm offering.

Peace,

Kevin Catalano.

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I can't give names, but have been told by someone who has sampled all the SS wires, about a wire from Japan that is too soft. I shouldn't imply that it's the same as your wire, because I just don't know. But when you said it dents *easily* with a *brass* hammer, it really made me think about that.

I know pretty much the whole story about SS wire now. Where it's being made, down to country and company ( the non-Asian SS wire source), why it's currently impossible to get in small amounts, etc. I'm not going to say what I know, because I don't even know if those who told me want it to be known by all.

What I know does piss me off, and I'm hoping that a particular individual will change his attitude, so we all can get the stuff.

Also, I find your comment about Warmoth wire interesting because they don't level their frets, and many people find their necks play fine from the factory.

When it does become available, I don't expect it to cost more than 3 times as much as regular wire, and it will also come in 2 foot lengths which is very important to me. I could never buy pre-cut lengths.

As for the thumbs-up from a Steinberger player, it makes me wonder if the Phenolic fret-board is a better match with SS wire than a wood FB.

I'm not buying wire from Edenhaus. Too expensive. SS having a good sound, is still up in the air, so I wouldn't want to pay an extreme amount for the bulk amount I would need, then suddenly someone comes out with a superior sounding fret wire that is about as durable as SS wire.

Rob

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as far as i know most mass prodced shops don't level their frets.that is done to make the guitar more playable.mcnaught levels theirs.

you only have to level the frets if you want perfect action,which most people on this site do.i guess it just depends on how low you want your action.

durable as ss and as cheap or cheaper?i'm not gonna hold my breath.

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durable as ss and as cheap or cheaper?i'm not gonna hold my breath.

well.... if you were a deep sea diver maybe.... i still think they could be made publice for more in the 20$ per set (one guitar) range, but that's just me, eventually the companies will clue in that they could make alot of money, and once enough companies offer it the competition will bring the prices down, but it would be a while to run through that hole process i guess... like 2 years if dunlop and a couple other companies released it right now...

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  • 2 weeks later...
You'd have to have a screwed-up brass hammer, or really poor fret-tapping technique to put dents on SS frets using the hammer-in method.

I don't hammer frets, but have watched some pros do it, and they don't even make dents in regular frets with brass hammers.

What's the great price you're talking about ? $45.00, plus shipping from Asia ?

Hmmm, and Warmoth only adds $20 extra.

I'm holding out for either the stuff Warmoth is using, or if someone else makes something equal.

I've heard bad things about a particular Japanese wire, so I'm avoiding Asian SS wire until I hear there is some that's as good, or better than the real deal.

And for the guys concerned about the sound, go to Driskillguitars.com, and watch/listen to the "ABC news story" to hear what a SS fretted guitar sounds like. I won't write my opinion, because I'm wondering if anyone else will say the same thing I think.

Normal frets are only about 18% nickel at best. If there are some with a higher nickel content than that, I'm not aware of it, but would surely be interested.

i watched that video clip and couldn't really tell what the frets themselves sounded like unplugged. each time he played the guitar it was plugged into an amp.

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Yeah, it's not being played enough to get a real good idea, but I was noticing a bit of "clang" in the tone. I think the sound of the frets comes through a lot when an instrument is played through an amp. The metal strings make direct contact with the frets, so they influence the tone of the string to the pickup, in my opinion. Not everyone hears the same, though. And not everyone agrees with acoustic versus plugged in sound.

Rob

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