Jump to content

Leveling Frets


Recommended Posts

Hey everybody, I just started a new project this week and its been the first guitar that I've been happy enough with to keep (no mistakes yet!), I have been "practicing" building guitars for about 2-3 years now. I say practicing because I do not have a finished product yet, hahah.

Anyways, I was basically ready for finishing (final sanding and fret leveling) and I went to level my frets. This was my first attempt at it, and like most things, was a learning experience. I ended up either not having a perfectly straight neck or a perfectly level fretboard, and by the time i was done there was hardly any frets left near the nut and the bridge, but full ones in the middle. I mostly realize how to rectify this mistake ( straighten neck, level fretboard and then make sure frets are mostly level before leveling THEM,) but I had a few questions I cant seem to find the answers to.

First question would be should I finish the guitar before leveling the frets, or does the steps matter much? I figure an unfinished neck will be more susceptible to warping and maybe I should finish it before taking on this task.

Second, Now that ive taken out the old frets (I did not use titebond OR CA, and this is also a bound fretboard, I know some would crucify me for not at least CA'n the ends down but anyway) there are obviously indentations where the tangs/barbs used to be. Is it imperative that I now use CA on at least the fret ends, or could I get by without it? I realize I could try and "miss" the old slots by 1/2 a mm or so but is that enough? I just do not want to use CA because now that the fretboard is glued on (its a set neck with a melted heel, warrior guitars-esque) I cant use my drillpress/fretpress insert to get at the higher frets and using CA is intimidating for me because of the skill involved and using paint thinner and solvent etc, among other reasons. Thanks alot for any insight, and I'll probably have some progress pics in the "in progress" section soon. Thanks again.

edit: oh and sorry one more question, I was looking at getting a quality straightedge and wasnt sure where to go... stewmac has their aluminum thing but people seem to either hate it or love it depending on who did QC that day, but lee valley has some cheaper ones that look nice... also how would I check for trueness? would running a piece of say bubinga through my jointer and checking it against that be a good test or no?

Edited by ginner
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey everybody, I just started a new project this week and its been the first guitar that I've been happy enough with to keep (no mistakes yet!), I have been "practicing" building guitars for about 2-3 years now. I say practicing because I do not have a finished product yet, hahah.

Anyways, I was basically ready for finishing (final sanding and fret leveling) and I went to level my frets. This was my first attempt at it, and like most things, was a learning experience. I ended up either not having a perfectly straight neck or a perfectly level fretboard, and by the time i was done there was hardly any frets left near the nut and the bridge, but full ones in the middle. I mostly realize how to rectify this mistake ( straighten neck, level fretboard and then make sure frets are mostly level before leveling THEM,) but I had a few questions I cant seem to find the answers to.

First question would be should I finish the guitar before leveling the frets, or does the steps matter much? I figure an unfinished neck will be more susceptible to warping and maybe I should finish it before taking on this task.

Second, Now that ive taken out the old frets (I did not use titebond OR CA, and this is also a bound fretboard, I know some would crucify me for not at least CA'n the ends down but anyway) there are obviously indentations where the tangs/barbs used to be. Is it imperative that I now use CA on at least the fret ends, or could I get by without it? I realize I could try and "miss" the old slots by 1/2 a mm or so but is that enough? I just do not want to use CA because now that the fretboard is glued on (its a set neck with a melted heel, warrior guitars-esque) I cant use my drillpress/fretpress insert to get at the higher frets and using CA is intimidating for me because of the skill involved and using paint thinner and solvent etc, among other reasons. Thanks alot for any insight, and I'll probably have some progress pics in the "in progress" section soon. Thanks again.

edit: oh and sorry one more question, I was looking at getting a quality straightedge and wasnt sure where to go... stewmac has their aluminum thing but people seem to either hate it or love it depending on who did QC that day, but lee valley has some cheaper ones that look nice... also how would I check for trueness? would running a piece of say bubinga through my jointer and checking it against that be a good test or no?

Hi,

I'll take a stab at these.

I always level and finish the frets before installing the neck. The metal from filing and sanding the frets seems to like to get into my wood. If you already have the neck installed, I would cover the guitar with a cloth, tape up the neck between the frets to keep you from having to clean/sand it again.

I wouldn't worry about your neck warping if you don't have it changing climates. I would be careful about 100 degree's in the shop, high humidity and then bring it into the air conditioner with low humidity. Without finish that might cause you problems. With finish that is still rough on any wood. You can put sanding sealer on it if you are concerned (As long as you are not applying Dye or oil finish in the future) and that will seal it up.

I've not used glue on the ends of any of the frets on any of the 4 fingerboards I've fretted. They stay down fine. Make sure you pre-curve the frets, so the ends hit the fingerboard first, then work toward the middle. That will put the most pressure at the ends.

I've only put frets in where they've been removed a couple of times, so I'm not really the right person to ask. Where I've had to pull a couple of frets (I didn't get it all the way to the edge), they seated fine the second time. I might consider a drop or two of glue in that situation. Maybe a drop in the middle and one on each end? Someone else will have to give you a better opinion.

Straight edge. I wouldn't use wood. It might be straight right after you joint it. It wouldn't be the next day.

I use some metal rulers I got somewhere. I check them on the cast iron tablesaw to make sure they are straight before I do anything important with them. I've got several different sized ones. Everyone has a different tollerance for accuracy (HA). For longer spans I have some metal stock that I got at home depot, it about 3 feet long. I would use metal, not wood. Just check it on the jointer or tablesaw, something you know is straight.

-John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For the straigtedge, I use the Lee Valley ones. They're very accurate. In terms of price, I find that they're in the same ballpark as the StewMac ones.

If you check your piece of bubinga right off the jointer against the straightedge, you might see that the wood is not perfectly flat... That's what a straightedge is for. If you've never has a straightedge before, you should probably set up your jointer with one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will drop my 2 cents in the bucket. Finish, I like to seal everything with a wash coat of shellac, this is more to prevent grime and oils from making there way into the raw wood surface. As far as humidity and finish vs leveling. Your finish will NOT stop the transfer of moisture completely it only slows it. So it is really 6 to 1 half doz. to the other. You can take the precaution of stabalizing your shop(mind you, that means locking it in close to where you have been building, don't try dropping your humidity now if you have been building under unregulated "normal" conditions. If you do allow the wood time to adjust and stabalize to the new level of moisture). As for the CA, yes I would CA the fret ends at a minimum. Remember to use thin CA and let it wick under the fret, don't try running a bead of CA along the fret. You will see CA will wick in very easily, that should minimise any mess you may have been facing in the past. You should also condition your fretboard before you use the CA, and mask along side the frets with a bit of tape. That should cut your risk of getting much CA on your board.

As for straight edges. I picked up my machinist squares and straight edges locally. Can't say much about the Stewmac stuff.

Rich

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks alot guys, I appreciate the responses. Rich, when you "wick" the fret, you do it in between hammering the ends and pressing them in? thanks.

I set the frets(hammer or press), then a little squeeze on the ends of the frets seems to help set them nice and snug(the fret ends need to look good before you wick the CA, you don't want to try to force a fret end that is lifted while your wicking, so when I say a little squeeze it is just that and not trying to force a fret that is lifted or bent into place). Definately have all your frets seated and looking spot on the money, before you use CA. Hope that answers the question.

Rich

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another reason for doing it the way Rich mentions is that if you're pressing or hammering frets with CA already in the slot, it will squirt out, often times a surprising distance, and you don't want to get that in your eyes. I make sure I'm happy with how the fret is sitting before I put any glue in there.

A drop of the water-thin CA glue will suck itself right under the fret via capillary action if the fret is seated well. I use a long pipette applicator or a very thin teflon tube attached to my bottle. I put it in a drop at a time - let the drop hang on the end of the applicator, and just touch it to the fret. It wicks itself in. I put a drop maybe two on each fret end. If the CA begins to puddle at all on the surface, the area is full. I keep a bunch of Q-tip type cotton swabs or little squares of paper handy - if any CA puddles on the surface, touching it with these will absorb all the excess.

Be careful of drips and that you're only getting CA on the fret ends - if you get it on the fretboard, it will make a spot that may show as discoloration. I often place a piece of plastic over the fretboard in case my hand isn't steady and I get glue where I don't want, it catches any drips.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

and using CA is intimidating for me because of the skill involved and using paint thinner and solvent etc, among other reasons.

Not sure how the paint thinner fits in here, but don't try to use regular paint thinner to clean up super-glue, or you'll just prolong how long you're stuck up crap creek without a paddle. Acetone is the stuff. Think of it as "Ace Tone", and it seems more guitar friendly. LOL (but it will still wreak havoc on most guitar finishes, although I've gotten away with being quite the dare-devil with the stuff on some finishes).

Anyway, I like CA wicked along the tang from one end to the other, applied from one or both fret slot ends with a pipette (I then grab a handful of pipettes that are stuck together with super-glue and play them like bagpipes- watch for me on that 'America's got talent' TV show !).

Straight-edge : Wish there was one no-nonsense answer for that. Various ones all over and who knows which one is kick-ass bang for the buck at any given moment.

I often wish I would have bit the bullet for a Starrett because I like how short they are from top to bottom. Probably easy to hold along a fret-board without wanting to flop over sideways like my bigger one will do if I'm not careful.

Also be careful if you try that idea of putting the tang barbs away from the old barb trails, because I've had it happen more than once, where I tried that, and somehow the fret moves itself back over , with the barbs going back to the old trails. I think when you get down in the slot, some of those trails go side to side a little (probably from an over bent fret having barbs move sideways as it seats). And so, the barbs go into those side to side trails and want to stay in the trail that was made last time fret were put in.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...