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Fret Fall Off


bluesy
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I have been reading about a fret levelling technique that includes "fall off" on the high frets. Here's a link to a page that mentions it. http://www.stevesguitarsite.com/FRETLEVEL&CROWN.HTML

I was wondering if this is a common thing to do, because I think it might help on my newly finished guitar. I can set a super low action, and it is nicely playable everywhere up to about the 15th fret or so. Above that, the strings start to contact the last frets (frets 21, 22). If I raise the action a bit, it is just about all playable. So the last frets seem a bit high? I should stress that this is just me fine tuning, but I like to tweak my guitars to as close to perfect as I can. Some people wouldn't like the action that low anyway I expect.

Now, I have not levelled the frets at all yet. I didn't need to, there were no high frets, just as I hammered them in over the main part of the fretboard. More luck than skill I imagine :D But after reading that page, it seems a bit of "fall off", just on the high frets, 16 to 22, might allow me to set the super low action.

The technique discussed, involves adding tape to the 10th fret and I am wondering exactly how this works. If I picture the geometry correctly, the leveller would sit on this high 10th fret and the last fret. Because of the angle, it would take more off the last fret, a bit less off the second last, less again off the 3rd last and so on, until taking practicallly nothing off the 11th fret because it is right beside the high fret. Looking at the picre, it seems he might only have sand paper on the part of the leveller for the last 6 frets or so, in which case only those last ones would get reduced - which would suit my situation.

So, does this technique have merits? Should I attempt to do it?

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fall of is a good technique and does work well. i have never done it that way, so i cant comment on it. what i do is when i glue my fretboard on, usually 1/4" thick, i level the high fret area more. so that the near the first fret, the fretboard is thicker, and at the high frets, its thinner. because of the slope, the high frets will be lower that the first frets, and the fretboard will still be level.

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Geometrically that makes no sense.You could accomplish the same thing by raising the bridge.

And when you make "fall off",all you do is make the action on your upper frets greater than the rest,instead of putting the greatest action on the middle frets...

Mathematically it makes more sense to just have a level board and make the nut and bridge the correct height.

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Geometrically that makes no sense.You could accomplish the same thing by raising the bridge.

Not quite, because raising the bridge will increase the action for ALL the fretboard. I want to leave the bridge down low where most of the fretboard has the lowest possible action, then, I think, lower the upper frets just a tiny bit to allow proper fretting of the very top notes.

And when you make "fall off",all you do is make the action on your upper frets greater than the rest,instead of putting the greatest action on the middle frets...

But doesn't reducing the height of the fret tops on the upper frets do just that - increase the action on the upper frets, I mean? That seems to be what it needs you see.

Mathematically it makes more sense to just have a level board and make the nut and bridge the correct height.

I know what you mean. But then, there are people who seem to regularly use this technique of introducing fall-off - so there might be something to it. Sorry, but I am just trying to understand this properly.

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fall of is a good technique and does work well. i have never done it that way, so i cant comment on it. what i do is when i glue my fretboard on, usually 1/4" thick, i level the high fret area more. so that the near the first fret, the fretboard is thicker, and at the high frets, its thinner. because of the slope, the high frets will be lower that the first frets, and the fretboard will still be level.

I see. Obviously too late for me to do that. :D I think I can safely try this technique, as I really can't see how it can go very wrong. Truth is, I am not a player who uses those last frets anyway, but it would be nice to know they were out of the way, and able to be played on occasion.

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Raising the bridge will increase the action over the entire board, BUT it won't increase the action equally over the entire fretboard. When raising the bridge what you're really doing is increasing the string angle (lets call it A) at the nut. If you think of the string and the tops of the frets as a right angle triangle, where the string is the hypothenuse. The approximate action at any given spot on the fretboard will be the distance from the nut multiplied by sin(A). the further the distance from the nut, the greater the action. What you want to accomplish seems to be greater action on the top frets, wich is already achieved by the geometry of the fretboard, wich is what I think wes was getting at. This is why it makes more sense to just make shure the neck is as straight as possible, and level it properly. Fall of seems to me like a lazy way of getting low action, without having a properly leveled neck, and also it won't accomplish universal low action over the entire fretboard.Have you checked your necks bow?

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Raising the bridge will increase the action over the entire board, BUT it won't increase the action equally over the entire fretboard. When raising the bridge what you're really doing is increasing the string angle (lets call it A) at the nut. If you think of the string and the tops of the frets as a right angle triangle, where the string is the hypothenuse. The approximate action at any given spot on the fretboard will be the distance from the nut multiplied by sin(A). the further the distance from the nut, the greater the action. What you want to accomplish seems to be greater action on the top frets, wich is already achieved by the geometry of the fretboard, wich is what I think wes was getting at. This is why it makes more sense to just make shure the neck is as straight as possible, and level it properly. Fall of seems to me like a lazy way of getting low action, without having a properly leveled neck, and also it won't accomplish universal low action over the entire fretboard.Have you checked your necks bow?

Yes I have set the relief "per the book" but also experimented a bit each way with it. The neck relief doesn't really have much (ANY?) effect on the part of the neck that's bolted into the pocket (it doesn't bend) - and that's what we are talking about here.

The way you explain it makes sense however, and I'd even add that the relief in a neck means it is not a triangle, as one side is actually curved, but in a way that helps , not hinders :D

As I said, the guitar is nicely playable when setup for a "normal" action, and I'm just looking at tweaking it to cope with a super low action "just in case" I ever want to set it that way. Maybe it IS a lazy way of doing it...

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A perfectly straight fretboard could be (and obviously is) fine for some folks....but what everyone is forgetting here is that the string vibrates, and it doesn't just vibrate parallel to the fretboard, it is a 3D vibration.

Think of the shape of a vibrating string anchored at the nut and saddle, and you'll see why you need relief in the center part of the neck if you want reasonable action at the high frets...because around the 12th fret is where the motion of the vibrating string is greatest for open notes. As you fret up the neck, the string motion becomes less and the position of maximum motion moves toward the upper frets. You can certainly raise the bridge and thus the upper fret action without fall-away, but with some fall-away milled in you can get lower action without buzzing.

How much fallaway you need depends a LOT on how heavy you are with your strumming/picking hand. Guys with a light touch can get away with lower action, heavy downstrokers need higher action (or live with buzz).

IMO this kind of fretwork is really where a custom builder can truly fit the instrument to the player and his playing style.

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A perfectly straight fretboard could be (and obviously is) fine for some folks....but what everyone is forgetting here is that the string vibrates, and it doesn't just vibrate parallel to the fretboard, it is a 3D vibration.

Yeah yeah...everyone says that,but it makes no difference....I set my boards as flat as I can.and I never have a problem...

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I am personally not much of a believer in neck relief, and prefer a straight neck. The relief does have an effect on the top frets since it moves the entire nut relative to the bridge. I don't see how neck relief will help you if you're after low action on the middle of the fretboard, since what you're doing is effectively increasing the action here. with a dead-flat board, wich is properly leveled, you should be able to get a lower action than with neck relief.

damn...2 replies as I was writing...

Anyway I think I'm gonna have a look at this mathematically...But keep in mind for now that the amplitude of the vibrating string decreases as you move up the fretboard...

Edited by aidlook
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So, does this technique have merits? Should I attempt to do it?

I do this on all my guitars. The fall out/off is slight though. Barely the thickness of a piece of paper at the very end of the fretboard. I don't have my feeler gauges at the computer so I can't give you a exact measurement. Let me know if you're interested and I'll get you some actual values.

I usually build the fall off into the fretboard and its only on the last couple of frets, usually never gets to the 15th fret. More like 17th fret and after. I can get lower action by using this building technique and I can also get wider bends without fretting out. This is definitely something I'll keep doing as the advantages are there. I'd rather take the materail off the wood than the metal frets.

I tried perfectly flat and a slight fall off makes a world of difference, for me at least.

Edited by guitar2005
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So, does this technique have merits? Should I attempt to do it?

I do this on all my guitars. The fall out/off is slight though. Barely the thickness of a piece of paper at the very end of the fretboard. I don't have my feeler gauges at the computer so I can't give you a exact measurement. Let me know if you're interested and I'll get you some actual values.

I usually build the fall off into the fretboard and its only on the last couple of frets, usually never gets to the 15th fret. More like 17th fret and after. I can get lower action by using this building technique and I can also get wider bends without fretting out. This is definitely something I'll keep doing as the advantages are there. I'd rather take the materail off the wood than the metal frets.

I tried perfectly flat and a slight fall off makes a world of difference, for me at least.

This sounds just right. Yes, up to the 15th fret approx. it plays fine, so no need to touch them. 17 to 22, the last 6 frets is all mine would need. It is good too, that you mention bending, because I hadn't figured that into my thinking on the geometry.

...and yes, it is only a small amount that will be required!

Edited by bluesy
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As you fret up the neck, the string motion becomes less and the position of maximum motion moves toward the upper frets. You can certainly raise the bridge and thus the upper fret action without fall-away, but with some fall-away milled in you can get lower action without buzzing.

That's what I can see. If I remove just a little off the last few frets, I could lower the bridge more and get a lower action overall.

How much fallaway you need depends a LOT on how heavy you are with your strumming/picking hand. Guys with a light touch can get away with lower action, heavy downstrokers need higher action (or live with buzz).

IMO this kind of fretwork is really where a custom builder can truly fit the instrument to the player and his playing style.

This applies to neck relief as well, and is maybe the reason some people don't see the need for it. To me, neck relief is a given, it just makes sense to shape the curve/bow of the neck, to accommodate the way the string moves more, as it vibrates, towards the midpoint from wherever you fretted it and the bridge. You correctly point out that this point moves as you use frets further up the neck, and this ties in with the need for fall away, as the part of the neck that is clamped to the body can have no relief due to bending, therefore it needs it added by contouring the fretboard (or the fret tops).

I suppose too, this all has bearing on another subject I read about, especially with respect to string bending, and that is compound radii on fretboards. Mine, like many, is a simple 12 inch radius fretboard.

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As with many instruments, there are compromises and workarounds to solve the issues of imperfection. Essentially, a fretboard is better suited to a conical section than a cylindrical section as the string distances are different at the nut and the saddles, although compound radii are more complex beasts to implement for your average builder. Factor into this the fact that guitarists bend strings around this cylindrical/conical section, these sticky-out bits of fretwire start getting closer and closer to the vibrating string edges.

Anyway - again as Erik mentioned, this is where the players preference and style comes into it's own to create fretwork that complements the player and works around the inadequacies in our revered instruments. They are after all, a minor step up from a skiffle style tea-chest bass :-D

In answer to the original question, I think that it's a relevant technique unless your instruments and/or playing style require some other different style of fretwork compensation. Wes has his own specific preference, which obviously works for him or at least makes him happy anyway :-D Perhaps you should try changing your neck geometry after levelling the board, as this is non-invasive and can be reset. Milling off fret height is permanent of course. See which works for you, and you'll learn a surprising amount about your playing style also!

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i very rarely put drop off into my own instruments but its been needed on a few refrets/fret dressing i have done recently. I have no problem doing it when i think its needed.

Thanks for that, and that's to everyone else as well. I never thought it was going to be so controversial :D Once again I appreciate all the help I've been getting here.

Cheers all!

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I did it when I was starting out, because that's sort of what I was "taught". Then I started *not* doing it, and got results so good, I didn't want to mess with a good thing, and trust me, I go all the way in demanding the best playability in a guitar.

I think some guys do it, to help with "kick up" in the board that might develop years later. And that certainly happens ( I have a 15 year old MIM Fender which has done just that). But when it does, I figure time for a refret. Like time for your car's brake discs to get turned on a lathe.

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