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alright, youre looking at a n00b planning his first guitar with its own fret job. but going to stew-mac, etc., im overwhelemed with the vairety of tools. specificaly what will i realisticaly need for my first time, especialy in terms of dressing & crowning?

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Not a link, its a text file I made. I can cut and paste it in here. Some folks might do it differently. But this way works fine for me. Let me know if I left anything out or if you simply don't agree with anything. I'm interested in learning as much as the next person.

Fret dressing

Tools

leveller - 6" to 8" long stone (course/fine) or ft. long fine bastard file

black marker

triangular file (2 edges ground smooth)

masking tape

1 ft. long steel ruler

3" long steel straightedge

400 grit sandpaper

600 grit sandpaper

1200 grit sandpaper

000 steel wool

Optional tools but not really crucial

sanding block with matching fretboard radius

diamond fret crowning file from StewMac (76 bucks!)

stainless steel fret protectors

Assessment

This can only work on guitars that have fully functional necks. If there are any problems like backbow, twisting or truss rod doesn't work etc. then you have to address that problem before fret work.

Neck

Your best results come from working on a straight, flat surface so you have to first see where the neck is at and then adjust the truss rod accordingly to lower the relief to as near flat as possible. I like to leave the strings on the guitar at this stage because its easier to decide WHICH WAY and HOW FAR to turn your trussrod to achieve no relief. Remember the string tension adds a bit to the relief so you don't have to turn as far as you think. Remove the strings and double check for overall flatness with the steel ruler. I like to work with a lamp for backlight, then you can see light shining thru at the gaps. See if the ruler rocks on any high spots, could be on individual frets also could rock across a group of frets = BACKBOW.

If your neck is backbowed then you have to work out some way to get it flat. Most guitars are built with a single truss rod only allowing for forward curvature, loosening entirely just renders the neck straight, at least thats how they are supposed to work. I like the bi-flex truss rod (double rod) which allows correction both ways. If its a slight backbow you might be able to work around it and string/trussrod tension can set it right. A little tightening on the truss rod might fix it. If you have a severe backbow, and trussrod adjustment isn't enough, you have to fix that before continuing. Clamp it, heat it, steam it whatever it takes.

Frets

Visual inspection for:

dimples/indents caused by habitual tight vibrato motion at the same place.

Flattened areas from repeated bending in all those "sweet spots".

Overall lack of height from previous fret dressings.

This is where you have to decide whether or not a few frets need replacing, a total fretjob is needed or just a dressing will do. I'll just continue with the dressing assuming there is still some "meat" left on the frets and they are all firmly seated. Just in case, check around with the 3" straight edge, spanning 3 frets at a time, for high or low ones. You might find one that needs to be tapped back down. Or you might find a few that need to be replaced. I can't really say in numbers how low they have to be for replacement. Thats up to you, just compare with the others.

Dressing

1. Double tape the wood fretboard between the frets.

2. Ink the top of each fret with the marker and support the neck evenly. I like a folded up beach towel.

3. Run your stone, file or sanding block (w/ 400 sandpaper) along the fretboard while curving side to side to follow the radius. Even pressure, steady speed, even contact throughout. Keep an eye on how the marker ink wears away. Ink still showing = low spot. You have to continue until that ink is gone working EVENLY over the whole neck. Don't just concentrate on that low area. This is where the results of your initial assessment are important. If you feel you are taking too much off the other frets then that low one should have been pulled and replaced first and then filed down to match up with the others.

4. Re-ink the tops of the frets. They should each have a small flat, course landing on the top.

5. Now you want to recurve (crown) the top of each fret. I've been told the diamond file will crown in only a few swipes, but it IS an expensive tool. I use the triangular file with good results. Use the surface of the file with the 2 dulled edges straddling the fret. This way you can touch the tape on the fretboard without tearing it and eventually messing up the rosewood or whatever is underneath. Run the file flat along the fret while "curving" it EVENLY up each side, end to end and crosswise. Eventually you will see the ink disappearing. Stop when you see just the faintest line of ink running down the exact center of each fret.

6. Rip a small piece of 400 grit paper, fold it and smooth the top of each fret by sanding end to end. This should take out the heavy scratch marks left by the crowning file.

7. Repeat with finer grits.

8. Polish with steel wool.

9. Tear off the tape, restring, adjust truss rod to your preferred relief and setup.

10. Play that gittar!

End note: If you have a crappy little noname guitar laying around its good to get a little practice in on that before messing with your $2000 LP.

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Depends what kind of person you are. Some guys are real "high tech" and use the latest lazer guided diamond leveling block to give the slightest level to their already perfectly seated frets, while others like Mike Stevens pound with a hammer with the neck on an old piece of train track underneath and take lord knows how much metal off the frets to get them level.

Some have an "old craftsman" style, some are trying to be a human CNC or something.

I prefer the most up-to-date method , short of setting up shop on a star trek space ship, but there's something appealing about the way these "old timer" types go about it.

And they get by with only enough fretting tools to fit in a lunch box. Stew-mac'll have ya adding an extra room to the house for tool storage space.

Rob

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at a quick glance i'd say,

-sanding paper(duh)about 20$, (80 for shaping fb, 220 to smooth it, 320 for leveling, 800 for smoothing, 15000 for finish)

-radius block (10$, or free if you make the router jig),

-aluminium or steel straight ground tube (for sanding/leveling) you can probaby get that at a metal shop near you for like half the price stewmac sells it for, you could also then use the tube/straight edge to find a fairly good steel ruler at walmart then make one side a notched straight edge with a dremel or something.

-fret dressing file(~17$) or a set of jewlers files(10$max)

so ~40$ plus what ever you can get a ground tube for

i've heard that a good long file can substitue the ground tube, but don't quote me on that

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aluminium or steel straight ground tube (for sanding/leveling) you can probaby get that at a metal shop near you for like half the price stewmac sells it for

Very true - but one thing I like about stewmac's tubes is the mass. They are heavy and make leveling very easy.

I also like the diamond fret files for crowning although I have found that it is possible to avoid crowning all together if all went well previous to fretting.

One last opinion - the steel wool and polishing compound is a lot of work compared to just using a bit of the micro-mesh. That stuff is awesome!!!! Just rub it over the fret and it polishes up easily.

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One fretting tool that I think gives your fretting job professional results are the Fret Crowning Files just like Daveq suggested. Also, a good pair of Fret Cutters comes in handy. And like everyone has been saying you need alot of different size straight edges so you can get an accurate reading of your neck. Dan Erlewine took the T off a draft square and used it on one of his videos, so basically just find something that will work for you and not cost an arm and a leg. I also don't think I could make it without my arbor press and fret radius cauls for pressing the frets in with great accuracy. If your planning on buying preslotted fretboards you can save alot of money by not having to buy the good miter box made for necks. Below are some wish list of things I'd like to build or buy.

1. Fret bender... just makes things quicker

2. Neck Jig... I got most my parts just need to put it all together

3. Duplicarver... for shaping the neck

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i was thinking a light weight one would be good for tuchups for such cases when you only have the neck setup on a bench with a partial caul supporting it during a guitar restring or something.

i also like my aluminium tube over my heavy steel straight edge cause i just find it easier to control, and i can do more delicate sanding with it.

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i was thinking a light weight one would be good for tuchups for such cases when you only have the neck setup on a bench with a partial caul supporting it during a guitar restring or something.

i also like my aluminium tube over my heavy steel straight edge cause i just find it easier to control, and i can do more delicate sanding with it.

Fair enough i guess.

I use a fretting arbor, so the fretting accuracy is way way better, meaning less dressing is required. I would advise spending the money on an arbor rather than fancy files.

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ok, thanks everyone for the replies...

so is what i should do...

1.tap those frets in (despite arbor suggestions, i can't afford it easily and will probably pass this time)

1.5. truss rod ajustments to level wood

2.level frets with that steel tube

(use that magic marker now?)

3.crown with those crowning files (the $35 ones, not the $95 ones)

i assume the steel tube takes the place of these: Fret Leveling Files

but what am i forgetting?

i'll take guitarfrenzys advise about a straight-egde, stew-mac's are fifty ****ing dolars.

i am getting a preslotted freboard- im not that crazy, this being my first neck.

radius block- i will be following the tutorial up here,

fret bending- i will probably follow the tutorial here too.

once again, many thanks and merry christmass to everyone.

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don't forget to over bend your frets!!!!, helps keep the sides down, not sure if that was in south's article there.. and make sure you get the right hammer too, or what i do is lay a peice of acrylic on the fret the tap it with my hammer (to get the odd high spot, or stuburn sides) but the correct hammer would be a better idea, or better yet the arbor and cauls, but depends on your price range. also, in addition to the crowning files, do make sure you pickup a set of jewelers files for doing the ruff work, this will save your crowning file, just the last quaterth of my2 cents, gl dude!

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Here are a few tips and tricks I have tried over the years.

I used to use a regular vise for installing frets. I made a hard wooden caul (Maple) and then bent a small strip of brass over it to keep the fret from denting into the caul I made another caul to fit the back of the neck, and lined it with some cloth to keep it from scratching. Then I just held the neck sideways (Playing position) and stuck it in the vise, between the cauls, and tightened the vise until the fret went in. It was a bit clumsy, compared to the "Jaws" or the fret arbor, but it worked the same way. I usually had somebody hold the neck while I tightened the vise, or vise versa, as it was kind of a three handed job. A bit unwieldy, but it did a better job than hammering did.

Another thing I tried was using a big C-Clamp to press the frets in, by attaching the cauls to the C clamp. THis worked too, but it kept bending my caul, as I hadn't made the caul thick enough to be supported only in the center. If I had made another caul, specifically for the clamp, it would have worked fine.

I used an el cheapo metal level from K-Mart and milled one edge of it flat in a friend's shop. I thought I was being really original, until I watched Dan Erlewine's video. I used spray adhesive to stick emery paper to it. It did double duty as a straight edge, and sanding block.

If you have a friend who has sharpening equipment for hand tools you might have access to diamond stones. Dan Erlewine uses these as levelers in the book, and I think he mentions them in the video too. My Father is a woodworker and has a zillion planes to sharpen. I use his diamond stones (Actually they're made of steel) for leveling the frets. I also have tried automotive sandpaper glued to a sheet of 3/4" plate glass. (Move the neck over the glass, instead of the other way around) (The glass was from a 240 gallon aquarium I was repairing) I don't reccomend the glass method unless you have a good way of checking it for levelness. (I used the string method)

I used to use discarded body bags (Don't ask!) to protect the guitar bodies while I was working on the neck. They worked pretty well, and even withstood even the occasional jab with an errant file.

One way I used to check a straight edge was with a string. A string under tension is usually very straight, just make sure it isn't kinked in one place. I just used the E string on a guitar to check the straight edges I was considering until I found one that was perfectly straight.

I have the fret crowning files, but I also took a triangle file, and smoothed out the corners on a grinding wheel. I think I have used this more than the crowning files. I have used the triangle file for fret ends, and also for recrowning the frets, although it takes a couple of practice runs to get the feel for crowning with the file.

I started this stuff before I could get any of the fancy tools, and I refretted my first guitars while I was living in a dorm room in college. I pretty much had to teach myself, and invent my own tools and methods. Some of them may not be too orthadox, but they worked at the time. Some of the tools cost a lot of money, but they save a lot of time. Not worth it for one or two necks, but if you have done a dozen or more, they will have saved enough grief to pay for themselves. I still take the tightwad approach at times, because this is a hobby for me, not a full time business. (Yet!)

Good luck,

Dave

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" I used to use discarded body bags (Don't ask!) to protect the guitar bodies ".

Ok, I ain't askin' nuthin, but I hope I can make a comment or 2. Ummm, ok, so these aren't just body bags that I would like to assume are new. They are *discarded* body bags, which brings it to a whole other level. :DB):D

Also it had also been mentioned to use clear straight edges. I made some short ones , and I have to say, clear straight edges are a real pain in the ass. Really makes the "backlight" method hard to do. They will work for the method of "rocking" because you can use your ears instead of your eyes for that.

How the hell did I become an advanced member ? I haven't even given Brian anything for Christmas.

Rob

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I had better clarify. They were NOT used body bags! THey were rejected body bags. I worked quality control for a testing department at one time, and we tested all sorts of parts, products and assemblies. We ended up with a whole truckload of defective bodybags that didn't pass the leakage tests, and/or the puncture resistance tests. It was not my greatest moment in QC work, and I took a lot of heat, because it is expensive to have to recall a few thousand body bags... I was given SEVERAL as souvenirs. They are great for dropcloths, protecting benchtops, disposing of messy things (Paint buckets, roadkill, stuff that was in the freezer during a power outage...) They also protected many a guitar body, and motorcycle or car part during welding, painting, lubricating, sanding etc...

On the clear straight edges, I did the same thing after seeing Dan Erlewine's video. I hated it too, so I shot it with a bit of black paint. (I masked off the actual edge with a strip of tape first) Now I like it. The notched side even works well with the backlight as long as the light isn't so bright that it blinds you shining through the notches. Just look for little slivers of light between the frets.

Dave

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ok, thanks everyone for the replies...

so is what i should do...

1.tap those frets in (despite arbor suggestions, i can't afford it easily and will probably pass this time)

1.5. truss rod ajustments to level wood

2.level frets with that steel tube

(use that magic marker now?)

3.crown with those crowning files (the $35 ones, not the $95 ones)

i assume the steel tube takes the place of these: Fret Leveling Files

but what am i forgetting?

i'll take guitarfrenzys advise about a straight-egde, stew-mac's are fifty ****ing dolars.

i am getting a preslotted freboard- im not that crazy, this being my first neck.

radius block- i will be following the tutorial up here,

fret bending- i will probably follow the tutorial here too.

once again, many thanks and merry christmass to everyone.

First off, you don't have to have the arbor press, you can use a drill press to do the same thing, all you need is the fretting arbor with cauls. Just chuck them up in the drill press and your good to go. I would though recommend you buying or making a neck support caul so you won't mess up the neck. You still need a good fretting hammer to do what Derek suggested.

Also, on the fret bender, I've already talked to someone who says that he could make me one just like StewMac sells. So I'm anxious to see what he comes up with. I asked him if the parts would cost me almost 89 dollars like Stews, he said that fret bender probably didn't cost them over 20 dollars in parts to make.. couple of bearings, etc. .. WOW

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First off, you don't have to have the arbor press, you can use a drill press to do the same thing, all you need is the fretting arbor with cauls. Just chuck them up in the drill press and your good to go.

... exceot that a drill press isnt designed to handle the amount of force that a fret installation requires. Most people buy cheapo drill presses, and the bearings will no doubt disintegrate within a few guitars. Not to mention drilling accuracy. Ive seen it happen twice now.

The fret bender can be made in a few hours if you know what your doing, or a half day if you dont. Make sure you design it to be adjustable, so the fret banding radius can be changed to suit various projects.

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Yes, exactly using a drill press isn't the best tool.. just a cheaper option that could get him through a few guitars. Yeah, the fret bender will be adjustable, just like the one at Stew Mac.. I showed him a video of them using it, and got a good close up of it. It revealed that the top part with the handle moves up or down to adjust. I'll make sure I remind him though.. good point Rhoads...

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I made a sort of fretbender because I didn't have the fret bending pliers. I just took an old piece of plywood, and I cut out a half circle of the correct radius on it. I dragged a sawblade around the edge to make a slight groove, and then I just bent the fretwire over it. After my first attempt, I realized that the radius of the bender had to be a couple of inches smaller than the desired radius of the fretwire, so I cut the outside inch or two off, and made another. I ended up with a set of four, all cut out like the stripes on a rainbow. THis wouldn't work so well forthe shred style guitars, as they would need a really large circle. I was fretting old style Fenders with 7 1/2" or so fingerboards, up to about a 10" radius. It's not the fastest or fanciest way to go, but you can make one in your basement in half an hour for no cost. My first refret I bent on a small deskside wastebasket, with a couple pieces of masking tape wrapped around it!

Wow! I'm starting to sound like a cheap-o here. I agree that the tools are really nice to have. Now, I use decent tools for most parts of my work. I never would have been able to afford (Or find) most of these tools when I started, however. I am glad that I didn't let that stop me from working on guitars, and fixing them up. I guess I am tossing these experiences out to show that a decent job can be done with homebrew tools. Not everybody can afford to order one of everything from the StewMac catalog. I did that for quite a while, until I could start to afford all the really neat tools.

Happy Holidays and have fun,

Dave

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