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Fret levelling


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I think everyone struggles with this on some level... I know I did.  I am just now getting to the pt where I feel like "I got this".  For everyone it's different, but for me there were a few game changers...

1 - checking depth on my fret slot, using a triangle file to hit the edges so the fret would seat 97% perfectly flat (still working on that 3%!)

2 - switching to using a long bar and forgetting about the radius blocks.  I kept hearing folks suggest this but thought it wouldn't be good and that I'd screw up the radius... but the fact is I wish I'd have tried it before.

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It's just one of those things, like everything else on a build, takes time to learn and to get it right. I don't like doing fretwork but each guitar is better than the last. Having the right tools makes a huge difference though. On my first build, I used a spirit level with sandpaper stuck to it as a levelling beam and some £5 jewellers files for crowning and dressing. By the time I got round to doing the fretting of my second build, I'd spend about £100 on specialist tools - a levelling bar, fret rocker, dressing file, 3 corner file, fret levelling file and rubbers, which made a world of difference. But so did knowing what to expect from having done it before.

The thing I found worked with the levelling bar and maintaining the radius is to apply absolutely no pressure, let the weight of the bar do the sanding, then count strokes so an even amount is taken off along all the frets, takes a lot longer but the result is better.

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Hmm...I can’t seem to get it quite right. I have raised the action a bit and that seems to help, but not convinced that has been the problem. I seem to be filing and filing with little result. You would think these frets were stainless steel or something. Rather confused right now. It’s playable but not perfect. 🤷‍♂️ I’m using a knife stone sharpener for the full level. My spot levelling is rather ineffective, some results but not enough for my liking...is it meant to take this long? Does anyone here live near the Stockton on Tees area? 😂

Edited by ShatnersBassoon
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17 hours ago, ShatnersBassoon said:

 I’m using a knife stone sharpener for the full level.

How long is the stone and what grit is it? Many sharpening stones take very little material away and would take weeks to remove enough to change the height of a fret.

SR

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i dunno if this helps... and I am no expert at anything(disclaimer) but I get surprisingly good results with meager tools.  I first use a lam file to square the ends to the fretboard.  then I use it to put a 45-67.5 deg on the edge of all frets.  then i use several needle files to dress up the ends... I don't spend much time on this as I just want them to not be sharp.  Once I've got them "not sharp" i use some 400 sandpaper and just hit the entire edge.  Then I use cheap levels - I had to buy several to get a couple that are straight.  I buy belt sander belts and cut them down.  I use spray adhesive to glue on the belts to the levels.  I have one in 180, one at 220, and one at 400.  I mark the frets with a marker and do the 180.  then I usually mark a second time and do 220.  then I use 400 for cleanup.  then I mark with marker the last time and crown using a stew mac tool.  then I generally use a needle file to hit the sharp edge I made from leveling on the fret ends.  then I use steel wool and go up through the grits.  The whole process probably takes me 3 hrs spread out over several visits.

I haven't done this yet but I'm told a dremel with a buffing wheel will get you a shiny surface easy - I will try that soon.

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I once bought a 2 x 4 cm aluminium beam cut into 28 cm pieces and leveled them by rubbing against a piece of sandpaper on the table of the huge jointer plane. The length was based on the longer side of regular wet'n'dry sheets. Masking tape and super glue for secure yet easy to remove attaching of the desired grit slice of sandpaper. A longer and heavier beam might be better but as I just tried a worn out 400 it seemed to do the job just fine. Rather slow than sorry...

For the fret ends I've used the dirty and fast method: File the ends flush with the fretboard, file the angle and round them by taking a piece of 400 grit wet'n'dry rolled to a flat threefold wrapped around my finger and running it in various angles up and down along the fretboard. It rounds the fret ends and also gives the fretboard a nice played-in touch. The same roll method can also be used to round the more or less triangular frets after having used a dressing file. It's more about polishing than reshaping so it doesn't ruin the levelling. For polishing I've used 3M Trizact pads up to 6000 grit or a nail polishing sponge with various grits. I've got those from China for $ 5.99/10 pcs - a nice gift for the fellow builders on the course! 

 

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  • 1 month later...
On 4/19/2019 at 5:46 AM, ShatnersBassoon said:

I’m using a knife stone sharpener...

Has it ever been used to sharpen knives? Even if the stone is brand new I don't know that there's any guarantee that it's dead flat. I vaguely remember trying a sharpening stone and also had no good results

Eventually I dug deep and bought a Stewmac radius bar (~$200AUD) Got better results but the trick with using that is keeping it straight. As soon as it goes sideways (even just slightly) it makes things worse. That's why its better to use something flat

Something else I don't think has been mentioned, how straight was the fretboard before installing frets?

Whatever you do, don't stress, and don't become impatient. If you've seen my topic with the over-sanded neck, that was due to impatience 

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The Master Luthier who guides our group uses a four face diamond sharpening block he bought at Lidl. Once I met him at the tool department at an automotive+hardware store looking at a cheap diamond sharpener for the same purpose.

It's not too difficult to check the flatness. If you have a known flat surface, the block would rock if there's any twist of if it's convex. To check if a non-rocking block is concave, try sliding a piece of paper under it or set a bright light on the other side and look if you can see the light under the block.

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