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Difficulty: Intermediate

Semi-hemi Fretwork

As the part of the instrument the player is in constant contact with, this method of preparing fretwork lends a touch of class and luxury to your custom build or refret work.

I'm impatient usually. A proper hemi-semi fretwork detailing takes 2-3 times as long as this method, but hey! Practice makes perfect, and if you are willing to spend that extra time then it's always worth it, and very satisfying 

So here's my hackjob tutorial. You will need:

  • Enough fretwire to do a fret
  • The correct profile crowning file for that fretwire
  • A small fine flat-faced file (no technical names here)
  • Abrasive foam pads (I use 180 grit and 240 grit)
  • Good lighting (and a white paper work surface)

Also useful:

  • Good lighting
  • Clean work area
  • Micromesh pads (grades up to 2400 preferably)
  • Fret tang nipper
  • Good lighting

First step is to identify the end of the fretwire. This can usually be found by following your wire until you find the end. You should have two. As you can see, this end is raw from having been snipped from the previous fret.



If you're nipping your tangs back, now is the time to do so.



Use your flat file to finish the raw end of the fret, flat. Apologies for the poor picture. If this is the second end of the fret, then you really should be offering up the fret to the slot to make sure there isn't any overhang. Or you've cut it short perhaps, silly. That'll teach you to work from the highest (longest) frets down the fingerboard just in case.



Using the crowning file, run the wire down the teeth to create a semi-circular end profile. I hold the wire almost perpendicular to the file, and 45° to either the left or the right. This takes off the right angle from either side of the ends. You might think it's more logical to run it along the centre to create a fully rounded end in one pass, but this isn't so. The file is likely to go off-centre, and you'll end up installing this fret lower on the board after you've rectified the error!



...and this is what you're aiming to create at this stage. A nicely rounded end profile. You can fine-tune this with the file using a rolling motion around the profile.



The next step is to repeat the filing with the crowning file, but holding the fret at 45° between perpendicular and parallel to the crown of the fret. Rolling the wire cuts this round profile across the wire. I use one or two light strokes at a time constantly checking the progress. Repeating this at various angles between perpendicular and towards the crown creates a smooth hemispherical shape. The cut of the filing should be kept within the first 90° of the hemisphere you are working towards on the end. Where the "semi" profile cut in the previous step ends (full 180° arc) is the limit of where we're shaping.



With a little practice (lop the end off, start again....cheap to practice!) you will end up with this. It really isn't difficult as long as you have an understanding of what you're trying to achieve, and the time to practice it. I got to this point of ability after doing something like ten fret ends of practice. The reflected light makes it look like there is a sharp corner....there isn't!



I "prove" the shape by drawing the wire down an abrasive pad a couple of times. This smooths the fret end, and shows any inconsistencies in the shaping.



If the profile passes inspection at 180 grit, I polish the fret end up by drawing down a 240 grit pad a few times. Again, any inconsistencies should show. If they do then sort them out with the file or start again and put this fret elsewhere on the board!





It is worth noting that your pre-radiusing and bevelling of the fret slots will affect the look of hemisemi fretting A LOT. If your wire is heavily pre-radiused (12" pre going into a 20" board) then you'll find it horrendously difficult to gauge the final fret length before installation, as it'll widen as the wire's radius flattens out in the slot. If you didn't remember/know/care to bevel your slots and/or the wires radius wasn't small enough then the fret end won't sit flush with the edge of the fingerboard no matter how much you hammer it. I aim to have around 1mm-2mm grace in the centre of the fret above the slot when offering the wire up.

Hope this helps, and I'd love to see more people doing this. It's just patience, practice and making sure you have extra wire on hand. If you're unhappy with a particular fret, do another one! It's all good practice.

Cheers. :player


Oh yes - after installation, I polish up the frets with sanding pads of progressively finer grit up to a 2400 grit Micromesh pad and finally metal polish like Brasso.

This is what it being aimed for:


Also - if it helps - here is a graphical illustration of the steps of the filing process.



Raw cut wire



End profile



45° bevel added



Two more bevels added halfway



Polished and rounded


Creative Commons Licence

Semi-hemi Fretwork by Carl Maltby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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