When do you hammer a fret down, and when do you file?
On my first fret-leveling project, I sanded/filed down the high frets, without realizing that maybe I should try to re-seat them first. That worked, but I did take a good amount of metal off of a few of them.
Yesterday I worked on a beat-up GIO. I braced the neck well, and lightly hammered the high frets with a dead-blow hammer. I used a piece of acrylic to dampen the blow, and to land the force between the strings (still at tension). Of course after I got the two high ones down, others were high, and I ended up tapping down all the frets, then cleaning up the one or two troublesome ones.
I was able to go up and down the neck until there were almost no high spots at all, without any filing.
I would have never attempted either project, but both basses were picked up cheap on CL, already well abused. They were essentially useless for playing.
But now I'm wondering- will the frets I pounded down pop out again, or was it possibly due to long-term creep, or a few bad events in their past?
Will the ones I sanded pop further?
At what point do you decide you have to refret vs. repair on and old bass?
You hammer a fret down if its popped up. You level a fret if it isn't leve due to were or uneven seating.
I will surprised if you don't have fret buzz problems. You should have removed the strings - hammered all the frets down (only necessary if they were not seated properly) - then file down the high spots and re-crown.
On the first bass (Peavey Milleniem BXP) when I took off the strings, I had a hard time getting the neck straight. Even with the nut completely loose, I had to carefully prop up the neck a little to get it level. I even tried to let it sit for several days to "relax", with no change.
That's why I tried to adjust with the strings on for the Ibanez GIO. I was just going to mark the bad frets with the strings on, but then I tried re-seating them. Worked great on the first fret I tried, so I continued down the neck.
I didn't hit them hard- no dented wood or anything, but just enough to seat them.
if there's any fret hammering involved, a key step is to run water-thin superglue under them afterwords to lock them in place, prevent future spring-ups, and improve overall tone transfer.
often the glue has to be applied while the fret is being held down.
Hammering frets is a technique that takes some time and repetition to master. Which is why it isn't done that way in factories today. Popped fret ends have a tendency to spring back up when tapped in. That leads to whacking rather than tapping. Then there is a new set of problems.
Skip the hammer. Wick the glue and hold the fret down.
Thank you both, that is exactly the type of information I was looking for.
It looks like they are holding for now, although the second fret is still not perfect. I'll look at it closer and see if it needs glue or filing. I'm hoping that it was just 10 years of neglect that caused them to creep up a little (if that is even possible...)
A lifted fret should be visually obvious is most cases. However, if you are worried you are removing too much meat to get a fret level with its neighbours then it sounds like it is maybe lifted, unless there is a problem with the neck.
Like you, I practiced on a cheapo Yamaha Pacifica to get some sort of fret levelling technique down. However it still played badly until the frets were re-crowned.
I would go thru and reseat all the frets, then run glue under each one. Then you can level and recrown them.
I'm a bit afraid to glue them down. How hard is it to make the glue not show? Do I mask with tape first, or does that just glue down the tape? I've built my share of RC planes with CA, so know what a mess it can be.
If I decide later I have to refret, wouldn't the CA make it harder at that point?
Not a fan of glue
I'm a custom builder and I'm not a fan of using glue in the fret slots - but as with all things, there is a time and a place. For a quick repair, it's probably fine and yes, it will make removing the fret in the future harder. But, are you going to keep the bass that long? Do you think you will ever change to other frets? As you have probably have already run through your mind, there are lots of extenuating circumstance to consider.
Personally, if I had a lifted fret, I would first try to press it back into place and then tap on it with a soft dead blow mallet so as not to deform the fret metal. If that didn't work, I'd pull the fret, and install a new one with the tangs in a different location. (The working assumption being that the lift was caused by the tangs not having enough wood to grab onto.) However, if I was on a desert island, didn't have fret wire, and had a gig that night, yes, I'd carefully glue slip some glue into the slot using a 28 or 30ga hypo needle/syringe and make due. A few mini-drops will be all you need and the squeeze out should be minimal to invisible. Laying down some masking tape on the fretboard is a good idea, and StewMac has some interesting products that will help as well. I can tell you from experience that trying to sand/scrape off glue from the fingerboard is not a pleasant activity (not to me anyway!)
Checking and leveling the frets is always a good idea to me provided you have enough metal. Don't forget to back and re-crown them though. And beware taking off too much metal during the crowning and having to re-level. There's a vicious circle hiding in there.
carefully done, you can wick in thin superglue with little showing afterwords.
cleanup is done with superglue remover or even acetone, taking care to keep it away from any nitro lacquer finish. that and some careful scraping and steel wool polishing and you're good to go.
as for re-fretting, it's no problem at all; you should be heating up the frets to remove them anyway, which will break any superglue joints just fine (just don't breath the fumes).
i've seen way too many instruments (even expensive new ones) with sprung-up frets to not recommend gluing them.
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