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A New Fret Repair Technique

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Bubble, Nov 3, 2018.

  1. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    I haven't heard of this and so decided to pass along an idea I got for repairing a neck with only a few wear spots. Don't want to pull the fret ? It is possible to file or better, machine the worn fret spot down, leave about 0.020 inches left to the fretboard.

    Now cut off a piece of matching fret and file upwards from the bottom of the crown until you have a piece that fits the space you filed off the worn fret. Now silver solder the piece in. Leave enough room to be able to crown it to fit.

    I'm sure that will work if you make the piece fit tightly into the space that was cut from the worn area. This method is intended for those who do not want to pull the whole fret.
    You need to be able to quickly solder the "plug" in. And be sure to leave enough room to crown the plug to the fret under repair.

    Good luck, I am thinking about trying this on a bass I have with a few divots under favorite fret board positions. Not bad enough to do yet.
    Luthiers and owners alike could benefit from this, a quick easy repair job to a skilled master, money saved from the $300 refret job, and the luthier at least gets a job which may have been rejected for a full refret.
  2. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    Nice fat bass strings should have no problem with the plug edges but I do not think the thin strings of a lead guitar would make it over the seam without sticking.
  3. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    Thanks for the tip although it will probably be better received on the BG side of the house...
  4. InternetAlias


    Dec 16, 2010
    TL;DR: Bad idea, don't, I suggest you replace the most problematic frets (with biggest divots) instead, then re-level the frets as needed.

    This is a terrible idea that would actually take more time and skill to do properly, and even then, the results will be worse than a refret job. I can assure you doing this will by no means save any money/time in the long run.

    If you really have several frets that are way worse off, and would have to re-level the entire fretboard to get them back in working condition, actually cutting the fretwire and putting it in, then leveling it to match other frets is faster and probably even cheaper than your suggestion.

    For most people, the "favorite position" will really be somewhere within the fret 4-9 range. Those frets get chewed out the most. But even if that's the case, then your suggestion requires more micro work and might not end up being perfect, causing the frets to fail quicker from then on. Silver soldered part is a bad idea because when you continue applying pressure to that soldered metal piece, it will deform in a different fashion than if it was just an ordinary homogeneous metal fret. Then if you want to redo the whole "cut the fret in, cut part of fret wire, solder in" you'll realize eventually that it's becoming harder and harder to manage.
    mongo2 and Slater like this.
  5. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    I have made such repairs like that on other things. The idea is to avoid chipped fretboads or goofed finishes.
    A 1/8 inch end mill bit in a Dremel tool with the router attachment can be moved on two hardwood strips that are clamped onto the neck. A very precise depth can be done in minutes.
    I returned a used guitar with a crappy refret job, the frets were not solidly anchored and rocked like train track ties, and the edges were sharp. So much for that method, probably pulled so many times the fretboard grooves could no longer hold the frets in. Or incorrectly pulled.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
  6. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I doubt that you are going to be able to successfully silver-solder the patch onto the fret without the heat causing the fret to loosen and lift up. We normally use a soldering iron to help remove frets, and it only takes a little bit of heat to get the wood to let go. Much less than you'd need to do the silver-soldering.
  7. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    IMO it would be a lot easier to just replace the fret.
  8. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    Ok I haven't done it yet but had been reading that some claim that filling divots with hard silver solder works and lasts a long time. Whatever a long time is. I already have the replacement frets ready to go.
    I suppose then super glue will fill and hold the frets in. This one looks like a first time fret change, not as much worry. I don't know who or what happened to the XB-40 with the cutting edge "rock and roll frets".
    That made me look for an alternative.
  9. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    some are wrong ;)

    trying to "inlay" a thin layer of fret material on top of another fret would be a million times harder than just replacing the fret.
    96tbird and InternetAlias like this.
  10. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    Getting the new one in flush to the board, down on the edges, and firmly in place may not go so well. I know I can pop a fret right out. I would have to test super glue for corrosion of the fret material, and what if the fret board has oils soaked in enough to affect glue ?
  11. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    BTW when soldering on the fret for what ever reason, heat sinks can keep the heat mostly on the work spot.
    Clamp some 1/8" or 3/16 thick aluminum to the fret a 1/4" or so from the work on both sides if possible. Close to the edge will only accept one heat sink. A curve in the heat sink to match the crown is a big help, or some thermal paste will make sure the aluminum will absorb the heat. I have the stuff to do all that.
  12. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    There must be some better fret glue than super glue. Even lacquer paint might be better about corrosion but much slower to dry. That super glue is awfully brittle.
  13. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I glue all my frets in with LMI's Instrument Makers' Glue. It's like a better formulation of Titebond 1. I use a syringe to lay a thin bead down the slot, let it settle in for maybe a minute, then press/hammer the fret in. Let it cure for a few hours before doing any clipping or filing.

    The purpose of the glue, when installing frets, isn't to bond the metal to the wood. It's just not going to do that very well.

    The main value of the glue is to seal up the wood on the inside walls of the slot against moisture. When the bass is out in the real world, sweat and moisture from the air can wick under the frets and get into the fingerboard wood through the slots. That can make the wood swell, pushing frets up and affecting the overall stability of the neck. The glue seals up the slots.

    The glue also helps to temporarily lubricate the slot while the fret tang is being pressed in, and as it hardens, it fills any gaps and grips the tang. It bonds to the metal to a small degree, but it mostly depends on the mechanical grip to help keep the fret down.

    Many Luthiers do use CA glue to glue down frets, because it's fast and easy. I don't like it because it's too thin and too brittle. Better than not using glue, but not as good as a thicker wood glue.
    Geri O and Zooberwerx like this.
  14. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    As I understand it, the super-thin CA wicks easily although I can't say if it offers better adhesion. If it does wick well into end-grain (any grain?), is there any benefit in terms of providing a barrier and stabilization of the surrounding wood? I recall @Turnaround suggesting this application when reinforcing stripped screw holes.

  15. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    That's just it. Thin CA glue wicks in nicely, but then most of it sucks down into the end grain of the wood in the side walls of the slots. It helps to seal up the wood, which is good, but there's not much left filling the gaps surrounding the fret tang.

    That's why I want to use a thicker wood glue. I put it in the slot before installing the fret. Then, as I press the fret in, the glue is hydraulically forced into the end grain of the wood and into every space surrounding the fret. When it cures, the fret tang is effectively cast into a mold of hard glue. It's sealed up and mechanically locked down by the barbs. Not dependent on the glue bond to the metal.

    That's also why I like the LMI glue for this application; it dries harder than Titebond. Titebond is a great glue for many things, but it's formulated to stay a little bit rubbery for extra impact resistance. I don't want that between the frets and fingerboard.

    For the record, I've been using this technique of installing frets on all of the basses I build since about 1996. And I've never yet had a single fret loosen or lift up out in the field.
    Zooberwerx likes this.
  16. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    When doing repair work (popped fret end) CA glue is the go-to. It's fast when accelerated. For refretting, I've used Titebond or CA.

    On a refret, Titebond is wiped into the slots before installing the frets. Follow that with a with a damp rag to remove the excess. Bruce's method of using a syringe sounds way cleaner. (Do you thin the LMI glue before putting in the syringe?)

    The method when using CA is to press/hammer/clamp the frets in place and wick water thin CA under each fret. As noted above, most of the glue will wick into the end grain. That's a good thing. Sealing up the end grain keeps incidental moisture and moisture from the environment out of the fingerboard. A step further is to continue applying CA until the slot will no longer accept the glue. This will fill the slot a little better. Especially if you are using accelerator.

    As far as gluing anything to end grain, the best anyone can hope for is a low strength bond between materials. That includes wood to wood.
  17. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    In Dan Erlewine's early video series (when it was still on VHS tape) he told the story about doing his first re-fret when he was a teenager. He used a soldering gun and solder. For a file he used the little nail file on his fingernail clippers. He didn't know about leveling so he made the tops more or less match the rest of the fret. It didn't work very well. It didn't last very long. He laughed when he told the story.

    If the fret wear is noticeable or causing a problem, the answer is to dress the frets.

    As Turnaround said, removing and replacing an individual fret is faster. If several frets require service, it's still faster to replace them and spot level.

    If the fret wear is bad enough to cause a problem that dressing won't solve it's time to re-fret the instrument.
  18. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    re: soldering build-up on a fret:

    it's not new -i've heard of this before and imo it's clumsy and lame. i'm sorry, but a skilled master wouldn't touch this technique. just pull the fret. it's easier, less risky, and proven over time.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2018
  19. byacey


    May 16, 2008
    Alberta, Canada
    I assume the original poster is talking about lead / tin solder. Trying to solder with real silver solder will result in setting the neck on fire as the melting temperature is 1200F or more. Lead / tin solder is soft and doesn''t have much strength.

    For all the trouble, I would just replace the entire fret.
  20. Bubble


    Apr 17, 2013
    What they are doing with the fill is to use no lead silver solder which is much harder than lead.

    Seeing that no-pro cutting edge rock and roll fret job on that XB-400 set me on a journey to see if I could repair a fret without removing it. The heat sink method has the potential to work.

    Pretty obvious majority vote to just chance pulling the fret and use Bruce's advice (Thanks). That XB-400 refret must have been an inexperienced attempt that failed and prompted the owner to sell it.

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