ARTICLE GUIDE, Defret your bass guitar

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by semborg, Feb 21, 2007.

  1. I am currently defretting a cheap jazzcopy and would like to share how I do it. I do not say that I am a master but I hope you can find somethin helpful. Also I want to point out that this is my method and there are others that might work better. This is how I do it.

    This is the bass I am defretting:

    Step one, remove strings. (some prefer to work with the neck itself but its fine to me to have it on)

    You need a yellow hammer, screwdriver and [don't know the english word, check picture

    Put the screwdrivers head against the side of the fret, knock carefully with the hammer on screwdrivers back.

    Do exacly the same on the other side. 5- 10 times on each side (10 knocks every time)

    Take the [insert english word] and grip the fret. Pull carefully upwards.

    It should after that look something like this:

    Keep on doing the same on the other frets

    "Slow motion":

    Take your time, at the end only the result will be visible and hearable.

    Keep an eye on the neck, due to it now is stringless it can move. Try to keep it as straight as possible.

    One fret left!


    Do some sandpapering job.

    Until it look something like this:


    Now its time to fill up the empty slots. I am using chemical wood. (det går också bra att blanda sågspån med trälim om man vill verka smart)

    Here is what you need, lacquer, chemical wood, brush, putty knife, sandpaper.

    I will use this swedish lacquer:

    Fill up with chemical wood, make sure it come deep down.

    Don't be scared, it will look nice later.

    You can take how much you feel like, if you take too much you are on the "safe side". But it will give you more sandpapering work.


    Be patient it will take some time.

    Now use a finer sandpaper, it will in some time look like this:

    Time to varnish. THIN LAYERS!. 10-hours to dry. Make sure the place is clean when you put the lacquer on, we don't want any dust around.

    First layer of laquer layd.

    Too be continued...
  2. Orco87


    Mar 26, 2000
    pretty much exactly how I did mine, except I haven't put on the polyurethane coating yet. nice run-through so far, it'll help a bunch others who decide to do this... if anyone's left that hasn't yet. haha :D
  3. cat_s


    Apr 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    Nice job, semborg.
    Looks like the frets came out clean without a lot of chips. :)

    By the way, the english word for that tool is "pliers" in the US. That looks like what we call "slip-joint pliers". (The British may call it something else.)

    Oh, and if you are interested you can see my defretting project at
  4. Thank you Cat_s, yes this time I manage to bring out the frets without too much loose wood, quite clean as you said.

    I would like to see your project but the link is not working.
  5. Basshole

    Basshole Banned

    Jan 28, 2005
    Screwdriver may work, but a nice thin butterknife is really the way to go IMHO...I defretted a crappy old Cort I had with one.

    Slid the knife in from the sides, and just wiggled up and down to work the frets out gently.

    I got the frets out with zero tear-out.

    Used an epoxy woodfiller. It kinda looked and smelled like BONDO (for those who have ever done autobody repair). Even had a separate tube of hardener, just like BONDO.

    Eventually, I replaced the neck with a custom made ESP 5-string neck, simply because although it was better as a fretless, it was still crap (no rigidity). The body has since been replaced too (Mike Tobias made me a sweet P-body for it), and now it's a whole 'nother animal...but it was a learning experience.

    I wouldn't hesistate to do it again. Got my butter knife!
  6. cat_s


    Apr 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    This link should work.

    I'm still having trouble navigating the whole "myspace" scene. It has it's uses, especially for musicians, but I still think it's kind of creepy.
  7. jonpopu


    Nov 3, 2006
    Also it would help if you use an Iron carefully to melt the glue holding the frets in. Also end nippers like cat used in his project work well, especialy if you grind the ends flush.
  8. Basshole

    Basshole Banned

    Jan 28, 2005
    Very few instruments have glued-in frets.
  9. Linkert

    Linkert Guest

    Oct 24, 2006
    Nice :D
    I notice how you have written "I am using chemical wood. (det går också bra att blanda sågspån med trälim om man vill verka smart)" Why did you type in swedish? jag är svensk så jag fattar vad det står men på en sida från USA???...
  10. I used a sandpapering machine to get the old finish and the sawdust-glue-mix off. Saved me a lot of time. <b>Of course I did the last tuning by hand with very fine sandpaper</b>.

  11. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    Nice job of taking photos and documenting the job!

    You got lucky in that there was very little rosewood chipping, and you were EXTREMELY lucky that you didn't permanently dent the fretboard using a screwdriver to pry on the frets. That scares me to death!! I would not recommend doing that.

    When I did this, I heated each fret with a soldering iron and used end nippers to pull the frets VERY carefully, but I still had a number of fretboard chips caused by the teeth on the underside of the frets. I saved the chips and carefully glued any significant chips back in place with super glue.

    Then I took a craft saw with a blade .022 wide and sawed carefully across each fret line to open it up, as the lines were not straight. Then I bought white styrene plastic strips .020 thick, trimmed them to a rough fit and super glued them in place.

    Following this, I trimmed the extra plastic off with a razor blade, then sanded lightly with 200 (?) grit sandpaper - just enough to level the styrene and the glued areas where I repaired the chips - and finished with a coat of tung oil.

    Personally, although you may prefer polyurethane on your fretboard, I would dislike that finish. I'm much happier with a light application of tung oil.

    The result is seen here: P-J_bass_full.
  12. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    any kind of nippers are preferred over utilizing a screwdriver and hammer to remove the frets. you are indeed lucky to not have significant wood chips and dents. that said - excellent job documenting the overall fretted -> fretless conversion process.

    you can buy these two tools pre-made, or simply find a similar tool and gring the ned flush. the latter is definitely a less expensive way to go



    should you decide to, various wood veneers cab be installed instead of the wood putty (chemical wood.) you can also utilize dark glue on a dark fingerboard to help hide the fret tang marks in the fret slots against the veneer

    if you really want to take your fretless fingerboard to perfection, utilize a radiused sanding block that matches your fingerboard radius. something like one of these


    or even better, if you do this a lot with a certain fingerboard radius, one of these


    all the best,

  13. Koki


    Mar 27, 2006
    I did it, I removed the frets from the side. I put the screwdriver on the side below the frets and then gently knocked wit hammer. All frets were out by 15 min, no big dammage, very good done. I filled the spots with wood glue. It's fun to mess around with it but I don't really like flatwounds and sustain(is that right word??) on fretless. I mean the sound is great but kinda bad sustain on upper register, just like on double bass. Harder to play chords.
    When I get back on fretted I have a strange feeling, I start pushing strings directly on frets. After few min. its ok
  14. worthim


    Nov 20, 2007
    Austin, TX
    In my experience, filling the slots with veneers provided the best results. The exact process is detailed here:

    Important considerations are:
    1. use end nippers
    2. place electrical tape along both sides of the fret to trap any chips
    3. super glue the chips before removing the tape
    4. clean out fret slots
    5. sand carefully to level
    6. lower nut and bridge to compensate for fret height loss
    7. be prepared to shim neck

    Happy defretting! :bassist:
  15. when you sand the neck do are you sanding back the inlays too?
  16. Labi


    Jun 14, 2006
    Different basses use different material inlays that will give different results when you sand them. My Fender inlays gave positive results after being sanded while the cheap plastic inlay blocks on another cheap bass that I have defreted turned out disasterous.
  17. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    I ground up some rosewood and filled fret slots, coated with marine epoxy.

    Treebeard likes this.


    Dec 29, 2009
    Awesome tutorial. Definitely gonna use it later, but has anyone defretted a neck that has binding? My dean has binding on the sides of the neck and I'm just wondering whether it would get in the way too much.
  19. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    I wouldn't use the screwdriver method to pull the frets - that's NOT a good idea and is very likely to damage the fretboard.

    Use nippers to pull the frets, and preferably heat them with a soldering iron before pulling them.

    Also - don't fill the slots with anything that will compress. Use a solid material like plastic strips or wood veneer.
  20. keep in mind, I've never defretted my own bass, had it done professionally always. but I'm going to try it on a new cheap but surprisingly good bass I picked up for about $60 used but mint (a sejung natural wood finish dual humbucker job).

    So my reasoning brings me to the following assumptions. They're just assumptions, so please correct me, but it just seems logical to my inexperienced mind.

    re: your quoted comment, why would artificial wood filler compress? from my experience with that material in traditional woodworking it becomes pretty hard and should stay put very well. it doesn't expand or contract later any more or less than veneer or plastic would, and it should wear down more evenly over time with the fretboard than a foreign material like plastic would.

    on the other hand, I'd be worried about using plastic or veneer which might not press against the sides of the fret slot perfectly if the slot isn't 100% even everywhere.