At what point are frets “dead”?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by BK bassist, Sep 12, 2018.

  1. BK bassist

    BK bassist Schroeder Cabinets endorsing artist Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2017
    Brooklyn, NY
    Before I found TB, I’d never have even considered changing out or re-fretting any of my basses but “dead frets” seem to be a pretty popular topic.

    I’m curious as to what’s the general determining factor that tells you a fret or frets are spent and should be replaced or fixed?

  2. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    It's gone too far when the fretboard has to be scalloped to expose what little remains of the fret tangs. (I have an old harp guitar on which this is the case - still playable, but seriously needs a refret.)
    jfh2112 likes this.
  3. BK bassist

    BK bassist Schroeder Cabinets endorsing artist Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2017
    Brooklyn, NY
    Thanks for the quick reply, are you suggesting that only when the frets have been work down to being "level with" or "recessed" from the fingerboard is when it's time to change them out?

    If frets on a bass appear worn but each note on every string is still clear and discernible, am I to assume the frets are still good and don't need any kind of maintenance?
  4. dmt


    Apr 19, 2003
    Orbiting Sol
    If each note sounds good, it is good.

    However, if the strings have worn visually obvious low points in the frets (might be on just one or two), well, then you can literally see that a problem is developing (even if it isn’t yet an actual problem when playing the instrument). Nevertheless, like i said, if it still sounds good, then it’s still good.

    You can get a "level and crown" to get the frets all even (leveled) and well-shaped along the tops (crowned) again, but now the frets will be overall less tall (which might be fine, especially for a first level ‘n crown done in a timely manner). Eventually fret wear will crop up again if you keep usiing the instrument in a similar manner, and you can probably get a new level ’n crown. ‘Eventually eventually’ though, the lowest divot will be too low for a level and crown to leave you with sufficient fret height and the frets will have to be replaced (or you could get an entire new neck, I suppose).

    For reference, I’ve been playing guitar and later bass for about 35 years now and in that time have had two level ‘n crowns done. Never had a refret. That said, I haven’t owned one guitar that long (my longest owned currently are about 14 years for one of my guitars and 12 years for one of my basses), and now I have a number of each and divide my playing time between them. My most played (and longest owned) guitar is one of the two that I had a level ‘n crown done on, and it’s definitely showing significant fret wear again 12 years later. It’s a bound neck, so it’s "bound to be" a problem eventually (so to speak).

    Basswise, I’ve got 5 basses that I divide my playing time between (though I mostly just play 2 of them), and besides the 12 year old one, the others are all only a few years old each, so, in terms of fret wear, so far so good. The bigger problem is, unfortunately, "me wear"! I think I’m gonna wear down before I’ll have to do anything more than a level and crown to any of my basses. If you have an older instrument or play hard using thick steel strings all the time on just one instrument, your mileage will likely vary
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
    BK bassist likes this.
  5. Axstar

    Axstar Inactive

    Jul 8, 2016
    When frets become little more than a nice shiny inlay then it is time to replace them.
    dmt likes this.
  6. mikeswals

    mikeswals Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2002
    Seattle / Tacoma
    When they are so low they can't be recrowned anymore and are just flat bars and your strings grind into the fingerboard wood.

    you can usually do several recrown jobs before frets are "worn out"
    Bassbeater likes this.
  7. mikeswals

    mikeswals Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2002
    Seattle / Tacoma
    These seem good for another crown job


    These divots seem way too low to save the frets with a recrown
    Unless you like flat frets

  8. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Element Zero and Caca de Kick like this.
  9. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    No, that's far too late, that's what I was trying to say...
  10. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Yeah, ouch! You can crown those, but you'll lose substantial fret height and may need to re-level, reset bridge saddles, even the nut - those are deep!
  11. Usidore T Blue

    Usidore T Blue

    Jun 28, 2017
    Just transition to fretless without actually buying a fretless! The savings just keep comig!
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
    ObsessiveArcher, dmt, JeffC23 and 2 others like this.
  12. Basically, when there is not enough material left height wise to be able to recrown, you are S.O.L.
    dmt likes this.
  13. Here's my take on it. With taller frets, I can have sloppier technique - with really low frets you have to fret perfectly or the string will rattle:
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
    DanAdams, bholder and Tom Henry like this.
  14. Kukulkan61

    Kukulkan61 Suspended Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2011
    Northern Arizona
  15. Acoop


    Feb 21, 2012
    This is crazy, how could you play an instrument with these ditch lines in the frets. ... Way past saving.
  16. DavC


    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    so squeezing really hard makes it sound better ..??

    i'd think if you use SS wound strings , then maybe , .... SS frets ..?

    or buy a few fret tools/toys and maintain ... breathe, as you appease Hephaestus
  17. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand
    They'd have to be pretty badly worn to present problems. This shot below is my neck with vintage sized frets which are quite a bit smaller than modern jumbo's. They could go to half their current height and still fret cleanly.

    Axstar likes this.
  18. Admiral Akbar

    Admiral Akbar

    Mar 12, 2013
    New York
    That Brazilian rosewood looks beautiful!
  19. nostatic


    Jun 18, 2004
    Lompoc, CA
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    Those frets aren't dead - they're just resting after a prolonged squawk. Or perhaps pining for the fjords.
    Steve88, Rev. Cornelius and BAG like this.
  20. The irony to that is that my Yamaha bass has frets with much more wear than that (after 20+ years and MAYBE fret polishing done twice during that time). Still plays great and sounds awesome to my ears.

    YMMV with just about every instrument, of course.

    But I DO agree that when things get this bad, recrowning is probably a good thing, not an absolute though...
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    Primary TB Assistant

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