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Bad lifting frets problem

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by JDGA fan, Feb 13, 2005.


  1. JDGA fan

    JDGA fan

    Oct 9, 2003
    NC
    I just took my back-up bass out of a closet where it has been standing upright in it's case (unused for about 6 months) and noticed that all of the frets from about the 3rd fret on through the 15th fret are pulling out of the ebony board, in some cases the wood adjacent the fret is "bubbling" along the length of the fret - looks bad. The frets are up so high that I can get a fingernail under the fret on both sides. The bass is roughly 15 years old, so it should be stable. I bought it used a couple of years ago, so I don't know whether the frets are original. Anyone have any idea what is going on - the closet is in an air-conditioned home, so no temperature extremes, and dry (too dry maybe)? More importantly, anyone know how I can fix this problem and can I do it myself? The bass is currently unplayable, since the frets are all at different heights. :crying:
     
  2. Trevorus

    Trevorus

    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    Well, first off, use a good fretboard conditioner like lemon oil or some similar product. You can pop the frets back in if you are comfortable doing it, or get a fret press tool from StewMac. Pressing is the way I reccomend. Less possibility of damage to the fretboard.
     
  3. JDGA fan

    JDGA fan

    Oct 9, 2003
    NC
    Thanks - if I don't have a fret press how would I go about popping them back in? Do I need glue? Can you describe the method?
     
  4. Trevorus

    Trevorus

    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    Glue shouldn't be necessary. The best thing to pop in a fret with is one of those plastic deadblow hammers. You must support the neck very well to prevent damage, and I also reccomend masking off the wood in between the frets. Then cover that with a diaper type rag, and tap at it until it seats. The reason I reccomend a press is that it pushes down on the entire fret at once, and doesn't make the other side pop up. Let me see if I can find out how much a press costs.
     
  5. JDGA fan

    JDGA fan

    Oct 9, 2003
    NC
    OK, this may be a stupid question, but what is to stop it (them) from working loose again? I have owned umpteen basses over the years and have never had this kind of problem before (12+ frets all lifting out at the same time). What do you think could have caused it?
     
  6. Trevorus

    Trevorus

    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    Probably dryness of the wood itself. That will cause the frets to sprout first of all, then they will start to pull away if that isn't taken care of.
     
  7. teej

    teej

    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    I've heard of some kind of gel glue that's supposed to work well for fretting. Supposedly, the gel expands and contracts with the fingerboard and keeps the frets from popping out. Anyone know what that stuff is called?
     
  8. Trevorus

    Trevorus

    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
  9. Rock City

    Rock City

    Apr 8, 2001
    Boston,Ma
    I use "water thin" cyanoacrylate (super glue) after re-seating the frets, I use a toothpick dipped in the glue, then drop the glue into the fret slot on both sides. The thin stuff wicks down the fret and holds it very well. When it's time for a re-fret, just tap the frets with a fretting hammer, and the glue will break free. Cyano is very strong but very brittle.
    Corey
     
  10. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    I also wick some "super glue" into the frets from the ends to hold them down. It is a fairly common practice.

    And yes, a quick light whack with a fretting hammer or use a soldering gun to heat the fret up will also break the glue for a refret

    :^)~
     
  11. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    FWIW:

    another option is to locate a local luthier that has a fret press and get a price for doing as much. Looks like an arbor alone is $40+ off Stewmac, you'll probably never use it again, and use with a press really seems the way to go.
     
  12. JTGale

    JTGale

    Oct 26, 2004
    Hummelstown, PA
    Could this bass have had a new fret job sometime in the past? I just wonder if maybe the tangs don't match the slots well enough. It would certainly explain them popping out and no matter how you reseat them, they won't stay if they are not wide enough. In this case, you might have to use glue.

    Just a thought ...
     
  13. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    Concur - from previous post, the super glue sounds like there's no downside. Out of curiosity, has as anybody had bad experience with the super glue or know of reason not to use it? Seems like Hambone has said something about using it with good success (that ought to flush him out :).
     
  14. JDGA fan

    JDGA fan

    Oct 9, 2003
    NC
    Thanks everybody for your contributions - I found a local tech with a fret press who is going to do the work and I will mention the glue option when I take it to him for repair. The bass could have had a new fret job. It's about 17 years old and had very little fret wear when I bought it so that's a possibility. The guy I bought it from wasn't the original owner, didn't play much and couldn't tell me anything about the bass. Live and learn I suppose.
     
  15. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    So how much for the work?
     
  16. JDGA fan

    JDGA fan

    Oct 9, 2003
    NC
    Well it seems that he is not going to be able to do it after all. The tech wanted to refret the whole neck at a cost of $200, which actually seemed pretty cheap to me, rather than trying to push the individual frets back in and glue them down. However, to do the refret he wants to be able to plane the fingerboard and since I have SIMS Leds with clear magnifier lenses fitted for dot markers that really ain't going to work for me - those puppies are expensive. The tech does not want to try and glue the frets back in one by one - he says that it won't work with so many of them lifting up.
     
  17. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    You can replace the frets without planning / resurfacing the fingerboard, although most of us prefer to do that, as it removes any slight humps or dips in the fingerboard.

    However, for those customers who didn't want the fingerboard resurfaced, I usually go with a taller fret wire and then shave the frets down to the proper level for that customer and then dress and polish the frets. This allows me to overcome any slight bumps or dips in the fingerboard without having to resurface it.

    Another thing that can be done is to use a pair of fret tang expanders on the fret wire. This is basically a "waffle" type crimper that in effect widens the tang on the fretwire, and is a common practice when doing a refret on an instrument that has had several previous refrets and the fret slots are getting worn and enlarged.

    Of course, I still wick some super glue into those type of refrets as well even after using the tang expanders.

    :^)~
     
  18. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    Did he say what the bubbling was and what caused the frets to pop?

    Seems to me that if either the frets can simply be pressed in and reseated and glued or they can be removed without damage, slots cleaned up, and frets reinstalled, and glued at around $50 or so I'd go for it and take my chances, Maybe it works for 6 days maybe it's permanent.
     
  19. JDGA fan

    JDGA fan

    Oct 9, 2003
    NC
    "Did he say what the bubbling was and what caused the frets to pop?"

    The lifting he said was simply due to the wood drying out - funny though it took 17 years to get to this point - and the "bubbling" is caused by the tangs in the fret lifting up the surrounding wood as the fret works it's way out. He thought it might have had a prior refret, but couldn't be sure. He was pretty adamant that glueing the frets in wasn't going to work.
     
  20. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    Hmm... one of Dan Erlewine's favorite methods (according to his books, anyway...) is to make the fret slots too wide for the tang, and to then fill the fret slots with epoxy, put the frets in, put a radius block that matches the fingerboard over the top, clamp the whole thing together and let it set. This method completely eliminates popping frets.

    The method of wicking super glue into the fret slot after the frets have been either pressed or hammered in works. Perhaps the Luthier you're dealing with is not familiar with the method.

    What you do have to be careful of is getting superglue where you don't want it. It is easiest to do it on a new instrument before the finish is applied as any extra glue that might be at the site of application can be lightly sanded off before putting the finish on... and you also have to be careful of super glue running onto the fingerboard, just don't put too much on at one time.

    Try another Luthier, or ship it to me and I'll do it, you'll just need to pay shipping both ways..... and I'd have to see it before giving you an estimate on putting in the new frets, but as long as the fingerboard isn't way out, $75 should do it.