De-fretting vs filing frets

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by, Jul 8, 2017.


    Apr 12, 2013
    I'm thinking about turning a bass (RW fingerboard) into fretless and talked to a very respected luthier in my area about the service.

    He suggested that instead of removing the frets and filling the gaps with resin, he usually files them until there is only that bit that stays inside the wood and then levels the entire surface. He says the service gives perfect results and it still has the advantage of being easy later to re-fret the bass if I feel this is the case.

    What do you think about this? I had not previously heard about this method.

    Apr 12, 2013
  3. superheavyfunk

    superheavyfunk 音楽は人生だ

    Mar 11, 2013
    Dug2 likes this.

    Apr 12, 2013
    Yes, I did a better search and found other ones (like this: Fretless conversion: pull or grind frets?)
    The problem is that I wasn't sure about the proper words to search for (now I realize grinding is giving me more results than filing).
    superheavyfunk likes this.
  5. Low Commotion

    Low Commotion Supporting Member

    I am a part time guitar tech and have refretted guitars and basses. I have also removed frets and converted a bass to fretless. I've also converted a fretless to a fretted bass.

    I can't imagine filing down frets level to the fretboard and doing it evenly. Firstly, that would be a lot of work filing down each fret. The fretboard would have to be dressed after the frets were filed down to the fretboard, and it would be difficult because the fretboard is wood which is a lot softer than frets. What I mean here is that once the frets are filed down, the fretboard would have to be dressed (sanded using a radiused block) so it would be perfectly level. So I would think that would be tricky trying to keep it level down the length of the neck.

    Also, it would be difficult to remove the fret tang (that piece of metal fret that is still in the fretboard once you filed the frets) if you wanted to put frets back in. There would be nothing to grab to pull them out. It would be very messy.

    In my opinion, I would not file the frets down. I would advise against it. You would be better off finding someone who would do it properly and completely remove the frets and filling the slots with a wood veneer. I also think that it would be easier removing wood veneer markers than slots of metal. I'm not a luthier, so it could be done, but my experience tells me otherwise.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2017
    RSBBass, Badwater, Beej and 4 others like this.
  6. My opinion would agree with Low Commotion. I'm not sure how your luthier thinks removing the ground down fret tangs would be easier than resawing the slots through a wood veneer if you did want to go back to fretted but he may have a secret the rest of the litherie world is unaware of.

    Also, since the fret tangs are harder than the fretboard wood, depending on the wood and strings used, you will eventually have "lumps" where the fret tangs are. Could help intonation but bad for "mwah".

    Really, the main disadvantage to pulling the frets and filling the slots is if the removal is not done carefully and the fretboard chips and even that can be repaired and / or covered up when the material is glued in the slots.

    That's my opinion. As always, don't take advice from random dinks on the internet, ymmv, etc.:D:smug:
    gebass6 likes this.
  7. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    I'm not sure that I'll call myself a luthier, but this is some very odd thinking here that your "luthier" has given you. First off, it could not possibly be easier to file down all of those frets even with the surface of the fretboard than it would be to simply pull the frets and prepare the board, like has been done 1000000 times in history.

    Secondly, one would not "fill the gaps with resin", but would at least use a veneer of a similar hardness to fill the slots. That way it could be cleaned up easily and you're not fussing with resin/hardener and smoothing the board for hours sanding that stuff off.

    Lastly, I can't image any "advantage" to having to carefully pull out/knock out all of those little metal slivers from the fret slots in order to then just put new frets in again. I've refretted a fretless before and it was pretty easy to just saw out the slots and refret. Quite a bit less work than it would have taken to pull old filed out frets, etcetera.

    All these things together add up to one thing for me: stay away from that "luthier"... :D
    gebass6 likes this.
  8. Ant Illington

    Ant Illington I'm Anthony but I'm only illin' Inactive

    I have to disagree with the disagreers here. I'd take the word of a "very respected luthier." Why would he put his good rep on the line? Unless you have him mistaken, I'd take his word.
  9. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    Grinding down the frets so that they are even with the fretboard is a horrible idea, compared to removing the frets and replacing them with hardwood veneer strips. Using the removal and refill with hardwood is a one time job. Grinding down the frets will likely result in "fret sprout" every time the weather changes. It will likely require bi-annual trips back to the luthier for touch ups. Perhaps that why they recommended that particular method.
  10. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music. Supporting Member

  11. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music. Supporting Member

    And there are other respected luthiers that will swear by the exact opposite.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2017
    Gilmourisgod likes this.
  12. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    Really? With all due respect, did you read the original post that included the descriptions of what the "very respected luthier" advised? I don't call myself a "luthier" but I've built over two dozen instruments from scratch and repaired or modified many hundreds since 1985 when I started.

    The "advice" this "luthier" gave is all the evidence I'd need to know for a pretty solid fact that the guy either did not understand what was being asked of him, or he does not have enough skill/experience to know that what he was suggesting was... well... foolish. I can pretty much guarantee that he has not ever "filed" the frets off a fretboard in the fashion he was suggesting, or he would have personally known what was involved and not have suggested it.

    Experience is a great teacher - we can speculate all day long, but until a task is tackled and the specifics are exposed to us by actually doing it, there is no real experience to draw from, and hence our predictions are nearly random in their accuracy. For more, see "Dunning-Kruger effect"... :)
    gebass6 likes this.
  13. nandinga


    Nov 11, 2013
    Barcelona, Spain
    Badwater likes this.
  14. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    I would have the frets totally removed and slots filled with similar wood veneer. That's my preference. Also, I would have a very thick heavy coat of hard finish like epoxy over the fingerboard. That's my preference, as dot markers, or block inlays and the fret fillers (or left behind metal from frets), would cause crazy variations in the fretless sound. Especially when you slide double stops for the Meow sound.

    Regarding the so called highly respected luthier, he could be a money making machine.
    nandinga likes this.
  15. nandinga


    Nov 11, 2013
    Barcelona, Spain
  16. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017

    I've seen it, and looks like a lot of work to apply without much room for error. There are noticeable differences in sound with fretless maple, rosewood, ebony, and ebonol. I don't know what the tone of crazy glue does to these woods, but I'm sure it will make them brighter in tone.
  17. nandinga


    Nov 11, 2013
    Barcelona, Spain
    Probably yes... superglue is hard.

    Apr 12, 2013
    Thank you for all the answers and opinions. As matter of fact, I decided to ask here precisely because I found the guy's suggestion strange. I had never heard of this procedure of filing the frets before that day, but he stated very confidently that he'd done it for other people and that the results were great.

    All I know is that, no matter the procedure, I'd rather have a fretless neck to install on my bass (keeping the fretted neck for the day I feel I need a fretted jazz bass sound or if I decide to sell the bass). It's not an easy thing to buy a warmoth down here and to have a good neck built is not at all cheap, so I started to consider de-fretting. I'll see what I'll eventually do, but I'm convinced that having the frets filed won't be the way to go for me...
    mapleglo likes this.
  19. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    This is like the Zombie thread topic of Luthiery, no amount of common sense or good advice seems to kill it completely. It should be obvious to anyone that this is a bad idea, since wood and metal expand and contract differently, resulting in fret sprout at some point in the life of most basses. Now compound that simple fact by extending the problem across the whole face of the fretboard? NFG. Any "Luthier" or guitar tech who suggests this is simply not competent.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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