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Defretting ?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by 20one, Jan 10, 2003.

  1. 20one


    Jan 10, 2003
    Abilene, TX
    I have an Ibanez EDB500 4 string that I haven't even played in over a year since I got my 6 string. I love the bass, it can almost produce a fretless sound as it is with the right action, but I've been thinking about defretting it.

    I've never defretted an instrument before though, I've read about how to do it and I was wondering if I should just try to do in on my own or take it to someone that knows what they're doin ?
  2. Jason Carota

    Jason Carota Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2002
    Lowell, MA
    I was in the same situation a while ago. I had my old MIM Jazz just sitting around while my Warwick got all the use. It is not too much of a project to tackle on your own, IMO. Just take your time and pay attention to detail.
  3. IMO part of the decision to defret yourself should be based on what you would do to recover in the event of unforeseen problems. It's easy to say that you can do it yourself but I've seen lots of self-defrets and they really varied in quality. The process is pretty simple in concept but the execution is where the results are at. What happens if a large part of the fingerboard chips out during fret removal? What would you do to make the (now) fingerboard flat and radiused like it should be? If you are confident that you could solve these problems then you are a good candidate to do it yourself. To that end I have some tips and caveats:

    1. DO NOT USE A SCREWDRIVER TO REMOVE YOUR FRETS!! Sorry for the shout but this is a real pet peeve of mine. There is NO way a fret can be removed with a screwdriver without leaving a mark on the fingerboard that will have to be smoothed during finishing. It would be better to use end cutters, a flat nail clipper, or another specially designed tool to lift the frets out.

    2. If a splinter peels out with the fret, glue it back down in place (with CA glue) immediately. That way you won't lose it or have to use your slot filler for the splinter cavity. The job will look and feel a lot better and it will take less trouble to finish off.

    3. If your frets are glued in to the extent that removal will definitely tear up the fingerboard then heat up the fret to soften the glue before removal. There are lots of way of doing this but leave the acetylene torch in the shed. You can use an iron laid across the frets or a soldering gun. You must be very careful to not touch the wood with the hot implement or your neck will end up looking like a summer camp woodburning project rather than a real fretless.

    4. Before starting, make a decision as to what type of filler you will be using for the slots. Do you want lines? Bright lines or really camouflaged slots? There are ways of getting both with lots of variations in between. Some of the choices will mean that you will do things in a different order but you've got to have a clear idea in mind before you start.

    5. If you really want your filled slots to blend with the rest of the fingerboard, then make and save sanding dust from the fingerboard. You can then use this with glues to make a near perfect match to the color of your neck. WARNING! This is much more difficult to do with a white maple neck. It seems that not matter what adhesive is used for making the filling putty, it will be slightly off from the neck color. Just something to keep in mind when planning the project.

    6. For best results, use a radius block to sand and finish your defret. Your final setup will depend on how well you've kept your fingerboard flat and radiused. The lower you can get your strings, the better your mwah tone will be - assuming that's what you're looking for.

    The best description I've ever seen of this process came from our own Chasarms. He put up a webpage with pics and great descriptions of the process he went through to defret one of his instruments. Do a search to find the link to his how-to or maybe he'll chime in here with the info. His results were stellar and showed just what can be done when the project is attempted with planning and patience. Good Luck!
  4. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    Thanks for the kind words Haminator.

    Here's the link. I am amazed at how many hits this page has gotten. Almost 3,000! And I just stuck it up as an afterthought. It has somehow been dropped on the mimf links page and the hits are starting to pick up again.

    I have never tried to access it via a search engine.

    Anyway, defretting isn't for the faint of heart, but it isn't the toughest thing I have ever done either. Just be patient.

    rickster4003 and kman458 like this.
  5. all u need is this typ of wire cutters,iam not sure of the name but ,and a sodering iron. the wire cutters that i used dont cut wire like normarl ones do there made to cut parts on mother boards and what not they work great grabbing the fret so u can pull it out. ill look for a pic. in one of my guotar books it tells u to use one.
  6. That link needs to be locked at the top of our page here I think. I'll talk it over with Merls.
  7. darkspec


    Jan 2, 2003
    Cleveland Ohio
    Bump to top because this saved me from making a stuupid post about defretting. Great link, and the search feature is awesome.
  8. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    Hey guys, When I saw this thread renewed, I took a look at my old page.

    Can you believe the hit count has reached nearly 5,000!!!!

    Anyway, I was reminded as to how crappy it was being simply a .jpg of a graphic. So, I re-built it in HTML.

    Take a look. It is pretty pedestrian by todays website standards, but better than before.

    Anyone with real html skills is welcome to offer suggestions on an even better design.

  9. no4mk1


    Feb 21, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Hey... This thread saved me from asking a bunch of stupid questions as well.

    I am planning on defretting my 1986 Peavey Fury. I never play the thing anymore, and I have been lusting after a fretless.

    I have a mission!


  10. geezer316


    Jan 26, 2003
    make sure you file down the slots in the nut,when i did my bass i forgot to file the slots to allow the strings to sit lower towards the board and i went nuts trying to get the action as low as a frett-less should be. so i filed the slots down a tad and it now plays much better,its no JACO RE-ISSUE but it beats a mexican frett-less by a long shot:bassist:
  11. tappel


    May 31, 2003
    Long Island, NY
    I recently defretted a bass and it came out pretty good (in the end at least). I ripped out the frets with a screwdriver and pliers, which is NOT the right way. It caused lots of chipping on the fingerboard, but some acetone based wood filler and a few coats of polyurethane, along with much sanding, gave me a nice smooth finish.

    Here's a good article by Rick Turner:

  12. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    I defretted a bass about 18 months ago, and I think it went pretty well. Hambone's advice is good advice, and those links will tell you a lot. I used to have another one - the one I used when I went fretless myself - and I'll try to dig it out for you.
  13. Monkey

    Monkey Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Ohio, USA
    I have used a few different methods of filling the slots, but the one I've been using lately has been the best. I rub sanding dust into the slot and really pack it in, then I put CA glue in the slot. I use a couple of coats of the glue. I then use black leather dye that I bought from Stew-Mac on the rosewood fingerboard, and it looks like ebony.
  14. Thor

    Thor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I do a lot of modeling as a hobby, and just wanted to pass on that models shops carry CA+ which is more viscous, and sets up just a bit slower. An accelerator is also available in a spray. Plastic and wood modelers like CA+ because of its filling as well as sandable properties.

    I have had good results lately with experimenting with glue 'slurries' such as sawdust mixed with carpenters yellow glues , and then injected or mixed with CA+ at the final step. I would experiment with application prior to filling the final work, but this is a very interesting and powerful new technique.

    I learned about this from 'Fine Scale Modeler' magazine, a great project building resource.
    Part of Kalmbach Publishing somewhere in WI,

    Big Shrek likes this.
  15. Obsolex

    Obsolex Guest

    Nov 17, 2002
    Tyler Hole here. When Obsolex and I did our basses, we went off kind of a "speedy" description Mike Money gave.

    What we did is this:

    1) Use a flatheaded screw driver and pull out all the frets.

    2) Use 220 grit sandpaper (pretty fine grit) and sand it down till smooth (its rough after you take the frets out).

    3) Take wood filler and fill each slot with it and let dry for a couple hours.

    4) Sand down using 220 grit sandpaper till smooth (it might of gone a little high when filling, so just need to make it all even).

    5) Put lots of coats of polyurethane onto the neck during the next 2-3 days, letting dry for a long time to make sure the "inner wood" is completely dry.

    If you would like to hear soundclips of it, it's the GSR200 on this thread:


    Good luck, have fun and be careful! ~ Tyler Hole (note, I am not Obsolex).
    Big Shrek likes this.
  16. XavierG

    XavierG In Memoriam

    Hey, how are y'all doing?

    (Well, what did you want me to say? The Ham's pretty much covered it all. :) )
  17. jazzcatb17


    Dec 27, 2002
    Louisville, Ky
    Alright cats, try this for size,

    Last night I was playing my old OLP stingray for the first time in forever, but the tone was killing me. It was so clickaty clackity no matter what I did with it. So already favoring the tone of fretless, and wanting a brighter fretless sound than my Rhapsody was giving me, I ripped the frets out of the thing. I know I didnt do the proper process though. I simply took off the strings, took a fishing knive, worked it slighty under the fret and popped it out, no trouble, and very little mark left from the knife. After all the frets were off I ran the knive across all the hole's the frets were in and smoothed the ridges off them. I put back on the string, played with the truss rod and bridge, tuned it up and whalla! Instant mwaahhh. took me ledd than fifteen minutes. Anyways im in no way advising anyone to do what i did though, most frets are seated better than mine were, and from what i hear if the frets set good your tear the heck out of your fretboard. So a couple of questions now, is it imperitive they i fill the fret slotts with something? I dont mind the look of holes, and it plays fine with the slots there, but is it gonna damage my fingerboard to have slots across it? Also, the fingerboard is rock maple with a little epoxy on iy as is... should i finish with another layer? thanks...........jon b

    by the way, that OLP sounds 12 times better.
  18. 20one


    Jan 10, 2003
    Abilene, TX
    wow... been a while since I've been to these boards.. amazed to find that my newb question (or so I thought) was turned into a sticky rofl...
    Big Shrek likes this.
  19. Jonki

    Jonki I will not slap my Bee!

    Oct 14, 2003
    Arendal, Norway
    i defretted my bass, then i played a song on my bass, but the sound was sloppy and rotten. i didn't sand down the neck. the frets are back on now.i need some good tips for my 2nd try.

    regards Jonki :bassist:
  20. Jonki, how did you get to the bottom of this thread, post your message, and yet, NOT see the information included in all the other posts. :rolleyes:

    Please reread the thread and check out the links we've discussed and you will find the "good tips" you are looking for.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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