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Fret leveling + crowning

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by LkS, Jun 6, 2016.


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  1. LkS

    LkS

    Oct 30, 2013
    EU, Slovakia
    Hi, I recently bought my dream bass SBMM RAY34CA only to find out that it needs some serious love in the fret ... area. I'm from EU and a new one would be just shy of 1K EUR so I bought it second-handed from UK ... so no returning it (I wouldn't really want to).

    The two (ex)luthiers in my town refused to do what I've asked them to do and tried to compesate the high frets with either a high setup, or telling me that I need to play with a lighter touch to not get fret buzz on the few frets.

    So I decided to level the frets (and cut the nut which is high) myself. I already have a fret rocker, so I have identified the high frets, a notched straight edge, and I'm thinking of buying a leveling beam and a crowning file (+all the smaller essentials).

    The thing is, I really don't want to have my first take on the job on my main bass, so I was thinking about buying a cheap guitar (they are much cheaper than basses) and trying it out on it.

    The question is, how different is leveling frets on a guitar, and on a bass? (and would you guys approve of this idea at all)
    Additionally to that, I am a little unsure as to what size leveling beam would be ideal for the job. Is a 16" (40 cm) beam ok or does it have to be 24" (60 cm) which spans the whole lenght of the neck.

    Thank you very much for your inputs.
     
  2. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    A guitar is absolutely no different than a bass, except for the length of the fret board and possibly the size of the frets. A leveling beam is an unnecessary cost, you can just buy a 2 foot aluminum level with a machined bottom surface.

    If its only one or two frets that are high, make sure they haven't lifted and are fully seated in the slot. If they are seated correctly, you can just address those frets individually without the need for a full fret job. If they are uneven across the board, it would be best to level the whole thing.
     
    sissy kathy likes this.
  3. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    I have an $80 junk bass I'm using to practice fretwork on, if I screw it up, no biggie. +1 on the level as a beam too, I have an old high quality aluminum level that I'm using, its as straight as I can measure. Bass frets are often wider/higher than guitar, so you may have a little more leeway in how much you can take off, otherwise the same process as guitar. My local hardware store has some aluminum angle stock that's very straight tested against my good straightedge, but you have to cherry pick a little.
     
  4. LkS

    LkS

    Oct 30, 2013
    EU, Slovakia
    I noticed that with a fret rocker, there are multiple frets that are slightly higher. But when I play the bass, there's really only one that buzzes quite a lot.
    Maybe just taking down the one would be better/easier for start.
     
    peter-j likes this.
  5. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Fixing one fret so you can get the action down often leads to other frets buzzing. You may as well do the whole job. I can't believe the guys in your area can't do a simple fret job.
     
  6. LkS

    LkS

    Oct 30, 2013
    EU, Slovakia
    Guess I'll be the guy from now on :)
     
    peter-j and rojo412 like this.
  7. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Flea market guitars that are essentially destroyed can be purchased for a song. Or twenty dollars. Doesn't matter if they're acoustic or electric, just that they have frets. Guitars are more plentiful than basses, and acoustics more so than electrics. Guitar strings are cheaper, too. Buy a few and experiment until your work looks as good as the factory does. Then you'll be ready to start perfecting your skills.

    As far as the aluminum level goes, a precision straight edge will tell the tale. If you have a table saw with a reliably flat cast iron top, 600 grit sandpaper can be taped on and it can be used for flattening the flat of the level I beam. Failing that, find a machine shop with a decent sized surface plate and have them lap the surface. The charge will be minimal and the tool will be spectacular. Just remember that it is now a dedicated tool. It can no longer be used for deck building or concrete work.

    Most importantly, the first ten or twenty attempts should be performed on things you do not care about.

    Repeat the mantra: Practice on scrap.
     
    peter-j, walterw and Hopkins like this.
  8. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    That's the spirit! If you get good at it, you could probably make a few bucks on the side doing it for other people, but make sure you practice on some junk first! There are tons of cheap Indonesian guitars and basses out there with terminal fret sprout, but otherwise playable. Some of them simply don't level the frets at all, as on my $80 "P-Turd", possibly the worst P-Bass clone in existence by Austin.
     
  9. wcriley

    wcriley

    Apr 5, 2010
    Western PA
    My first ever full fret level/crown was part of my first ever full refret...on my 69/70 Gibson ES335. :eek:
    I was brave, dumb and broke at the time. Could have been luck, but it turned out well.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2016
    peter-j and narud like this.
  10. LkS

    LkS

    Oct 30, 2013
    EU, Slovakia
    Is it absolutely necessary to remove the nut when leveling the frets with a beam?
     
  11. Radio

    Radio

    Jan 8, 2010
    New Haven, CT
    I learned to do this from Rob DiStefano, whose pups I just put in a J build recently, BTW.
    Tele Neck Refret

    I use 3M 77 spray adhesive on a piece of marble about 18 inches long to hold the sand paper.

    There is something called "fallaway" that many people recommend, where the the fret level from fret 12 to the bridge end has the fret 12 slightly higher to prevent buzzing. It seems to work.

    Good luck. Be brave with a junk neck at first!
     
    Slade N likes this.
  12. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    No not at all
     
    wcriley likes this.
  13. Stu_Bass

    Stu_Bass

    Nov 24, 2006
    Pennsyltucky
    12th fret is not higher but there is a SLIGHT ramp built in to the last frets. We're talking thousandths of an inch. You put a layer or two of masking tape on the fret at around the 15th fret and use the resultant angle to create progressively lower frets to the end of the neck. You also adjust accordingly if it's something like a 24 fret neck. Be careful. Research all this. Practice on a cheap bass. Know what you're doing
     
    Radio likes this.
  14. LkS

    LkS

    Oct 30, 2013
    EU, Slovakia
    Yeah I heard about the fallaway and it is something I'm very much interested in ... but maybe later :) I'll be happy for now with handling a simple fret level.
    Plus the Ray34CA doesn't seem to have a hump at the heel.

    I'm however still not sure what size leveling beam I should get, 16 or 24 inch.
     
  15. LkS

    LkS

    Oct 30, 2013
    EU, Slovakia
    So the tools are on their way.

    After all is done, how do I go about settting the truss rod and re-stringing the bass? Do I give the neck a bit of a back bow before I put the strings on or do I put the strings on first and then tighten the truss rod?
     
  16. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    Less stress is put on the various components if you have a bit of backbow or at least a striaght neck, but it's really not important one way or the other. Either way you can still adjust it.
     
  17. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    alpha-music.com
    definitely the longer one. for my money a shorter leveling beam just means you're sanding "up the hills and down the valleys", while the longer beam hopefully means you bridge the valleys, knocking down the high spots while leaving the low spots alone.
    after all is done none of that matters, string it up and adjust the rod to where it's right.
     
  18. Gaebrial

    Gaebrial

    Mar 8, 2016
    Make sure that you measure and level with the neck completely flat. That means removing the strings and adjusting the truss rod until the neck is perfectly straight.

    (I know there are some who might disagree with this, but I think it works fine, especially when you are starting out and don't have fancy machines to simulate neck pressure. Also, if it is old, you might not be able to get a flat neck with string tension- I have a couple ol' junkers like that.)

    If you measure and sand with the neck bowed or with relief, you are going to mess it up.

    Other than that, Godspeed. The worst that can happen is that you will learn how to install new frets :)
     
    steve66 likes this.
  19. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    I partly agree with this. And partly not. Here's why.

    Yes it is best to get the neck flat before levelling the frets. But if the neck has bent to the point that you have to tighten the truss rod significantly to get it flat you are starting out in a negative zone. The truss rod should be used to counteract the tension of the strings, and shouldn't have to fight a neck into flatness without the strings on.

    And there's the problem. If the neck isn't close to flat with the truss rod loosened and the strings off, you need to deal with that underlying problem. And that's pretty well a job for a specialist, not a hobbyist. We are talking about how to flatten a bent neck and that usually means heat treatment, compression fretting or the like and those take a lot of skill and experience. If the wood in its relaxed state isn't flat, you need to get it to that equilibrium or the problems will just come back.

    So adjusting the truss rod to get the neck flat when the strings are off is not really the best approach if you are not mindful of any residual tension exerted by the rod.

    Don't mean to be picky, just forwarding best practices.
     
  20. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

     
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