1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Fret leveling tips?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by tjclem, Aug 13, 2007.

  1. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    I am doing my first fretted 5 and have some uneven frets. what do you all use to make sure the frets are all even height and tips period?
  2. scottyd

    scottyd Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2006
    Waco Tx
    Builder/owner Redeemer Basses
    This is what I do and it’s probably different than most people. I flatten all of the frets with the same radius board I used on the fingerboard and 400 grit sand paper. Sand just enough that you see a flat spot on all of the frets, your low and high spots should show almost immediately. Be careful because it doesn’t take much effort with that grit to take more material off than what’s needed. Once that’s done I string up the instrument and check for buzzes and whatnot, if there are some they are corrected by more leveling and checked with a square to help find the culprit frets. Once the frets are perfectly leveled they are dressed and crowned using a crowning tool. After crowning I tape off the fingerboard and polish the frets out using 1500 grit paper with my fingers and follow up with a metal polish on a rag. Hope that helps!
  3. This is the method I used for quite some time and it's still the same method, but the straightedge is the steel one that stew mac sells in 24" length which works much better and less strain on your shoulders.

    - adjust the truss rod to get the neck with a small hump ( :D ) in the middle ...about 1/32".
    - I used a piece of 2" thick x 12" long hard maple jointed dead flat. I double sticked some 80 grit sandpaper and levelled flat.

    - tape 10 layers of blue masking tape at around the 10th to 12th fret and mask half the leveling block.

    - sand the end of the fingerboard toward the body ...about 20 or 30 strokes ...this is to do a bit of fall out on the neck.

    - straighten the neck as flat as possible (remember, you have fall out now)

    - mark the top of frets with permanent marker.

    - replace 80grit on leveling block with 320 grit and sand following the taper until all the marker is removed from all the frets ...reapply marker and repeat.

    - recrown

    - polish with micromesh going through the series up and down the fingerboard.

    - ROCK OUT!

    I have one of those fret rockers (small steel straight edges in a triangular thingie) ...that thing is very useful to finding offending spots before stringing up. I recommend you use it, or something similar ...I used a small steel ruler before I bought that. If there's a high fret, I touch it up with the diamond recrowning file.

    (I'm not describing the process I follow to dress the ends of the frets or bevel the edge of fingerboard/frets ...follow your own instinct on those.)
  4. So, that's the elusive mid-range hump?

  5. JSPguitars


    Jan 12, 2004
    Grass Valley
    yes, this mid-range hump thang........sup with that? And when you state that BEFORE installing the frets, you tighten the trussrod..........is this with a BACKBOW?

    very curious about this 'fallout' area and why you choose to do it with flatstock as opposed to a radiused sanding block? Is this somewhat like making a compound radius board?
  6. oh, I use a safe-t-planer to put a slight bevel on the fingerboard blank before gluing it to the neck stock. I feel I have more control with the flat board ...I don't like consistent radiused necks. I think you get a much better action with compound radiused boards and sanding blocks are not good for that. Just chase the cone and all will be well ;)

    As for the fall out, I learned to fret with Dan Erlewine's DVDs, and that's the way he taught it. I have found that when I didn't do the fall out it was much more difficult (or impossible, rather) to setup thet bass with the same low action as WITH the fallout. It works.

    Yes, it's a backbow. it makes a slight permanent relief on the board.
  7. Worshiper


    Aug 13, 2004
    New York
    sorry wilser...still not quite catching it...can you try to explain the "fall out" a bit better please? Are you tapering the board starting at the 12th fret or is it something else I'm not getting. and what is the purpose of that?
  8. DavidRavenMoon

    DavidRavenMoon Banned

    Oct 20, 2004
    I do it a lot like Wilsner.

    I get the neck straight. I tape off between all the frets with white paper masking tape.

    I color the tops of all the frets with a black or blue sharpie.

    I use the Stew-Mac 6" fret leveler file (the one with the wood handle) until I can see metal where the ink was. I try to get the tops even.

    I bevel the ends with the Stew-mac 7.5" Fret Beveling File. I have the older wooden handled version. You can use a regular mill file. That's what I used to do.

    I then crown the frets with a combination of the double-edge fret files... like the set at Stew-mac. I've had these for about 30 years. I finish up with a triangle fret dressing file I made. It's similar to the Stew-Mac #1601 Small, 7-3/8" three-corner file.

    Some 320 grit paper by hand. Then I use 400 grit paper on one of those sanding sticks (Stew-Mac sells them as Fret Dressing sticks, they used to be called Glit Sticks) and another with 600. I modified the sticks by filing in a groove for the fret.

    Then some 0000 steel wool, and finally I polish them with my Dremel with a polishing wheel and some rouge.

    I might have left out some steps, but you get the idea.

    One thing to remember... if you use Titebond to glue on your fingerboard, you might get a back bow because of the moisture in the glue. So it's a good idea to clamp it with a little relief in it, and then use the truss rod to get it straight for leveling.

    I generally use epoxy for gluing on fingerboards.

    Tight fret slots can also cause a back bow.

    You want to make sure your fingerboard is as true as possible, and that your frets are well seated. I hammer them in mostly, but I also have an arbor press, and the clamping cauls.

    I like to use CA glue when fretting.

    I mostly learned to fret from a guy I knew that worked for Tobias back when they were in Florida. Him, and some books. Later of course lots of good tips from Dan Erlewine.
  9. DavidRavenMoon

    DavidRavenMoon Banned

    Oct 20, 2004
    Yeah, you want to gradually lower the frets at the end of the fingerboard. This is especially helpful with bolt on necks, since they tend to get a hump there.

    But what you are doing is sort of putting in a compound radius, so you are lower and flatter up the neck.
  10. not really a "compound radius", IMO...just a slight slope on the last few frets...the radius of the board is maintained

    I've found that a little fall away is crucial for getting really low action...I know because, I didn't do this on my fret level project, and I'm getting a little bit of buzz on the last two frets if I set the bass below 2mm B-string 12th fret...I think fall away will definitely solve this problem, so next time I'm inspired to do a "touch up"...I'll put some in...

    BTW...I use a hardwood block ~ 12" long by 1.5" wide...I've checked it, it's dead straight...I double-face tape 320 grit to do my leveling...anything courser, and I'd be scared of taking off too much...

    the trick is light, but deliberate even strokes up and down, while working across the board...

    I do the "down and dirty" method of "crowning" by "skip sanding" up and down the board...I finish with 800 grit and don't mask the board, because the 800 gives the board a good "clean up" (I WOULD mask if it were anything other than rosewood or morado, however).
  11. Why do people keep calling me 'wilsner'? :confused:
  12. Phil Mailloux

    Phil Mailloux

    Mar 25, 2005
    Brisbane, Australia
    Builder: Mailloux Basses
    The fall out WilsNer :D is mentioning is what Dan Erlewine refers to as "fall away" on his dvd's and books. It's simply the fact that the higher frets are going slightly downhill from the 12-14th fret to the last. This helps get a lower action because that area is where strings vibrate the most and are likely to buzz on the higher frets.
  13. Son of Magni

    Son of Magni

    May 10, 2005
    Builder: ThorBass
    Lots of good information here. There's just a couple of things I can add.

    I have a little relief built into my clamping caul for gluing on the fingerboard which helps against the glue forcing any backbow.

    After radiusing the fingerboard but before gluing it on I have a jig that I use to run it through my drum sander which scoops the back of the board slightly to add some built-in relief. I've found this to be the most effective way to put the relief exactly where I want it, centered at about the 7th fret.
  14. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Lineā„¢ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    maybe it's done by those who have an affinity for Pilsner?


    all the best,

  15. JSPguitars


    Jan 12, 2004
    Grass Valley
    MMMMM, long live Pilsner Urquell!!!:bassist:
    Wilsner.......sounds a bit nasally......

    Very good information here. Thanks for explaining and divulging your methods everyone, I most enjoy learning this stuff. I gather I'll be getting these Erlewine videos at some point.
  16. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    Thanks guys lots of interesting stuff!
  17. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Better late than never I guess....here's my 2 cents worth for flat fretboards, which are the norm in my shop.

    I level my board first, I do not create a relief in the board, as I find the string tension does a fine job of it, and is easilly correctable with the truss rod if the relief is too great. NOTE: most all of my necks are Maple and walnut, Maple and Mahogany, Maple and Bubinga, or Maple and wenge. I don't use a lot of extra stiff woods in my necks as many do, so this is why I don't do a relieved board.

    I install the frets, trim and pre bevel them. I then use a 10"x5" block with a glass bottom to do my leveling. I use 220 for the first few passes, then 400 for the final leveling. I then take a Gaurian fretfile and crown the frets and then polish with 800, 1000, and 1500, then buff with a moto tool and some Flitz metal polish and jewlers rouge.

    As for radiused boards, I use a radiusing block(18" long) to level the board before gluing, then do a conical leveling(following the string paths) before fretting, creating a compound radius, much like WILSER!!!!! LOL

    I bend the wire, and install. Do a conical leveling and finish the frets. I then take my Fret Rocker(+100 WILSER!!!) and check for high spots.

    String it, attempt to play it(my skills have greatly diminished over the years) and set the action to approximately 3/32" which is my standard set-up.
  18. DavidRavenMoon

    DavidRavenMoon Banned

    Oct 20, 2004
    Oh my... sorry about that!
  19. no biggie. It's not the first time and I'm sure as heck it won't be the last. This is why I mostly go by Wil these days.

Share This Page