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Fret leveling

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Billy K, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. Billy K

    Billy K

    Nov 5, 2009
    North Bay Marin
    I see youtube how to's and I have a question ...what I have seen is a steel block with sand paper attached and you straighten the neck and blacken the frets with marker and go back and forth with the steel block til marker is gone.Now I have seen it done with the curved wood block that Stew mac sells.Now doing it with that wood block would put a slight radius on the frets matching the neck. Usually the strings are lowered in a curved or arched manner.So here finally is the question which is correct? it seems that the block of steel will level the frets flat but with a curved fret board the E and G string would be higher to the fret board.What am I missing here ?
  2. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    The idea to leveling frets is to follow the radius with the leveling beam in narrow paths following the string paths across the width of the fretboard, you do not grind the frets until they are all flat. You follow the string paths from end to end, progressing in this fashion along the complete width.

    If you use 320 grit paper or 400 you will remove very small amounts and it will take you a few minutes to get the frets level across the whole board.

    Using a radius block is okay, but you will never get correct string path leveling with a radius block like you will with a sanding beam because you can't level with the string paths like you can with a beam
  3. What I do after straightening the neck is mask off the fretboard with masking tape, then spray Dykem Blue on the frets. Then I take my super-special freebie precision flat thingee (free slab of quartz polymer gotten from a counter top place), slap some self-adhesive sandpaper on it from a roll, and skate the weighted beam all over the frets evenly, keeping it parallel to the string path. It will come out even. If you are worried, just check the Dykem, which should be reapplied before crowning the frets (I file 'til there's just a faint strip of blue smack in the center of the fret). The hardest work has already been done at the factory, establishing everything just so. When you level them, you take down what's there evenly to get rid of the erosion.

  4. Scott in Dallas

    Scott in Dallas Commercial User

    Aug 16, 2005
    Dallas, north Texas
    Builder and Owner: DJ Ash Guitars
    I probably shouldn't be posting in the middle of the night, but...

    Absorbing as many of those how-tos and reading up is how you arrive at what works for you. You can see what people do wrong and what they do right, then you can go make your own mistakes. That's how I started.

    Your goals are a little different depending upon whether you're doing an initial level on a relatively new instrument or whether you're doing a level on an older instrument with worn frets.

    I use a diamond stone, which is dead flat, and will take off as little or as much as I want. I use a Sharpie and a fret rocker to mark high spots on initial levels. If you're going for a full level, then marking all the frets in the same fashion works.

    As mentioned, following the line of the strings results in a compound radius, and going parallel to the center line creates or maintains a fixed radius. Think cylinder vs cone. Both are valid techniques in my experience, depending on need.

    There may not be anything to gain from attempting to change the radius on an instrument, and there may not be any harm to putting a little bit of compound radius on the top of your frets. Consider if it's worth the extra work required and the loss of fret material. You have to crown and polish every place you leveled, and your fretwire only has so many levels in them before a refret is required.

    For example, if you have a bass with a 7 1/2" radius that otherwise plays fantastic, you just want to restore the fret tops so it can go back to being a fantastic instrument. No sense in reinventing the wheel in that case.
  5. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    also, just loosening the neck til it's straight and sanding on it is OK, but you won't get truly accurate results unless you have it in a tensioning jig that recreates the string-pull and how that bows and twists the neck.

    otherwise the "hills and valleys" will disappear when you take the strings off to file the frets, then reappear when you string it up again, rendering all your filing moot.
  6. Hm, the guy says it's not necessary for most necks, plus I'm playing a bass with average action, not a guitar with low action. Once I get the neck straightened out, I'll have to look this neck over and see if there's anything complicated about it, like twists or dips/bumps.

    This won't be under tension, but I presume the initial leveling at the factory was on a neck straightened by truss rod and not under tension, so if the fret tops will level along both edges and down the full length at the same time, it will satisfy me that the neck hasn't changed much over the years.

    If there were any errors in relief when it was first leveled, I will be replicating those perfectly, thus removing minimal fret material from end to end.

    I am kind of uncomfortable about the idea of using a notched straightedge because I will be ignoring initial factory error if I do so, and I want to replicate that, if any. If it should end up that some frets are taller than others in absolute terms, I'm OK with that if it came from the factory that way.

    My double-check happens on leveling. I watch the width of the contact patches carefully as evidenced by the width of the shiny stripe revealed through the coating of Dykem blue. I know things are OK if they are even all over, and by OK, I mean not theoretically perfect, but factory fresh.
  7. Scott in Dallas

    Scott in Dallas Commercial User

    Aug 16, 2005
    Dallas, north Texas
    Builder and Owner: DJ Ash Guitars
    This is just my opinion based on my experience, but the idea of an initial level is to remove high spots, as many manufacturers don't do anything other than press in the frets, sand down the fret ends and shine them up. Any hills and valleys that result are incredibly small amounts, and a result of the fretting process, not the engineering of the neck, which would be where a neck jig becomes necessary. I mark high spots with a fret rocker that only measures three frets at a time.
  8. I have heard that high spots are best tapped down with a dead blow hammer.
  9. Scott in Dallas

    Scott in Dallas Commercial User

    Aug 16, 2005
    Dallas, north Texas
    Builder and Owner: DJ Ash Guitars
    That's a good observation, and something I neglected to mention. In a case where fret isn't seated, I agree completely. Inspecting the fretwire before beginning is always a smart idea. Once that's out of the way, there are still higher and lower spots, probably due to imperfections in the fret wire itself. Every serious instrument should have a proper crown and polish on the frets for that reason.
  10. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    that's true for loose frets, a different issue.

    all the frets should be locked down before you do any leveling anyway. loose frets require thin superglue and clamping cauls to secure them against the board first. as often as not they're a little sprung, and a hammer tap will just let them spring back up again.
  11. I got a new bass in during cold weather. There was a high spot. I wanted to tap the fret home, but not having a dead blow hammer, I laid the bass aside for a few months 'til summer, after which it played fine. I am not sure what full set of different conditions might lift a high fret that was once right, but at least in this case, I suspect that hitting it may have worked. I can't see what damage trying it might have done.
  12. Jeff Mills

    Jeff Mills

    May 12, 2011
    Billy there is a pretty good write up here -->http://www.manchesterguitartech.co....g-the-frets-on-a-90s-fender-usa-stratocaster/

    The write up is pretty much verbatim of how I level and dress frets. It's a good idea to practice on something your not too fond of first to get the hang of it... A word of caution though there is a good $300 ~ $400 investment to get started - don't short cut on cheap tools they simply don't give good results. Just make sure you follow each step as it's strictly a serial operation (one step at a time) and you should have good success after practicing till your comfortable.
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