Fretless conversion: pull or grind frets?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Erik Turkman, Jun 29, 2017.

  1. Erik Turkman

    Erik Turkman Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Washington, DC area
    I have been considering having one of my fretted basses converted to fretless. It's a Ken Smith five string with bolt on neck and pau ferro fingerboard. I was considering a fairly traditional conversion, having the frets pulled and slots filled with maple strips, but both a local luthier and Ken Smith dealer suggested I consider having the frets filed down and leaving the tangs in place as position markers. I've had various fretless basses in the past, lined and unlined, but I've never seen or played one with ground down frets. I'll put this question to the luthiers out there. Is there any significant advantage or disadvantage to grinding down the frets instead of pulling them? Has anyone ever done this kind of conversion? If so, how did it turn out? I tried searching this topic and found some speculation but didn't find any really definitive answers. Thanks.
  2. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
  3. RobTheRiot


    Aug 31, 2016
    las Vegas, nv
    Unfortunately I can't help, but I am really curious to hear what the experts have to say.
    The only conversion I've done I pulled the frets and filled with a veneer, and I'm thrilled with it.
    Pure speculation, but I guess if you can cleanly file the frets down w/ no damage to the fretboard, it's maintaining its original strength, plus avoiding a lot of work.
    I'll be following to hear what others have to say!
  4. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    I'm perplexed as to how they'd grind down the metal all the way to the wood w/o damaging the fretboard :eek:
    HighD and gebass6 like this.
  5. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    There was one in the classifieds a while back. It was epoxied after the grind but the fretboard looked fine.
  6. Erik Turkman

    Erik Turkman Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Washington, DC area
    Curious to see that. Do you remember what kind of bass it was?
  7. Erik Turkman

    Erik Turkman Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Washington, DC area
    I assume that once the frets are level with the fingerboard you'd want to sand/smooth out the entire fingerboard to achieve an even surface. I can understand why someone might want to epoxy it at that stage.
  8. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    not unless you plan to then have the board thickly finished over with epoxy or whatever.

    otherwise, even slight fingerboard wear means the metal fret markers fairly quickly start to protrude from the surrounding wood and you've got frets again.
    gebass6, JLS, SteveCS and 1 other person like this.
  9. Erik Turkman

    Erik Turkman Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Washington, DC area
    That's what the luthier I was talking to suggested, that it would maintain structural integrity. He had worked on a bass that had had it done and said it came out really nicely.
  10. Jebberz

    Jebberz Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2012
    Quebec city
    I has an Ibanez in the pass (5 strings Sdgr, Seafoam green) which was defretted that way. Was very fine at first but after 1year of regular playing the wood was wearing off faster than the frets so it became quite uncomfy to play. I had the fretboard reworked and sold it, too much maintenance fees for me at this time (I was stll a jobless student back then)
    gebass6 likes this.
  11. Badwater

    Badwater Guest

    Jan 12, 2017
    Consider that wood expands and contracts with seasonal changes. Metal does not. A thick coat over the fretboard could eliminate any wood changes.
    gebass6 likes this.
  12. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician - Retired
    I certainly would not recommend it. Fretboard wear, fretboard changes with the season, etc. will almost certainly lead to problems down the road.
  13. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    Using a wood filler that's a different color than the fretboard will give you your position markers.
  14. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    The preferred method is to remove the frets and fill the slots with veneer. Contrasting color if a lined fingerboard is desired, similar species/color if not. Alternately plastic binding can be used.

    Wood filler is never recommended. It will compress. That will leave you with a fingerboard that must always overcome it's own curve.
    jchrisk1, gebass6, JLS and 1 other person like this.
  15. Erik Turkman

    Erik Turkman Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Washington, DC area
    Thanks for the range of feedback, especially from those who have experience with filed down frets. It seems that if taking the filing down frets option, some sort of epoxy coating on top of the fingerboard would be beneficial to avoid uneven wear. I'm still considering my options, including having a new neck made that is fretless from the start. Although, that would by far be the costliest option.
  16. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    i have to think grinding down the frets to nothing would be more work than just pulling them and inlaying the right-sized veneer into the slots before planing the board smooth.
  17. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    I seriously dislike epoxy finishes on fretless necks so I'd be one to go with pulling the frets and using veneer strips.

    Never saw a bass converted to fretless by grinding down the metal frets. That must be something new.
    lowplaces and gebass6 like this.
  18. lowplaces

    lowplaces Got Punch ?

    Dec 20, 2015
    Louisville Kentucky
    Yeah but if you put epoxy on it then the wood can't breathe.

  19. gebass6

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

    I second that!
    I wonder how one would grind the frets on a bass with a radiused fretboard.
    Better to pull the frets and fill with either maple veneers or styrene plastic.

    Or even have the fingerboard removed and have an unlined fingerboard applied.
    I did. 20170419_145031.jpg
  20. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    True. That's how tonewood works. Without breathing, the natural rosewooditude can't flerplekshticrump.
    BAG, gebass6 and lowplaces like this.