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I want to refinish my frets, where do I start?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by jive1, Jun 8, 2005.


  1. jive1

    jive1 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Alexandria,VA
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    I have been on a major fixing and tweaking kick and the last step for my projects is doing the frets. Frets are one aspect of setup that I am not confident with, and any tips would be helpful. I learned some from searching, but a step by step process would make things clearer for me.

    I have a couple of SXs that I'd like to redo the frets for. It's not that the frets are bad, but a few are a little tall/short, and I'd like to make them shorter/skinnier like my Lakland.

    So to begin with, I have at my disposal:
    - Radiused sanding block
    - Fret crowning files
    - Fret end files
    - Various files
    - Professional straight edge
    - Blue marker
    - Little hammer, but maybe I need a fret hammer?

    So are there any other tools I need?

    So where do I begin?
    What should I watch out for?

    Thanks in advance
     
  2. First, forget about making them skinnier, that was something that's done when deciding which fret to put in the neck initially. However, you can level and redress. This is a process that involves a lot and there is a definite possibility that you could ruin your fretwork, but here's a quick rundown...

    Totally mask off the neck - front and back - with masking tape between the frets. Then mount the neck at both ends firmly on a flat surface. I use the neck bolt holes on the heel and the tuner holes on the headstock. The neck will likely have a little bend in it still. If you can relax the trussrod and get rid of it great, if not, it's OK, you'll just be comparing a fewer number of frets beside each other at a time.

    Begin by marking the tops of the frets with your marker. Then I use 400 grit paper on my leveling bar and make side by side passes from the heel to the headstock until the blue is gone from the tops of the frets. Now I come in with my straight edge and check the comparative heights of the frets along the neck length in line with each string path. If I'm still a little high on one or two frets, I'll work them individually with a smaller bar. If it's a group of frets, I'll use the larger bar and blend them with the adjacent areas. Once I'm satisfied I've got them leveled, I recrown them with a crowing file. This is a tricky technique and I can't tell you very well how to do this but the idea is to bring the fret from a flat topped arch back to a peaked arch with a very tiny, consistently wide flat peak across it's top length. I work by passing the file on each side of the fret and watch as the color of the reflected light changed - you'll see the top remain bright as the sides begin to be curved inward. This begins leaving a small flat line across the fret. As you continue crowning the line gets narrower and narrower until it nearly disappears. This is when I stop completely with that fret and move on. If you breach that flat top, you'll disturb the level surface in relation to the other frets. After all of the frets are recrowned, I come back to the ends with a flat jewelers file and dress them. I like to give the bottoms of the frets a totally rounded finish I call "roundballing" by rolling the file over the top of the end as it passes the fret. With practice, you can learn to make it look like it was machined that way. The other end of the frets gets a more standard dressing. After dressing the ends, I polish them with 1500 grit sandpaper and then 0000 steel wool until they are as bright as chrome. That's about all there is to it except the hours of practice and work to get it done! :D

    And please, remember that I said this was an overview of what I do and it isn't meant to be a real instructional.