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would like to hear from TB's who do their own fret leveling!

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by bass349, Oct 4, 2005.

  1. hey guys,

    i'm tossing up whether to take my SX project bass to the local luthier to have the frets leveled, or to attempt to do the job myself. it'd cost about the same (i'd need to buy tools if i go down that path..)

    i guess the plus side of having it done by a professional is that i could hand it in, and in a week-or-so's time pick it up and it will be set up perfectly..

    to be honest, i'm swinging towards the DIY option. i enjoy working on stuff like this, and i'm sure what i will learn will come in handy down the track.. and it is a project bass after all :smug:

    anyway, i was looking for some opinions/experiences from anyone who has taken the plunge and done fret work themselves.



    ps. on a side note, has anyone accidenly hit the back button on their browser after writing a large-ish post (before submitting it)? DAMN thats irritating!
  2. Techmonkey


    Sep 4, 2004
    Wales, UK
    Well me and my bro both own Jackson guitars, I built mine from spare Jackson parts and he bought his at half the price of the RRP, which was still 4x the price I paid for mine, and mine still whoops his! :smug:
    Anyways, I ordered some fret levelling and crowning tools for when I build my 5 string, and practiced on my brothers Jackson :D All in all the job went alright - The fret play fine, after polishing very smooth and easy to slide, and no fretbuzz at all... But the darn crowning file kept slipping off the fret and scratching the fretboard. Ah well, I'm working on my Jackson as we speak, and I'm still not great, but I'm getting better.

    Morale of the story: If you don't mind your bass getting a little scratched up, go ahead - You won't regret later on. But if you're obsessional about appearance, then either buy a cheapo neck to try it out on, or take it to a shop.
  3. thanks mate, just what i wanted to hear :)

    yeah, playability is my main issue, i don't really care much about scratches and dints. and, to be honest, this is a cheapo neck! however, do you think masking the fretboard off would prevent those scratches? just a thought...

    thanks for the post, confidence is building...

    on a side note, what tools did you use? i'm still trying to nut this one out.. at the moment i'm thinking:
    -one of those 8" long radiused sanding blocks
    -a "fret-rocker" (4-in-1 mini straight edge)
    -a 3-in-1 fret crowning file.. this one here http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Frettin...-one_Fret_Crowning_File/Pictures.html#details

    anything i'm missing?

  4. fretlessrock

    fretlessrock Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2002
    I do my own spot levelling, and have done complete level and dress jobs on basses and guitars. The radiused block will be great for roughing in new frets but it can take off too much material if you aren't careful. It is nice to have for the final stage. The fret rocker is an excellent tool, and I recommend one highly. It will let you span three frets at a time all across the neck and find high spots. The crowning file is nice but not necessary. You can get away with a decent jewelers file set. The idea is to not spend more than the value of the bass on the tools for the fretwork.

    I suggest a 12" straightedge, a fret rocker, a fine cut file, and a roll of masking tape. I also use the 30" straightedge for overall relief settings. The radius block is a nice extra, and some 800 and finer wet/dry paper.

    Mask the neck between the frets.
    Adjust the truss so that the neck is dead flat when measured across the frets.
    I use a wood block and a mallet to set the frets. Look for gaps under the frets and try setting the fret. Support the neck so you don't damage it.
    Use the fret rocker and start looking for high frets. You won't necessarily find the entire fret being high. When you find a high spot check it again for incorrect seating.
    File the fret top to get it close, then smooth the profile.
    Once they are all done you can use a radiused block to even things up. Use a fine grit and light pressure.
    If you have a polishing setup then use it. I've done good work with just a dremel and a felt pad on an arbor. Rouge or compound can help, but if you sanded with a fine enough grit you can get away without it.

    Pull the tape, clean everything down with a damp cloth, and have at it. The neck might need a little less relief once it is strung up, but it might be just fine.
  5. I use a 1" x 2" x 24" aluminum bar with 120 grit paper glued to it for initial leveling of the entire neck. This does the entire length of the fretboard and with a few strokes, I've got the initial stages complete. Then I'll do a rocking check from fret to fret to see if there are any stragglers. If that pans out, I'll then mask off the surface, trim out the frets and begin crowning, dressing the ends, and polishing. I have a crowning file and the trick I use is to keep a bright light reflecting on the top of the fret. As the file brings the arch back to the fret, the flat spot on top begins to narrow. I continue crowning until that narrow reflection is just a hairline and then I stop and move to the next fret. I polish with 0000 steel wool and polishing compound. I do a "roundball" treatment to the ends of my frets while they are on the neck. I don't use anything but a simple flat jewelers file.
  6. wow, thanks mate, heaps of info there!

    hilarius. that did occur to me, but i figured the tools would be an investment..

    thankyou, that is really helpful! it's interesting that lots of people seem to have different methods of doing a fret job. i was reading before that the sanding block should be used first..

    anyway, my confidence is building and i have definately made up my mind that this is something that i want to do. thanks guys!

    now i just have to get the phone bill, power bill, gas bill and license renewal paid and i'm going straight to stewmac.com!! ;) you know, all those bills just rocked up in the mail within the last week... now thats just plain mean.

    thanks for the info guys, i'll keep you posted when the project gets underway.

  7. thanks Hambone, i was hoping you'd chime in..
    do you think the crowing file is essential? would it be possible to crown using just a normal flat file? due to a few bills, it seems my budget may have been downsized.. so i'm trying to keep this as cost friendly as possible!

  8. Yes, I believe crowning to be essential to perfect fret to fret intonation. When you level, you make a wide flat spot on the top of the fret. That flat spot doesn't give the string a very precise witness point over which the string breaks to stop it's vibration. By crowning the fret, you sharpen that point to the extent that it becomes a very narrow, precise, and straight line across the fret for each string to stop against. In the process, you will also make sure that the crown is centered precisely at the center of the fret. If you didn't, the witness point could be on either side of center and could be different for each string at that fret, throwing off the intonation. Think about how much a small amount of saddle movement can affect intonation and then compare that to half a fret width and you can see how bad it could get if the witness point were to be way off of it's perfect position in the scale.
  9. fretlessrock

    fretlessrock Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2002
    No sweat, Andy.
    You will probably get a lot of different answers on this. I have used the Stewmac 2-sided crowning file and it is nice, but I tailored my response to what it would take to get the big problems resolved on a SX neck. I wouldn't take the same approach on a Lull ;) My hope would be that I wouldn't have to.
  10. Don't underestimate the problems that an SX could have! :D The neck for the Steve Harris Tribute was particularly bad and needed a stem to stern leveling and redressing. When they tapped in the frets, some of the ends curled up a little and then some of the centers humped up making a "turtle under a blanket" contour across the fret.
  11. what you have to consider when buying tools is how often youre going to use them. If you are going to keep working on frets then its worth it, if youre going to do it just once on your own guitar, then its not.
  12. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    What Hambone said!!

    Hi, Hambone. Been a while . Hope you're doing well.:) Hope you don't mind me adding my nickles worth to your good advice.

    Andy, If you have a beater, I suggest practicing on it before doing your regular bass. A good rule of thumb is that You can remove metal easily but you can't put it back. Go slowly on your first one.

    A magic marker to blacken the top of the fret makes it easy to see how much metal you're removing and will wipe right off when you're finished with a rag dampened with alcohol.

    If you have to reseat any of the frets, be sure to use a brass or plastic faced hammer or drift to avoid denting the fret. A bag of lead shot to rest the back of the neck on while reseating can avoid dinging the finish on the neck. For one off jobs, a bag of sand makes a good substitute. The same bag of sand makes a good "bed" to rest the neck on as you are working on it. very light blows with the hammer are safer than trying to seat the fret with heavier blows. Once the fret is seated properly, a VERY tiny amount of super glue wicked under the ends of the frets will prevent it from lifting again. A good magnifying glass will help in finding lifted frets.

    Others may disagree, but I wont have steel wool in my shop. If you ever let the fragments get on the pup magnets, you'll understand why. Really hard to remove. Crocus cloth and 3M pads work just as well for polishing the frets.

    A three sided hand saw file with the corners ground smooth makes a good crowning file and is cheaper than Stew-Macs crowning file.

    Make sure the neck is as straight as you can make it with the truss rod before you start removing metal. Use a straight edge to be sure. It's easier to deal with the highest frets if you remove the neck to work on it. Otherwise be careful not to scratch up the finish on the body.

    A short piece of board with a 3/16" inch hole drilled through the center and screwed to the back of the neck, using the holes that mount the neck will make life easier by holding the neck secure and flat while you work on it. Make sure the screw isn't long enough to reach the botton of the fingerbard

    If you find a low or "notched" fret, avoid "chasing" it down the neck. It is easier to replace the fret than to cut down all the rest of the frets to make it work.

    I always start by making one or two light passes over the length of the neck. When the first fret is smooth, stay off that fret. the second pass starts on the second fret, then the third etc., working your way to the end of the neck. On the last 4 or five frets, take off Just a tiny amount to make a VERY slight down slope out to the last fret. Be very critical directly over the point where the screws hold the neck on. A slight "ski jump" is very common there. Especially on older instruments.

    I hope I'm not just confusing you with TMI.

    It's not that hard to learn but it does demand patience. If you screw up, it'll probably be because you got in a hurry.

    The golden rule is "never remove any more metal than absolutely needed".
  13. This is my first post in months but my friend pkr2 has spoken and I can't stand not commenting on his advice (which is spot on as usual)...

    I've discovered the secret to being able to use steel wool in the shop without ANY reservations about having the droppings stick to magnetic stuff. It's pretty simple - tape! Just about any kind works but duct tape OR that blue mastic stuff used to hang posters works perfect. Tape will remove every single hair of steel wool quickly and completely, even in the little nooks and cranny's. I just completed a build where I had steel wool all over everything but the tape saved me. Give it a try and I think all you guys will be sold on it.
  14. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    I guess I'm probably a little paranoid. Or more than a little.

    I had one bad experience with it and I was unaware that you could use tape to remove it. Talk about a nightmare.:)

    I know that a lot of people do use steel wool and masking tape with no problem so you are definitely right.

    Good to talk to you. I've just in the last few days started posting again too. I've had quite a bit on my plate since we talked last.