Fretwork Advice

myramyd

Active member
Messages
40
Hello Everyone,

I just finished assembling my lovely Telecaster (first build) and I was one of the unfortunate ones who needs fretwork done on the neck. There is essentially buzzing from about the 3rd fret to the 9th on all strings. Using a rocker, it looks like the 5th and 9th frets are a little high and perhaps a few others, though fully seated as far as I can tell. I've triple checked my setup and have the action on the bridge about as high as the screws will take it, truss rod relief is very straight.

Anyway, I'm wondering whether I should buy tools and the fretwork book from StewMac and try to learn how to do this myself or take it in to a tech. I'm on the fence. I replaced some frets on an old pawn shop special once and it worked okay--nothing highly accurate though. I live in Utah and I'm not sure where to find a tech or how trustworthy they are around here. I've never used one in the past for my setups--do it all myself so far. I'm nervous to take it to someone given the compound radius and stainless frets, etc.

The nut is a lot high for my taste as well. I'm wondering if I should do that or not. If so, do I only file down the slots or do I take some off the bottom?

I'm wondering who can mess the whole thing up worse--me with only a little experience or a tech who doesn't care!

Any help is great. Right now it's just beautiful to look at but plays like a beehive in a sitar factory!

Thanks in advance.

J
 

Unwound G

Senior member
Messages
835
I would say "Go for it".  It is always good to learn new skills and tooling will not cost too much.

Since you are not doing refretting, you will only need a 6" fret leveling file and a Three-in-One fret file for recrowning.  Have some fine grit sandpaper and polishing compound ready to polish the frets.

For first timers, the trick is to go slowly and use the fret rocker all the time to check the levels. You may need to restring the guitar to check for  buzzes a few times as tension will bow the neck slightly on an otherwise dead straight neck.

For compound radius necks, the leveling and crowning process is the same.  A word of caution, stainless steel frets are very hard so you may have to choose diamond coated files to work on them.

A basic set of nut files will also be good to own as well.

 

blue313

Senior member
Messages
2,824
myramyd said:
Anyway, I'm wondering whether I should buy tools and the fretwork book from StewMac and try to learn how to do this myself or take it in to a tech.
Absolutely learn to do it yourself...but do one of your other guitars first.   A fret dress alone will probably run you $100 or even $200.  The tools and book aren't cheap, but you only have to buy them once. 


myramyd said:
I replaced some frets on an old pawn shop special once and it worked okay--nothing highly accurate though. I live in Utah and I'm not sure where to find a tech or how trustworthy they are around here. I've never used one in the past for my setups--do it all myself so far. I'm nervous to take it to someone given the compound radius and stainless frets, etc.
Sounds like you owe it to yourself to take it to the next level then. 

myramyd said:
The nut is a lot high for my taste as well. I'm wondering if I should do that or not. If so, do I only file down the slots or do I take some off the bottom?
Don't mess with the bottom if you can help it.  Its usually dead flat and squared up.  File the slots to the depth you want and then take down the top with a file.

myramyd said:
I'm wondering who can mess the whole thing up worse--me with only a little experience or a tech who doesn't care!
The tech.  There are a lot of good ones, but theres some jerks out there.  It isn't his guitar and you may have no idea if he half assed something.
 

myramyd

Active member
Messages
40
Thanks guys,

I think I may order the tools (once I have the money). This build has taken 2 years to buy all the parts, so I guess a few more weeks won't hurt.

With the prices of off-the-shelf guitars increasing dramatically, I may be building a lot more Warmoth so probably worth learning how to do fretwork.

J
 

tfarny

Senior member
Messages
4,481
I've never done fretwork but learning to get my own guitars in playing shape has made me learn a lot about proper nut setup. I have ruined a few, shimmed a couple, and now I can assure you it's the key to getting a great playing guitar. Most of the Warmoth pre-cut nuts I've gotten have need to be filed lower, the slots widened, and then the top taken down. From the factory, it's an ideal nut for slide guitar with .008 strings, maybe.
Besides Dan Erlewine's book, which you'll need to do fretwork anyhow, check out these couple of links if you haven't already:
From Bill Nash: http://www.nashguitars.com/Setup.htm
Acoustics (totally relevant): http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenSetup/Nuts/nuts1.html

Basically, you need Warmoth's nut files and a simple triangular file from a hardware store, they will pay for themselves for sure. File the nut with the guitar strung up, popping the string back into the nut periodically to check progress. I've found that the string should just barely, almost, kiss the first fret when fretting the third. The unwound strings can touch, just barely, and the wound strings should be just a hair higher, literally. File at a slight backward angle, use files bigger than the strings you'll use (they shouldn't be tight at all). If you mess it up, stew mac sells blanks for just a few bucks. Make sure to get the ones with the correct bottom slot radius, you don't want to radius the bottom.
 

Superlizard

Senior member
Messages
2,514
myramyd said:
The nut is a lot high for my taste as well. I'm wondering if I should do that or not. If so, do I only file down the slots or do I take some off the bottom?

If you do go that route, make sure you get feeler gauges so you can accurately measure nut slot height instead of eyeballing it.  There is a system which Erlewine susses out in his Guitar Player Repair Guide book.  This way, you won't go too shallow or too deep with the slots.
 

myramyd

Active member
Messages
40
Thanks for the advice guys,

Yeah, I'm thinking of just getting the StewMac "Essential Nut Making Kit" and "Essential Fretting Tool Kit" so that I have the basic tools to do this stuff. I have about 10 guitars and several could use some work done, so I'll have a few to experiment on before going to town on my Warmoth Tele. Probably a good thing to learn all this for the long term.

It hurts to stare at it that beautiful Tele and not be able to play it.  :sad:
 

blue313

Senior member
Messages
2,824
You may want to do some reading first before buying the tool kits.  They're definitely some basic tools, but not all necessary.  They're not an "everything kit" either.  The "essential kits" are packages but not exactly heavily discounted.  You should be able to get by with some simpler tools.  Plus you're probably doing more maintenance at this stage and less raw installations.

That being said, I have both of those sets.  If I had it to do over again I'd probably buy fewer tools.

The nut kit is a little overkill but nice. 
- I like the slotting file set but I think it needs a .010 file.  A razor saw wont round the slot as easily.  It is however great for rough cutting blanks. 
- Those skinny files are cool for cleaning the nut seat, but plan on having a wider bastard file around for the dirty work.  Sandpaper for the lighter work.
- The vice is nice but still needs to be clamped to something. 
- The feeler gauges are decent, but they're not indexed well for checking clearances.  You can get a (shorter) full set cheap though.

The fret kit is about the same. 
- The fretting hammer is good, if rarely used outside of installation.  Same with the nippers.
- YMMV but I personally like diamond crowning files.  They're less prone to chatter.
- I also like a longer leveler than whats in that kit.  I used a carpenters level with double sticked sand paper for a long while.
- I like the sand sticks for getting file or leveling marks.
- The fret rocker is nice for finding a high fret, but isn't necessary.
 

GoDrex

Senior member
Messages
3,619
I have a question - - do you guys wear a mask when leveling/sanding frets?
 

stubhead

Senior member
Messages
4,669
I'm not at all a fan of the kits, if you just think about what some of that stuff is - little flat rulers, level measurers, a heavy thing to wrap sandpaper around - you'll see a lot of ways to substitute. $35 for a dinky little vise? :eek: Hit the yard sales & pawnshops... I use a knife sharpening stone with sandpaper wrapped around it for a leveler. Rulers are cheap. Surely, In Utah, there's gotta be a hardware store where all the farmers and ranchers who fix their own stuff go? Not a nice clean Ace Hardware, but a dusty old wood building with dark little corners. I think the very first step would be to buy Dan Erlewine's "Guitar Player Repair Guide" - just the book -then read it thoroughly. You'll be better able to gauge your own comfort level when you know exactly what's involved. Without knowing your background in woodworking, measuring and seeing exceedingly small increments, or your PATIENCE level, it's hard to give an exact answer. Fretwork is TEDIOUS - there's one way and one way only to make 44 frets end perfect - one at a time.... :sad1:

If you use the "double Magic Marker method" - draw all over the frets, level them till there's no flat spots with ink, draw all over them AGAIN and use that ink as your crowning guide - it seems KINDA foolproof to me, but there are varieties and species of fools beyond my comprehension in this ol' world, unfortunately....  :eek:

You gotta have a crowning file, and some thing to use to round the ends. I've actually come to prefer using various grits of (gray) wet/dry sandpaper wrapped around a Gibson nut blank to round ends, but I'm really used to abrasives from other kinds of work. (Abrasive paper works GREAT on SS frets....)

These are the three coolest tools Stew-Mac makes, and they don't even put 'em in the kits:

http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Polishing_and_abrasives/Fingerboard_Guards.html
http://www.stewmac.com/shopby/product/1826
http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Nuts,_saddles/Special_tools_for:_Nuts_and_saddles/String_Lifter.html

$25 total?

I love my
optivisor-2.jpg
but that's just cause I'm switching over from being crazy to being blind AND crazy. :cool01:
 

blue313

Senior member
Messages
2,824
GoDrex said:
I have a question - - do you guys wear a mask when leveling/sanding frets?
Honestly, I don't.  I do tape off the pickups (metal shavings!), body and fretboard though.


Big +1 to stubheads post!  A diamond fingernail file also works great for ends.

Another other cool tool Stewmac makes is those metal fretboard guards.  Fantastic for polishing or quick jobs.  Yeah they're 11 bucks for six, but I still haven't worn through the first one.
http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Polishing_and_abrasives/Fingerboard_Guards.html
 

GoDrex

Senior member
Messages
3,619
I asked because I was sanding and polishing frets one night in my dinning area and my wife came in and within a few minutes her throat started closing up and she had to take a anti-histamine and go outside and get fresh air. She thought she was going to die. I'm guessing it's a reaction to nickel. Even still I don't think it's good to breath nickel dust.
 

stubhead

Senior member
Messages
4,669
I've never worn a mask, but I don't allerge easily - I don't really have metal flying up in the air... were you using a Dremel maybe? Also, I wanted to add - I've only been over Utah, never in it, but I think there might be some gunsmiths there?  :laughing3: If you walked into any gunsmith's shop, you would find the exact tools you needed to do perfect fret & nut work - Stew-Mac just charges more, cause a vintage Les Paul is worth $250,000 so a ruler must be worth $12. :help: If you Ebay, check out "jeweler's tools" too - those little sets of 10 needle files for $10 might be kind of iffy for filing metal, but they handle bone nuts just fine.
 

GoDrex

Senior member
Messages
3,619
stubhead said:
I've never worn a mask, but I don't allerge easily - I don't really have metal flying up in the air... were you using a Dremel maybe?

no I was sanding with sandpaper
 

blue313

Senior member
Messages
2,824
I can see that as a possibility.  With these fine grits of abrasive there's bound to be fine metallic dust, especially if leveling.  Probably less when dressing though.

I may not wear a mask, but I'll try to at least ventilate a little better.  I'd like to hear Doc weigh in on this if he reads this post.
 

myramyd

Active member
Messages
40
Thanks guys,

One last question--does having Stainless Steel frets affect which tools you need or does it not matter so much?


I'm still on the fence about doing this. I have a gig going now where I could use the Tele for some of the songs and not sure if I want to wait much longer. I found a local tech that a friend of mine has liked. He did a few refrets for him on some vintage instruments. I'm going to look at the work this week and perhaps make a decision.

I appreciate the advice and think it will be helpful for future board readers to reference. Either way I may get the tools and learn to do this soon. I have a few heavily worn guitars that need some fretwork might be good for practice.
 

stubhead

Senior member
Messages
4,669
Fretwork is TEDIOUS....

I just finished the fret ends and polishing on Gleemo:

S6300138.jpg


Stainless steel 6100's, what a pain in the... fingers. I used abrasives straight through, partly a Sanding Stick:
http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Polishing_and_abrasives/Fret_Dressing_Stick.html
But mostly little bits of 320 and 600 and 1500 wet/dry sandpaper wrapped around a Gibson-sized nut blank. You need something short to get the angles on the frets in the upper reaches, in fact figuring out your angles of attack is a big part of the job - the actual sanding is just... tedious.

Then 0000 steel wool. I've tried making various little tools - wood blocks with grooves in them, with rubber padding - but there's really nothing better than the fingertips God gave you (he musta known you'd be doing frets huh).  :hello2:

I consider the "Fingerboard Guards" to be indispensible, they've changed the way I do things - I didn't even tape off the fingerboard, knowing I had the guards.
(But you still should.... :toothy12:)
http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Polishing_and_abrasives/Fingerboard_Guards.html

 

blue313

Senior member
Messages
2,824
myramyd said:
Thanks guys,

One last question--does having Stainless Steel frets affect which tools you need or does it not matter so much?


I'm still on the fence about doing this. I have a gig going now where I could use the Tele for some of the songs and not sure if I want to wait much longer. I found a local tech that a friend of mine has liked. He did a few refrets for him on some vintage instruments. I'm going to look at the work this week and perhaps make a decision.

I appreciate the advice and think it will be helpful for future board readers to reference. Either way I may get the tools and learn to do this soon. I have a few heavily worn guitars that need some fretwork might be good for practice.
Stainless frets level about the same as standard.  The difference is when you start rounding and dressing.  You can use standard files for it, but their lifespan will be shortened.  I recommend diamond files for SS frets and pure longevity.  However you should start with finer grits or duller files when just getting the hang of it.  A medium 3-cornered file (with the edges ground smooth to protect the fretboard) and some sandpaper is all you'll need to do your first crowning and end dressing.  Worry about the pricier tools once you've done a few of your beaters and have a feel for it.  Definitely work on your old guitars though.  You need to get started somewhere! 

Fretwork isn't that bad, its just picky and tedious.  I find it isn't so bad when you get to keep and enjoy the guitar.  Once you've learned it, nobody will do your frets to your standards better than you.



Stubhead, that Tele is beautiful!
 

stubhead

Senior member
Messages
4,669
I find it isn't so bad when you get to keep and enjoy the guitar.

Ditto. The downside is, once you know how to make a guitar perfect, you'll never be "done" with a build until you've got the frets dialed away... my bandmates & students always either:
A: Want to buy my guitars
B: Want me to do their frets & nuts

It's almost impossible for me to make more than $10 or $12 an hour doing this stuff, cause of the retarded-caveman way I do stuff - it comes out fine, but I would have to buy a bunch of rooty-tooty tools to speed up, and I can still make twice as much if I just want to harder more at my real job. However, I love having a guitar that plays right. There's probably three or four different ways to do it that all ends in perfect frets, but by this point my

optivisor-2.jpg


is my most important tool - nothing like magnification to point out your imperfections.... :eek: Retarded, caveman and blind, oh goody the future just gets better & better :laughing3:
 
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