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Fret levelling and dressing


btoth76

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Hello!

 

I`ve posted about the first fret job I've done on my own into the "Les Paul" section recently.

 

I decided to document the whole process in details. This time, I will set up my 2010 Fender FSR Standard Ash Telecaster. The make of the instrument doesn't makes any difference from the point of view of the process, but there are still things to look out for, like the fretboard radius.

 

I'll post on this subject in series.

 

Cheers... Bence

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Preparation for the work.

 

Remove the strings from the instrument.

 

Check the fretboard radius. Gibsons usually made with 12" radius. Fenders - these days - with 9.5".

 

HPIM5228_zps50d08edb.jpg

 

Yes, it's 9.5". Note how nicely the curve of the fretboard radius gauge fits the fretboard, opposed to the 12" side of the gauge:

 

HPIM5229_zps6d9b9ae0.jpg

 

Check the neck for straightness. Use a notched straight-edge! You want to check the fretboard, not the alignment of the already worn frets! Fender Teles have 25.50" scale-length, Gibsons mostly 24.75". Use the appropriate straight-edge. The one I own, is a double-sided one, for both scale-lenghts.

 

HPIM5198_zpsf3754b2a.jpg

 

This is a perfectly straight fretboard. Always hold the straight-edge perpendicular to the fretboard surface, and parallel to the centerline of the neck, otherwise You will mislead Yourself. Also, check the fretboard at all the positions where the strings would be normally. Mr. Dan Erlewine recommends checking neck straightness with the instrument in playing position. Do so! (This photo is shot with the guitar laid in it's case, because I couldn't hold it while taking pictures.)

 

If the straight-edge shows humps, adjust the truss rod until You get it as close to straightness as possible. Remember, normally a quarter-turn should be enough. Be patient! Even though, the neck immediately reacts to truss rod adjustment, wait a couple of minutes until wood settles. Sometimes, it is not possible to get it perfectly straight. Don't worry, it can be fixed (see Dan Erlewine: "How to make Your electric guitar play great"). Don't overtighten the nut, You may break the rod!

 

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Preparation for the work 2.

 

Once the neck is set straight, and the fretboard radius is confirmed, prepare the levelling beam for the job.

 

Make sure that You have chosen the correct beam. In the case of the Tele, I'll need a beam with 9.5" radius.

 

Apply double-sided adhesive tape to the beam.

 

HPIM5182_zps2a7f3b7a.jpg

 

Cut it to size, and remove the liner from the back of the adhesive tape. Prepare a fresh piece of 120-grit sanding paper that is slightly larger than the beam.

 

HPIM5183_zps3b47bbb4.jpg

 

Attach the sanding paper to the beam. To make it fit perfecly, slightly curve the sanding paper with Your fingers as You lower it to the beam. First, attach the middle part of the paper to the centerline of the beam, and carefully lower the sides. Doing so, You can avoid the forming of any bubbles on the sanding surface. Cut the sanding paper along the edges of the beam:

 

HPIM5196_zps4929b170.jpg

 

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Preparing the instrument.

 

Lower the neck pickup as much as You can.

 

HPIM5211_zps473bf299.jpg

 

Cover it with masking tape, to prevent the entering of sanding debris into the pickup cavity.

 

HPIM5218_zps8ba1b193.jpg

 

Protect the nut with multiple layers of masking tape.

 

HPIM5210_zps1fb131b7.jpg

 

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Preparing the instrument 2.

 

Lay the instrument down with it's neck supported.

 

HPIM5219_zpsef7625cd.jpg

 

Place the beam on the fretboard, around the neck joint. Taking extra care, make sure there is nothing in the way of beam! It should not touch anything but the frets while levelling. Watch for the pickup, pickguard, and the body of the instrument.

 

HPIM5234_zps84f20172.jpg

 

See You tomorrow...

 

Cheers... Bence

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Nice tutorial Bence [thumbup]. Since this is a Tele with a removable neck, would there be any peril in removing the neck and nut before the leveling process? ....One would have a good 'unobstructed' runway with the leveling beam and some ease of dressing the frets without the body attached.....

 

Rod.

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Hello Rod!

 

Excellent point! [thumbup]

 

I was thinking about it. Also, we have discussed it with Donny (D Ray).

 

Yes, You are right. With the neck removed, the accessibility is much better. But, then, You have to think about fixing the neck somehow, so it won`t move around while shaving the frets. Obviously, I didn`t wanted to put it into a vise or similiar device that can damage the finish.

 

I decided to leave it on the instrument, using the body mass to stop it from moving. It worked fine with Gibsons, it shall work with the Tele too.

 

Cheers... Bence

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Nice tutorial Bence [thumbup]. Since this is a Tele with a removable neck, would there be any peril in removing the neck and nut before the leveling process? ....One would have a good 'unobstructed' runway with the leveling beam and some ease of dressing the frets without the body attached.....

 

Rod.

Generally, you don't want to remove and replace Fender necks if you don't have too. Reason being, every time you do so, you wear out the screw holes and joint a little every time.

 

Not a big deal though, or that it's all that wrong to do so.

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Fret levelling.

 

This is how the fretboard of my Tele looked like before:

 

HPIM5239_zps3d6d7e60.jpg

 

Note, the deep cavitation at around D-B string area at the upper register of the fretboard. That's where I play leads the most. This kind of wear is produced by bends and vibratoes. The fret crowns became flat all over, and that's not good. It results bad intonation.

 

Place the instrument on a bench or table, covered with textile to protect the finish on the back of the guitar. Support the neck with a caul - as previously stated and shown.

 

Place the beam at the end of the fretboard, and make sure it covers all the frets there. Apply firm pressure, and slide the beam towards the nut with constant velocity and pressure. Don't push it hard, You might bow the neck slightly resulting improper levelling. Let the sanding paper do it's job. Watch out for two things: don't let the beam run off the fretboard (use Your middle finger - sliding it on the edge of the fretboard - to guide the beam); Don't hit the nut!

 

The key to levelling is to place the beam at the end of the fretboard, before starting to move it! Also, don't lift it off when You reach the nut. Don't lift it before coming to full stop!

 

HPIM5243_zps0fc1e8c0.jpg

 

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Fret levelling 2.

 

Tell-tale signs:

 

HPIM5246_zpsea3488fa.jpg

 

The metallic dust from the frets tell You about the condition of the fretboard. Where the dust is equally aligned along the sides of the frets, those frets are worn uniformly along their lenght (below the 7th fret). Those frets, around which the dust appears in spots, have cavitation (above 6th fret). They are more worn than the rest.

 

On the close-up picture You can see those low spots on frets, The sanding paper didn't reach down to them so far, hence they appear dull on the picture:

 

HPIM5251_zps452f0980.jpg

 

After levelling the fretboard for a while, there are still some low spots at the higher frets. Use the beam until they all disappear:

 

HPIM5257_zps0759d1a0.jpg

 

Don't be tempted to do spot-levelling on areas where frets are excessively worn. Always slide the beam across the entire fretboard. You want all frets to be in level with each other! Of course, You can change direction of sanding during levelling, if You wish. I slided the beam around 5 times from the heel towards neck, then the same times in the opposite direction.

 

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Cleaning.

 

When all the low spots are gone, stop levelling.

 

CLEAN THE FRETBOARD! Brush off the metallic dust from the fretboard. Ideally, the horse-fur brush is the best for this, since it's the least abrasive of it's kind.

 

CLEAN THE WORKPLACE! That metallic dust entrapped by the textile can make an ugly damage to the finish of Your instrument. Get rid of it from Your working surface! Don't drag the instrument on the textile, lift it off, and dust the textile clean. Also, take care about the neck support caul.

 

HPIM5262_zps34019ce3.jpg

 

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Checking the job done.

 

Using a fretboard rocker, check what You have done to Your guitar.

 

Place the rocker across the first 3 frets. Gently rock it. If the fret are still not in level, You will hear it knocking.

 

HPIM5270_zpsf05047a9.jpg

 

Move the rocker a fret higher to cover frets 2-3-4. Check. Progress on the entire fretboard moving the rocker only one fret higher at a time. Also, check in different places: at the sides of the fretboard, and in the middle of it:

 

HPIM5271_zps143096ba.jpg

 

HPIM5272_zpsdf04bc92.jpg

 

Take Your time. It's much better to find out what You have done at this point, than being angry at Yourself after crowning, polishing and restringing the instrument!

 

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Fret crowning.

 

Place a fretboard protector strip over the fret You are about to crown. Attach it with masking tape:

 

HPIM5275_zps2acce598.jpg

 

Mark the flat fret surface with a felt-tip pen.

 

HPIM5278_zps48f9ec49.jpg

 

Using the crowning file, round the fret. While filing, - once in a while - slightly slant the file a few degrees towards the nut, then towards the other end of the fretboard to shape the entire surface of the frets.

 

HPIM5279_zps6b678b17.jpg

 

As You are progressing, You will notice the marking from the pen becoming thinner and thinner:

 

HPIM5282_zps61e6627f.jpg

 

Continue crowning until the marking from the felt-tip pen becomes as thin as a hair. Also, watch the fret constantly during filing. If the marking disappears entirely somewhere, it means You are lowering the fret further! Crowning is about making the contact surface on the fret as narrow for the strings as possible, by rounding it. You are not suppossed to lower the frets any further during this procedure, otherwise all the levelling work You have done becomes obsolete!

 

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Fret polishing.

 

The crowning is ready on this fret:

 

HPIM5298_zps92ad99d8.jpg

 

Time to polish the crowned fret:

 

HPIM5299_zpsa58e6404.jpg

 

Not much to say about it. Grits: 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000, 2500. You might do a final touch up with 12000-grit paper. Take care about the fret ends too! Don't worry: the protector strip will secure the fretboard from accidents.

 

Brush off the dust from the fret.

 

Remove the masking tape. Peel it off at a very narrow angle - making sure it won't damage the finish.

 

HPIM5301_zps38c5e829.jpg

 

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The fret is ready.

 

Clean the surface around the crowned fret. (Always clean everything around Your instrument!)

 

HPIM5304_zps1dfea19f.jpg

 

The first fret is done. Do the rest in the same way. As You approach the neck-joint, You must be very careful with the file! Watch out for the finish of Your instrument. Use masking tape where You feel necessary!

 

HPIM5322_zpsb844e7e3.jpg

 

Good luck!

 

Bence

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Thank You, Ray!

 

I haven`t finished with the entire fretboard so far. I didn`t had enough time yet.

 

But I am already sure it will be perfect. Before the Tele, I have done this on two of my Gibsons. I`ve found that this Mexican Tele has the straightest, most accurate neck of them all! All the Gibsons I own, have a hump in the fretboard above the neck-joint. I assume, it`s the feature of the construction, rather than a fault, but still it makes the job a little bit complicated. (Well, not a big issue, but weird, would be nice to know why is it.)

 

Before I did my own setups, I`ve readed from Mr. Dan Erlewine, that He prefers to set the neck perfectly straight before doing such a work. I was wondering about it: why He is not taking the pull of the strings into the account? Now I know why! Because, as You slide the levelling beam on the neck, the frets at the ends of the fretboard receive less abrassion than those in the middle! Thus creating a very slight relief on top of the frets! Then, when the guitar is restringed, there would be no need to add any further relief to the neck! In result, You'll have a guitar with very nice, low action without the buzzing problem.

 

It's fun! :)

 

Cheers... Bence

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you have more stones than I do.

 

I've watched and read the "correct" process and you seem to have it down.

 

The part about getting the neck as straight as possible is mentioned as one of the key factors.

 

and that hump you mention, it's common, I've no idea why either.. None of my fenders have this problem either. :-k

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Hello Ray!

 

In fact, I have a hidden agenda behind this thread.

 

I would really appreciate if others would share their experiences, or just add their own comments on the subject.

 

This hump on Gibson fretboards is an interesting issue. Would be really nice, if someone with much more experience than mine could explain, - even better - if someone on behalf of Gibson did (OK-OK, I know...).

 

Cheers... Bence

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Hello Ray.

 

Hehe. No, I have no plans for starting a business, I have no time besides my current and secure job. Wish I could do that, it would be really great (maybe during my pension years).

 

I am a technical author, so I create such materials on daily basis.

 

My intention with this thread was to find out what others (with more experience) think. I am curious, whether I am doing things right as a beginner, or not. I hoped, - in case of posting something ridiculously stupid - I would be corrected. That was my hidden agenda.

 

By the way, about the hump-issue: I did a quick research, and found thousands of web articles complaining about it. I will investigate it myself, before posting anything about it, since I have read a whole bunch, not-so-convincing opinions on that.

 

Have a nice weekend... Bence

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Great job Bence!! [thumbup]

 

Looks like you have about all the Stew-Mac fret stuff they sell. [biggrin] I would like to take on a fret leveling project just like this. I'll try with my Epi Hummingbird first as I don't have much $$$ in that. Then will look at a couple of the good ones after I'm all practiced up with results perfected.

 

Thanks again. Let us know how it does when finished.

 

Aster

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Hello Aster!

 

The Tele turned out to be really nice. Low action, smooth fretboard, but - most importantly - no buzz, not even with fresh new strings.

 

One more thing to mention here: even the lacquered fretboard of Tele required a deep cleaning after levelling. It took like 5 minutes of rubbing, until the rag didn't picked up residues anymore.

 

Also, the long crowning file didn't worked above the 16th fret, so I had to switch to the tiny diamond file, not to scratch the guitar body.

 

I really don't know why I was so afraid of doing this before.

 

Cheers... Bence

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