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Fret Leveling: What tools do I need


joepasswannabe

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I've been determined to finally, deal with the fret buzz on my guitar. I clicked around on the stewmcdonald site and saw some radiused wooden blocks, some flat metal ones and some short flat files with handles. The problem is that all are described as fret levelers, I looked at some vids on youtube and all 3 where used to accomplish the task. At the end of the day I'm not sure what I need to level out my frets.

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Hey Joe, (Like the sound of that)

 

Stewmac.com........Then deside how involved you want to get. Get their catalog and you will be even more confused.

Not trying to be funny here.... Working with wood and metal is an art.

For a basic check use a good straight edge. Run 3 to 4 frets at a time and feel for a toggle.

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MGrisell00,

 

How brave are you and your guitar?

Personally, I start with the finest steel wool I can get. Even then I am careful.

How bad is the buzz?

Did you check the deflection on the neck?

How hard do you pick?

What is your string height?

What guage strings?

Are the frets set properly in the neck?

All have bearing.

 

How do you like my new icon? (more to follow)

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I've been using a bastard file with the handle ground off for years now. Coarse side for when you really want to lower the buggers and fine side for lighter dressing work. A good straightedge is important to check your work.

 

You can do crowning with a simple triangular file, just smooth the corners first. However it's a lot less work to use a proper crowning file as sold by Stew-Mac. The little stainless steel fret guards are a huge time saver for sanding and polishing the frets too.

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Cool' date=' but that's crowning, I hope it doesn't come to that. Right now I just want the frets leveled out. Cool signature btw, did u do that yourself?[/quote']

 

Hey JoePass

I've done frets on two Stew-Mac fret boards for my LP project guitars, including installing

and levelling the frets from start to finish. It's doable but very time consuming.

 

I ordered a 6 inch radius block and then glued some 220 and 320 Norton papers to

it to smooth out all the frets yet maintain the 12 inch radius. This works to some

degree, but in the end you may have to resort to this and a mill (or bastard) file

as Rotcanx suggests to do individual high frets, depending on the trueness of

your neck. You will also need a crowning file or a small file to refile the crown back

on the individual frets that are flattened out with the above tools.

This will usually be around the edges of the fret(s).

 

After doing that, its trial and error. You can use a 12 inch metal ruler on edge and a

piece of computer paper that spans 2-3 frets. Put the paper on the frets and press it

down with the edge of the ruler. If the paper can't be pulled out, then the frets are

pretty close (level) with each other, but if you can pull out the paper, either you

have a neck that needs some truss rod adjustment OR you still have a high fret

somewhere.

 

Once you have all the frets leveled, use a 400 or 600 wet/dry paper to polish them.

Some people may use steel wool #0000, but I find that the fine papers do a better

job and you don't have tiny pieces of steel wool to be attracted to the humbucker

magnet.

 

After that, tune up the strings, give the neck a couple hours to take a set from the

string pressure and test your work with a few scales paying attention to any

buzzes. Bring down the bridge height until you start to get a buzz from one or two

frets, then adjust it up slightly until the buzz disappears.

 

Others may have other methods, but this seems to work for me on all of my

instruments producing low action and good intonation. I'm not a luthier, just

wanna play one on tv sometime. :-)

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Hi,

 

This might be worth checking out. I bought one of these kits and did a successful fret redress on an old strat copy my son had. Was simple enough to do and seems to have worked well.

 

http://cgi.ebay.com.au/Guitar-Parts-FRET-LEVELING-DRESSING-KIT-Luthier-Tools_W0QQitemZ110269562514QQihZ001QQcategoryZ7266QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewIt

 

cheers,

 

Ron

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First of all it's darn nice to see ya back on the forum again JPW.

I've lost count of how may times I have directed people to the Guitar Dater Website.

I hope you're doin' well.

As far as fret leveling goes I don't have a clue since I take my guitars to "The Man" here in my neck of the woods.

I do neck adjustments, intonation and electronics but I'm superstitious about the fret stuff.

I really just wanted to say hello.

C ya!

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Hey Joepasswannabe one other option you have is checking out this website called smartflix.com. They are an online dvd rental service but with specialty videos and a nice lutherie section. Just about all the Dan Erlewine series is on there for you to rent and he has an excellent set a videos for fret leveling.

 

Oh gc guitar that fret leveling kit on the bay sounds pretty interesting.

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Cool' date=' but that's crowning, I hope it doesn't come to that. Right now I just want the frets leveled out. [/quote']

 

Any decent fretlevel-job should be followed by crowning. I you don't you're more likely to get intonation-problems with the different crownshapes.

 

See this StewMac illustration after levelling.

 

ts0021filing2.gif

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I use the magic marker method. There are some pictorial step by step procedures if you search google. You paint all the fret tops with a magic marker, flatten the fingerboard using the truss rod, mask the fingerboard with tape between frets, and use a large piece of sandpaper (400 grit to start with). You wrap the sandpaper around a perfectly flat 2x2 board that you flattened with your jointer or cut on a good table saw so that it is flat (compare it to a level or carpenter's square). You sand very lightly and carefully across all the frets until all the magic marker is gone. The low spots will be the last ink left. The fret tops will be flattened at this point and you have to re-shape them to a rounded shape without creating more low spots. This can be done with a fret file or a piece of 400 grit sandpaper followed by 800 and then 1000 grit. You can get by with the sandpaper wrapped around your fingertip and sand side to side until each top is rounded again. Pay attention to rounding the square edge of the fret and don't sand off the top. You want to keep the profile and smooth the edges of the flats you created. Fret files are a better tool to use and Stewmac sells everything you need.

 

Be careful not to round the ends of the frets or you will have problems with the high E string sliding off the fret at times. Keep the fret ends square with a smooth edge. If you are going to do this only once in your life, you can have it done for the price of the proper tools. The final polish is one of the more important steps. The frets should shine like a new diamond ring when you are through and the action should feel lubricated if you polish properly.

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Be careful not to round the ends of the frets or you will have problems with the high E string sliding off the fret at times. Keep the fret ends square with a smooth edge. If you are going to do this only once in your life' date=' you can have it done for the price of the proper tools. The final polish is one of the more important steps. The frets should shine like a new diamond ring when you are through and the action should feel lubricated if you polish properly.[/quote']

 

Dave, are you referring to the bevel at the edge of the frets? I did that to mine because

most of my guitars are bevelled down towards the fb binding at the very end..otherwise

not only would you get speed bumps but your fingers would get scratched up from

the edge of the fret.

 

The final polish is good to have, but I wonder how many guitars out there, save some expensive customs or

professional fret jobs have the polish done. my EPis have relatively shiny frets, but this is probably just the

fret wire itself. I just noticed that the frets on my Epi Custom are starting to wear down on the high strings.

 

Guess I'll have to try some fret sanding, recrowning and polishing on it already.

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Stew-Mac has Dan Erlewine's latest edition of the Guitar Player Repair Guide:

 

http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Books,_plans/Building_and_repair:_Guitar,_electric/Guitar_Player_Repair_Guide

 

I checked it out of the library a few weeks ago. I had some bad fret buzz on my Washburn HB-35, and I was preparing to take it to a local luthier. After reading the pertinent sections in Dan's book, I gave it a shot myself and cleared the problem up. This is a great book and well worth the $30.

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I really appreciate all the thoughtful responses, I'm learning a lot, I also feel a bit overwhelmed. The two times I entered wood shop a stretcher was needed, so this kind of thing isn't really my strength. There is no real guitar guy in Jamaica, there is a guy who fixes amps and switches etc but he's more of an electronics guy, so I rather ruin my guitar myself. I have an old Japanese strat copy that I guess I can practice on a bit.

 

Funkwire, I own a copy of "How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great!" by the same author, seems silly now, half as many pages for 3 dollars less. Great stuff tho, that's how I learned to adjust my trusrod, action and so on with some degree of competence. Solved my intonation problems but didn't eliminate the fret buzz.

 

How brave are you and your guitar?

Personally, I start with the finest steel wool I can get. Even then I am careful.

How bad is the buzz?

Did you check the deflection on the neck?

How hard do you pick?

What is your string height?

What guage strings?

Are the frets set properly in the neck?

All have bearing.

Whitmore Willy, I have .10s on it right now, used to have .11s I put about .11 relief on the neck and the buzz is present on mainly the top 3-4 strings on the first 5-7 frets. I had to raise the action to avoid deadening of the high E string. So my action is higher than I like right now. I play fairly soft actually for Jazz and blues but u gotta tear it up for reggae uzimi :-k

 

@carverman, why did you use a 6 inch radius block to achieve a 12 inch radius?

 

@Amino Moore, its great to be back!

 

Ok so lets see,

Flat 2x2 board or radius block

Sand Paper 200 - 1000 grit

Crowning File

Fret Guards or Tape

Straightedge Ruler

I'll just add this to the list ](*,)

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Dave' date=' are you referring to the bevel at the edge of the frets? I did that to mine because

most of my guitars are bevelled down towards the fb binding at the very end..otherwise

not only would you get speed bumps but your fingers would get scratched up from

the edge of the fret.

 

The final polish is good to have, but I wonder how many guitars out there, save some expensive customs or

professional fret jobs have the polish done. my EPis have relatively shiny frets, but this is probably just the

fret wire itself. I just noticed that the frets on my Epi Custom are starting to wear down on the high strings.

 

Guess I'll have to try some fret sanding, recrowning and polishing on it already. [/quote']

 

Yes, the bevel at the edge of the frets can become too rounded if you polish aggressively and run back and forth over the ends. Then, instead of a bevel, you get a rounded end that comes too close to the actual contact point of the string on the fret and it will slide over the edge during vibrato and contact the binding. Then, you get a "plink" sound as the string deadens out on the binding. This happens more on the small, high E string. I'd watch that I didn't round the top of the bevel. You want to smooth it, but not cut any material off or change the angle of the bevel.

 

My frets shine like new money after a polish and feel slick when I bend. I use a polish paper that is much higher than 1000 grit that we use at work for various tarnish removal on machine parts. It will cut SS and it works great on frets for the final polish. I don't know what the abrasive component in it is. Occassionally, I will lightly polish during a stringe change if I have been feeling a gritty sensation during bends.

 

When you re-crown the frets and then polish, place your thumb and finger under the fingerboard on each side of the fret so that you have a "stop" when the paper hits your finger or thumb on each side. That way you don't ride off the fret and round the bevel at the end. Just polish up the the bevel and stop without sliding off.

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  • 5 weeks later...

I did it, was a spur of the moment thing. I picked up a 320 and a 600 grit sandpaper at the hardware store Tuesday, pretty much all they had. I was going to wait until my new SD pickups had arrived but alas after 6 weeks of waiting and a running battle with my mail forwarder I decided not to wait any longer.

 

Went ahead marked the frets with the marker and went over them a few at a time with the 320 grit sandpaper then polished up with the 600. Strung back up the guitar and loosened the neck, it plays great, buzz free =D> I do need to get a crowning file tho. Hopefully the issue with my mail forwarder will be resolved soon.

 

Thanks for all the advice, it made the process painless.

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