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Anyone ever try crowning their own frets?


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In early October I had the frets crowned on my Byrdland by a luthier. I was quite surprised at how much of a difference it made in regards to bending ability. I knew it would be better --- but certainly wasn't expecting as significant of a difference as was gained.


For a few weeks I thought about buying my own crowning file as opposed to paying someone $100 or more per guitar. So about 10 days ago I ordered a diamond crowning file from Stew-Mac. It cost about $100 (bought the best one they sell) and it arrived Friday.


On Friday night I decided to crown the frets on my PRS Custom 22. I've had it a year and it has seen some good use.


After running a black marker atop each fret (that gives a gauge as to what is coming off once you start filing), I then gently ran the crowning file over each fret. Not much was coming off but there was a tiny bit of metal dust and I could see that the black marker line was thinner.


Afterwards I polished each fret with 400, 600 and 1500 grit black wet/dry sandpaper and applied Gorgomyte to the fretboard. And yes, I went through quite a bit of green painter's tape (used for masking the fretboard).


Doing this really made a difference! The guitar had an increase in sustain and rang much more clear. I guess that makes sense --- notes are now being fretted on a nice crown as opposed to somewhat flatter frets. Bends were much more smoother.


On the weekend I also did my PRS SC 245. Though it hasn't seen as much use, I did notice a definite improvement as well. It too rings more clear, has more sustain and bends are much easier.


I read somewhere that most guitars, even high-end guitars, could benefit from a good fret crowning right from the factory. I guess that makes sense. Even though PRS obviously does a good job on their guitars, the time involved to do an excellent fret crowning and polishing would add more $$ to the cost of the guitar.


I also checked my Byrdland. A few spots on the higher frets along the high E string were grabbing on the file so they were smoothed out (guess the luthier didn't do quite as good as I thought) and it too plays much better.


Yesterday I did two guitars for some friends --- a LP BFG and a Dean Dimebag. The Dean isn't exactly a high quality guitar but it now plays WAY better and the LP also experienced the same things as my guitars --- better sustain, ring and bending ability.


Granted, one has to be careful when doing this. Common sense has to prevail. You can't do it fast....each guitar took me close to 90 minutes to do. And if frets are low they can't be crowned very well. None of the guitars I did had major pits in the frets either (though the LP did have some small pits on the E and B strings where you'd do A and D chords).


If you have the courage to try this I'd highly recommend it. It's almost like putting new tires on a car --- a definite change in performance!


After doing the two guitars for friends I told them I'd do any of their friend's guitars for $40. Figured doing a couple would pretty much pay for the file. ;)

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I have the same tool. It works well. I use it to take off those indents you get in the frets after a few years. Ideally you need files in thin, medium, and wide. However, I have the two-sided one that does medium and wide and find I can still do a reasonable job on the narrow traditional Fender frets.


+1 on taking it slow. If you get carried away with one of these you can remove too much material pretty quickly. Also it should be noted that this tool alone will not give you a level fretboard - only nicely crowned frets. You will need a well-machined perfectly straight edge to check for levelness across the board (the StewMac Fret Rocker works well for this too).

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It's posts like "Y'alls" that give the "DO-It-Yourselfers" amongst us

the "Courage" to Step-Up our game and perhaps try something we've wanted

to do, but were not sure if we had the ability to pull off.


Let me add for potential use another thread (with PICS), uses StewMac goodies,

and fits right in with CDNTAC's fret job...



From the EPI Lounge "Do-it-Yourself" Sticky, Guitar Projects Section:


Project Tele Fret Job Pics


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I should have taken pics as I was going along. I may do another guitar in a week or so for someone so if I do I'll take pics of it.


In retrospect, this was one of those things that was much easier than anticipated. I think having the proper tool helped and probably buying an expensive file (as opposed to some of their other files that were a bit less money) helped too.


There's no way I would have attempted this with a cant saw file!


One good thing about this Stew-Mac diamond offset file (narrow/med on one side and med/wide on the other) is that there isn't a possibility of digging into the fret board. The edge of the file is rounded enough so that it can, if the frets are low enough, just rest gently on the fret board without damaging it. It's really a simple tool to use.


I'd kind of equate what I've done with changing oil in a car. It's not that hard but you need the right tools and a desire to want to do it as opposed to paying someone else.

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I should have taken pics as I was going along. I may do another guitar in a week or so for someone so if I do I'll take pics of it.


In retrospect, this was one of those things that was much easier than anticipated. I think having the proper tool helped and probably buying an expensive file (as opposed to some of their other files that were a bit less money) helped too.


I'd kind of equate what I've done with changing oil in a car. It's not that hard but you need the right tools and a desire to want to do it as opposed to paying someone else.




Taking Pics as you do projects is just a habit you eventually get into!!!

I've been working on the EPI "DIY" for a while, and am always requesting/looking for

projects with pics - helps having a visual reference, too!


I've done my own fret filing/polish out (for problem frets), but never a Full-Blown Fret Crown,

so this would be new territory for me, too!


Anyway, the EPI "DIY" contains lots of Categories/Sub Categories. Just a place to complile

reference information for quick access before heading off to the internet.


Definitely take pics! Many others will thank you for it!

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I looked at that page.


Though I don't have to do it, I think installing new frets might be intimidating for me. I'd want to try it on a less expensive guitar as opposed to one of my own. ;)


Doing stuff like this can give you a sense of pride too once you realize how simple it is. Can help the wallet in the long run too. ;)

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Man have I ever! I used to work for Fernandes guitars and Dean guitars. (Even did a fret level, crown and dress on Dimebag's original "Dean from Hell" after he had some yahoo re-fret it) Anyway you are spot on with the painters tape. Tape up all the exposed fret board areas and I also taped over the pick-ups to keep metal shavings from steel wool etc.. from getting into the coils. Also tape up the body around the neck area of a neck through or set-neck guitar. Even though those stew MC'd files are pretty well rounded on the edges you can still create a pretty good dent line if you slip off the fret.


Another cheap trick: If you get a small ding or dent in a rosewood fretboard (might wok ok on ebony and maybe maple) as long as there is no type of sealant on the wood you can take a damp clothe and and put it over the ding and roll a hot soldering iron over the clothe to steam out the dent. This obviously works better on softer open grain woods.


The person that said make sure the neck is nice and straight and frets have been leveled was spot on too! Pay the money for the good straight edge and check the neck from edge to edge not just the middle because the neck can have a slight twist. If so try to compensate the neck adjustment so that you equal it out a bit and keep in mind which way the twist is heading. Also Red, green or Blue Sharpie is your best friend for this kind of work. Make sure you completely "color the whole fret not just the top so you can keep an eye on what's going on with sides of the fret as you should be gently rocking/rolling the fret crown file from side to side as you work. Here are some other tips you can use at your own discretion.


Fret Leveling - Doesn't do much good to crown frets if they are not level and in some cases can cause more problems than it solves.

One thing to really watch out for especially when doing an initial fret level is "Floating frets" these are frets that did not seat well into the fret slot and as you pass the leveling board over them they push down and then pop back up. This can also cause the "See/Saw" fret where when one end gets pushed down the other end pops up. If knocking them down with a fret hammer doesn't work This can usually be fixed by using some thin quick curing super glue (available at Stew McD) applied under the fret with a razor blade and then pressure held on the fret until it stays put.



In some cases you may need to pull the offending fret (or frets depending on how poorly the neck was made) You should also have a good set of flat ended nippers for this. Lightly Heating the fret with a soldering iron will reduce the chance of fretboard chipping (Make sure there is no solder on the tip and move it across the fret to heat it evenly) and take your time pulling the fret by working the pullers under neath one end and slowly working across the fret back and forth until it pops up. In other words don't just pop up one side and pull the rest of the fret out. you can then either use the edge of a file or some other squared hard metal object to strike the fret flange/tang so you add another bigger Tang to it so it will catch and hold the slot. If this doesn't work cutting a new fret might be in order or very worst case scenario use quick setting epoxy and clamp the fret down for an hour or two. (not the best method).


The second thing to look out for when leveling frets is that they are all completely seated to the fretboard. I see a lot of fretboards where the frets are sticking up from the finger board (especially right in the middle or the very edges) by a 32nd to a 16th of an inch. This is usually caused by having the wrong radius set on the bent fretwire or the fret not being hammered or pressed in evenly. Mass production fretting machines are notorious for this. This is the first thing I look for on any guitar I buy, unseated frets or floating frets runaway! Also look for any areas that the frets are flat and the rest are well rounded. This is usually a sign of unseated frets and or twisted or humped necks and somebody did a half assed job of "fixing" the issue.


Anyway if I get suckered into working on one of these monstrosities I usually take my fret hammer down the neck and knock down frets before doing a fret level (hopefully before the 17 year old guitar guy at GC has tried to level the frets first!) If you don't do this you will end up with very flat spots in the middle of the fretboard and you will remove a bunch more metal than needed (unless your going for the fretless wonder feel)


Try to find a very very fine tooth flat file I even think the Stew Mc'd files are way to course and their diamond crowning files are a bit course for my liking as well. Try looking at machinist shops or Japanese or Finish/Swedish tool makers for excellent flat fret files that have a very fine cut. I actually got mine from the late luthier Taku Sakashita who was my mentor and repair teacher. If you never heard of Taku look him up on the internet he was an extraordinary guitar builder (built guitars for Robbin Ford and others) who was unfortunately murdered in February this year in front of his shop located outside of San Francisco. RIP Taku!


If you can't find a nice flat file with fine teeth you can use a nice piece of straight hardwood block about 12 to 18" inches long with 600 to 800 grit sand paper stuck to it. I would also get a small block 4 to 5 inches if you need to concentrate on one small area. Remember if you have a nice straight neck and the frets are all seated correctly you shouldn't need to take much metal off the top of the frets. This is where the sharpie comes in! Mark all the tops of the fret with high contrast sharpie ( black is hard to see) Then Lightly without really adding any pressure to the file or sanding board run the file or block in one steady straight motion from the top of the neck to the bottom by the body. (if this is a bolt on take it off the body!!) Do this one time and move from one edge of the fret to the other edge. Remember to use long consistent strokes. Then read your frets. If the neck is real straight and the frets are seated real well you should have a nice VERY THIN line running across the top of ALL the frets where the sharpie has been removed. If this is the case put on some more sharpie and make another pass with some 800 (if you used 600 grit or a file) or 1000 grit if you used 800 grit.then move on to crowning and polishing.


If after your first pass you see some lines of metal on some frets and some sharpie left on some areas of the other frets repeat the first process a couple of times. (Again, Lightly) read your frets again. If you see a fret with a wider line of metal removed and a fret next to it or within a couple of frets that still has sharpie on it then you either have a high fret (the fret with the widening metal line) or a low fret (the fret(s) with sharpie mark still on top) or possibly an unseated rocking fret. high frets are easier to deal with than low frets. You can check this with a very short 2 to 3 inch straight edge to determine if the culprit is high or low. If it is high you can try knocking the high fret down a little with a fretting hammer. Again make sure the High fret isn't "floating" or it will just continue to pop back up as you knock it down or run the file over it. Low frets are a little more tricky. If they are not too low you can just knock off more of the top of the frets around it to get everything level. This will mean more crowning and polishing work. And sometimes you can chase the problem around doing this. If it is really low you may need to replace the fret with some taller stock. (this would be my recommendation if your really getting the frets flat to try to compensate for it. If you see varying lines of metal and sharpie on the same frets and inconsistent markings down the whole fretboard try starting with very light pressure at the beginning of the stoke and add more pressure as you go towards the bottom end of the neck. Remember that the tallest fret on the fingerboard needs to be the 1st fret while the lowest can be the last fret. As long as the frets gradually get lower as you move towards the (21st) 22nd or 24th fret then you shouldn't "In theory" Have any fret buzz.


On to crowning. As I said I I'm not a big fan of the Stew Mc"d fret files as I feel like they are way to course and leave to many deep scratches( Although I haven't checked what they have to offer over the last couple of years) in the fret that you have to try to remove later. Not saying they are bad and I do use them at times but it is usually just to save some time on a cheap" friend of a friend favor job" that turns into 20 hrs worth of work. That said stew Mc'd has a very good file for hand crowning/shaping frets. It is a 3 edge file with the corners rounded off. This is what I usually use since the only thing you really need to do is knock of the 2 edges left on each fret from the flat file so that there is only a single contact point with the string. For this I go back and put a sharpie on the frets again and then by gently guiding the file on the edges of the flat file fret marks remove the sharpie working towards the middle of the fret working from side to side until there is just a hair line of of sharpie left on the top of the fret. Try not to file the sides of the frets if you don't need to!


Now that your done you should have a nice straight thin line of sharpie on top of all the frets. On to polishing. This is my technique. I will usually then run the sanding block over the frets a time or two from nut to body with some 1200 to 1500 grit sand paper. Don't worry your not going to be flattening the frets again enough to warrant re-crowing it just to get the scratches off. Use the sharpie method again with this. When the sharpie disappears stop! I then use a very very fine steel wool and polish each fret from the top of the neck to the bottom of the neck (Not across the fret! from side to side!). Don't apply too much pressure doing this or you will end up making a low fret spot again! If you really want to make them silky smooth you can use some red or white rubbing compound and again polish each fret from the top of the fret to the bottom of the fret. Most people get in a hurry and the want to polish the frets all from side to side from the headstock to the body but this just creates scratches in the fret across the bending path of the string as opposed to any scratches or imperfections running the same way you bend. This also allows the string to polish the fret a bit as well when you bend. If you really want to get fancy you can use a soft buffing wheel on a Dremel Tool with some white rubbing compound and make those frets feel like oiled up glass. ( Use Extreme Caution with this method as you can overheat the fret which will cause it to lift or if there is a sharp corner on the fret it can catch the buffing wheel and pull the fret up or out. You can also possibly slip and run the rotating collet of the dremel against the binding or the neck and cause a major boo boo!) Painters tape doesn't help much here. If you want to be a bit safer a few layers of electrical tape along the binding and neck edge would be recommended. (Yes I know this from experience)


Remember when your done and you got the neck back on (if applicable) and your tuned up to pitch to give the neck just a little relief so that the string has a path to rotate without hitting a fret and causing buzz. I'm sure most all of you know that one but since I am on a roll I thought I would throw that out there. [rolleyes] [rolleyes] [rolleyes]


I can provide some tips for the adventurous that would like to try a re-fret at some point. It's not the easiest job but not that hard either. It's more time consuming and tedious than anything and can vary in difficulty by the type of neck, condition of the neck, binding (always a pain) and fret size and material. I would start with a a cheap rosewood or unfinished maple strat or tele neck with some fat high nickel content fretwire before trying set-necks, neck throughs and especially acoustics!!!!



Hope his helps, or inspires some of you to give these things a whirl. I have worked on guitars for over 20 years and just recently got over my fears of working on my own Marshall Amps. I always felt like I was going to let the genie out of the bottle if I took that back plate off! After looking at schematics I realized that there really isn't that much to them (Other than that risk of being electrocuted thing) and now for the last couple of years have done my own amp repair and amp builds.


Good Luck to all




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