Jump to content
Gibson Brands Forums

leveling frets


spooki

Recommended Posts

Now that everyone has me excited about tackling my fret buzz problem I started getting some schooling on the web sites. Wow... everyone does it different. Darken the frets with a marker then level till all are clean seems to one favorite. Makes sense to me but am concerned about the radius with light even strokes. Looks to me like human error would be a big factor there. Then I saw the radius boards. Looks like a 4 or 6 inch board would be the deal. I'm understanding the Epi Nighthawk has a 12 inch radius. I suppose I could just fix the problem area, but to me anyway. If your going in, you might as well get wet. Looking for input please. Thanks again to all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Be careful when using the magic marker method. It really isn't needed anyway. All you want to do is file/sand with your tool until all frets have been touched. The higher frets will have more material removed (and a wider flat spot), whereas the other frets should just BARELY show signs the tool has touched their tops. You do not need to take off much material at all. Your goal is to lower the high frets to the level of the lower ones. Most frets should be slightly touched, with only a few (usually grouped together) showing more tooling marks. Once leveled though, DO NOT skip the step of a good fret crowning (re-rounding the tops) and polishing out the tool marks!!!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Be careful when using the magic marker method. It really isn't needed anyway. All you want to do is file/sand with your tool until all frets have been touched. The higher frets will have more material removed (and a wider flat spot), whereas the other frets should just BARELY show signs the tool has touched their tops. You do not need to take off much material at all. Your goal is to lower the high frets to the level of the lower ones. Most frets should be slightly touched, with only a few (usually grouped together) showing more tooling marks. Once leveled though, DO NOT skip the step of a good fret crowning (re-rounding the tops) and polishing out the tool marks!!!!!

Roger that. I used to do machine work and bluing was always handy to have but I understand your point of a good visual. You only mentioned (my tool) while filing or sanding. At this point I have only an automotive sanding, hard rubber hand block. What do you suggest? and what grit paper. 1000-2000? The crowning I presume is done with protective tape on the board and finger pressure only. The polishing? steel wool or ? You also never committed on a radius block. Or is that more for surfacing the board before fret installation? That to me seems like the cats ***, but I easily could be way off. Everything in uniform over a larger area? Just call me many-questions. Thanks so much for your response.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've done several fret levelling jobs in my shop. I use the radius sanding blocks.

I really like the longer aluminum blocks, but I'm doing this part time as a small business, and have purchased a few of them in different radii.

 

The 8 inch wooden blocks are OK. If you buy an 8 inch, get the 4 inch as well; you will need it to put a bit of FALLAWAY into the fret board. They work best with 3M Stik-it sandpaper, which has an adhesive back. You should also purchase a crowning file. Trust me, a good diamond crowning file will save a LOT of swearing. [biggrin]

 

Remember to remove the nut and tape off the pickups. Removing the nut allows you to make your stroke go over the end, preventing too much sanding in the middle of the board.

Taping off the pups prevents filings from sticking to them.

 

You may want to do a lot of reading before starting.

Also if you go to the DIY section in the INFORMATION thread, at the top of the ELECTRICS section of the forum, there is a lot of info in there. Lots of pics too.

 

You may discover why a good fret level costs so much.

 

I did a fret level and took a bunch of pics a while back, and there's some other info too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've done several fret levelling jobs in my shop. I use the radius sanding blocks.

I really like the longer aluminum blocks, but I'm doing this part time as a small business, and have purchased a few of them in different radii.

 

The 8 inch wooden blocks are OK. If you buy an 8 inch, get the 4 inch as well; you will need it to put a bit of FALLAWAY into the fret board. They work best with 3M Stik-it sandpaper, which has an adhesive back. You should also purchase a crowning file. Trust me, a good diamond crowning file will save a LOT of swearing. [biggrin]

 

Remember to remove the nut and tape off the pickups. Removing the nut allows you to make your stroke go over the end, preventing too much sanding in the middle of the board.

Taping off the pups prevents filings from sticking to them.

 

You may want to do a lot of reading before starting.

Also if you go to the DIY section in the INFORMATION thread, at the top of the ELECTRICS section of the forum, there is a lot of info in there. Lots of pics too.

 

You may discover why a good fret level costs so much.

 

I did a fret level and took a bunch of pics a while back, and there's some other info too.

Way Awesome Gordy, I'm jazzed. I assume the nut only needs a gentle tap with a flat punch. I've only removed one before. I think I'll just go with the wood blocks because I won't be doing this on a regular deal. I'm old and only want to dress my last girl like she deserves. I get the 8 inch, but what is FALLAWAY concerning the 4 inch? Good advice on taping the pups. I would of been crying the blues on that mistake. I found a site that sells tools needed and assume I will also find the diamond file and the sticky sandpaper. I had to order strings so I'll have more time to study the do and do-not. Thanks again....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It would probably cost about the same price for some decent tools for the job as it would cost to just pay decent guitar tech' to do the job. of course if you plan on doing similar work on project guitars in the future, or if you simply just want to learn how to do it for yourself, then it's a worthwhile investment.

 

I did a little bit of fret levelling on a project guitar and gave it a little fall away, using a 8" sharpening stone and careful judgement. sure it improved the guitar to playable condition but it wasn't perfect. so when I decided it was time for one of my more prized guitars to get a fret level, I just gave it to a pro.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It would probably cost about the same price for some decent tools for the job as it would cost to just pay decent guitar tech' to do the job. of course if you plan on doing similar work on project guitars in the future, or if you simply just want to learn how to do it for yourself, then it's a worthwhile investment.

 

I did a little bit of fret levelling on a project guitar and gave it a little fall away, using a 8" sharpening stone and careful judgement. sure it improved the guitar to playable condition but it wasn't perfect. so when I decided it was time for one of my more prized guitars to get a fret level, I just gave it to a pro.

Thanks for the input. I'm beginning to see the cost factor vs guitar tech. If I only knew one I could trust. I live in a small town with the biggest city being 150 miles away and everyone claims to be the best. It's a loaded Catch-22 deal. Since I am in love with my Nighthawk and due to the fact she didn't cost $3,000. And the fact, I have always taken pride in my work as a machinist somewhat, but mostly mechanic's. Built and preformed a lot of nice fabrication on a couple street rods. I think I can sweeten my $399 girl to the standard I need. I'm fine with most expenses I've seen. But the diamond fret crowning tool is a scary one for my one time deal. Any suggestions on a different approach would be more than welcome. This is a first for me and I'm not scared of it. Just want to do the best I can on a improvement scale over the factory out of box. My back went years ago so a new hands on challenge is met on this end with 100% approval and excitement. Thanks again..

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To answer your question about Fallaway.

 

When you do a fret level, part of it is tapering the frets down slightly from the 12th fret, to the base of the neck.

 

This is done so that when you add a bit of relief into the neck, you can still adjust you bridge down to a nice playing level.

 

There is usually a bit of a "Hump" in the neck where it joins the body, and the tapering of the frets counters that.

 

It's not a lot. If you had .006 difference in the fret height from the 12th to the base of the neck, that should be enough.

 

If you're serious about this, please buy a book called A Guitar Players Guide To Repair.

And if you're really serious, also purchase a book called "Fretwork, Step by Step".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To answer your question about Fallaway.

 

When you do a fret level, part of it is tapering the frets down slightly from the 12th fret, to the base of the neck.

 

This is done so that when you add a bit of relief into the neck, you can still adjust you bridge down to a nice playing level.

 

There is usually a bit of a "Hump" in the neck where it joins the body, and the tapering of the frets counters that.

 

It's not a lot. If you had .006 difference in the fret height from the 12th to the base of the neck, that should be enough.

 

If you're serious about this, please buy a book called A Guitar Players Guide To Repair.

And if you're really serious, also purchase a book called "Fretwork, Step by Step".

It's getting scarier buy the moment but I'm loving it. I've seen some pretty good stuff already via our gibson.com site that is a play by play with even the fallaway. Thanks so much for your help and input.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's getting scarier buy the moment but I'm loving it. I've seen some pretty good stuff already via our gibson.com site that is a play by play with even the fallaway. Thanks so much for your help and input.

 

 

If you check the frets with a short straight edge, you may find that you may only have to file one or two. I would start there first. You may not need to do a complete level.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you check the frets with a short straight edge, you may find that you may only have to file one or two. I would start there first. You may not need to do a complete level.

That's good advice Gordy. I will do just that. One of the famous P's I've learned over the years is (pause). As a mechanic it was great advice. Simple enough but skipped way to many times. Check the fuses first!... You have been awesome with your help. All of you for that matter. Keep em' rolling if anyone has other input. If you catch or learn only 1% of what you hear, it hasn't been a waste. My famous words to my son, hehe.. I figure I'm at about 35% right now. I've learned much today thanks to all. If it comes to the worst, I am still open for a fret crowning tool that is not diamond but can survive a few rounds of clean cuts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To me, the "key" to a great job as opposed to a good one is in the dressing, or the crowning. You want to shape them nicely, but you don't want to remove more materiel from the top of the frets as you do it. You want to end up with smooth polished frets in the end. I explain.

 

The first step is leveling, and this is done by not just the tool you use, but your stroke. An 8" long radius block is better than a 4" because you have a longer, flatter surface, and as you would figure, your stroking motion along the lenght is what will make the frets level. Long strokes will take out any inaccuracies of the block you use. This leaves tooling marks at the top of the frets running lenght-wise along the neck. Ideally, you want the same tooling marks on all the frets on your last stroke. That's LEVEL baby!, more than you can measure.

 

Now, when you go to dress the frets, you "crown" them by rounding off the top, and you get tooling marks running the opposite direction. So, after the frets are shaped and ready for polishing, what you want to be left with are frets than show tooling marks on the sides perpendicular and tooling marks on the top parallel. NOW you see that the more precise and smooth your "tooling marks" are in the leveling stage, the less work is needed to remove them, AND the more precise the job is.

 

In a sense, it is anal to be as precise as to use tooling marks as a guide, but as a gauge, can save a lot of time on the shaping and polishing stages. I mean, good luck finding anything that can measure differences in the depth of tooling marks, or measuring the difference between a "glazed" finish and the mount of materiel removed for a "polished" surface. Not even a PLEK can do that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing I don't read a lot of is the truss rod adjustment and how it relates to fret jobs. It also can have an effect on how much "fall-off" you want.

 

All necks are slightly different, depending on truss-rod design and stiffness of the wood. For example, adjusting the truss rod may give a bow from, say, the 3rd fret to the 14th fret, some from the nut to the 18th fret, etc.

 

"Fall-off" (making the upper frets lower) achieves 2 things: Most truss rods DON'T have an effect on the highest frets (fingerbaords that extend over the body and such, OR are past where the truss rod is physically located in the neck). Making these frets slightly lower gives you more USABLE adjustment in the neck, because the high frets are not part of the action equation. ALSO, most folks don't play much up there, so taking the upper frets a little lower makes the chance they will get in the way out, and most wouldn't notice when playing up there anyway.

 

Back to the truss rod adjustment: What you want is to have the truss rod adjusted to have the neck straight and flat WITHOUT the strings on, so after you remove the strings and before you level the frets, you want to adjust the rod.

 

If you want even better, you might check the action of the rod with the strings on adjusting both directions to get an idea how much fall-off you want and where you want it to start. You might also note how smooth the bow is of the neck, in case you want to compensate a little with the fret-level. Ideally, you want to level the frets on a straight neck, and let the string tention give it a bow, and the truss rod counter it when all is said and done.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing I don't read a lot of is the truss rod adjustment and how it relates to fret jobs. It also can have an effect on how much "fall-off" you want.

 

All necks are slightly different, depending on truss-rod design and stiffness of the wood. For example, adjusting the truss rod may give a bow from, say, the 3rd fret to the 14th fret, some from the nut to the 18th fret, etc.

 

"Fall-off" (making the upper frets lower) achieves 2 things: Most truss rods DON'T have an effect on the highest frets (fingerbaords that extend over the body and such, OR are past where the truss rod is physically located in the neck). Making these frets slightly lower gives you more USABLE adjustment in the neck, because the high frets are not part of the action equation. ALSO, most folks don't play much up there, so taking the upper frets a little lower makes the chance they will get in the way out, and most wouldn't notice when playing up there anyway.

Thanks so much, you have been very helpful.

Back to the truss rod adjustment: What you want is to have the truss rod adjusted to have the neck straight and flat WITHOUT the strings on, so after you remove the strings and before you level the frets, you want to adjust the rod.

 

If you want even better, you might check the action of the rod with the strings on adjusting both directions to get an idea how much fall-off you want and where you want it to start. You might also note how smooth the bow is of the neck, in case you want to compensate a little with the fret-level. Ideally, you want to level the frets on a straight neck, and let the string tention give it a bow, and the truss rod counter it when all is said and done.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing I don't read a lot of is the truss rod adjustment and how it relates to fret jobs. It also can have an effect on how much "fall-off" you want.

 

All necks are slightly different, depending on truss-rod design and stiffness of the wood. For example, adjusting the truss rod may give a bow from, say, the 3rd fret to the 14th fret, some from the nut to the 18th fret, etc.

 

"Fall-off" (making the upper frets lower) achieves 2 things: Most truss rods DON'T have an effect on the highest frets (fingerbaords that extend over the body and such, OR are past where the truss rod is physically located in the neck). Making these frets slightly lower gives you more USABLE adjustment in the neck, because the high frets are not part of the action equation. ALSO, most folks don't play much up there, so taking the upper frets a little lower makes the chance they will get in the way out, and most wouldn't notice when playing up there anyway.

Thanks so much, you have been very helpful.

Back to the truss rod adjustment: What you want is to have the truss rod adjusted to have the neck straight and flat WITHOUT the strings on, so after you remove the strings and before you level the frets, you want to adjust the rod.

 

If you want even better, you might check the action of the rod with the strings on adjusting both directions to get an idea how much fall-off you want and where you want it to start. You might also note how smooth the bow is of the neck, in case you want to compensate a little with the fret-level. Ideally, you want to level the frets on a straight neck, and let the string tention give it a bow, and the truss rod counter it when all is said and done.

Thanks so much, it's all been very helpful.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The one thing no one has mentioned is getting the neck as straight as you can before measuring or filing. It no good trying to level frets that are on a crooked neck! [biggrin]

This is done using a notched straightedge. What this tool does is take the frets out of the equation, measuring directly off the fingerboard. Well worth the few dollars it costs.

 

I bought one from stewmac, but you can find another guy who sells them on ebay. I have bought those as well and they are good quality.

 

If you go that route, get the fret rocker also. GREAT little tool.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What tools do you need to start with? Is anything on Youtube worth learning from?

 

The StewMac website is the place to go; they have all the tools and instructions on how to use them.

 

Fretting Supplies

 

Fretwork Step by Step

 

Dan Erlewine's Fretting Series DVDs

 

Be prepared to spend $$$$ for the right tools to do the job; be prepared to pay your tech $$$$$$$$$$ if you don't!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The StewMac website is the place to go; they have all the tools and instructions on how to use them.

 

Be prepared to spend $$$$ for the right tools to do the job; be prepared to pay your tech $$$$$$$$$$ if you don't!

 

 

The very first time I did a complete fret level, I started to understand why the tech charged so much. First of all the RIGHT tools for the job are expensive.

1. 18 inch Aluminum Sanding Block = 130.00

2. 8 inch wooden Sanding block = about 20.00

3. 4 inch Wooden Sanding Block = about 15.00

4. Diamond Crowning file = about 100.00

5. File to do fret ends = about 30.00

6. Steel Crowning file to finish = about 50.00

7. Polishing discs for Dremel = 6.00

8. Notched Straightedge = 45.00

9. 3M Stik-It Sandpaper = 50.00

 

Mind you these tools will complete many fret jobs, but for the casual repair guy it is a pricey venture.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

spooki,

All of the info everyone posted here is good, and you've been a machinist so you're familiar with close tolerances,

proper filing technique, and surface finishing.

(I've worked as a tool and die machinist and a mechanic, and that experience has helped me in MANY different circumstances.)

Ok, so the only thing I didn't see anyone mention is to make close inspection of each and every fret before you do any leveling,

and be sure that ALL of them are COMPLETELY SEATED AND FLUSH TO THE FRETBOARD.

In fact I'd suggest doing that before you lay out a small sum of cash for tools!

I've had more than one guitar that had buzzing and upon thorough inspection I

found I had a fret or two that had pulled away from the fretboard very slightly.

It only takes a few thousandths of an inch to make the strings buzz!

(A good reason to oil that fretboard every once in a while to keep it from drying out.)

I used a piece of softwood (pine) and a hammer (not a 5 pound sledge either) to reseat them.

And that was all I had to do to correct the problem. (Plus a nice oil massage, that treats the wood and cleans away goop)

DO NOT HIT THEM DIRECTLY WITH A HAMMER!

NOT EVEN ONE WITH HARD PLASTIC OR NYLON INSERTS.

They'll get dented, or worse, BENT! Then you've got a whole new problem.

And SUPPORT THE BACK OF THE NECK DIRECTLY BEHIND THE FRETS YOU ARE SETTING!

FAILURE TO PROVIDE PROPER SUPPORT COULD REALLY MAKE A MESS OF IT!

Plus having the neck in a solid, stationary position will make it easier to seat them.

In fact, IF you have to do a fret level, be sure to support the neck and body so it doesn't have any "flex".

 

Well good luck and happy fret leveling! A little common sense and patience and you'll have your baby setup exactly how you want it!

Take some pics while you do it and let us know how it comes out!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

spooki,

All of the info everyone posted here is good, and you've been a machinist so you're familiar with close tolerances,

proper filing technique, and surface finishing.

(I've worked as a tool and die machinist and a mechanic, and that experience has helped me in MANY different circumstances.)

Ok, so the only thing I didn't see anyone mention is to make close inspection of each and every fret before you do any leveling,

and be sure that ALL of them are COMPLETELY SEATED AND FLUSH TO THE FRETBOARD.

 

 

 

Definitely good advice. I did mention checking the frets, but your advice is much more specific. Good Call. [thumbup]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...