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  • fret leveling DIY tools and advice?

    I have a MIM strat that seems to have a slightly high fret or two. I've been thinking that it would be nice to try dealing with this myself. We're not talking about major work, just cleaning it up a little.

    Any advice on how to proceed? What tools are needed?

    Thanks.

  • #2
    I have a MIM strat that seems to have a slightly high fret or two. I've been thinking that it would be nice to try dealing with this myself. We're not talking about major work, just cleaning it up a little.

    Any advice on how to proceed? What tools are needed?

    Thanks.
    By all means seek out MindRiot's thread "My first fret level" or something along those lines. He may even have a link in his sig.
    Originally Posted by wedgehed II


    Instead of searching for intelligent life in the universe, NASA should send a probe to this thread.

    Comment


    • #3
      Masking tape to protect the finish
      Truss rod tool to remove every bit of relief
      "Fret Rocker" - short straightedge that will span three frets
      Plastic face mallet or fret press (in case its not tight in the slot). Maybe a little thin CA
      12 inch medium and fine cut mill bastard files
      Flat steel bar with emery paper glued on it. Best is one that is your f/b radius
      Fret crowning file - sized to your frets
      Small triagular file made "safe" (points of the triangle are ground off so you won't scar the f/b or binding when doing the ends
      Polishing materials - 0000 steel wool, wet/dry sandpaper 800 to 2000, micro mesh, those cool new eraser things that StewMac is selling
      Draftsman's eraser shield (to protect the f/b - you can use masking tape)

      Comment


      • #4
        First thing that needs to be done is a diagnosis of what the problem actually is, and that will tell you how to proceed. Set the neck dead flat and use straight edges to find the issue.

        A couple high frets might mean a couple fret ends lifting. If you just go ahead and grind all the frets level you haven't really fixed the root cause and you will still have poorly seated frets that may move more over time. The correct fix there would be too tap them back down and recheck the level. They may or may not need some glue in the slot to keep them down.

        Or, you may think they are high because frets around them are too low. Then you need to level, crown, polish, and finally adjust the nut slots for the new fret height.

        Or, the frets may be seated well but still high. In that case you only need to level, crown and polish the high frets to match the others.

        You see where I'm going. The point is, make sure your first step is diagnosis, it truly is the most important step.
        Listen...

        Comment


        • #5
          By all means seek out MindRiot's thread "My first fret level" or something along those lines. He may even have a link in his sig.


          Thanks for the heads up. I searched and found this:

          http://acapella.harmony-central.com/showthread.php?1439881-My-first-fret-level-was-a-success!-(Long-post-lots-of-pics)

          Comment


          • #6
            Ha. beat me to it
            My various guitar build • repair • maintenance threads

            My Custom Guitar page

            Some of my motion graphics ****************

            My metal band, Sulaco
            Download Sulaco, "Build and Burn" for free or pay in any format you want

            My instrumental Prog band, BML

            1981 Marshall 2203
            Marshall DSL50

            Comment


            • #7
              this guy looks like a great source for tools

              http://www.ebay.com/sch/axemasters/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=&_trksid=p3686
              The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.
              Lou Reed

              Comment


              • #8
                IMHO the only "specialty" tool you need is a fret crowning file. Aside from that painters masking tape, bastard file, a good straight edge and an assortment of sandpaper gets the job done.
                -^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-

                Comment


                • #9
                  If the frets are correctly seated, I'm not against using a crowning tool to bring them down to the level of their neighbors. Why remove metal when you don't have to? Just means you have one less fret level left for when the guitar really needs it.
                  It's 4am woman make up your mind. EITHER SPIT IT OUT OR SWALLOW IT!!!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    If the frets are correctly seated, I'm not against using a crowning tool to bring them down to the level of their neighbors. Why remove metal when you don't have to? Just means you have one less fret level left for when the guitar really needs it.


                    Keeping in mind, of course, that quite a few makers will use glue in the fret slots to help secure the frets. In those cases, hammering on the fret may make it go lower, but you're also breaking the glue seal which may cause the fret to rise again and again and again over time.

                    The crowning file isn't used to bring down the height of the frets, it's used to cut away at the sides so the fret has a nice arc to it [instead of a flat-top] before you finish dressing them with sand paper. A bastard file [or even a straight block of wood with sandpaper attached] is how you level multiple frets simultaneously ensuring there are no hills/valleys.
                    -^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      A back bowed neck may be the cause of high frets or the string height may just be too low for the fret radius.

                      I did my steinberger the other night. I had some high frets because others are worn.
                      I removed the strings,
                      then I leveled the fretboard with a "notched" straight edge.

                      "You do not just remove all truss tension"

                      All necks are unique. You may have to loosen it completely with some necks, Others may back bow with all truss removed,
                      and others may not completely flaten without some truss tension. The only way to know is to use a notched straight edge and
                      use the fretboard itself as a guide. Then you would llevel the frets after you know the fretboards level.
                      If you fail to do it that way, then you can wind up with level frets on a non level fretboard and it plays all kinds of hell setting it up right
                      and you'll wind up having more buzzes then a hornets nest.

                      Once the fretboards level, then you have a choice of toold to do the job. If its juts a fret of two, then you can just take care of those.
                      If you have allot of wear in the one to 5 frets you have to take all the other frets down to the lowest wear spot on the worn frets.
                      Root cord frets often get string notches so all other frets have to be taken down to the deepest groove.

                      In my case I had super jumbo frets and I had already done several recrownings. I had to completely relevel quite aggresively.
                      I used a sharpening stone to make quick work of the upper frets which needed to be taken down quite a bit. I picked up about
                      six of those stones at the corner dollar store for a buck a piece. I used lemon oil on the stone to reduce the amount of friction and reduce
                      shedding. The stone is flat when you start. After a few levelings it takes on a radius as it wears so they do a better job as they get older.

                      For lesser jobs, i may just use an 8" file of a radiused block and sand paper. I may even use all three depending on the job. If I'm doing a refret
                      it may vary depending on how well you set the frets.

                      Next comes crowning. If you leave the frets flat, you'll have sour and sharp notes all over the fretboard. You use a crowning file to
                      round the top of all frets that are ground down flat so you have a nice round peak in the center. This round peak makes an exact contact
                      with the string and the least amount of friction on the string. Some use a three corner file to make a pyramid shaped frets for precision
                      string contact, but a normal crown is normally fine.

                      After that you'd rocker again in case you over crowned some areas and made some low spots.

                      Then you can semi polish the frets using super fine sand paper over the top of the fret crowning file.
                      instead of using the fret file teeth, the sand paper fits in the curved gropove and removes all scratches and flaws from the frets.
                      You got to keep re-wrapping the sand paper around the file for each fret because the sand paper loads the paper up with silver metal quickly.

                      Then after the sand papering removes all flaws, you can use super fine steel wool on bolt on necks that are removed from the instrumet
                      and are away from the magnetic pickups. Or you can completely cover the pickups with paper and masking tape on a glued on neck,
                      but you dont want to get the steel wool on the pickup or you'll have a hard time getting rid of it.

                      They make some newer fret polishing papers and erasers at Stu Mac which are a better route to go cause they are non magnetic.
                      main thing is to get those frets to a mirror shine. That reduces frictiona dn makes the instrument so much easire to play.

                      After leveling, you restring, tune to pitch and adjust your relief with a non notched straight edge laid on the frets
                      and you use a .009 feeler gauge for .009 gauged stringe, .010 feeler gauge for .010 gaugesd strings etc, and
                      set the relief so the gauge just passes between the 5th to 7th frets in the upright sitting position.

                      You usually have to reset the string height and intonation after a full leveling. You may have to take the
                      nut down a little too depending on hpow much meat you removed. you try not to do the nut unless its an issue
                      and you want to use fret files and feeler gauges so the slots are U shaped to the string gauges.

                      A dead flat neck wont allow the strings to vibrate properly without buzzing. You always need a little relief
                      to allow for the strings erratic vibrsation which vcan be circular. they dont just vibrate left to right, they usually
                      start off thet way bet end up in an eliptical or even up and down pattern. relief guves the strings more clearence as you go up the neck
                      and allows the strings to clear all frets.

                      As a final test you simply hold down the highest and lowes frets and pluck the string between them.
                      The strings should just clear all frets. the lower strings will often have more relief than the thin strings.
                      This is normal.

                      Then you set the low e for 6/64ths above the 12th fret, the high e 3~4/64ths above the 12th fret and use
                      aredius gauge that matches the frets to set all the other string heights.

                      Then you need to reintonate after all thats done.

                      Tools I use.

                      Radius gauges,
                      Feeler gauges
                      ruled that measure 1/64th increments
                      notched and unnotched straight edge
                      Fret Crowning file
                      Radius block
                      Flat file
                      Sanding stone
                      Finest grit sand paper I can buy at a hardware store
                      Much can be found here. http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Special_tools_for_Neck,_fingerboard.html

                      You of course make do with what you dont have. Just be sure you dont do more damage than good
                      using the wrong tools for the wrong job. If you're A lifetime player the tools do pay for themselves in maintainence savings
                      if you're good at working with yoru hands. Otherwise pay a good tech to do it. Or you can just buy cheap guitars and just sell them
                      when the necks worn. Its been done that way by millions.

                      If I do the nut too I use a set of fret files and one of these
                      nut slotting gauges that will also measure string height.
                      http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Special_tools_for_Neck,_fingerboard/Neck_Relief_Gauge_and_Nut_Slotting_Gauge_Set.html
                      You can use a ruler like this that comes with the straight edge and radius gauge,
                      http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Special_tools_for_Neck,_fingerboard/Basic_Setup_Kit.html

                      The meter has a 1/1000th" accuracy and blows a ruler away for accuracy.
                      Its hard to see the bottom of a string accurately because the string is round.
                      I bought one a few months ago and my setups have never been better.
                      You cannot just eyeball these fine adjustments or use your ears to make them.

                      I was really good at using a ruler having played and built guitars for over 45 years,
                      but using the meter revealed that every one of my 30 or so studio guitars had issues.
                      I now have them all standardized to my specific playing tastes and I can pick any one of them up
                      and get great playability out of them all. Big difference. Some guitars that suffered form tone issues
                      were corrected too. Intonation and string heights are the two biggest factors in getting a great setup.
                      whan you can strum a chord and have no sharp, flat or warbely notes, and that chord has a punch to it
                      it makes all the difference hearing that Kerrang when you strum an instrumet properly set up.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I strongly suggest getting some 1x2" steel box tubing and having a machine shop surface grind the 1" faces flat. I paid $2 for my bit of steel and $10 to have it ground flat. Using a long file is a bad idea because they're almost never flat; nor would be most of the other prescribed 'fret levelers' in this thread.

                        You should make sure the trouble frets are properly seated before attacking them with a leveler though. Tap your frets from bass side to treble side with a nickle or something. If the noise changes from a nice click to a dull thud you know you've got a fret that isn't properly seated.

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