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Fret level work......

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  • Fret level work......

    Some of you might remember thay I recently bought a heavily discounted B stock G&L ASAT Special Tribute.

    When I received it, it sounded great..... but the fret work was really poor. I contacted the shop, they offered a return or £20 less.... I accepted the latter, so that new guitar with dodgy fret work is mine for just under £240.

    I hammered the raised frets successfully, but still had some fret rocking, so I decided to level it and recrown it.
    I had another guitar in need of either a refret or levelling. I was just about to order the fret wire, when I realised from my measurement that perhaps a levelling would be enough. If not, I can still refret it later right?

    So I bought some tools - really good tools too.

    I love that crowning file:

    All from a small shop near me, he really has some good tools, and very fairly priced I found.

    Good quality too. I have no association to him.
    Last edited by Les Paul Lover; 10-06-2017, 02:20 AM.
    Ant the Les Paul Lover!

  • #2
    I got some time a couple of weeks ago, and tried my 1st fret level o my 1st guitar, my Aria Pro II RS X80. I played it a hell of lot, and the 1st 5 frets had fairly deep groves, around a 1/3 of the frets thickness.

    Before that, I removed the strings and tried to set the neck straight.1st problem.......
    That neck doesn't do straight!!!!
    The neck has a back bow starting around the 4th fret back to the nut. I measured that with my "straight edge".... a 20" spirit level sat on the frets.

    Since I know my spirit level is perfectly straight, but unsure about the frets..... I raided my son's lego box. As you do. All these blocks are manufactured to exacting dimensions.... so i could sit small blocks on the fret board, put my spirit level on it..... And totally confirm my original notation.... back bow from the 4th fret onward.

    So the best I can do in terms of sttaightness, is slight relief and a little back bow.
    The levelling can compensate for this, though not ideal.
    One could attempt to warm the neck up and bend it.....
    But that neck is a 5 piece maple and walnut neck with ebony fret board, and the risk of it bending sideways is quite high.
    I judged that risk not worth it when a fret level can solve the issue effectively, with a slight reserve. Well see that later.
    Ant the Les Paul Lover!


    • #3
      So inprepped up the guitar.

      Good thing I taped the brass nut to avoid damage it. The 1st hit of the file knocked it flat out.....

      I didn't take a pic before to do the work, but even after a little filing, you can see how deep the grooves were.

      Ant the Les Paul Lover!


      • #4
        After about 20mns the frets were levelled.
        That's where I had to compromise.
        Because of the back bow, filing the groves out totally at the 1st fret would have meant going down too low between the 4th and 8th fret. So i stopped just short of totally filing those out.
        At the end of the day, i have the files, I can always file more if I feel it's needed..... or i can refret it - and level to compensate for the back bow, but with more fret height to start with.

        And so I got ready to crown the frets.
        On the 1st fret here, you can just about see what remains of the grooves.

        Last edited by Les Paul Lover; 10-06-2017, 02:25 AM.
        Ant the Les Paul Lover!


        • #5
          Some of the frets were filed very low, and giving them a crown back, even with the great crowing file I bought, was quite difficult. But after around 40mns, all the frets were crowned, ready to polish.

          So I went to town..... 800 grit, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000, 2500, 12000 micromesh.

          And that's what I got:

          JOB DONE!!!! Right?

          At this stage, I could see some tiny weeny tool marks.
          If you go to the pic link and enlarge it massively, you can just make them out.

          I couldn't feel them under my fingers though, it felt super smooth, and that was pretty mirror like.

          I restringed it..... played it.... Great action...... And the frets felt like
          ...... grit!!!!!!!!!

          Right...... 2 days later, I removed the bridge (thus saving the strings - I am a cheapskate), tapped up the fret board again, and started with 400 grit and kept at it until it was satisfied all these tiny tooling marks were gone. Then 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000, 2500 and micromesh again..

          Can't see much difference, hey?

          You can enlarge the pic again:

          Enlarged, the difference is pretty minimal in appearances, the feel was huge. The strings literally glide over those frets, it's pretty incredible.

          All in all...... it's the best this guitar has ever played!!!!!
          I'm not surprised, I had never realised it had a back bow, but I've always struggled to give it the perfect set up, and have spent some time over the years eyeing up its neck straightness without realising what the issue really was. I blamed the worn frets.... but they were merely a factor, that the slight back bow made much worse.
          Last edited by Les Paul Lover; 10-06-2017, 02:28 AM.
          Ant the Les Paul Lover!


          • #6
            So yesterday I had a free evening and tackled my new G&L ASAT Special Tribute.

            At least, here I could take the neck off - that's a little bit easier.

            Much easier job. 5 mns levelling, 15mns recrowning. That took about 1 hour combined on the Aria Pro II as i was taking a lot more material off.

            After my previous experience with thw polishing, i started straight away with the 400grit, working my way all the way to the 2500 then 12000 micromesh.

            The polishing actually can take quite a while - here probably 30 to 40mns.
            All in all, from removing the strings, straightening the neck, prepping the fret board, levelling, crowning, filing/polishing, cleaning, removing the tape, reassembling the neck, restringing, setting the action, intonation, there's probably 2h30 to 2h45 of work.

            But time very well spent.

            The guitar plays fantastic now - just like I knew it could. I'm really glad I decided against sending it back. And the best....... is that it prompted me to get these tools and sort out my 1st ever guitar.
            Ant the Les Paul Lover!


            • #7
              And an extra bonus.....

              I had a number if guitar tools and parts in various boxes around the house.

              I decided to consolidate in 1 big tool box!!!!!

              VERY satisfying.
              From strings to solder iron, multimeter, spare valves, my guitar cleaners, tools, stock of resistors/diodes/caps.... all in one place.

              Ant the Les Paul Lover!


              • #8
                Nice work and thanks for taking the time to document and share.

                I highly recommend a Dremel tool with a polishing wheel and fine compound. Within a few minutes of really easy work they gleam like fresh chrome!


                • #9
                  If you just need shiny frets, Flitz will do.
                  Originally posted by Unconfigured Static HTML Widget...

                  Write Something, or Drag and Drop Images Here...


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Grant Harding View Post
                    Nice work and thanks for taking the time to document and share.

                    I highly recommend a Dremel tool with a polishing wheel and fine compound. Within a few minutes of really easy work they gleam like fresh chrome!
                    A dremel is a tool i havent got yet.

                    I've been thinking about buying one, but never could justify the purchase.

                    Do I want one to polish the frets of my 5 guitars? I do. Do I need it?

                    Of course, a dremel can do a lot than simply polishing.
                    I'll just have to take the plunge one day, go crazy and get one!!!!
                    Ant the Les Paul Lover!


                    • Grant Harding
                      Grant Harding commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Once you polish frets with one you'll never go back. They're great for Strat bridge saddles too - to smooth out the grooves and then polish them up. No binding or broken strings.

                  • #11
                    Originally posted by 1001gear View Post
                    If you just need shiny frets, Flitz will do.
                    A Cif for metal.... good stuff!
                    Ant the Les Paul Lover!


                    • #12

                      I bought tools for fret work, while building a cigar box guitar last springs. Some tools came from CB Gitty and some from Stew McDonald.

                      Turns out I was not half bad at doing fret work. Now if time is money, I would have been better off just buying a 3 string cigar box, however I got paid to make the thing and helped staff a failing maker-space.

                      I also have a few guitars that were done on a PLEX fret machine. The guitars plays and feels like a dream.

                      I wouldn't mind sending out all my guitar to be done up on a PLEX machine.
                      Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

                      Join Date: Aug 2001
                      Location: N. Adams, MA USA
                      Posts as of Jan 10th 2013: 82,617


                      • #13
                        Originally posted by Les Paul Lover View Post

                        A dremel is a tool i havent got yet.

                        I've been thinking about buying one, but never could justify the purchase.

                        Do I want one to polish the frets of my 5 guitars? I do. Do I need it?

                        Of course, a dremel can do a lot than simply polishing.
                        I'll just have to take the plunge one day, go crazy and get one!!!!
                        I have the Dremel disks that stu mac sells. They aren't worth the effort.

                        They are extremely difficult to use and keep on top of the fret even when you have the flexible extension. I use a round file to notch them but its still hard to keep them centered on the fret when drawing across. Its real easy to produce divits if you stall when drawin the tool across the fret and the fret becomes wavy instead of smooth. Too much pressure they tend to zip off the fret sideways and make a groove in the fret.

                        You can do a much better job polishing with ultra fine sand paper, 00000 steel wool, or those fret erasers work very well polishing.

                        One trick I've used forever is to place the ultra fine sand paper over the fret file groove and push it into the groove of the file. Then use the file to push it across the fret. The sandpaper curves to the fret and does 90% of the polishing needed while removing the grooves caused by the diamond file.

                        I do use a diamond file for removing grooves in frets from strings, but I go over it with a standard metal file because it takes less time to polish afterwards.

                        The other thing is I use a radiused sanding beam with self sticking sandpaper instead of a flat file. There are too may chances getting flat areas where the strings fret out bending strings when using a flat file and I only use a short one for high frets.

                        Doing a proper leveling is about preserving fret material. You don't want to have to replace frets any sooner then necessary.

                        The first thing is the neck needs to be flat. You need to use a notched straight edge to check the neck. placing a straight edge on worn frets is not accurate for obvious reasons. You level the fret board then level the frets to the level fret board.

                        Some other things. Loosening the truss can take several days to a week for the neck to respond. Some truss rods are dual function as well. They not only adjust for back bow but forward bow. Even some that aren't can create forward bow if you continue to turn them past the point where they are slack. For stubborn necks I use a couple of wood blocks, a beam, and a large wood clamp to add pressure on the neck. Heat can help too. I've had some necks that take a week or more under pressure to react.

                        Once the fret board is flat I then use a black marker and color the fret tops with it before leveling. Its much easier to see the low frets this way as you begin to take the frets down and you can stop as soon as the low frets begin to wear.

                        After that its crowning and polishing. Again, marking the fret with a black marker can help here too. As you crown the fret the marker strip narrows and as it just begins to disappear completely you stop. Its very easy to over crown a fret and lower its height so this method helps prevent the need to re-level frets after crowning.

                        I also use a couple of tools and tricks I picked up over the years which help. Immediately after leveling you're going to have allot of heavy scratches running lengthwise. I take a piece of that ultra fine sane paper and cut it to about the size of my hand. I then use the heel of my hand and run it down the length of the frets using the heel of my hand to bump over the frets. This does a great job smoothing the scratches and also does some of the crowning.

                        Next I have a sand paper holder made out of hard rubber which holds maybe a 4X5" sheet. I use this across the frets instead of down the neck.
                        If you use a flat file for leveling this does an amazing job getting rid of high spots and making sure frets have a better radius and removes scratches. I'll use this method lightly after crowning sometimes too in order to remove high frets or file scratches.

                        You want to be sure all scratches are removes when polishing too. The difference between a glass like surface and a rough scuff can easily be felt bending strings and you'll find strings last allot longer if you bend strings. Ultra fine steel wool followed by those erasers work well. The erasers do load up and become black with the fret metal. The best way to clean then is to first use soap and water, then rum them on yellow sand paper to remove the darkened areas. I've even taken one and grooved the ends to make it easier to draw across the frets.

                        After leveling you usually have to check your nut. If you removes allot of fret material like the OP had to because of the deep grooves caused by playing cowboy chords then the nut may need to be lowered. You want to be sure you use feeler gauges in front of the nut so you don't cut it too deep then use fret flies to lower it.

                        If you don't have fret filers you can make a poor mans fret file using an old set of feeler gauges and a thin Dremel cutting wheel to notch the entire set of feeler gauges and create saw blades out of them. Then you select the gauge combinations for the string groove sizes. This actually works pretty well and its and inexpensive way of doing a decent job. A set of nut files cost at least $100 and a set of feeler gauges maybe $5. Even if you need to buy a Dremil they are $40 on ebay so you still come out ahead.


                        • #14
                          Unlike W above, I LOVE the Dremel withy a bit of Compound 7. What would take 3 or 4 hours by hand, can be done in 10 minutes.
                          My Music:
                          Some of my guitars: 64 or so Domino Beatle bass; 73 Ibanez 2398; 79 Epiphone Genesis; 79 Manoman; 99 Ric 330; 78 Gibson L6S; 95 Ibanez JS-700; 04 Samick Lasalle JZ3: 05 Ibanez AS73; 81 Paul Custom, 07 Gary Kramer Simulator T and about 50 others.


                          • #15
                            Originally posted by Les Paul Lover View Post

                            A Cif for metal.... good stuff!
                            Originally posted by Unconfigured Static HTML Widget...

                            Write Something, or Drag and Drop Images Here...