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Should I refret my vintage Gibson with stainless steel frets?


DarkHorseJ27
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I have a 1967 Gibson ES-335 with really low frets. It would be great for a jazz player, but I like to do bends, so a refret is in order. The question then becomes whether to go with nickel silver or stainless steel.

 

Stainless steel allows for smoother bending. It also eliminates the need for any further refrets. A fretboard can only take so many refrets, and going with stainless could be seen as a way to preserve the brazilian rosewood fretboard. It also have been proven, to my satisfaction, that any tonal differences that people claim to hear (in a realistic playing situation) is nothing more than psychosomatics. However, stainless steel costs more.

 

Nickel silver is cheaper, and would still last for quite some time. Retaining the dollar value of the instrument (by being period correct) isn't a factor here. First, I never plan to sell it. Second, prior to my possession of the 335, someone had attempted to remove the serial numbers, indicating the guitar was stolen at some point in its history. I know I would be very wary of buying an instrument with a compromised serial number, and I imagine most guitarists are the same way. As such, I doubt I would even get the utility value of the guitar if I were to sell it.

 

What is HC's thoughts?

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Yes.. refrets don't hurt the resale value of vintage guitars much. Frets wear out and need to be replaced that's a fact.

 

Have it done professionally and keep the receipt in a safe place. A zip lock in the case..

 

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I'm still up in the air on stainless. It does wear by the way and dressing them is much more difficult because its hard enough to wear out even diamond crowning fret files quickly. Polishing them so they remain smooth is no fun either, The truth is they do last allot longer but the maintenance is allot tougher to do as well. I have two guitars with stainless, and I do like the fact They wear allot slower. I'm really hard on frets because of all the bending I do so I don't have to dress them as often. I find they may go maybe three times as long between rebuffs in comparison to normal ones. Getting a highly polished frets is allot harder though. I got major blisters last time I did one.

 

For someone who plays lighter its likely an ideal fret but for others like myself, Its kind of a toss up. I do refretting myself and do find it easier to work with normal/super jumbo wire. Getting stainless properly radiused is the key item of course. If its off a little its not going to stay seated like softer wire.

Edited by WRGKMC
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I'm still up in the air on stainless. It does wear by the way and dressing them is much more difficult because its hard enough to wear out even diamond crowning fret files quickly. Polishing them so they remain smooth is no fun either, The truth is they do last allot longer but the maintenance is allot tougher to do as well. I have two guitars with stainless, and I do like the fact They wear allot slower. I'm really hard on frets because of all the bending I do so I don't have to dress them as often. I find they may go maybe three times as long between rebuffs in comparison to normal ones. Getting a highly polished frets is allot harder though. I got major blisters last time I did one.

 

For someone who plays lighter its likely an ideal fret but for others like myself, Its kind of a toss up. I do refretting myself and do find it easier to work with normal/super jumbo wire. Getting stainless properly radiused is the key item of course. If its off a little its not going to stay seated like softer wire.

 

Perhaps gold evo frets would be another option I could consider. I have no personal experience with them, but from what I hear its tougher than nickel silver but not much harder to work with.

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I'm still up in the air on stainless. It does wear by the way and dressing them is much more difficult because its hard enough to wear out even diamond crowning fret files quickly. Polishing them so they remain smooth is no fun either, The truth is they do last allot longer but the maintenance is allot tougher to do as well. I have two guitars with stainless, and I do like the fact They wear allot slower. I'm really hard on frets because of all the bending I do so I don't have to dress them as often. I find they may go maybe three times as long between rebuffs in comparison to normal ones. Getting a highly polished frets is allot harder though. I got major blisters last time I did one.

 

For someone who plays lighter its likely an ideal fret but for others like myself, Its kind of a toss up. I do refretting myself and do find it easier to work with normal/super jumbo wire. Getting stainless properly radiused is the key item of course. If its off a little its not going to stay seated like softer wire.

 

I can see your point. If his frets have lasted since 67 . Then a set of stainless will most likely last as long as he can play.

With maybe a polish every five years or so.

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I hate to be the skunk at the picnic but no I wouldn't. SS frets effect tone in a negative way IMO unless of course you're a high gain shredder. Sure you can play the thing forever but will you enjoy it as much?

 

Moot point, if you had bothered reading.

 

It also have been proven' date=' [b']to my satisfaction[/b], that any tonal differences that people claim to hear (in a realistic playing situation) is nothing more than psychosomatics.

 

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now I'm just more confused about them.

 

WR's post about them seems logical to me. Nothing "doesn't" wear. Everything wears out. I play with a pretty heavy hand so if he's correct and with heavy handed playing they only last three times as long...I'm not sure that's worth it.

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now I'm just more confused about them.

 

WR's post about them seems logical to me. Nothing "doesn't" wear. Everything wears out. I play with a pretty heavy hand so if he's correct and with heavy handed playing they only last three times as long...I'm not sure that's worth it.

You can listen to him if you want but he just learned a couple of weeks ago that they make pickups above 12k. Writing a lot of BS doesn't make you correct.

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You can listen to him if you want but he just learned a couple of weeks ago that they make pickups above 12k. Writing a lot of BS doesn't make you correct.

 

 

No, you're right, that is true.....but he does claim to have direct experience with them and having to dress them. I suppose one could lie about that but I'm not really sure why someone would.

 

At the moment none of my guitars need a complete re-fret but the way I seem to dent them up and have to get them dressed....that day will come soon enough....on the guitars I really value I've been considering stainless when it comes time.

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You can listen to him if you want but he just learned a couple of weeks ago that they make pickups above 12k. Writing a lot of BS doesn't make you correct.

 

What the heck? I'm 58 and been building guitars since 1969, I got my degree in electronics in 1980 and have worked in that industry ever since. So two weeks ago I just learned about hot wound pickups? I have dozens of hot wound pickups, mostly overwound, that sound like crap I've removed from guitars dating back at least 25 years.

 

If you're going to be a jackass at least you can be accurate and not make up lies. Post a link. 2 weeks isn't very long ago and it should be easy to find. What you're probably remembering is a post about some hot wound to 22K pups that dated back around 2 years ago, and No I hadn't realized they were winding pickups that hot at "that" time. I don't like hot wound pickups, and therefore have no reason to seek out every product that comes out on the market. No one can.

 

If you were the one who made me aware of them them well woop de do, hullabaloo for you, you taught me something I wasn't aware of. The hottest I was seeing at that time was around 15K. I call them Mudbuckers because they sound like muted crap. I several sets of those sets in my spare parts cab Some I pulled out of guitars doing repairs and others I bought about at least 8 years ago. I'll give them to you if you want to pay the shipping.

 

I suppose I have to take pics of the worn SS frets on one of my guitars to convince you the wear coefficiency of Stainless frets vs. Stainless strings is a 50/50 ratio. Unfortunately I don't have allot of time this weekend because I'm playing out so it will have to be when I get around to it

 

If some players who have no wear that's absolutely great. I'm happy for you because you found the cure for that problem. I'd have to say, Just don't think the "your" results apply to everyone else.

 

The reason I posted "my" results is because, I too thought they might be the cure for an age old problem. I busted my hump learning how to install them and believe me it wasn't exactly a cheap education. I've been doing full refrets since about 1982. Before that it was all leveling and redressing because I didn't have access to buying the right tools. I had to make my own. The only place you could buy the tools and fret wire at that time was through a music store who was willing to sell them to you.

 

Stainless is a bastard to install. I burned out a $100 diamond file and two regular ones that cost about $30 each. I also wiped out a set of clippers that cost me $30. That's around $200 in tools alone. Granted, some weren't designed to be used on stainless steel and some were already worn and due for replacement so I didn't mind sacrificing them if the results were worth while. In the process of installing them I learned exactly how hard the material is because I had the blisters to prove how much of a hump job they are too install.

 

I've earned my right to advise others on its benefits and the faults I've come across. If you have no problems, I hope you never do. If someone was to ask "why" I didn't have the best results, I can tell them how to avoid having the problems I did based on my first hand experience. You have the right to believe it or not.

 

#1 is the brand of strings you use. If the strings are made of a softer material then the frets, the strings will wear before the frets do. Simple logic only an idiot with no scientific education would dispute. Those of you who do have stainless frets with no signs of wear, stick with the strings you're using because you obviously have a good combination.

 

I was using some strings with a high iron content. The wrapped strings would groove out quickly and act like sand paper on the strings which leads to my second piece of advice.

 

#2. Check the under side your wrapped strings regularly by running your finger under them. If the strings have notches cut in them then replace them as soon as possible so you don't have problems. If they don't groove out then you probably don't bend strings allot and the problem is a non issue for you. There is a sign that can be "felt" when string bending. Some frets wont feel like butter when bending strings so pat attention to that symptom.

 

#3. I found you keep a mirror shine like glass on the frets and they will resist wear. I made the mistake of not putting a mirror shine on stainless frets. I instead used the same process I use on regular frets which involves using super fine sandpaper then 0000 steel wool. This is fine in regular frets because string bending will complete the process of removing any micro scratches because the steel strings are harder then the fret material and removes any scratches left behind.

 

Well using this same approach on SS this was a big oversight on my part because that doesn't happen with stainless. All those micro scratches left on the frets made the frets act like a file that cut into the strings. It didn't happen real fast, it took months for me to realize what was actually going on. Again its part of the learning process when you do things yourself. What I found was those micro scratches acted like a file and cut the bottom of the strings making them abrasive to further wear the frets. The strings did not polish the frets like normal fret wire, it accelerated the wear. This is why I mentioned in my first post about the need to highly polish the frets as a key item. Keep them that way and you'll have few issues. Using polish to further lubricate the strings/frets also prevents friction.

 

#4 Lastly, I have no idea how many hours others put on their instruments, but I know how many I put on. Weeknights I put in at least 2 hours a night and sometimes it goes up to 6 or more when I'm doing studio work. Weekends may involve 8 hours when I'm working solo and at least up to three times that amount when I'm working on projects with others. I often burn out a set of strings in a single session.

 

This should explain "my" results. I don't expect them to be yours.

 

If you do plan to have stainless installed, you will pay more because they are harder to work with and you will pay for the labor and the cost of the tools used to install them. I don't know what others are charging now but I used to charge $150 for non bound fret boards and Double that for bound. I can see a set of stainless easily costing about $500 easily on a bound Gibson and every dime of it is earned by the guy installing them.

 

If you do have stainless frets put on, be sure the Luther has the ability to use jewelers rouge and buffing wheel to put a mirror shine on them. Some do and some don't. I found its a critical step if you want minimal wear.

Edited by WRGKMC
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Thanks for that. I get where you're coming from. I think you've answered my question about why the frets on my Anderson are still unblemished after all these years. They're each polished to a mirror finish, so there's nothing for the strings to key into. I think that's also one of the reasons it plays like butter - very little friction, even when I'm beating the crap out of it. I can imagine that a refret with ss would be a complete PIA if you're not geared up for it and would cause the strings to get eaten.

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WRGKMC: Sorry didn't mean to offend you. I really can't be bothered reading such a long post (as above) but there are times' date=' while you explain things well, are off the mark. That's my opinion. However, I do value your contributions.[/b']

 

Apology accepted. philthumb

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I hate to be the skunk at the picnic but no I wouldn't. SS frets effect tone in a negative way IMO unless of course you're a high gain shredder. Sure you can play the thing forever but will you enjoy it as much?

 

I'd say to be conservative I've done 10-12 refrets, on guitars as diverse as 60s SG, 70s Strats, Teles and 70s, 80s and 90s MIJ LPalikes. I have never heard a negative effect on tone.

 

What is a negative effect on tone?

 

TBH, I can't tell the difference, and every single person that paid for those refrets all said the same thing...more or less verbatim...."...I can't believe how easy bending is now...."

 

I used to offer a nickel silver refret to anybody who didn't like the SS refret......never had a taker.

 

And that doesn't include the 25-30 necks I've had from Warmoth for customer builds, all but one SS, the only exception being my Jazz bass neck, where I just had monster nickel silver frets, as my bass playing is very light touch and I don't bend, and I was too cheap to go for the $20 upcharge, cause I'm a cheap fecker

Edited by Ratae Corieltauvorum
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