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First time fret-leveling - single frets or entire fretboard


malibu43

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Hey folks.  I have a Squire Classic Vibe Telecaster and an Epiphone 60s Les Paul that each have at least a few (lets say 5+) frets that need to be leveled.  The Les Paul has some dead spots due to fret buzz high up, and using a rocker I found that there are probably at least half a dozen frets that rock starting at the 10th fret and moving up (some rock on the high strings, some on the low, and some in the middle).  I haven't taken all the relief out of the neck yet, so I'm guessing that once I do I'll find some below the 10th as well.  The squire I haven't checked in a while, but it does have some dead/buzzy spots and I remember there being some rocking frets there as well.

I have watched several videos on both spot leveling frets and also leveling an entire fretboard using a beam.  I have a fret rocker, crowning file, fret board shield (not sure what it's called), and tried leveling one fret on an old $100 guitar that I have, and it turned out well and was really easy.  I plan on making a tool (some sort of notched straight edge) for checking that the fretboard is level before I do anything to either the Squire or Epiphone.  I have all the appropriate grits of sand paper and steel wool for polishing.

So my question is, since this is my first time, which method (spot leveling one fret at a time vs leveling the entire board with a beam) is easier to not screw up?  Note that I'm not asking which is easier in terms of time spent or efficiency.  I don't mind using a method that takes a little longer if I'm less likely to catastrophically screw something up.

Thanks!

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I'd go this route: 

If I identified one or more individual frets that were high, I might try whacking it down, maybe with a rubber mallet or by putting a piece of wood on it and whacking that. Support the neck from below, of course. If that didn't work, I think I'd go with a straightedge and do all of the frets. My thinking there is that getting a single fret too low would be bad, and would likely require lowering all of the frets to match. YMMV

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2 hours ago, isaac42 said:

I'd go this route: 

If I identified one or more individual frets that were high, I might try whacking it down, maybe with a rubber mallet or by putting a piece of wood on it and whacking that. Support the neck from below, of course. If that didn't work, I think I'd go with a straightedge and do all of the frets. My thinking there is that getting a single fret too low would be bad, and would likely require lowering all of the frets to match. YMMV

Thanks.  That guys certainly makes it look straight forward and pretty easy to not screw up, but maybe that was just his presentation.

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OK.  So I completed my fret leveling project last weekend.  When it was all said and done, I think I achieved what I wanted.  I've got the action pretty close to factory specs with no buzzing or dead notes.  The guitar feels good to play.

I am puzzled by one piece of how this project played out though.  Before I started, there were a handful of frets starting at 12 and up that rocked and were sources of buzzing or dead notes.  I used a notched ruler to get the neck straight and a very straight .75" x 1.5" x 18" block of maple with 320 grit sand paper as my leveling beam.  It took a long time due the light weight of the maple and the light grit I chose, but I was able to to sand until I had at least some of the sharpie removed from the top of all frets.  Some of the frets up above 12 were the most stubborn and took the longest.  However, once I got to this point, I was surprised to find that the frets that rocked before I started were still rocking, pretty much the same amount.  I'm struggling to understand how this can be possible if I used a level 18" sanding beam and sanded until I was removing material from every fret, how could some frets still be high?  I could see how if my beam or neck wasn't straight or if I used uneven pressure that I could have some uneven frets, but not such that its the same frets only above 12 that rocked before I started....  ???

I eventually filed down those frets individually until all the rocking was gone.  So it worked out in the end, but it seems like I may as well have just filed the individual frets to begin with since leveling the entire fret board didn't seem to work...

Any input on what I needed to do differently is appreciated.  Would more aggressive sand paper grit or a heavier beam somehow achieve a better level...?

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  • 4 months later...
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Leveling the fretboard steins on vs strings off can be answer. Strings add at least 100 lbs pull and getting a light weight maple fret board level before you level the frets can be a real challenge.  
 

it doesn’t take much to botch a instruments fretwork either.  I was reminded of this recently with one of those cheap Chinese necks. The original frets were so bad I decided to regret it before mounting it.  Did a really good job too.  As it was I had a lot going on and I didn’t finish the build for several months.  Necks without string tension to tame them can do strange things. I leveled that sucker 4 or 5 times and no matter what I did it kept moving and wouldnt settle down. 
 

After a years worth of fighting that thing I figured I’d redo the frets one last time.  I also decided to fix the issues with the fret board. It’s thickness in the nut area was too thick and made the whole leveling by process problematic.  Like a house, you have problems with the foundation anything built on it will never be right.  
 

Anyway  I used a radiuses beam to level the fret board and used the right fret saw and depth gauge and the fret jab was dam near perfect  I had one fret above the 12th that didn’t seat properly so I pulled it and redid that one before getting to far along leveling   I use super jumbo frets for a fluted neck feel. The less leveling needed the better   
 

also  leveling is typically the easy part  crowning and polishing is the part that takes a lot of elbow grease   
 

As a tip, use a black magic marker and color the frets before you level and then again crowning with a fret file   As you file through the painted surface it highlights how far you go removing metal   If one fret is too high it’s easy to bring those down to match the others.  If one is low all the others must come down to match  sometime it’s easier and faster to bring one up by replacing it then to bring all the others down   
 

It’s simply one of those calls you make based on an experienced eye supported by careful measurements   

 

 

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