Got in a late 70s P-bass with J-bass neck.  Dates to about 1977 per serial number/Gruhn book.  Bound fingerboard.  Frets right up to the edge of binding, but not overlapping.  Original frets; lacquer/poly 'fillets' along frets.  I've got a lots of fret experience, but never done one of these.

1.  How to remove frets?  Sideways won't work with binding.  Use standard heat-pull straight up method?

2.  How to fit new frets without overhanging binding.  How to bevel, round, flush?  Rusty, you've done this

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Maple or rosewood neck Christian?


Hi Christian,

First things - go up to the 21 fret position and start working there where not a lot of playing gets done.  Any problems won't be fatal or noticeable up at this end of the neck and you can drop away the board in the re-radius process if the board goes ragged or damaged while working out how to get the frets out best.  

The lacquer fillets usually means you are up for at least a fingerboard face refinish as the fillets with crack and tear jagged even with careful cutting of the fillet line with the sharpest blade.  

Alternately, you can heat up a fret with the tip of a soldering iron (I file  a groove in face of the tip to both guide the tip and give me good surface area for heat transfer) after lightly scouring the fret line with a sharp blade and see if the lacquer softens enough to ease out the frets without doing too much damage. 

But that's mainly wishful thinking and you run the risk of overheating the lacquer in the local areas of the heat which will turn the lacquer brown.

The fret ends <generally> appear short of the binding because the sides of the fingerboard are heavily blended into the top and the radius/rollover knocks off the ends of the frets so they look to be cut short.  Have a good look as you may find you need to over-radius/bend the ends of the frets to assist in "going round the corner" and getting a tight fret-end bond to the fingerboard surface.  If that's not the case you can fret as normal and finish the fret ends individually to give a "appropriate appearance" relative to this guitar.  But you do need to pay a lot of attention to the fret-end and binding junction to get a tight end fit as the binding on these guitars is a little wobbly.

I can't remember whether these fingerboards have shallow fret slots, but I have re-radiused a worn/twisted maple board on a Fender bass which got shallow really soon and the side dots started to get threatened as the twist was sanded out.   And, some  frets such as the Stewmac "pyramid" and "jumbo"  have an extra deep tang and you will need to check all the slots (the little fret slot depth gauges work a treat here, but a guitar pick with a line on it works just as well)  for depth and lumps etc.

If you are pulling all the frets and the lacquer goes away I would certainly jig-up and level the neck and touch up the radius as most older Fenders develop the wobbles over time (and the skinny J-Bass neck is no exception).  Devote a little time to thinking about the truss rod action and where you want it before jigging and leveling as these Basses can start to lose truss rod authority over time.   The sanding/leveling  also fresh sands a new surface and prepares the maple for finish.

Shooting finish on maple necks is made a bit easier if a couple of wash coats (skinny coats) are shot before the frets go in (this works, trust me, and there is no need to tape up the slots as the lacquer won't flow into the slots).  Couple of days to dry a bit and you are good to go.   I match the new neck finish with the original peghead and go one shade lighter for nitro as the new finish will darken with age. I also steel wool the new finish to get it looking a little older.  

This sort of thing?

Regards, Rusty.

Thanks.  It almost looks like the frets are put in and finished before the binding is put on.  I'm sure it's poly, so the finish will be a challenge.  I've done maple fender necks before using my standard methods with good results, but this one is different.  Lots of finish to deal with, and binding.  I usually set the truss rod/neck dead level before any sanding and leveling.  Gonna go slow on this one.  Stand by.

Christian, I came across this fret tool today and thought about your post. Use your vise as a clamp. Easy to make. Size and shape the frets before installing. I got it from the hemispherical fret end guy on eBay.

Thanks.  Interesting.  I looked at the neck real close again today.  The neck/fingerboard edge is really rolled off.  Like Rusty stated, gives it a short fret appearance.  If I tape the edge off real secure, I might get away with standard bevel techniques.

There are other issues as well (the inlay block in first fret proud, other finish problems).  I called the customer to let him know so he can decide how much to get into this critter.  Lots of thick poly to deal with, but I may be able to level it, refret. and hit it with one or two light lacquer coats.  There's a spot on the bass side at the 19th fret where the binding has separated from the fingerboard and the wood is stained.  It'll need some refinish.

BTW, how wide is the slot in that thing?  Can you get the fret in and out of it without deforming it?

I would be a little wary if that first fret block is pushing up. I have seen cracks there from the truss rod poking through. Worth a look before you start. 

~ Not sure of the slot size. I will check it today when get back to my shop. I've only used a few times, and don't remember it deforming frets. You can see the wood at the start of the slot widened with use. It does hold a fret well.

Yeah, good thought.  I guessed it was glue failure.  Didn't think truss rod.  Could be bad.

Update:  Customer gave green light.  Wow, lots of thick poly.  Really have to cut it off to get fret pullers under the fret.  30 minutes, got 5 out.  Coming out with minimal damage, though.  Stay tuned.

Christian, here is a follow up photo. The slot is roughly .020 and it opens easily with no fret damage.

Thanks.  Update:  got all the frets out with minimal damage.  This is definately the most involved fret job I've ever done.  Frets were very difficult to get out.  my hand actually hurt from squeezing my fret pullers.  I had to really excavate the poly to get my pullers under them.  Looks like the frets were put in before the binding was put on.   Now the real work begins.  I'm going to  have to go down to bare wood.

Hi Christian,

That looks pretty much standard so far and as expected:   one thing I have come up against in the past with these is the (plastic) pearl blocks are all over the place in thickness and security and it's all too easy to go through the block when sanding and end up looking at the glue under the block.   The blocks are replaceable and "swirl" plastic sheet is readily available (last time I looked) if this problem occurs but better it doesn't. 

I'm not a great fan of pre-sizing frets before installation and only do it if it's a drop in replacement in a tricky position. The wobbly sight-line edge that normally occurs with pre-sizing installation in anything but new necks is an un-desireable in my book.

Keep us posted and good luck mate,



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