Can anyone recommend the best tools to do my own fret leveling?


I have a couple guitars which I'm trying to eliminate fret buzz on. One of them is a Les-Paul type electric, so it has a short scale. The guy at the shop who did the setup said he just couldn't get the action any lower without buzz, and even now I don't consider the action very good without a considerable amount of fret buzz. I asked about getting the frets leveled, and he said he didn't think it would make any difference, that Les Paul's are just like this. Is this true?

I have a late 90's Parker Fly which has absolutely incredible action and zero audible buzz. If you really bang the strings you can hear them buzz a little, but that takes effort and it's still very minor. On my LP-style, I can play softly and it will still buzz, and in a very annoying "where's the bee" kind of way.

I'm a DIY kind of guy, and a perfectionist. However, I have no luthier experience. Since I have a couple of guitars which could benefit from it, I'm considering buying the necessary equipment myself and giving a go. Can some of you with experience give me some tips on the right/necessary tools, and which are overkill/unnecessary? For example:

1) Fret crowning file -- diamond vs. standard burr? Will I notice a big difference, or is this more of a everyday shop use vs. occasional personal use kind of thing? I would definitely need something with clearance since I have both an acoustic and LP-style with set neck, and don't want to gouge the body.

2) Fret leveling block -- I was thinking of getting a 16" Fret/Fingerboard leveler (

3) Straightedge (notched vs. flat) -- is this necessary for getting the neck perfectly straight before starting the leveling process?

I'm also curious whether the results will be any different (worse) if I do it myself without something fancy like a neck jig to apply simulated string and truss rod tension on the neck while leveling.

I will certainly plan to buy a book, but which would be the best? StewMac has two by Dan Erlewine: Guitar Player Repair Guide, and Fret Work Step by Step. Please note that at least at this time, I am not planning to do a refret myself, just want to know whether it's practical to do my own full setup (including fret leveling) for best playability.

Thanks in advance for any tips/advice.


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Just start doing it. I would try it on a cheap guitar(s) first. All you need are some files and/or sandpaper with a good level block available at any hardware. You don't need special tools. Grind down a safe edge on a triangle file to crown. Get Dan's fret book or video. There are a million ways to do frets. You must make your own path by trying and finding what works for you. You probably will make mistakes. I would try re-fretting an old guitar as well. Experience will be your best guide.
Hate saying this, but after seeing the damage wrought by well meaning amateurs who start their career on valuable instruments without knowing why they are doing what they are doing I'm less inclined to say just have a go. Sort of like a surgeon telling you to take your own appendix out - just read the book.

Les Pauls have a couple of issues mainly if they have a spring retainer on the old ABR1 bridge which needs to be lightly glued to the bridge with some yellow glue to stop it rattling. Your tech may have checked the frets and if they are OK there is no point in leveling them, but most LPS can stand a bit of attention up past the 12th where they tend to be a bit rocky. Similarly, if you use 9-42s on a short scale guitar with low string tension you are going to get buzz - try using 11-48 for the same sort of tension as a Parker with 10.

Also, check your bridge for sag in the middle - some of the cheap zinc bridges actually sag in the area of the d and g strings and lose their radius which makes the action crap and the guitar unplayable.

Send your guitar to a PLEC facility - not because it does a better job than a qualified luthier but because it will map your geometry and fix up the fundamantals which will give you a start point for ongoing light maintenance if you wish. Otherwize you may be trying to fix something that does not have a problem.

But if you must - buy Dans book on fretting and if you wish to really understand how to properly set up an instrument and why things do what they do buy Hideo Kamimotos book 'Complete Guitar Repair' which made my head hurt. Then buy whatever you need.

Good stuff - but if it was easy everyone would be doing it. Rusty.
I can usually get really low action on a 'Paul..12 inch radius helps alot...But a copy is a different animal, but still should have a 12 inch radius...Try finding something to use as a fret rocker...A thicker feeler gauge can work well, as they are usually manufactured straight..Check the straightness of the neck and relief by pressing down the hi E string at the first fret and the last fret...there should be just a small gap ( very small ) in the middle of the neck...No use looking down the neck, It's an optical dilusion..A fret dress probably do the trick, altho definatly try it first on something other than the Paul. You need to get the feel of things to learn how to do it on a real guitar..You need to learn, however you choose to do it, how to crown a fret..If you're flush, buy a diamond file...They are fantastico!...
Thanks guys. I don't know if the tech actually checked the frets themselves or not; the guitar has been very lightly used, so there's no visible fret wear, and I'm wondering if this is what he based his assessment on or not. The guitar itself is a Fernandes Monterey Elite (~circa 2003, I think). Seems well built.

There is some very minor amount of relief in the neck currently; I did have a full setup done on the guitar. I'm not sure how much relief is required on a LP scale guitar. The bridge is a Tuno-o-matic (not sure which brand), and I replaced all the saddles with GraphTech versions before the setup, so I would figure the radius should be correct. I am currently using 10's on the Monterey, and 09's on my Parker.

I'm still curious about whether the results by leveling frets without string tension on the neck makes a big difference or not.

Thanks again.
As long as you get the neck straight before dressing the frets, you should be okay. For fret leveling, I've taken an aluminum carpenters level and ground it flat on a piece of plate glass with 120 grit wet/dry paper stuck to it....I mark the surface of the level with a black marker and grind it till the marker is gone, mark it again and then use 220...That way I know she's pretty close to dead flat..I double stick tape or spray adhesive some 220 to the level and I'm ready to attack the frets. Mark the top of the frets with a marker and take a couple strokes...You'll be able to see what has been taken off, and if you've adjusted the truss rod close to getting it as flat as you can, and keep the level on the frets...Just short moves, about6 inches, so the level does'nt come off the frets......Don't push, let the paper do the work...If you got untouched frets in the middle, you need to tweak the rod a bit to get the neck flat...mark and continue, and take your time...Hope this heps!
Yup, definitely helps. Thanks!


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