Are there any differences in installing stainless fretwire vs standard nickel fretwire? Should I go about installing it in a different way than nickel? I (obviously) don't have any experience with it. Any help is appreciated!

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Yes and no. Because it is stronger and stiffer you need to pay some extra attention to things like prebending the wire. Generally though, it is much the same installing it. However, things like dressing the ends, cutting the tang for going over binding and the like are more time consuming since the wire is much harder. It is also hard on tools - our files need replacement much more rapidly when we do stainless. Bottom line, it takes more time and uses up your tools. We charge an extra $100 for a refret with stainless and think that this is about right.
I'd like to suggest a fretting technique applied by master luthier Harry Fleischman. He doesn't use stainless steel (SS) but he hardens the standard fretwire using the following procedure:

Start by cutting the fretwire in the approximate size you need. Then, use a fretwire-radius wheel to shape it. (I mean a tool like this: But instead of just shaping it to the desired radius, bend it again (slowly) to the opposite side. Then do it again to the desired radius. Repeat.

What you achieve with this is to harden the fret with each pass. You'll notice when trying to do the correct radius how it becomes increasingly stronger. Repeat as many times you want, but be careful: it can become so strong that it won't accept more bendings! So, after you decide how hard is good for you, install it on the fretboard as usual.

Since now the fretwire is more rigid than before, you could notice it could be difficult to put it on the fretboard if you use the usual technique of bending it to a smaller radius, so this works better if you use the final radius and use a compression tool instead of a hammer.

Once all frets are set and leveled, use a SS spoon and rub it energically against the top of each fret. When doing this, you'll notice how it heats up a little. What this does is a thermal treatment on the crown, not much different than the ones applied to a gearbox teeth.

So, with the first procedure the fret is more resilient to pressure damage (typical of lower register's frets) and with the second one it becomes harder, so it will resist friction damages (typical of higher register's frets).

Fleischman says he guarantees this kind of fretwork for two years and charges an aditional fee, not so much because of the added handwork but for the fact the customer won't need another fret repair for that guitar in a long time -cutting his income for the next year!

If you want, try this on a smaller piece of wood: Install two standard frets (of the same size), one with the traditional method and the other with the Fleishman treatment; and perform a Brinell and a Vickers hardness test on each one. You'll be amazed of how different they perform.

As you can see, by doing this procedure you can get more durability from every fret while preserving the warm tone of traditional nickel/silver alloy. SS fretwire is very hard, but its tone is very cold in comparison.

Does Harry Fleischman's method involve runing the full length of fretwire through the fret bender ?


I am slightly confused by " Start by cutting the fretwire in the approximate size you need." 


My (self-made) fret bender wouldn't enable individual frets to be bent and then re-bent in the opposite direction.


However, I do believe that the subsequent burnishing of the frets is in fact a valuable process.


 I have always done this (on N/S frets, and have found it to be beneficial) , but using a carbide burnisher, not a stainless steel spoon. It has to be pointed out that the benefit gained is due to conventional work-hardening,  the thermal effect is of no consequence.

I've been doing more stainless fretting of late on acoustic guitars and bouzoukis. I'll chime in with an alternate opinion that any effect stainless wire vs. nickel is having on the tone is either negligable or positive. My instruments with it have a nice big tone & nice balance & sustain.
I am using a dremel cutoff wheel to cut the pre bent frets as close to the size they need to be as I can. Results in less dressing and tool wear. Way back when, I had a nickel fretted instrument built for me- I played it like the devil and no kidding, it required a complete re fret (not a dress) within its first 9 months. They say different peoples hand sweat has different properties? i dunno, i must exude something like battery acid?! Anyway, i would give it a shot before ruling it out. Takes me about an hour - 1.5h longer to do than nickel and you wont see that guitar back for a re-fret anytime soon. Perhaps thats why some shops prefer nickel? Its does generate re-fretting work no doubt.


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