This may seem like a pedestrian issue....but I'm curious what methods are used successfully to flush the fret ends when refretting without damaging the old lacquer (or new, for that matter).  I'm close, but I think I can do better.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


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Oh man, that's always been a tough one for me.   You might say that I cheat.... since I radius and cut the frets to exact lengths  and then "pre-dress" the ends with whatever the ends might call for (semi-hemi, flat & polished, diamond shaped, etc) prior to actually installing the frets.

Yes, it's a pain-in-the-butt and it takes a lot longer than simple 'snip-sniping' ...but it saves any harm to the existing lacquer on the fretboard.  I'll monitor this thread because there's gotta' be a better way :)

We use shop-made files that start life as a 6" OO file and then we break them in half, safe the edges and then intentionally dull them before attaching a shop-made handle.

I'll post a pic tomorrow when I get to the city shop where mine live.

Anyway the file is so smooth that it only cuts the fret ends and skates on the finish.  We can get flush without damaging finish.  

A nice advantage of these is that we often see dried out instruments with sharp fret ends and these files work nicely and quickly for these taking back the proud fret ends on a shrunken neck.

As you may know we teach fretting to Luthiers and one of our pet peeves is the radical bevels that f*ctories and many small builders as well as repair people do.  It's not uncommon for valuable fret top playing surface to be sacrificed for a 30 - 45 degree bevel in a Monkey see Monkey do situation.  

I say this not intending to insult but to shine a light on the radical bevels that f*ctories do was always a cheap way to avoid individually shaping each fret end on the guitar.  Every month or so a pro player will come to us for a refret on a new instrument because of the loss of valuable fret top surface and/or string spacing that causes these players to pull the high e off the neck because of the bevels.  

We preserve nearly all fret top surface but round (semi-hemi) each individual fret on the guitar and step one of this for us is to use the shop-made files we make for fret ends.

It's kind of funny because an older, well worn file works best for skating on the finish but still cutting metal.  More to come when I get to the other shop.

Just found a pic of my shop-made fret end files:

The smaller one is the one that is so worn that it skates on the finish but bites into the fret ends.  The larger one is more aggressive and I use that one for initially taking back fret ends after a refret but I would not use it on a maple board as it's too aggressive for now.

Thanks so much, Hesh...I was about to ask why the file edges looked concave but suddenly realised that I was looking at the flat face of the files and the picture was not enlarged (the grain of the carpet threw me off). These look great and I have plenty of old 6" files that will become my guinea pigs. 

I admit that I was one of the sheeple that angled my first few fret jobs after looking at a lot of guitars and refrets. I recently have done a bound fretboard and gauged the taper by only going back to the the rosewood.   I figured that the original guitar was square cut frets finishing into the binding and the "fret-shaped" part of the binding was more cosmetic than practical.

I have noticed that high e pull-offs and even occasionally misfretted e strings were coming off the fretboard and can't recall this being common before the nineties. I will definitely change course unless absolutely requested to do otherwise...

Thanks again....this has been a real help


Doug no worries when I was a builder only I too beveled off valuable fret top surface.  I didn't change my tune until I apprenticed with Dave Collins and he asked me what the ***** I was doing....;)  Anyway we live and learn.

Around eight years ago we met a famous player who came to us because he had just had a refret at another shop and was livid because of the radical fret end bevels.  He was pulling strings off the frets because of this.  Dave explained to him how we do things and showed him some examples and the player agreed to leave one of his Les Paul's with us, the one that he had just had refretted for us to refret again....  He was thrilled, asked for cards, and since then has sent us business as well as has been a very loyal client.  You know too it's a red flag in our biz when someone comes in complaining about prior work but in this case this player was spot on......

With this said it's very possible that the radical f*ctory bevels are not what customers want either or at least this player didn't want them.  

So no worries we all did the bevels and I will admit that I did them too because that's what I saw.

I just had a 70s strat come across my bench for a refret. Whoever regretted it before me could have used a few files like yours...

EDIT: I'm on my phone, and "regretted" was an auto correct error, but it seems oddly fitting, so I'm gonna leave it.

Ian, I believe that's a photo of a quicker alternative method. You tie the neck to your bumper and stop once a mile to see if the fret ends are flush yet.

And drive down cobble stone (bricked....) roads only.....

Hello Hesh!

Would you mind describing how you dull your files?

Also, when you do semi-hemi rounding, do you do it while the fret is in the board or before installing the fret in the board?


Hey Lee!  Sure we clamped brass sheets into a metal vice and had the apprentice at the time, me ;) lose my soul standing there for a few hours wearing the files out......  We need an emoticon for a pee-on.....;)

Regarding the semi-hemi rounding we do it after the frets are installed on the neck.  We think that it kind of looks like that character in the J. Giles tune Goober Gober with the green teeth when the fret ends don't line up perfectly when one sights down the neck for say checking relief.  As such the process starts with the files above squaring everything up.

Next is a technique with a few different files that Dave Collins developed and teaches and as such it's his intellectual property so I don't want to spill the beans here.  Our students are taught to do this technique and have a full set of semi-hemi and evenly lined up fret ends that are uniform, scratchless, and shiny as can be and the entire fret end process is 20 minutes or less ON.... the guitar not off.  

A key component of the method/process is the Collin's Fret Buffer that we did provide information and pics on here on FRETS in the past.  Dave Farmer our friend and a member here also displayed his pics of the one he made too if you want to search for the Collin's Fret buffer.

What the fret buffer has to do with semi-hemi ends is that it shines them up nicely and quickly.

Anyway I just did a fret dress yesterday and converted all the ends to DNSH (darn near semi-hemi ;) ) as we do with all the fret dresses that we provide.  It's a nice look and even nicer too when the fret ends have not been milled away by the builder.

But you know too I'm an old marketing guy from a Fortune One company... and I've always been fascinated by what people want and why they believe that they want it.  As such I ask questions kind of like that annoying kid who always asked over and over...."why..."  ;)

It's been my observation that clients including pro players are far more interested in functionality and not necessarily appearances....  More specifically no one has EVER asked us for semi-hemi fret ends but we have been asked for and made a lot of money providing more fret top surface for players who don't want to pull strings off the neck or be limited by radical fret end bevels.

Again too as a former builder I now find that I stressed over things that would not make money, no one was asking for, and did not support my clients primary concern.

By the way that primary concern was and that........ guitars are tools for musicians.....

Hello again Hesh!

Thank-you so very much again for taking your time in providing information about what you do. I do remember awhile back that there was a discussion about dull files and fretting but haven't found it yet. I am now going to go get some brass and ...

As for the semi-hemi fret ends, I like the look and feel on my banjos and have my Stelling on the bench for a refret. I have been contemplating which approach to use so your reply helps greatly.


Happy to help Lee.  

You know Dave Collin's Grandfather was a famous Banjo player and IIRC he's on something like 27 different recordings.  He played with the big names of the day back in the day.

I've done semi-hemi on the neck manually with just the Stew-mac fret end file but it is a pain and you really need great vision which I don't always seem to have.  Blood pressure meds, etc....

I like the look too but you know I've never been asked for them.  They are noticed though and some of the reviews on our FaceBook Page our customers note that they noticed and like them.

Good luck with the brass and be careful it's possible to cut yourself if you miss.....


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