Hey all. I have been seeing crowning scratches towards the tops of my frets after dressing. I usually go 320, 400, 600, 0000 Steel Wool. Is there something I might be doing wrong when using the Stew Mac #300 offset diamond file? I have been going back to chase them but it just seems like a terrible use of time if I can just change something while I am working I would rather do that.

Views: 871

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Hi David, you'll get a hundred different replies to this and depending on your requirements you should be able to improve the situation with what will be offered.

But, a basic schedule is 300 diamond file,  micromesh MMX (metal polishing micromesh, but standard micromesh is OK) sticks 240, 600, 1200, 2000 (or thereabouts) - the conformal backing of the micromesh provides a sturdy but pliable backing that gives a consistent result and any wear on the face of the sticks is evident and you know when to move on to new abrasive.  Expect to use up a couple of sticks and an hour at least on finishing each job.

Get yourself a magnifying headset or lighted magnifying ring and check your progress - you'll be surprised at just how crap our normal fret refinishing is when viewed under magnification - and doing so will lead you to using intermediate abrasive steps and finer finishing grits all the way to a mirror finish.


I start with 600 grit (400 is also fine), but I do half of the sanding with the sandpaper wrapped around thick card stock. This allows me to get at the sides of the frets. I only sand with the grain of the fretboard. Check out photos 10 and 11 here:

I'm with Rusty with one twist: I use micro mesh sheets, cut  half.  I use my fingers a'la Frank Ford.  Watched him do it years ago and stuck with it.  I start at 1500 and go to to 12000.  This is after sanding with 600 wet dry paper.  For a dress, I start with 400.  I too only go with the grain.

Hi Christian,  the reason I now use micromesh sticks and an improvised handle to hold them is to preserve my knuckles from further wear and tear given that I do a hundred or so of these operations a year - maybe not important if you are 20 but definitely up there for the older critters.  Seems everything to do with guitars and guitar playing eventually hurts ones hands, wrists and forearms.

I use fret shields to protect the fingerboard area and sand and buff finish across the longitudinal axis of the fingerboard to minimize any residual friction to string bends - logic being that any residual micro scratches should be orientated at 90 degrees to the string path.  

I know what you mean.  My finger are sore after a fret job too. I can't play fast runs like I used to.

... add shoulder pain. 

You can do a fine job and eliminate all scratches with what you are using, 320 through OOOO because that's how I do a fine job too at least several times a week. ;)

Needless to say there are many ways to do this including a super secret machine that another Luthier built that I can't talk about here or I will have to snuff myself....  :)  Please note second smiley face.

But what you use is what I use when I don't have access to the super secret machine.  The trick to making this work for me is following the convention of any proper sanding that uses progressive grits, don't change grits until inspecting well what you accomplished with the prior grit and being sure to have removed all scratches before moving up in grits.

I also fold my paper at least 4 times and hold it vertically with thumb support so that it gets the sides of the frets well.  This is the Old School method too that has worked for 1,325,894,973 fret dresses to date (making this part up...).

Anyway be sure to fold the paper a bunch of times, do the sides of the frets vigorously which usually also gets the tops, and look closely at your progress before changing grits.  If you ever use the 150 diamond file start with 220 grit but the rest is the same.

If you remember using a clothes pin and a playing card in the spokes of your bike (Schwinn not Harley....) it's the very same idea but this time supporting the card (or the sand paper) right up to the fold or the part that hits the sides and tops of the frets.  Back and forth motions, over and over again.  It takes me about 20 minutes to do it well and eliminate all scratches AND I am usually tired afterward and it's not uncommon to split the end of one's thumb open in the dry, winter months doing this. 

Don't ya just love this stuff... ;)

When I use the 150 diamond file I stop short of creating a skinny plateau at the top of the frets, then I go back to dial in the crown with the 300 grit file. Then I start the sanding process with 600 grit (or 400 if I really had to grind some of the frets down very low). For me anyway, this is a little faster and easier on mu hands.

Hesh, are you doing any polishing or buffing beyond the steel wool? Do you have a brand preference when it comes to the sandpaper?

I do the same as you Nathan.  I use the 150 diamond file(s) when I have to restore a crown on a fret that I had to take down pretty far.  It's a great time saver.  For frets that don't need much crowning I use the 300 files or side of the files that have 150/300 grit.  We are only using diamond files which IMHO are faster in so much as they work in both directions.

One of my files likes to make crowns that look like school bus roofs, not good....  So I rock the file and follow-up with some swipes with a three corner file that has been additionally safed on the edges.  In fact all of my Stew-Mac diamond files have had the edges additionally safed as well so that they can crown very low frets and not mar the board.

Right now, these days.... I like Sait papers the best but will hold my nose and use 3M when I can't get my fix of Sait paper.  What I like about Sait, at least at present..., is that the backing paper holds up far better than other papers for the high levels of abuse that I put paper through with doing fret work.  Lesser papers tear easier or lose their abrasive faster.  Sait seems to hold up better and the results are predictable which in my world where time is money is a welcome thing.

For a typical job, not a "deluxe" fret dress I'm doing what Paul H. is describing on the next page and that is eliminating all scratches, providing a perfectly smooth and level crown, and getting a pretty good polish as well.  As Paul said people don't play on the sides of frets (although now that I said this someone will likely pop-up and indicate that they do play on the sides of the frets...).

On a new build or if someone is very into having the shiniest frets in their garage band.... I go to additional steps to dial-in the level set AND will go for a shine that Mr. Clean (my brother from another mother...) would appreciate.  And there are also lots of ways to get the shine up too including micromesh which Rusty uses or the machine that I have access to that was purpose built to eliminate scratches and take the shine to the highest level.

If an instrument (or player...) is extremely problematic and/or demanding about their frets and fret dress my process may get repeated a few times where on the final level the frets have already been cleaned up (scratches removed) and I am really only now verifying how level everything is.  With this level of precision after the final crown and level just a very light touch-up to the tops of the frets is all they need and the risk of removing additional material that would nix the level-set is minimized.

You know though, as Paul H. indicated (on the next page) it's pretty rare for anyone to need a fret dress at the "deluxe" level at least in terms of my clients.  As such I have to agree with any notion that sometimes some of the levels that one may take the polish to is more of an academic exercise and for the Luthier's benefit than for the player.

As such in my opinion what is more important than getting the last 15% of shine available is the functionality of the fret dress or more specifically are the frets truly level in respect to the entire fret plane, is fall-away present where desirable, are the crowns well shaped, and most of all have any and all loose frets been put back in their place and told to stop being uppty....;)  I'll add have the inadequacies of the board (for example less relief on the bass side than the treble side) been addressed.  All of these things, the functional aspects of the frets individually and collectively are more important to me than the last bit of shine.  Of course one can have it all too but that costs a bit more and takes a bit more time.

Super shiny frets are not hard to have and I can appreciate them too.  But at the end of the day if a fret dress does not eliminate the frets as the limiting factor for the desired playability and action the concern over shiny frets is misplaced, again... in my opinion.  But again if my clients want em super shiny that's what they get too.

Sounds like a good process you have Hesh.  Sait, I'm not familiar with that paper, I'll check it out.  Thanks for the tip!

I've been using Norton wet dry.  It works well but breaks down pretty fast when I'm hitting the fret ends with the sand paper wrapped around card stock.  A tougher backing would be a welcome change.

When I get to 600, I use a piece of wood with a groove in it like a crowning file and go across the fret moving the 600 grit over after each fret. Then I use 0000 steel wool across the frets and finally, Dremel with a hard felt wheel and Lee Valley honing compound. Efficient cost effective shiny shiny frets.

Friction shortens the life of frets and strings. Friction affects how strings feel when you bend them. Highly polished or shiny frets have less friction. The method I use with the Dremel tool and the honing compound takes less than 5 minutes. I use a Herdim #3 crowning file that I've had for 25 yrs. I've tried many others but it's the one I go back to it leaves a smoother finish than anything else I've tried.


© 2022   Created by Frank Ford.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service