I am becoming more involved in instrument repair and its time I moved on to more serious and accurate fret work. I have been looking at some tools and trying to decide if it is worth the expense now or ever to purchase these tools. I am looking for advice from some guys that have a little more experience, any help or discussion would be appreciated.
I was thinking of purchasing the neck jig from SM. it seems that this jig will help me do accurate fret work with ease and decrease my chances of having to redo a fret job. I have a small shop so I would have to do some serious organizing to fit this in my shop. Obviously luthiers have operated without this for a long time but I feel like times are changing and the "required" tools are becoming more advanced. Yes you can do accurate fret work without some of these innovations but as technology advance shouldn't I/we, especially for a new guy who plans on doing this for the next 50 years.
The other thing, and more immediate, purchase descsion is pressing in frets. I was thinking of purchasing the Fret Jaws. I have difficulty with hammering in frets. I know it takes practice to become eeficent at hammer in and I will still have to hammer them in over the body. I feel like the press in method is something that I will eventually want to master to get more accurate fret jobs specifically with bumpy necks that need compression fretting in order to straighten out. So I was thinking of buying the jaws and start usig them for most of my fret work. Maybe it will be a little easier and accurate then hammer in... At least for a new guy. I am sure you guys who hammer in are efficient at that because you hav been doing it for a long time but if you had to start from scratch would you start with the jaws?

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Yes, if you're doing fret work for money, then those tools are worth buying.  Simulated string tension is great, especially if you plan on drawing customers at the national level or in a large metropolitan area with shops that have Plek machines.  

FWIW, some of my favorite fretting tools are the original jaws, the Erlewine neck jig, SM's dead-blow fretting mallet and the Taylor fret buck.

Hi Luke - Usually I must sound like a stinkin shill for anything Stew-Mac but not today....  Don't get me wrong I love Stew-Mac but your specific question is one that I am not going to recommend that you purchase the neck jig.

It's a great tool/capability to have mind you and for demanding players, rubber necks, issues that you can't seem to make progress with any other way, having access to a neck jig can be a great option to have.  But do you need it now?  No.

I have no idea how many refrets and dresses I've done now, way too many to count with two yesterday alone...  But so far I have not yet once used a neck jig either Stew-Mac's or the one that David Collins built.  It has not been necessary for me.

Instead and if you have some coin burning a hole in your pocket perhaps consider earmarking it for educational purposes.  My meaning is invest in learning how to do these things and this may include, depending on how you as an individual learns, books, travel and mentoring, classes, videos, DVDs, etc.  Tools do not the Luthier make (although they most certainly help a competent Luthier translate his/her knowledge into "real" value for our customers....).

Fretting and fret work is something that there are many ways to accomplish similar ends.  Some hammer, some press, some do both (me...) and then there are guitars with glued in frets too such as some Parkers...

Personally I'm a fan of pressing even though I hammer in some locations and circumstances.  I have the Jaws II tool and a full compliment of custom made fret cauls.

With some other creative techniques and jigs I can reach most locations on any neck.  Having the variety of cauls is helpful too in that I can match any radi from 6" through 20.5" to flat.

Most of all though and since you have a whole 50 years to get this down.... ;) (hope you have even more my friend) there is no substitute for doing this stuff over and over and over again.  The benefit of the experience is that you will find your own way in time, what tools work for you, what tools are not necessary for you, and what tools will one day be placed on ebay for someone else to struggle with...

Do you have Dan's (Earlywine) "Fretwork" book - it's a great place to start.

So in a nut shell and in my very humble opinion neck jig = no, Jaws II and cauls = yes, educational materials, folks, experiences = hell yes!!!

Thanks Nathan and Hesh,
Yes I have the SM fretwork book as week as a library of other books that I have read and are re reading and the 2nd Erlewine fretting DVD. I should try to find a luthier that I could spend sometime watching them do some work.
Hesh can you or do you use the jaws 2 to press in frets along the fret board other then over the body. Or do you mainly hammer them in.
How do you guys evaluate your neck with no string tension and after you have removed some wood in effort to straighten a neck.

Luke yes for say a conventional acoustic guitar with the Jaws II tool and a few creative approaches I can press frets at any location.  Sometimes it's easier and quicker though to hammer some of them as well with a massive backing structure such as a block of lead... or the Taylor fret buck.

If you walk yourself though using the Jaws II tool at every location you will see that near where the neck meets the body the neck cauls that come with the tool won't cut it....  But... if you give some creative thought to how to register the flat end of the clamp on something solid you will come up with a number of approaches and even a jig or two that permit say frets 9 to all frets over the neck block to be firmly clamped too.  The jig that we use was also created by David Collins and since it's his IP (intellectual property) this is all I am comfortable saying at the moment.  But again, give it some thought, the problem is the same and since form often follows function in many things my guess is that there are a number of ways to do this including what David has come up with and we have great success with.

As for your last question there are those who dive in and there are those who evaluate, consider the greater picture including ALL that needs to be accomplished, and then devise a plan of sorts in their mind's eye of how to proceed.  You are speaking of evaluating the neck.  Great question and for me it always starts with an evaluation of the neck under string tension and tuned to pitch (what ever weird-arse... pitch someone may be using these days...).  It's the way to read the guitar, neck, issues, etc. and from this one can usually see where the dips are, humps, how this may interact with other issues such as a soon-to-need-a-neck-reset, etc.  From this read under string tension, a read of where the most fret wear is, neck angle, bridge and saddle suitability (height etc.) for this specific instrument one devises a plan on how to proceed.  

I'm often concentrating leveling efforts in one place or another in an effort to address other issues with the guitar as a whole such as, as I mentioned, belaying the need for that neck reset for a while longer.  Or, for another example not being the biggest fan of shaving a bridge creative fret leveling may also belay or eliminate any reasons to do the deed and shave the bridge.

It's all about that evaluation that you mentioned Luke and good on you for bringing this up - excellent point and question.

If you can find someone who can stand to have you around (nothing personal, I'm thinking about how it must of been putting up with me for my mentor....) jump at the opportunity and find a way to provide some value for the Luthier any way (legal, ethical, etc.) that you can.  I apprenticed for several years and what an eye opener it was for me too.  

We just had a brief stay with a guy/friend who was our apprentice for a while and it was great fun for all concerned.  He learned a great deal, did excellent work for us in that we put him to work right away with tasks that were appropriate for him and his skill set, and most of all - in explaining things to others, justifying your rational, etc. you become a better Luthier.  Often the questions and challenges received can and will force you to think about what you do, what you consider gospel, etc. and in doing so the teacher receives great value as well.

In the US there are no certifications, rules, regulations, professional standards that are vetted and widely accepted, etc. for Lutherie.  As such the trade includes all sorts from screwdriver twisters to master craftspeople.  Sadly, in my view, this absence of any way to qualify one's skills by individual accomplishment is simply how it is in Lutherie.  Nonetheless some old world ideas such as an apprenticeship or even living the dream... and learning this stuff at a residential program which are available in my view is beneficial for all, the budding Luthier, the Luthiers training them, and of course someday soon Mr. and Ms. customer.

Just ran in the house from mowing my lawn with my Gravely (I love this mower....) because I thought of one more relevant thing to add.

Although there is a place for hammering, pressing, wishing, levitating, imagining frets into place in Lutherie only one of these techniques has the added efficiency of only using one tool for two operations.  You can't glue and clamp frets into place with a hammer..., wish, supernatural ability, or creative imagination but you sure can do so with a fret press such as the Jaws II.

I'm strictly an amateur, but I'd suggest looking at ALL the fretting articles in Frank's web site,  There's lots of wisdom there.  I reread most of them before doing a one fret replacement as well as getting advice from this forum and it was all valuable--and I learned still more from doing it.

One advantage of a fret press if you're going to do much fretting may be to relieve a toll on the body.  I'm officially a senior citizen now and am developing arthritis in several joints.  I noticed a real toll on my hand and wrist after hammering just one fret in on that same job, yesterday.  It may not be a concern if you're young but we all have limited ability to absorb blows and shock that can accumulate over the years.


Hi Luke.

First of all, THANK YOU for posting such a great set of questions. These are the kinds of questions and responses that make THIS forum unique. If you keep asking these good questions, you will certainly evolve into a top notch luthier! :)

Other than parroting just about everything Hesh told you, I only want to add my endorsement of the Jaws 2 system.  I've been using it for several years and have had consistently fine results.

There's a learning curve and the usual getting used to it's assets and limitations. But once you're familiar with it, it's great. It can do everything the original Jaws can do AND offers additional solutions for acoustic instruments. As far as cost vs. value, it's been one of the wisest buying decisions I've made (and I won't bore you with the dozens of 'sucker' buys I've made). ;)

Hope that info helps you achieve your goals.

The VERY BEST of luck, Luke :)

Thanks Hesh, Paul, Larry, Nathan. You guys are awesome and this forum is amazing. I'm glad my questions aren't non sense, I was afraid they were, I hope you're not laughing behind my back :) ill keep reading and practicing and reading and practicing maybe one day I can contribute to a young luthier as you are to me.


None of us were born fully formed repairmen/luthiers. I'm not a luthier, I'm just a tech that specializes in "action" issues and set up jobs.

But, we're all brothers & sisters in the craft and you're going to do just fine and be a welcome addition to the roster:)

You'll be amazed at how quickly the "learning years" will fly by. And keep in mind that methods, tools and procedures will change, so our craft also makes us perpetual students as well as eventual 'teachers'.

Keep up the good work, man :)


The neck-jig is pretty darn easy to build yourself. I know of some guys who bought it from Stewmac 'cause they're knee deep in repairs and don't have the time to build it, which makes sense.

Some guys seem to do fine work by simulating string tension by putting support under the headstock and weight/pressure on the body. 

Hammering vs pressing: I get way better results pressing, but it takes me very long. I'll clamp a fret down, run CA in from the side of the tang, go do something else that ends up taking a couple of hours, then finally back to pressing another fret in.

Someone recently reminded me of a technique that's half way between hammering and pressing : Laying a fret pressing caul on top of the fret, then hammering the top of the caul.

I recently saw the most extreme fret press yet, on the Elderly Instruments site. A combination of a Taylor fret buck with a jaws type press attached that rides on rails over the frets.

I will add my hat to the ring on the Jaws II. I like it better than the original vice grip version. I also like the fact that I can remove the Press Caul section and chuck it up in my drill press to do Fender style necks. At some point I drilled a hole through the handle and sometimes stick a screw driver in for a bit of easy leverage. I would try everything you can to get a feel for fretting. It seems to be an ever evolving process and challenge.

One simple thing that truly helps me is taking notes!  I measure everything before I start. Action at the first and twelfth frets. Relief, tuning, fret wire, string gauge, bridge, scale, etc. It is an invaluable reference for the work and at final set-up. Whenever possible I like being able talk with the owner, and better yet, watch them play. 

Yea Thomas I agree with you taking notes is very helpful. I take notes like you mentioned to see where I came from and where I ended up. Also it's nice to show the customer, this is where you were and this is where you are now. Seems like everyone really likes the jaws 2


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