Newbie: Seating Frets to Consistent Height; Using cant file correctly.

I just finished my second refretting -  Jazz Bass neck. My first refret was a Danelectro 1445 with just about every neck problem imaginable: slight twist, s-shape with 3 humps, .026" wide fret slots, etc.

I had to remove a lot of rosewood on the Dan'O which I figured was appropriate considering its problems. After I hammered in the frets (crimping the heck out of them with the SM tool) I found that the neck was still straight but the frets were very uneven. There were some shadow lines on some frets so I think maybe I needed to deepen the frets slots more than I did. In any case, I had to take a lot of metal off the frets and was left with some very wide flats that took a considerable amount of time to round.

I assumed that my hammering technique had something to do with my inconsistent fret seating so I decided to use a arbor press for the JB neck. I tried Erlewine's method of using a 6" radius for the ends and a 9.25" for the actual insertion. The frets all seated cleanly.  I was chagrined to find that, once again, I had fret height variation prior to leveling that I considered beyond acceptable tolerances. This meant, of course, that I once again had to take off a lot of metal and leaving me with wide flats to deal with (keep in mind I'm a newbie with high standards, but no one to tell me when I achieve what may be an average result).

It occurred to me that inconsistent pressure applied to the arbor press arm could be to blame. Too bad the arbor press doesn't have a dial that reads force applied (could be a useful mod to the SM arbor press)!

To add insult to injury, when I crowned the files I forgot to tape up the fretboard. I used my new SM cant file for the first time. I assumed that since the bottom vee had been "safed" that I could rest it on the fretboard as I made strokes. Now I have slight grooves pressed into the wood parallel to the frets. Both of the fret jobs look pretty good except for two problems: the fretboard grooves and some slightly twisted fret ends.

I plan to yank the frets on the JB and start over as soon as new fretwire arrives.

I have some questions, but any and all advice is welcome.

Q1: Is there a secret to consistent fret seating other than lots of practice?

As for the twisted fret ends. I'm thinking this is happening either when I'm bending the frets or when I'm clipping off the fret ends. I'm using a homemade fret-bender to over-radius the frets and Dan Erlewine's method for clipping fret ends using a SM clipper.

Q2: Is it more likely my fret-bender is twisting the fretwire or that I'm twisting the wire as I make the cut? Is twisting a problem with pro fret benders?

Q3: As for the fretboard marks, does masking tape provide enough protection to rest the cant file on the fretboard or is this a general no-no?  I do have the metal fret guards but had forgotten about them.


Tags: cant, dents, file, fret, fretboard, seating

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You're very welcome Robbie.

The only thing that concerns me with the sequencing of your method is: Frets should be glued (presumably as  a 'touch-up?) BEFORE you level the frets.  If you're doing it AFTER they're leveled, it changes the system's geometry and you'll need to re-level them.

Leveling shouldn't be performed until all the frets are well seated and it, along with a re-crown & polish, is always the final step.

Have fun & enjoy. (-:

My mistake...I do glue them before polishing.

Let me suggest this:

Play the guitar to evaluate the neck

If you're replacing for wear, then consider a partial refret if you can match the wire

If you're replacing all the frets remove them, heat and small nippers are my choice.

Clean the slots with a fret saw (lightly) the saw will tell you how deep the slots are. You can set the depth by putting a straight piece of wood or plexi (2 side tape) on the blade at the depth of the fret tang.

Do not level or radius the finger board unless it needs it and if possible only the areas that need it. This can have a dramatic effect on how a old instrument feels and not in a good way.

Do not clean the fret slots with a compressor, any chips that you didn't see when pulling the frets will be gone with no hope of simply gluing them back in.

Put frets in, adjust the radius as you go along until you get something that works.

Trim the frets ends as they're installed. 

Flush file and bevel the ends

Put the strings on and play it

Mark the problems with a felt pen and dress to correct

It's been my experience that most problems show up under string tension.

I've got a 6" piece of aluminum "C" channel 3/4" wide with 220 stickit paper attached to the bottom that I rounded the ends on. It slips under two strings at a time, with them under tension, and a few passes over the frets tells me immediately where I have problems. A few more passes to level and then I remove the strings and dress the frets. It works every time. Thanks to Thomas James for the idea.

Eric, I stole that method from Rick Turner. Happy Holidays everyone!

Do you possibly have a link where Rick Turner explains his method?

I'm guessing this method basically does what Erlewine's jig accomplishes?

I've studied the neck jig but, for the life of me, I can't see what it accomplishes other than leaving the neck flat with the truss rod adjusted differently.

I looked at the Kantana system a while ago. The maker also does the LittleBone. Unfortunately, he don't allow access to instructions prior to purchase which is unfortunate. I won't buy anything I don't understand.

 I'm familiar with that hammer/clipper tool from the old Gibson days.  By today's standards, it's pretty crude.  Plus, the guys that KNEW how to use them had a decade of experience with fretting. The key factor was their experience.   Put it this way, IF it was such a great tool, why is it not being used today?

StewMac sold one for a while in the late 80's or early 90's. Made me laugh, the idea of using a tool with delicate sharp ground edges to hammer with.

 There were legendary instruments  made using tools like this.

I'm guessing, the guy that put in frets all day long, got tired of picking the hammer up and putting it down and picking the nippers up and putting them down, so he welded a piece of brass stock on the side of his nippers...... Every time I'm doing a run of small instruments I think about making a pair of these. When I do I'll let you guys know how it works out.

Hi Robbie

Here's my 2 cents worth. I used to hate doing the frets on my instruments until I purchased the Jaws 2 handheld fret press from Stewart-Mcdonald. It consistently seats the frets against the fretboard.

Best WishesAllen

Agree with Allen, the Jaws II is a great system and when combined with a cadre of custom made fret cauls in most radius's that we would ever need I'm pretty good-to-go.

In addition, with a few "creative" jigs and some thought given to how to fret over the extension, the neck where it begins it's curve into the heel, etc. there is not much that will phase you.

Not only does this system press the frets home it's also excellent for clamping while the glue sets up too.

And if you act right now and enter code LOOSEENDS you can also imagine how to use an over radiused caul to clamp down those pesky frets ends while gluing too.  Just enter the code and add $9.99 and if you act right now we will super size your order....  Just kidding on the sales talk... ;)

But seriously I press or hammer depending on what gets the job done best.  I have noticed though that the hammering of frets seems to be a bit of a "perishable" opportunity in so much as an over hammered fret will spring and bend at times and then you will never get it to do down and stay down.  In my humble opinion when either hammering or pressing will do the job I personally prefer to press my frets.

And if you act right now and enter code LOOSEENDS you can also imagine how to use an over radiused caul to clamp down those pesky frets ends while gluing too.  Just enter the code and add $9.99 and if you act right now we will super size your order.... 

I'd like nothing better than to turn on late night TV and see an infomercial for a fret-press, even if it's hosted by a guy with an Aussie accent.

I made my own variation of "jaws 2", but I think it would be even easier to make a "jaws 3" type thing. I just don't know if it would be worth it. I made my own cauls too, in 1/2" increments, 'cause I'm a conical radius fan. But it's not that uncommon that I'll use 3 different cauls for a single fret. It's slow, plus I run CA in the fret-slot and go do something else while it dries, but then that something else can take an hour. A fret job takes me way too long.

I have the neatest hammer I found  that seems to feel great for tapping in frets. This hammer has to be at least 100 years old. It's about a foot long and the handle tapers to a pretty small diameter at the steel head, which is pretty tiny, but big enough to stay on the fret. Then I have a piece of steel train track, about 8" long, with padding on top as an anvil to lay the neck on. It's fun. Feels like fretting in the old wild west. Still, if I want to start my fret leveling with 800 grit, gotta stay with the press. I've mainly just been using the hammer method, for reseating loose factory frets, where they're so popped up, it's no big deal to pull 'em out, crimp the tang, rebend, then tap it home.


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