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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I've always thought that the Jaws 2 looked handy and an easy DIY.

I looked at the Bessey clamps last night at various websites hoping to find one with thumbwheels like the StewMac such luck.  Only thing I can't figure is how to attach the upper caul.

One Erlewine's 'Advanced Fretting II' he has some footage of Mike Stephens fretting using a piece of railroad tie. He uses very few tools and very few specialized Stewmac-type tools.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of the arbor press table I made.


In the older Stew Mac fretting book (the one with b&w photos) you can see Bryan Galloup's original take on "Jaws 2" It has a separate upper jaw/lever system that fits into holes on the bar...  a quick look at those photos would be better than any description I can provide here. A definite option for a self made version.

Unfortunately, my 2nd Ed of Erlewine's fretting book has no photos of Galloup. I searched the web hoping to find the photo you mentioned without luck.

Nothing in the 'Guitar Player Repair Guide' either. Oh well, I'll figure it out...I always do.

I guess you don't have a second edition of Guitar Player repair guide, with the PRS on the cover, but the Galloup press is shown on page 176 in that book.

Nope...3rd. A day late and a dollar short.

I forgot I had a Kindle 2nd Edition. Is this the photo? Quite a difference between the prototype and the StewMac version.


Yeah, that's the photo. Not quite how I made mine. Mine is closer to the stewmac version. In the attached photos, you can see I used part of a junk strut off a 1980 Volkswagon for the one part, then I made a bottom jaw with pieces of steel from a junked garage door opener. Some steel pins from a junk patio umbrella. There's a cabinet door hinge there too. LOL !


+1 on the Jaws 2 guys.  I've used that system for a few years. I'm extremely satisfied and it delivers very consistent results.  Highly recommended.


Robert...that's the best Mad Max post-apocalypse engineering I've seen! I dig it.

The hinges...are those on an arbor press? Do they hold a brass StewMac-type Insert?

Yeah, 1/8" thick inserts fit inside the hinge. I just didn't have any made when I still had that camera (borrowed the camera). But without the hinge, I can put 3/16" thick cauls in there. And the cauls I've been making are a little taller than stewmacs, I guess. It's made on a super cheap harbor freight bar clamp. 

Have you ever seen Ron Thorn's fret press caul ?

It's got a 14" radius with the knobs loose, and he rotates the knobs as he frets toward the nut, which is 10" at that end. His necks have a 10" to 14" compound radius.

Very this is for a compound radius?

I saw something similar but for a different purpose. Basically, the guy took a 6" radius fret press insert, cut 1" pieces off the ends, and installed them in a fret caul, one on each end. He used this to press fret ends. He didn't use a set screw so they rotated to conform to the radius.


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