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Hello.

Recently I've had a lot of electric guitars and basses come to me for fret buzz in the upper frets. The problem is a ski jump. Since these are electric instruments with cutaways, all of the players do actually play all the way up the neck on a regular basis. On acoustics with no cutaway, I've never hesitated to file down the upper frets to get the ski jump down because I know it's unlikely the player will play up there. But since these upper frets will be used on electrics, I do hesitate to file too much on the frets as it may leave it too low for good playability.

My question to you is ... have you ever done a partial refret to 'fix' a ski jump. Any tips or tricks you want to pass along would be appreciated!

Another related question: Why do guitars develop ski jump anyway?

Thanks!

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Hi, 

I've done partial re-frets to fix ski jumps many times. I only do it if the rest of the fingerboard/frets are in good shape.If not a full re-fret is recommended. Most of the time filing the frets to alleviate this issue is more work than actually planing the fingerboard and replacing them. When you file the frets they are left low and are almost impossible to crown. I believe that fingerboard issues should never be corrected by removing material from the top of the frets. 

I believe the ski jump happens from a combination of things. First most companies install the frets prior to gluing the finger board not leaving any way to correct the fingerboard after the moisture from the glue causes some swelling. Second because the truss rod has no affect on that portion of the neck and the neck is almost always bowed from the body joint towards the nut. Third because of humidity changing the dimensions of the wood. 

Those have always been my guesses as to why. 

Gary...

Ha!!! We said essentially the same thing in two completely different styles. I envy your ability to keep it brief.

I have to work on that (:

Have a great weekend man (:

 Hello.

There's nothing wrong with filing the frets on the ski jump as a band-aide temporary fix, but that carries two caveats:

1. The frets will probably be so low that the player won't enjoy the way it feels.  Personally, I need a good amount of fret height especially when bending in that region.  Without that proper clearance between the string and fretboard, most players' fingers will slide right off the string when bending.  It could also be stated that the string will slip out from under the finger.  The effect is the same.

2. You'll be "curing" the problem but you'll not be correcting & eliminating the cause of the problem. Our job as professional repair folks is to provide the customer with the best & most appropriate service we can.

At best, a grind & file would be considered a temporary fix pending a partial refret or [for the best outcome possible] a fretboard leveling and full refret. I try to convince my customers that a full refret is the best long term investment. 

The attributes of a full refret are: the customer can choose the fretwire of their choice; the fingerboard will be re-profiled and  it will also allow you to address any anatomies that the FB may have developed. Just for info: a new nut is always appropriate when doing a complete refret.

Now, on the 'what causes ski ramps?'. My personal opinion: guitars are made out of wood. Wood is a natural substance composed of fibers & voids. The wood is under a myriad of tensions and stresses.  This causes the wood to distort.  I know that's an oversimplified explanation.  Other forum members will give you their POV as I'm sure we have our own suspicions.  It also happens to VERY expensive instruments as well as cheaper ones. It simply 'is what it is'. Regardless, of the cause, once it happens, it can be corrected, and that's the most important element.

Best of luck,

Paul

Hi Guys,

Couple of things and a couple of questions.

Firstly, the amount of material one can take of frets to flatten out the upper frets is governed by the original fret height - if you have tall frets (and most frets up high are usually relatively unworn) such as  45 -50 thou' jumbos you can go ahead and do a full length caul level and recrown with no downside whatsoever -  30 thou' is acceptable and playable for remaining fret heights (Fender vintage maple necks are around 35 thou brand new for example).

There are some simple exercises in geometry that can also help accommodate a rising tongue such as jacking up the bridge/saddle heights and flattening the neck a tad with the truss rod it you have some relief to play with - this moves the saddle and nut relationship relative to the kick in the board and can give you some wiggle room for a subsequent fret level to further alleviate the problem.

Re-frettting is an option when these preliminary options have been investigated and exhausted.  

I'm unsure how a partial re-fret solves rising tongue/ski ramp - do you take out the high frets , level the board in that area and refret?  or have I just missed something.

Similarly, prefretting a board before gluing up makes no difference to how the glue is absorbed along a neck/fingerboard joint or how true the board goes on.   Providing you use the appropriate processes/cauls and have a modicum of QA applied to the operation.  Rising tongue generally appears over an extended  time and does not not appear to be a mainfestation of the inital glue process.

The truss rod has no bearing on rising tongue - the 14 fret kink gives a relative appearance of a rising tongue but it is not the issue unless the neck is shimmed to try and angle out the kink. 

Rising tongue is a relative increase in thickness of the end of the neck compared to the rest of the neck.  This can be accounted for by the thinner part of the neck behaving differently to moisture loss/gain than the bulkier (in volume) heel but I'm not sure that this is the sole cause of the problem.   However, it appears to be a reasonable explanation in the absence of a definite proof.

Hope this expands the topic a bit.

Rusty.

Some great posts here as is usually the case here on FRETS!

The ski ramp, kick-up is pretty common especially on Fender style bolt-on necks and often this "ski ramp" causes serious limitations as to how the gutiar can be set-up.  It also appears fairly commonly on brand new guitars as evidenced by a show room full of guitars with this style neck where I work that nearly all have this ski ramp even before anyone has ever purchased them...

As rightly mentioned often the truss rod has no impact on the area of the neck beyond say the 12 - 14th frets so this ski ramp is not something that can be dealt with any other way than leveling the board and refretting (my opinion) or milling down the frets after the 12th to progressively get lower toward the body-side end of the neck.

When I do a fret dress (or refret) in my use of bluing (magic marker ink) to mark the fret tops it's pretty standard fare for me to have to concentrate on the frets after the 12th before my leveling beams will ever even kiss the tops of the frets in say the 3 - 9 range....  Once I can mark all of the fret tops and level and not touch any of the tops after the 12th I consider the ski ramp to be out of the way.  But this also possibly leaves the situation that Paul rightly brought where the fret height on the extension is too low for the player.

In the acoustic world the "body hump" in brand new guitars is caused more often than not in the maker's inability to understand the geometry of the neck to body joint and address it as needed.  We see the trend these days being that many builders fret the board, install it on the neck, and then are surprised with the neck/body joint has a hump or even a kick-up.  What I work for on my own guitars is .010 - .020 of fall away measured from the top of the very last fret in respect to the level-set of frets 1 - 12.  I want that extension out of the way and not being the limiting factor in action height.

Where I am going with this is that if it's desirable as Paul said to not mill the frets in the extension region too low, and it most certainly is, and there is a ski-ramp in the board the only way that I know of to address it is a refret where the board is also leveled and in my case fall-away is also milled into the board in the extension area prior to refretting.  This permits nearly all of the available height of the new frets to remain (bang for the buck for customers).

As also mentioned humps, dips, etc... develop over time and are nothing new but this seemingly inability for some makers to produce a guitar without an inherent issue with the ski-ramp or body hump is pretty disappointing.  I still can't for the life of me understand, even though I once did this too, how anyone can believe that you can fret the board off the neck, install the board, install the neck, and still have everything true, level, and precise....  Granted with a strict methodology some builders do pull this off but I often wonder what the word "precision" means exactly to them in respect to what I was taught that it means which is the thickness of marker ink.... or sub .001" measurements.

Regarding partial refrets I avoid them although there are instances where they are appropriate.  Again I want to deal with the fret plane in it's entirety and see it as the strings see it.... 

So in my view a partial refret will not get you where you want to go without risking what Paul mentioned in having the fret height reduced too much in this region.  I also don't understand why one would even pull the original frets if all that one is going to do is replace them and then half them in terms of height.

Instead my approach would be a complete refret that included leveling the board, milling in fall-away into the board, perhaps also milling in relief or correcting the tendencies of the neck to have more relief where we don't want it and less where we do such as a guitar with more relief on the treble side and less on the bass side.  I'd level and shape the neck and board and then refret, level, build in that fall-away that I like to see and call it a day.  This also means that in taking off fret board material in the extension area I might also have to deepen the fret slots too.

Funny thing... every time I have to deal with ski-ramps, body joint humps, board "shaping" or leveling... it blows my mind that builders believe that fret work can be done in isolation of the rest of the fret plane.  I understand that we have been conditioned to think this way with tools such as fret rocker or techniques such as leveling as few as one or two frets under string tension with an "L" shaped channel with sand paper on it.  In my own experience if I don't think of the entire fret plane as the strings must see it none of this stuff makes any sense to me at all...;)

Next time you are in a Bain Capital owned Guitar Center (I'm not getting political just stating a fact...;)) check out the great wall of Teles and Strats and count how many have ski ramps right from the f*ctory...  Although it's true that this condition can develop my own view is that it's often built-in as well.  What a shame...

Nice stuff Hesh I agree with your sentiments regarding that thinking about the fret board in its entirety is the key to working out most problems, and I shudder a bit when I think of early days with a large file and a small understanding.

In answer to your inquiry - you wonder aloud how to pre-fret a board off the neck and then glue the board to the neck and then glue the neck to the body without going wobbly.

We make our own boards, machine our radius to a couple of thou or so from end to end with a 4 head spindle cutter and and cut our fret slots with a precision saw jig with bladenstiffners etc.  We clamp all components in vacuum jigs with full contact workpiece to jig contact on tight tolerance cauls etc.

Our boards are fretted in a vacum jig with a standard press (similar to Martin if you have checked out their process) and glued using a conformal crenelated caul (radiused to our boards with clearance over the frets).   The board is glued to the neck with this caul maintaining the fret board dimension with the neck having been accurately machined prior to the board going on.

The rest is simple and the boards glue up pretty much as we require. We can dial in a little relief either way if we wish and do it every time.   We dress the frets and that's pretty much it .  There is no fundamental difference in accuracy of the final finish and we can replicate this accuracy day in day out due to our methodology and system based approach.  

There is an investment in machinery and design time and it's not for everybody, particularly low volume makers but the question was put as to how to do this.

Also, we still experience the occasional angry bit of wood from time to time and working with ebony, for instance, can be character building from time to time - but these challenges apply equally to everybody. 

Anyway, this stuff is not "pulled off" like a magic trick - it is available to any builder who wishes to adopt a system based procedure as used by many major top level makers.   

No really a disagreement Hesh, but accuracy such as you describe is not difficult in a well designed and implemented system and discussion such as this help alert us to existence of advanced tools, equipment, procedures and systems available that otherwize may go unnoticed or be unknown.

Regards,

Rusty.

 

Great post Rusty and I thank you kindly for it too!

You guys clearly have process controls in place which makes your method much more compelling to me than what I was referring to which is the idea that one can bang or press frets into the board off the neck, glue the board on the neck, and call it a day....

Fret work requires precision and a pretty good understanding of how the fret plane works and needs to work.  With that said I'm off to add my voice to dissing the Fret Rocker tool too in a new thread here... ;)

I just did a partial re fret to fix this problem on a Teisco Electric. I removed all the frets after 12. Sanded fall away into the FB. I put the guitar under string tension and used a notched straight edge and feeler gauges to check the amount of fall away. I had around 14 thou under string tension. This guitar had been re fretted before and the frets were full at 41 thou. The new fret wire was 46-47 thou. Fret slots were pretty wide. The barbs were just digging in enough so, I used titebond when I installed them. I leveled the new fret wire down to the 12th and then dressed them. Plays great now. No buzzing. That is my recent experience.

As far as what caused this to happen on this guitar. I re fretted this a year and a half ago. It was playing great when I gave it back to my friend. Nice and straight. He then put it in his basement closet and only played a few times. In Iowa we have a pretty wide range of changes in our weather. I assume this is what caused it. Sitting in a basement..

David,

Another reason may be the quality of the timbers that Teisco used when they made guitars.  Stability/quality of those early MIJ electric instruments were spotty and often simply inferior. This is especially true of their necks.

This also applies to USA made budget or entry level models from companies like Harmony, Kay, etc.

It's all good as it gives us all "something to do". (: Personally, I love wrestling with and improving those old budget electrics. Sometimes you find a real pearl!!!!

Straighten the neck, measure the string height at the 12th and the 2nd last fret. If there is fall away, there is no ski jump. If the strings get closer look for a shim. If there is a shim then perhaps a full pocket shim would give you fall away and adjustable action. Sometimes a straight neck dressed from the nut to the body will create enough relief to fix the problem and sometimes dressing from the other end will fix it. Often misdiagnosed there is no single fix for this problem . 

Thanks to everyone for your input. I've got 5 yrs of repairs under my belt but am still learning things, honing skills and running into new situations all the time. I'm glad to have this forum to turn to for advise.

It seems to me, as with most cases in guitar repair, the answer will be different depending upon the guitar, the player and the budget. I like to give the player choices ... a good, better & best choice, if they are available. If money were no object then a full refret is, IMO, the best choice for a ski jump but I have many customers that don't want to spend that kind of money ... either they don't have it or the instrument is not worth it. I think a partial refret or a fret dressing is a viable option in some cases. Thanks, David, for sharing your recent experience of a partial refret. I use the notched straightedge a lot for refrets and setups and think it's a very valuable tool (should be for what it costs!).

If anybody else has done a partial refret on a ski jump and wants to share how they did it, I would love to know your technique if you have anything to add to what David did.

Thanks so much!

I tried this once on a cheapy , and it worked....Removed about 5 or more frets in the trouble zone.....Dremeled the fingerboard , using a flat based dremel , and using the tops of the straighter part of the frets for the thickness guide....Dremeled out the hump , and put frets in that matched their surroundings,,,...Need to re-visit that...

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