I don't do this, but I've started wondering of late if I ought to charge more for dressing stainless steel frets. The last job, an old Tokai strat with a Warmoth neck with jumbo SS frets, really played havoc with my tools + additional time.

What is the consensus out there?

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Hi Guys,

don't for a moment think that the cost of tools isn't something that we all feel at any level of our trade.   Shelling out the cash, particularly cash that was hard earned, is not pleasant, ever.   But doing the time, energy and profit equations leaves little room for manoeuvre or choice in what we need to buy and once done the benefits are immediate and measurable. 

As far as fret cutters go, next time we will probably go with Summit cutters from JESCAR  because they are cost effective.  Otherwize we use commercial grade nippers that we ground down for a flush cut against the finger board edge and relieve to get into the fingerboard at the  higher numbers. The reality of this exercise is that the time it take to modify the nippers (couple of hours) eats up the difference in overall cost.

I wish we had  a silver bullet here but stainless is the future and we as luthiers need to service it.


Doh! I forgot about Jescar/Summit - that's where I ordered the stainless fret wire from!

Looks like I'll be getting a set of their fret cutters soon.

Thanks Rusty!!

for regular cutters and end nippers i've been happy with a couple varieties of mini-bolt cutters from mcmaster-carr, plenty strong and quite cheap.

especially the end-cutting ones, they're rated for brinell 300 which to my understanding is what ss fretwire comes in at.

(they both need to be ground almost flush of course.)

Here is the answer to cutting stainless frets:

This is the best $23 you'll spend on tools this year.

HI Mark,

These are probably OK for Nickel Silver but a HRC rating pf 40 does not appear to be suitable for all grades of SS cutting which typically requires up to HRC 56- 65.  The product description for the above mentioned cutters states the case, these pliers being suitable for steel up to 1/16".

Having said that be aware of the following:

Stainless steel fretwire comes in different grades of hardness:  


1.  Stainless steel alloy 304 grade is used for one major manufacturer of aftermarket necks  and comes in at Vickers 250 which is HRC 24.  Nickel Silver frets are Vickers 230 which is around HRC 21.  In this case the SS wire is a particularly soft grade and can be cut with any old pair of knippers.  Interestingly, if you work harden the nickel silver frets at Vickers 230 you are likely to end up with a harder fret than the SS wire in this case. 

2. Alternatively, Stainless steel  frets suppiled by one major fret making company are absolute jaw breakers and while they don't tell their hardness it's not hard to work out as they absolutely destroy quality steel cutting knippers (at HRC 40) and their super jumbos cause plier recoil like a .44 when using compound knippers. 

Consequently, while some cutters will go through soft SS like butter, other SS Fretwire may prove challenging.  Also note, skinny SS wire has 1/4 of the bulk of supper jumbos and is easy enough to cut, whereas the fatties will fight you harder the deeper you go into them as the flush ground blades thicken up in the cut.

A major knipper maker recommend HRC  56 and above for Piano wire and stainless steel cutting and I suggest that this is a good place to be for the harder stainless steel wire.

My apols for being a bit vague here, but it's just not a simple subject.  Hope this helps.


"My apols for being a bit vague here, but it's just not a simple subject.  Hope this helps."

sorry, but without identifying brands it kinda doesn't. are you under NDAs with the fret companies or something?

the ones i mentioned from mcmaster-carr cut allparts and even jescar jumbo ss wire just fine, and don't look to be much different than the ones mark kane mentioned. what other "major fret making company" is out there doing ss wire? 

Thanks Walter, but I do not get involved with personal opinions and stuff that cannot be easily verified or validated other than someone (including me) just saying so..  We know what we know, I researched the subject for the forum  and I'm happy to offer what I found for consideration, however, this kind of "challenge and reply"  serves no purpose without a physical demonstration.   .  

We use Jescar SS in just about all all our custom/production guitars and Jescar do not publish their SS composition.  They do however recommend Summit tools at HRC 58 for cutting their hardest stainless steel frets.  That information is good enough for us and I have no reason to question Jescar's recommendations which appear to serve the industry well.

If the cutters you use and recommend do as you say then people should and will use them.  If they do not they now have alternative information which may assist them.

Sorri I cannot be of more assistance.


Rusty. .   . 

Russel, I admire your attitude! Great post.

"Thanks Walter, but I do not get involved with personal opinions and stuff that cannot be easily verified or validated other than someone (including me) just saying so..  We know what we know, I researched the subject for the forum  and I'm happy to offer what I found for consideration, however, this kind of "challenge and reply"  serves no purpose without a physical demonstration."

i have to apologize, my response came off more snippy than it should have.

anyway yeah, my cheaper cutters do fine with jescar jumbo ss (the 57x110, not that crazy-giant stuff, i haven't had cause to use that yet), they're supposedly rated to cut 300 hardness. i don't doubt that they'll begin to show wear sooner than something like those nice summit monsters, but there's almost a 5x price difference.

interesting about the low-grade ss actually ending up softer than work-hardened nickel silver! i was always told "ss is 300, ns is 200, and that EVO stuff is right in between at 250".

Hi Walter,

"snippy" I like the pun, and I was trite and stuffy, we'll call it even and no harm done.  

Fret hardness, not just SS in this case comes up from time to time and I was surprised to find what I found when I went looking.  The figures I gave were supplied by a leading aftermarket custom neck and body producer along with the EVO style gold fret figures.    I also had a look at what grades and types of stainless steel was available and its a huge range with many variations.

It was evident from the initial scout around that there was a variation in SS fret hardness from manufacturer to manufacturer (how many manufacturers are there - I don't know) as well as variations in fret wire hardness depending whether the wire has been worked/work hardened. Stainless steel can also be hardened by other hardening processes.  The  various grades of stainless steel are subject to work hardening depending on their alloy composition. 

This goes for nickel silver as well and reworking it will harden it considerably (also depending on it composition) which helps explain why some luthiers note considerable differences in batches of supposedly the same wire.

Additionally, as you note, wear factors in tools is a point that determines suitability and selection of tools in our discussion - we chew through a lot of stainless and as I mentioned in a previous post will likely change over to Summit tools so we do not have to replace tools as frequently as we do with our current reground knippers which wear out every year or so. Not being in the U.S. means that we pay high shipping costs (in this case for instance Amazon shipping of your mentioned cutters  costs almost twice the cost of the tools) and to do that over the long term compared to a one time cost for a long life tool makes the more expensive item attractive.  It's almost smoke and mirrors stuff, but it's all part of our staying afloat in a very lean business.

I hope this breaks out a few things for us to think about.   I regret that I don't have the time to be definitive here, and nor am I knowledgeable enough to do so, but I  think that maybe somewhere else out there is more good stuff on this subject - maybe one of our members can help with a link?




I use mine on Jescar SS (the only SS wire I use) of all sizes. I didn't look into the hardness of things (I'm hard headed :) but these cutters have been happily chomping away with no signs of jaw wear. There may be better cutters, but for 23 bucks these are hard to beat :)

  I'm a fan of Jescar, but as always, it's a trust but verify policy with me. These summit flush cutting nippers are good, but not quite the leap in quality I was hoping for. They have cut some big stainless, but not a pile of it. They will be usable for a long time with occasional touching up but some edge deformation is clearly visible already with normal use.


"work hardening" comes up a lot too and I don't know a whole lot about metal, but can anyone say why the small deformation taking place at the contact point with the string,(especially when bending) isn't work hardening the surface to the extent possible?


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