Problem: lacquer racking along fret slot on maple neck re-fret


I'm working on a re-fret of my made-in-Japan Fender Malmsteen Strat,  I've removed the frets without issue, used a triangle file to put a slight bevel to the top of the slots, cleaned them thoroughly, and stared to set the new frets.  I'm three frets in, and I'm noticing some cracking of the lacquer along the fret slots!  

Am I doing something wrong, or is this to be expected?  

Is this something more common with MIJ Fender necks than others?  Is this a halmark of poly coats vs nitro coats, or something inherent of both?

Furthermore, I've stopped work on the guitar until I figure this out, but what, if anything, can be done to keep this from happening for the rest of this job and others to come?

Please see attached pix.

Many thanks for your help!


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You could try filing the tangs off a fret and using it as a template to score the lacquer on each side. Cracking should stop at the scored line and the line should fade into the shadow of the installed fret. 

If you want to go crazy, tape off the frets on each side of the scored lines and lightly wipe acetone on the lacquer with a q-tip before hammering in each fret. Lastly, use a plastic hammer and choke up. You may be compressing the fretboard under the fret crown.

If this is a Mex strat it might not be lacquer and acetone won't work. A harder plastic finish like poly is more brittle and prone to shatter. The scoring trick would still work.


After figuring out the problems in seating the frets on this Malmsteen neck (detailed elsewhere in this thread) I successfully leveled and dressed the frets and re-lacquered the finger board with Behlen instrument lacquer.  I tried two different times since I last posted to get the lacquer on smoothly and the pictures represent my latest attempt.  Quite honestly, I think it looks pretty ugly when the light hits it just so, but it works and will play well when it's reunited with the body.   I had build up of lacquer where the frets meet the wood and tried to solve this problem by using a fine chisel slightly angled and run along where the fret meets the neck in order to slice off the extra laquer.  For the most part, this worked well but a few areas don't look as good as others.  Below are pictures of worse areas.   

Do these pictures look typical of a re-fret and re-finish of a maple finger board?  In other words, am I being too picky given the difficulty of the situation?  Or, is there some way of getting better results?  I just don't know if I could hand this neck over to a customer with confidence.  Fortunately, it's my guitar.  

What are your thoughts?


Hi John.

Given the well discussed "trials and trib's" of this project, you did a fine job (: The only thing I'd do in addition to what you've done, is to  perform some additional polishing to the frets with a high grade metal polish.  Simichrome is highly recommended.

BTW: being "too picky " is a very desirable in trait in this craft.  It's the fuel that keeps us all going.

Congrat's on persevering until you were victorious and for posting your results. I bet your next refret will seem, in comparison, like a walk in the park(:

So, how does she play now?

Again, good job and my very best wishes for a terrific new year,

Paul (-:

Hello Paul, sorry for the delay.  I've been quite sick with this nasty flu going around.  Anyway, I just got the new bone nut installed as the original had a bad chip from years of playing it.  Strung it up and got it all set.  It really plays better than it ever has!  I'm quite please, quibbles about cosmetics around the frets aside, it's a solid player now!   I even modded a pot to work as a no-load pot and wired the neck to it so I can dial in any amount of the neck signal when the neck is engaged - pretty sweet!

Thanks everyone for your help.  This has been a tough one, but I learned a LOT.  Trial by fire, but at least it was my instrument, and over all it came out well.  Onward! 

Edit: comment moot, wasnt think of finished maple fb.

 I would get some retarder and wick it into the fret slot/lacquer lift. If its nitro, it should soften and let you fret without chips. I would classify this as a might work scenario. At the very least you should have some solvent slow enough to allow you to drop fill. That is unless you want to make a plume of over spray. 

all water under the bridge now of course, but my first thought was, "why refret at all?"

those scallops are deep, so it wouldn't matter how low the frets themselves were, the playability wouldn't be affected in the slightest. you could have leveled the existing frets down to gibson "fretless wonder" non-height and there would be no change in the limitless finger clearance over the fretboard.


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