I am doing my third refret right now. I just got the Jaws2 from StewMac (the Bessey clamp fret press), and am using it for the first time on this guitar (an Eastman OM). I hammered previously.

My question: If I slide the corner of a .002" piece of receipt paper along the lower edge of the fret crown where it should rest on the fingerboard, and it occasionally slides under in some spots, is this a big deal? I also have been sliding a thicker .005" piece of paper along the frets and it almost never fits under the crown.

I'm running thin superglue under all frets after pressing, trying to get the press back on them as soon as I can after the glue goes in, and leaving it for 20 minutes or so.

The other two guitars I have refretted play well, but I want to improve wherever possible.

I'm not a frequent poster, so if I've broken any protocol, please don't hesitate to let me know! I did a quick search for "seating frets" before posting this. I appreciate any help you guys can give!


Tags: fret, frets, jaws, jaws2, press, pressing, seating

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Did you bevel the edges of the fret slots before putting the frets in? Also, I always clean the frets with acetone before putting them in, they can have residual oil/lubricant on the from manufacturing that makes them not stay put. Between those two things and properly shaping the frets prior to insertion, I can hammer them flush with minimal issues, and rarely press them.

Regarding the gaps you have, you'll have to decide about the quality of your work. The fetwork probably wont be a massacre, but it wont be ideal. But if you can push on them and they go down and spring back at all, I wouldnt count on the ca glue keeping them put. They should be where you want them before you glue em with the ca method.

Thanks. I did give the slots a slight bevel with a triangular needle file. I used naptha on a paper towel to clean where the crown and tang meet, sliding my thumbnail along the length of the wire, though it didn't look like there was much residue coming off onto the paper towel.

Hi Russel.

This is a GREAT question and the answers will be a good resource for future "truth seekers".

ANY gap between the bottom of the fret & the fingerboard would get "redone/fixed' in my operation. I personally don't consider that sort of fretting as professional OR quality. But then again, I'm super picky about frets. Your question proves that you're on the right track and striving for the best outcome possible. Kudos, man!

I've been using Jaws 2 for years when it's the appropriate tool for the job. It does a very good job as long as the proper radius caul is used, the frets are sufficiently over-radiused AND the fingerboard has been properly prepared.

Could you tell us about your fingerboard prep? You MAY be encountering gaps due to insufficiently prepared FB.  That's a common error.  Once I learned the 'in's & outs' of FB prep (2 decades ago), it made my work "click".

Best of luck & kind regards,


Thanks, Paul.

Ok, here goes... I checked the fingerboard radius before starting, using Stewmac radius gauges, and it looked closest to a 14". I decided to use my 16" radius block to change it to a 16" radius, thinking that since it was a 'cylinder,' I'd be better off the flatter it was, since as I understand it a string which runs over the surface of the cylinder at an angle--not parallel--to the cylinder's axis (i.e., the outer strings), will in effect encounter a slight 'hump' in the cylinder. And I read that Martin uses a 16" radius.

I used a Stewmac leveling beam with sandpaper to level the board, trying to stay parallel to the centerline as well as I could to maintain the cylinder, and after doing that, I used my 16" radius block with sandpaper. I made crisscrossed lines all over the fretboard to check if I was hitting everywhere, and I thought I did it properly. The idea of using a short radius block by hand seemed questionable to me, as it seems like any turning of the block could seriously alter the fretboard, but I worked as carefully as I could, keeping this in mind. The weird thing is, when I finished using the radius block, the 14" radius gauge still seemed like the best match, so I have been pressing the frets in with the 14" caul, preceding it with the 6" and the 9.5".

I only have 4 frets left to put in, but maybe another option would be to put medium CA (or another glue) in first, and then press the fret, leaving it clamped until the glue sets? I tried using the .002" paper along the edge of one of the frets while the 14" caul was clamping it, and there was no gap, so maybe they are springing back up a tiny amount after the pressure is removed. Maybe keeping the press on it while glue dries would solve the problem.

I've also been using a 'fret tang expander' that I ground from a pair of small nippers following Frank's description of how he made his. I've been doing a little expansion on all the frets. I have been checking each slot with feeler gauges before putting in the fret, and they are between .021" and .023 generally (according to my feeler gauge technique, of course). My fretwire is EVO gold, which is supposed to have a .020" tang and a .032" barb, while the original frets have, according to my caliper technique, a .020-.021" tang and a .034" barb. Perhaps I was incorrect in my assumption that it would be ok to use the wire with the .032" barb, so long as I 'expanded' the barbs.

After 'expanding' the tangs, I tried my best to correct the 'flattening' caused by the expander tool. I used my fret pullers to grasp the tang, and slightly bent the wire using my thumb, though it was not possible to get a nice, round shape on a short length of wire.

If there's any other information I can give to help clarify, let me know. I would love to understand how to do this properly and I really appreciate your help!

Yes on beveling the slots (just a quick swipe with a small triangular file will do it)... and yes on cleaning the fretwire with naptha.  Easier to do that before cutting each one to length!

I'll also overbend the frets a taste before putting them in.  How much is hard to say, but I always like to see a little daylight at the center of the uninstalled fret as it's held-up on the board. 

Then a dab of Titebond along the length of the tang (more for lubrication than holding, but it can't hurt) and press-away. After you do a few frets (maybe 5 or 6 in my case) I'll stop and use a fret rocker, just to look for the errant high fret and give the proud area a whack down before moving along. Then do the same thing after all the frets are in and before the Titebond sets.

Thanks Mike. 

Do you whack the fret directly or put something on top of them and hit that?

Thanks for the detailed reply, Russell.

Your & my FB preps are about the same.

I don't routinely use a fret tang expander. Only in extraordinary cases.

Another MAJOR difference is with using multiple radiused cauls.  I over-bend the fretwire on the ubiquitous fret bender. For a 14" radius, I'd bend them to a 9-10" radius. I then I'd use medium viscosity CA or Titebond for glue... applied to the slot before the frets are pressed and [in this case] would use ONLY a 14" radius caul for the pressing. Using a 6" radius caul first MAY be giving you your gaps. It's just a guess.

You can make a jig to assure your radius blocks & beams are always perpendicular to the FB.  6' of 1 x 4's and some creativity will get you there.  I agree that any deviation from perpendicular causes odd things to happen down the road.

I hope some of that info helps. Other than what I wrote, I'm out of ideas at this time. Luckily, there are many fretting experts on this forum that will contribute their knowledge & opinions.  This is a GREAT forum for learning something new each week... even after 4 decades of working in the craft.

BTW: Those Eastman flat tops are MUCHO bang for the buck. I'm partial to OOO & OM styled acoustics so I'm patiently eager to hear the final outcome. A pic would be icing on the cake.

Have a GREAT weekend :) :)

I will definitely try the single-caul method. I definitely remember seeing Dan Erlewine use a shorter radius caul to clamp the ends first, and I was pretty sure he used three different radii as I am doing, but now that you mention it I could be making that third one up. I do lightly tap the ends first to position the fret, so maybe that's all that's needed before the 14" radius caul.

My wire came in a coil that was a little less (tighter) than a 14" radius, so I figured I didn't need to go to the trouble of making a fret bender. It did straighten out after using the tang expander, as I said, and it was difficult to get it bent back how I wanted (see photo). Maybe there were some irregularities due to my re-shaping method which led to the gaps I'm noticing.

I just bought a used Martin 000-15m today (between the time I started this thread and now! woo hoo!!), and I thought to try slipping the receipt paper under a fret or two, and it did go in. Not saying that makes it ok, of course. I'd love to one day get my guitars to have the playability of a Collings. I'm trying to understand what the differences are between all these different instruments I encounter, and what kind of workmanship and processes they are the result of.

Would you have chosen a different fretwire? I really had my mind set on the Evo gold because of its durability and didn't really think about tang/barb size before ordering it. Maybe I should have, then I wouldn't have had to rely totally on the tang expander, and thus screw up the nicely over-radiused shape of my frets?

Attaching some photos... most of the time the .002" paper is a 'no go' as in the first photo, but here and there it slides under as in the second photo. (No longer the case as all the frets have had thin CA run under them.) The third photo is a fret which has been re-bent with my fret pullers and my thumb, resulting in a less-than-perfect curve.

I'm guessing you're right about my fretboard preparation, specifically the radius. I don't think I created a perfect enough radius all along the fingerboard to be able to rely solely on a brass caul to press them in. Maybe I should have inspected them better and used some light hammer taps to send them home. But even then, they would be well seated on an imperfectly radiused fingerboard, which is also not ideal.

Sorry for all the long stream-of-consciousness posts. I'm just trying to get it all out there to see if anything stands out to you guys as suspicious.

Thanks again! I'm having a great time but of course I want to get things as perfect as possible!

I would also say using the smaller radius press cauls before the actual radius could make things seat unevenly. When I do press frets, I pre seat them with a fretting hammer quite gently, but enough so they wont go sideways. Your problem *might* be a result of having to re bend the frets after crimping the tang - frets that get little kinks in them can be very uncooperative. I often bend individual frets by hand (though I havent done Evo yet) so it is doable, but you have to be careful - you cant just hold one spot and bend, sometimes you have to kindof slide your fingers along (think of how an english wheel curves a piece of steel. I also made a 'fingerboard' with a very exaggerated compound radius and very wide fret slots (as in totally loose) so i can place a fret in a slot and work it to the necessary over-radius nice and evenly before it goes into the actual fingerboard. I mostly see compound radius fingerboards it seems, so being able to adjust each fret like this is useful, and I get fretwire in a roll so its not nearly as much work as it sounds.

Ok, I'm going to take your and Paul's advice and try just the one caul on my remaining few frets to see how it works. I also think you might be on to something with the kinks from bending frets individually. 

I'm also now thinking that my fingerboard radius wasn't good enough to just press them in with a caul.

Thanks for all your thoughts... this is really helping me think things through so that I can hopefully improve all this stuff next time around.

Hello Russell.

These days we index the whole fingerboard with 20" long specifically radiused cauls, buy in our frets pre-radiused and cut to length (Jescar frets from Philly Luthiery have cheap international shipping or if you are in CONUS straight from Jescar, and press the frets in with the same sized caul in a two ton press (better feel than the little ones).  We CA glue every fret upon installation.  

We dial in some compounding and drop-away if required by way of final fret finishing up at the dangerous end, particularly with 7.25 and 9.5 radius necks which are going to be used for deep bending etc up past the 15th but usually choose a radius that suits the players if that is acceptable for general use.

Note, you can pre-form the fingerboard drop away by controlled caul tilt before fretting if you wish but as we use mostly fairly tall frets taking 10 thou off the high frets (which don't see a lot a work relative to the rest of em) up past the 15th is no big thing.   Similarly, throwing in a couple inches of compounding up there as well is fairly simple and dead accurate, as opposed to fiddling around with a compounded board and variable radius cauls.  

DISCLAIMER:   the luthiers who do the full compounding gig and have the right gear and knowledge levels no doubt do a superior job with their process - our technique is a best practice/cost effective balance used in a working build and repair shop.

We generally have a little spot finishing here and there with this method but most frets are withing tolerance straight of the press.

This method saves so much time that the cost of the tooling up is recovered very quickly and the wear and tear on enthusiasm and our knuckles is minimal along with the ease of polishing of pristine un-worked fret tops.



You choose the hardest way, Russell. I am by far the biggest advocate on pressing, but it is in essence very cumbersome and time-consuming. Learn the hammer first, then continue as you like.

Use a piece of fretwire as described on Frank's page to check the slot fit for the desired fretwire.

You will never be able to clamp and glue down a fret that springs back, no matter how long you leave it clamped. Believe me, I can't do it even on my 1-ton press. Assuming you have the proper slot depth, the only thing that can cause too much gap and springback, is either too wide of a slot or too narrow. For me 'cementing' the fret in with excessive glue is not satisfactionary and won't work.

If you can press it down to bare wood but when you release it it shows a gap in the middle, my bets are your slot is too wide. If the ends stick up too, your slot is too narrow.

I only swear at an arbour press. For pressing that is. The vice grips don't have any considerable leverage and you are not able to feel the fret going home. On my arbour press I can determine straight away if the tang fits snugly or not. Even if you are using glue, you still need a tight fit. Don't forget that most techs seep the glue in by capillary action when frets are have already been seated.

Make yourself a pair of tang expander and compressor. Especially with import guitars they are a must.

Just recently I was refretting an Ibanez electric that needed expanding the tang only up to the 11th fret. Could be that they cut them on a multi-blade saw and half of the blades were worn to death. The slots were super clean and deep more than enough so it didn't need any resawing done. Therefore, no unintenional widening by operator error. :)


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