I've been using a 6in. file for leveling jobs, and i'm getting a little tired of it.  I'm feeling like it doesn't cover enough span, it chatters when it hits a spot that's really out of level and needs to bite more, and of course it leaves a lot of destruction in its path.  I remove all of the filing marks with a triangle file, come back and check for level, only to need to go over them again or spot level.  I always deliver a completely level board with fully crowned polished frets with no filing marks, but i'd like to speed up the process.  I'm considering grabbing a few rolls of stikit paper and a leveling beam, maybe the middle length offered by Stumac.

I went to diamond crowning files years ago and they changed everything for the better.  How are the diamond fret levelers from Stumac that are basically knife sharpeners?

What are your preferred methods? 

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I use the 16 inch beam, and really like it. I have been buying sandpaper rolls from Grizzly. 400 grit is my usual preference followed by 600 on the other side. I don't like hogging off too much material at a time and the scratches are easily removed. I have a diamond stone similar to that at ~ 1500 grit, but have never used it for leveling. However, I do use it to polish the fret ends.

Crowning files drive me nuts. I can't see my progress. Still gotta use the triangle files :)

We make our own leveling beams of various lengths of 1 X 2 aluminum that are burnished on a calibrated surface plate with self-stick paper.  Using magic marker as if it's bluing and in a little bit of time the beams are very flat.  About once a year we check them on the surface plate and touch them up if need be but for the most part these beams tend to stay pretty flat.  We use them nearly every day so our's get a LOT of use hence the occassional check and subsequent true-up if needed.

My personal set has 80 grit for board leveling, 120 and 240 for fret leveling, and at times for really picky players who want it taken to a whole different level we have been known to go to 600 grit on the levelers.  Each beam may bave two different grits on it because, of course, of the two available ends.


I find that once I hit the frets wih the 240 though side of the beam cleaning up prior to going to our fret buffer with 320 in hand and Bob's your uncle.

The Stew-Mac steel beams are pretty nice but if you go this route be sure to check it on a surface plate too so that you know what you have.

I really like the diamond fret files and they work in both directions saving time.  I'm not keen to use the diamond fret levelers mostly because of a fundemental disagreement in how one levels frets in the first place.  We want to treat the entire fret plane as a whole and never attack pesky frets in issolation.  Needless to say we can still deal with relief, fall-away, etc. with shorter beams but again this idea of simply addressing a few frets in issolation as per the "fret rocker" I think misses the point of a great fret dress.  Ultimately you want to see the fret plane as the strings see it - be the strings!

I just purchased a 16inch beam off the old eBay. $20 and some change. Should be showing up in the next couple of days. Seems like a good value same as SM hopefully it's true, a lot less money then SM. A simple eBay search of fret leveling will give you a bunch of options.

I use a 16" 1x2 aluminum beam and touch it up occasionally on a makeshift surface plate also. I find the 24" to be better for bass necks.  For necks in good shape I start at 320 and drop down to 220 or even 120 for very hard and problematic fingerboards.  The StewMac beams are precision steel and heavier than aluminum which might require less muscle.   I have a diamond fret leveler but find them too wide and too short for leveling. I've used them to touch up fallaway, however.

I really like the levelling beams, good heft, choice of sizes, the right width ( for me), and choice of grits to suit your style and purpose. 80 through 220 for levelling the board, and 320 through 600 for levelling the frets is how I usually go.

Ive tried my diamond sharpening stones for levelling and didnt like it. Too wide, not long enough, and there aint much to hold on to. They are great for sharpening stuff though :).

The thing I never liked about using a file, other than cleaning up the coarse cut they take, was that its hard to be sure theyre straight, and if theyre not you cant do a lot to true them. And if they are, they could still flex under pressure.
Hi Brian, I have worked on guitars since 1982 and quit using fret levelling files over twenty years ago and I can highly recommend the medium (16") and short (8")levelling beams and testify they work killer on guitars. The short one you need for the high register work but you might get away for awhile with just the one medium if cash is as tight for you as it is for me these days. They really just powder the frets as you level them, leaving no chatter marks. Depending on where you live, you might want to look up local auto-body suppliers who sell 3M # 216U Self adhesive (PSA) roll sand paper; check and compare what you pay and what you get with StewMac because you will get more footage at a 3M dealer. 180 grit works real good for levelling without making too deep a scratch pattern but you may want to just level or chase the 180 scratches with 220 grit. Make sure you use a felt tip market to identify or contrast the fret tops so that you can monitor the levelling as you work. If you know a friendly machinist who has access to a surface grinder like the one they use to work on engines and won't charge you the full on shop rate, then you can save money if you can source some rectangular tubing; 2"X1"x 1/8" wall thickness from a metal supply store: very common and usually the metal vendor can cut this material to the lengths you need; say 24", 16" and 8" if you want to cover basses as well (the 24"). What you want is to have both 1" edges surface ground flat. After that, you'll probably need to lightly sand any of the carbon off the raw steel on the two inch sides and then spray paint them so your hands don't get blackened as you handle them. Bottom line is if you can find a friendly machinist who plays guitar to help you for say around $25.00 an hour or trade for repair work, the steel shouldn't cost more than $15.00-$20.00 and the surface grinding of both edges shouldn't take much longer than an hour so you'd be looking at around $50.00 for a full set. Way cheaper if you can produce this tool locally. Also, one last thing the diamond levellers are virtually impossible to hold onto by themselves so think about a wooden handle epoxied onto it or a magnetic handle.Only buy the coarse one for problem levelling and know that you can work across the frets just as well as lengthwise on a fingerboard. To me it's kind of a luxury item and certainly not a necessity. For crowning flat fret tops and because I teach these skills at Fret Works, I have made it a point to try out and so own all of the diamond crowning files StewMac sell but it's the wide three corner file known as a CantSaw file I love the most. hope this helps...Best Regards

Thanks everybody, a ton of very useful information.  It seems everybody is pro leveling beams, and that the diamond plate style files are more of a luxury that are mainly handy for fret ends.  The repair gods must be watching.  I have a leveling job coming in after the customer gets a few gigs out of his way, and a nearly new Les Paul to do this weekend just after doing a little badmouthing of modern Gibsons in another recent post.  By the way, who at their factory is telling their builders you can cut every nut slot .010 off the first fret??  I guess the old file is gonna get a few more uses while I decide which beams to grab.

I've been using aluminum carpenters levels , which I grind flat on plate glass...I use double stick tape , or spray adhesive to attach the grit of sand paper I choose... I have rough grit to hog out especially bad fingerboard wood to level it , to 220 grit to level fret tops...I have 3 of them for different requirements , so I don't always have to replace the paper on them...Found them all at garage sales...Think the most expensive one was 2 bucks...

Had my beams out this morning and thought that I would post a pic.  These have been used for likely hundreds of fret dresses and are still going strong.

When it's time to change the paper a little naphtha works great to clean-up the old adhesive before putting the new paper on.

Hesh, I know you guys just moved to your place a while back but can't you spill a cup of coffee or something on the bench so it doesn't look so new? It makes my bench look bad.

  Nice beams. Do the lines on the side have any relationship to how you use them and would you please explain the masking tape on the ends?

Hi Ned:

Sure, the lines on the sides are what you get when the user, me...., is too lazy to clean off the marks that come on the raw stock.... ;)  So they have no bearing on how we use these beams.

We use these same beams on different sorts of instruments including mandos, b*njos, etc. so the different lengths come in handy.

Where you see the masking tape on the shorter beams is to let the tape ride on say the 12th fret while milling in fall-away on the extension.  The tape creates a very slight angle downward helping to create that fall-away while at the same time leaving the 12th, or what ever fret we want to leave in the rest of the fret plane untouched.  It does wear off quickly but with a little practice one also quickly learns to not apply pressure where the tape is AND to keep the tape over the fret it is registering on and not let that fret hit the side of the tape which would help tear up the tape quicker too.

Fender style bolt-on necks are notorious for ski-ramping over the body creating set-up limitations.  Using the shorter beams and tape lets us nix the ski-ramps quickly and uniformly.

We are about 7 months into Ann Arbor Guitars now and we have been so very busy all the while that renovations took a back seat to getting client's instruments done.  But we have been renovating lately with David doing most of it since I can't lift anything with my hernia...  So we all have new benches, lots of storage, a new customer area with a triage bench and instrument storage above the bench.  Even though we are MUCH better organized now it's still a work in progress and more is being done nearly every day now.

Once the place looks better I plan on posting a photo tour of Ann Arbor Guitars complete with tool-room shots, etc.  It's a great space with fantastic karma and has been a musical instrument repair shop for decades already.  That's why we keep finding copious amounts of hide glue wiped all over everything that needs to now be scraped off and pitched...

By the way our new benches are custom heights for everyone of us and incorporate things that folks wanted such as NHT speakers all over the place, new lighting, task lighting, our prefered guitar vices, etc.  

And I have to say that since we all wanted to be comfortable at work we are indeed getting there - the place is very comfy now and getting better every day.  Plus we are in the heart of town with dozens of places to order in food from. 

Anyway I'll post pics once we feel the place is more presentable.

Man, Hesh, I sure would like to come visit your shop at some point...


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