FRETS.NET

Thanks for reading.  I've been battling fret buzz on several guitars and wanted some advice/suggestions.  I finally bought a Fret Rocker from Stew-Mac and started to check my guitars.  Many (various brands Gibson, Gretsch, Epiphone, Fender, but Ric's seem OK) of my guitars, both Electric & Acoustic have either high/low frets from what the Rocker shows.

I do need to really scrutinize each guitar to see if it's a High fret or adjacent fret is low before I go further.  My question is this, how much "rock" with a Fret Rocker is acceptable?  None or with a very small amount being more academic?  I don't know that answer but you all do!!

Also, if needing to lower a high fret, and with a very minute amount of rock, is it a proper fix to just re-crown file or do you have to file flat first then re-crown?

I would like to learn to do a proper & professional job, and do have a couple of inexpensive Epi's that I can practice on prior to the pricey guitars.  Also, if "I learn to fish I can eat every day" instead of paying for each guitar to be fixed that I haven't had much luck with in the past.

Thanks again for any council & advice!!

Jack

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I don't use a fret rocker, I just do a quick couple of adjustments with the truss rod and the bridge to set the guitar up with very low action.  If there is buzzing that is unacceptable for the customer and if I see frets that are not properly seated, I glue down the frets then do a LC&P.  This is a good way to salvage an otherwise decent import guitar for someone who doesn't want to throw down the coin for a complete refret.  If there is buzz but the frets appear to be properly seated, then you need to decide whether it makes sense to do a level crown and polish or refet so you can sand the freeboard straight.

Many of the budget, import guitars have poorly seated frets.  For those guitars, such as newer epiphones, I tend to glue and press/clamp every fret before doing the LC&P.  There is one in my shop right now with lots of poorly seated frets ES 339, brand new.  Fit and finish, geometry, etc... are fine, just lousy fretwork from the factory.  

Epiphone is not the only offender, BTW.

I use an arbor press for all of the frets I can reach, then I use clamping cauls made with the stew mac brass inserts and a quick grip for the rest.  Here is a link to my routine:

http://fingerlakesguitarrepair.com/loose-frets/

There's that awful fret rocker tool again.... ;)

For me this is the process of doing a "basic" fret dress:

1)  As Nathan rightly said check for loose frets and when you find them invite them out on a date...  Just kidding... If I find a loose fret or more I typically will at that point wick super thin CA under each fret (until I see it appear on the other side of the fret from the application side) and then clamp with the Stew-Mac Jaws tool and hit it with accelerator.  I'm careful to avoid any runs or drips with the CA (stuff is evil I tell ya...) and I set myself up so that I am spraying the accelerator in the direction of already glued frets so as to not contaminate the next application site and fret for CA.  Once every thing is firmly glued in place I move to step two.

2)  I have precision leveling beams that I made and flossed/burnished on a calibrated surface plate so I know that my beams are at least level to .0005" or so.  I mark the top of the frets with magic marker ink also taking care to not get it on bindings, etc.  Then I manipulate the truss rod to either get the neck level OR... address areas that need extra attention.  This last statement is intended to introduce the idea that I'm not just shooting for level but instead looking to correct any bad tendencies of the frets and neck in question that can be addressed in a fret dress without needing to do the board too and a refret.  So with the truss rod I may not be seeking a level neck at this point but I might want introduce relief, reduce relief, and even change the neck angle to a small degree to possibly belay the need for a neck reset. 

One can most certainly do a simple fret dress without going further as I am describing above so don't let this scare you.

3)  Once the tops of the frets are marked and the neck is level I hit the frets with the beam with the 220 side sandpaper and see where it's registering.  This process may be repeated a few times until I am seeing contact where I want it.

4)  What I am looking to do is have the leveling beam in contact with all fret tops from frets one through 12.  Often, more often than not, because of body humps, ski ramps, what ever... I may have to stop short here and use a short beam with masking tape over one end to concentrate on the frets after the 12th and on the extension.  Until these frets are out of the way you may not even be able to touch frets 6 though 12.  This part can be tedious too in so much as the extensions are often problematic as discussed in the ski ramp thread.  So I might have to reduce a lot of height in the extension area before I can concentrate on frets 1 through 12.  Know your player too so that you understand what kind of fret height minimum they require.

5)  Once the extension area frets are reduced to below the level of the 12th I can now use the longer beam on frets 1 through 12.  My beam has 220 on one side and 120 on the other side.  If a lot of material needs to be removed to remove say divots, etc. I use the 120 side.

6)  What I want to see is the ink removed from all frets 1 though 12 AND with the sorter beam the ink evenly removed from 13 to the end of the extension.  Or in other words if all frets are freshly inked after using the long beam on 1 through 12 I want to see the ink gone on 1 through 12 but still present on 13 to the end of the extension.  This is "fall-away."

7)  At this point everything is level, fall-away has been milled into the frets, the ski ramp or body hump although it still exists in the board no longer exists in the fret tops (some guitars will need the board addressed and a refret).

8)  Now I crown and usually won't remark with magic marker ink in that it can gum up my beams and files.  Once I have recrowned the frets I repeat the process with the beams and the 220 side and see if I have consistent and complete contact with all frets.  A few swipes of the leveling beam may be required but no worries I plan on a final crown too.

9)  This is also where one can mill in more relief where you want it simply by manipulating the headstock up or down and supporting the neck as needed for what you wanna do.  You can also reduce too much relief with the same process.  And of course a final crown once again to any frets that were hit by the beams in milling in relief.

10)  We have a fret buffer that David Collins invented that makes super quick work of polishing frets but the old school method that I use when I don't have access to the buffer is as follows.

a)  I fold and tear my sand paper into 1/6th sheets.  With one 1/6th sheet I fold it twice so that there are four layers and then fold that in half too.  This semi-rigid mass of sand paper is held vertically much like that old playing card in the spokes on your bike tire (Schwinn not Harley...) thing.  The idea is to go back and forth a bunch of times sanding the sides and tops of the frets and this gets the board too.

b)  I start with 220 and sand the frets as described above.  I typically have to refold the paper because this process tears up the paper big time at least 3 - 4 times to do the entire neck.

c)  After 220 I move to 320, 400, 600 and then unless the client is pretty picky I then use 0000 steel wool.  I might hit them on the buffer too, conventional buffer not the fret buffer.

Prior to sanding the scratches off the frets is when I do the ends shaping them as I do and this is also when I may use a single edged razor blade as a scraper to freshen up the board, scrape off dried CA, and just generally provide a new, fresh playing surface.

Jack if you have access to a surface plate picking up some 1 X 3" aluminum bar stock and you can easily make your own leveling beams.  You can also purchase them from Stew-mac but they are pricey.  You will also need a crowning file, sand paper, magic marker, and single edged razor blades as well.

This does not have to be difficult at all and I think that even a novice if properly guided can do a pretty good basic fret dress - certainly much better than what I see coming from the f*ctories....  Just keep the goal in mind which is to have the frets as seen by the strings be very, very level, decently crowned, fixed firmly in place, and the things that have been limiting the guitar's ability to be properly set-up addressed such as that pesky ski-ramp.

Good luck and let us know if we can help too?

I swear, Hesh, did you get straight A's in typing class?

Nice post!

Thanks Mark!!!  The credit goes to speel.... checkers and not me... ;)

I'm not in the fret rocker camp. IMO, addressing the entire FB & frets as a system is the only effective way to deal with fret leveling.

If you really wish to improve the action on ALL of your guitars, even the higher $$$ ones, do a complete refret after a FB dressing (re-profiling/change profile, leveling, remove any 'waves' or anomalies, etc), then a LCP, fine tune the bridge and adjust the action at the nut.  You may be surprised at how the FB dressing contributes to the ease of the LCP and final setup.

Personally, I don't recommend a FB dressing on instruments less than a year old (unless there are some serious problems which such action might correct), as new guitars need time to settle-in.

Recently (within the past year) Hesh Breakstone offered a highly detailed post that does a superb job of explaining why the FB, frets, bridge & nut need to be viewd and addressed as a system. Search for it in the archives. it's worth the search.

You beat me to it Hesh!!!! Your posts are always a delight!

As always, thanks again for the "graduate level" instruction (-:

Thanks for the info everyone.  BTW, The guitars in question are all under 2 yrs old for the most part and not been played enough for any wear. I have too many guitars & not enough time!   :-)  I'll put my followup questions in bold for ease in locating.

Sorry I'm kind of dense sometimes.  I do understand the idea of addressing all the neck, nut, & frets as a "system!"  What I don't understand yet is the Fret Rocker giving me unreliable or somewhat unusable results on high frets? 

I don't want to do any re-fretting or fretboard work on these near new guitars but would like to get those high frets in line.  If I'm catching the message correctly, it's NOT a good idea to just lower the high frets by filing & checking, but to sand down with the long beam & re-crown?

On Epiphone & Gibson acoustics ( I'll start on a cheap Epi), do you have to be concerned with any fretboard radius or if using a beam just sand frets "flat" side to side?  I'd rather be "dumb" guy and ask a question that the answer maybe obvious, than "STUPID" guy and mess up a guitar. 

Thanks again for the details & patients with a NOOB.  I will learn all I can, study what I'm doing, & TAKE IT SLOWLY and test results alot.

Jack

Jack,

"If I'm catching the message correctly, it's NOT a good idea to just lower the high frets by filing & checking, but to sand down with the long beam & re-crown?"

Yes.  Ask yourself this: if the 6th fret is low, what other way is there to lower ALL of the other frets so they're level with the 6th?  Although to do so individually by hand is possible...why would anyone do that?

It's really best to do your "learning" on yard sale specials (like $25 & less).  When you finally get to your low ranked Epi, you'll have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done, and more importantly, the experience & skill needed to do it.

Hey Jack, we were all noobs at one time. Only time and experience changes that. We all also learn something new all the time from the different posts on THIS forum. Ask as many questions and for as much help as you need. It's obvious that we all love to talk about the craft (:

Have a great week Jack,

Paul

 If you want to find out where the high frets are, the very best way is to play the guitar.  Tools can help you do the job but they can't teach you how to solve the problems that make the job necessary. If you want to learn how to dress frets start by getting good at set ups and then research fret dressing techniques. World class fret dresses can be done with 2 files and sandpaper and owning the entire Stew Mac catalog doesn't guarantee good work. You have to find your own balance between skill and tools. 

World class fret dresses are done by a Plek machine or a precision radiused long caul (such as the Stewmac aluminium jobs) and an experience technician along with crowning files, polishing systems and buffers and so on and so forth.  These methods ensure correct indexation and trueness from fret to fret, a near perfect radius from lo E to high E, (or compensation and designed assymetry/drop-off by a Plek) and a good relationship from end to end wrt all frets on a correctly and securely jigged neck.   Highly recommended if you can stretch to it.

They can also be done by long and useful experience and practice with files and sandpaper and the myriad other personal choices and age old techniques of many competent and capable technicians.

The choice is up to the individual and both are valid and the contributors to this thread have hit it well with the common theme that knowledge and study and tools coupled with a lot of critical practice will get you across the line eventually.......

I also fully support the notion that you should play the daylights out of stuff you fix to make sure it works......I have been embarrassed a number of times (make that more than a number) by finding that a level and crown etc which measured and tested well on the bench didn't survive the first couple of notes when strung up and set-up.

That's what I know,

Rusty. 

The fretocker is a fine tool. But it is of limited use as it doesnt matter which frets are high and which are low. What matters is that the frets are properly secured to the fretboard. Then, if there is fretbuzz from uneven frets while the guitar is set up with the desired action all of the frets need to be leveled at the same time. Sometimes the neck itself is too problematic for a fret leveling to be of any use; in such cases a refret is necessary.

A modern epiphone is a perfect testing ground for learning these skills.

Thanks again for all the great info.  I'll start my study & find some "cheepies" being sold or given away for my technique.

Jack

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