I just saw a YouTube video entitled "Don't Radius Your Fret Slots!" by a guitar maker. He has both acoustics and electrics in the background in his shop. He said if you cut your fret slots parallel to the bottom (fretboard side glued to the neck), and then radius the fretboard, it will cause "dead frets" due to the dead air cavity between the arc of the installed fret and the deeper straight slot cut in the fretboard. See attached sketch

Every manual-cut fret slot saw system I've seen cuts the slot straight and parallel to the fretboard bottom surface. I ask because I'm thinking of building an acoustic dreadnought based on the build steps shown and described in R. M. Motolla's book, "Building the Steel String Acoustic Guitar," which employs the straight slot/radiused fret method.

I have a difficult time, indeed, believing Mr. Motolla, and every luthier supply house is prescribing a method that will produce dead frets.

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A void under the fret is not a great thing, but it is not something I would worry about. Keeping the void small and filling it with glue like superglue is good practice.

I do it like this. First, I make a straight cut not too deep in a flat fretboard with a fret saw jig. Then sanding in the radius. The fret cuts are then cut deeper with a handsaw with a depth stop. I use somewhat tough superglue (no. 20 from Stewmac) to glue down the frets and a fret press to seat the frets.

If you look at Fender electric guitars , the fret slots and nut slot are cut to the radius of the board . I don't know why and never thought about it . Also they used to drive the frets in sideways with a foot operated press , an idea I liked as the barbs never went down from the front and had their own cavity down in the slot . There are some amazing guitars that have flat bottom slots however .

Hi, I have been running a bead of glue along the bottom of the fret tang since day one. It not only fills the void under the fret but adds holding power as it oozes up the sides of the fret tang. A quick swipe with a damp cloth along the fret, and the oozed glue showing on the fingerboard is gone.

I never thought about it before but when quite a few customers commented that their guitars sounded so much better after my fret job, that they may have had dead frets before the re-fret.



Thanks Roger, Len and Taffy for your posts. I've seen filling the gap with Cyanoacrylate adhesive, aka superglue and thought maybe "dead fret" is a thing, therefore, use superglue to fill the gap and avoid dead fret.

So, my question remains unanswered. Is dead fret a real thing?  If so, has anyone who level saws their fret slots and arcs the frets along the radiused fretboard experienced a deadened tone on any of their frets?

So I revisited the YouTube video and read the comments, and boy, there were a ton! Most of them were regarding filling the void with superglue, which glues in the tang, or radiusing the fret slot by CNC or putting a depth stop of the length of the fret tang plus .001.

Then I came across two in a row, one by a guitar builder and another by someone who has experienced dead spots in a neck, but not a dead fret. They think  as long as the fret tang is seated solidly in the slot, things are good.

Those who used superglue with their frets used it mainly, it seems, to anchor the fret, which the tang is intended to do, correct? There was also questions about superglue staining the fretboard.

So, Taffy; thanks for your post. Do you oil, finish, or mask your fretboards before installing frets? Does superglue dry in the pores of the wood and prevent absorption of oil/finish or no?

Thanks to those who took the time to comment. Any more? 


Hi Mike, I have never used CA glue, I have always used Titebond. I don't know for sure, but my thinking was that CA glue would hold the fret but would be too thin to fill a gap under the fret tang as it would bleed into the timber pores more readily.

No, I do not treat the board first in any way. I cut my slots with a circular saw dedicated to that task, on a blank fingerboard then radius.



Thank you, Taffy, for clarifying the type of glue, its purpose to fill the gap, and removing the excess.


just a fixer, not a builder here

i've always used CA glue for refrets, on the theory that (unlike titebond or hide glue) it has no water to swell the wood and throw off the leveling, dries hard and brittle for good tone transfer, and can actually seal up the slot walls from absorbing moisture down the road

the trick is to use thicker CA so as to fill the gaps and keep it from running onto the visible surfaces

i learned from terry mcinturff to use loctite "gel control" from the hardware store because it comes with a small enough applicator tip to squeeze a bead of glue down into the slot without it getting on the board, and its open time lets me put glue into three or four slots and then press three or four frets in, speeding up the job 

Great input. Thanks, Walter!


The way that conspiracy theories get started and then prosper is that someone proposes an idea which - although it lacks any evidence, and seems contrary to lived experience - is nevertheless slightly intriguing.  Then they put in on the internet and people start talking about it........

What I would say about this idea is that it seems to completely lack evidence, and is also contrary to lived experience.  Pretty much every steel-stringed guitar that any of us have ever played is made with flat bottomed fret slots and radiused frets.  Do they all have "dead frets"?  What does that term even mean?

OK, sorry for the rant!.  My answer to your question is "no".


Thank you for your answer, and I agree. Then I got this suggested video from YouTube: "How to Use Glue for Guitar Frets" made by Stewmac. They say, the void can cause "fretting out," or buzzing, "and it just sounds better." Really? To who, and how much?

I've decided not to worry about it. I trust R. M. Mattola and his book, "Building the Steel String Acoustic Guitar." If "dead fret" is a real thing, every guitar built with flat slots and arched frets would sound like strumming a washboard.

This is a settled topic for me. Thanks to all that considered it and commented.


Hi Mike.  I am glad you have resolved your mind on this question.  Is this your first guitar build?  If so, you have many more important questions than this one ahead of you!  For example, have you decided on bolt-on versus dovetail neck joint?  I am not sure which is recommended in Motolla’s book (but I am familiar with his writing for GAL and his website is great).  Good luck with your building efforts.  There is plenty of online help here and elsewhere when you need it.  

Thank you, Mark,

This is my first build and I'm the kind of guy that researches first because I hate to try something a certain way and find out later there's a better way to do it. So I'm reading Mattola's book, Forbe's book on tool making, and watching YouTube videos, and my kit hasn't arrived yet. 

I worked for seven years in the template shop of a large aerospace company in the northwest whose name rhymes with going, where the standard tolerance was 1/3 of production tolerance or + or - .010 or less. So I plan on making a lot of the tools needed. One can dispose of a lot of cash in guitar tooling from what I can see, so that's where I think I can save some money. My wife and I have accumulated quite a bit of woodworking  tools over the years, which helps. And if I decide one guitar is enough, I'll sell the tools.

I joined GAL and hope to learn a lot there, on this and other forums, and from books and videos. I learned from this first post that if I'd searched a little longer I'd have found my answer, so I don't intend to be a quick triggered newbie, but I know there's a wealth of knowledge and experience here to tap into.

Oh, I think I'll do a bolt-on neck. I have a couple of '70's MIJ guitars that could use neck resets I intend to do, and at age 72, I don't relish the idea of steaming or heating off the neck of my first build in 40 years or so. But I do hope I can learn to play pretty well by then.



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