I don't do this, but I've started wondering of late if I ought to charge more for dressing stainless steel frets. The last job, an old Tokai strat with a Warmoth neck with jumbo SS frets, really played havoc with my tools + additional time.

What is the consensus out there?

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Hi Keith.  We don't charge any more or less to either fret dress or refret with stainless.

I'm aware that others do but our tools hold up fine with stainless.  The only difference for us being old Hesh here has hands that hurt more when working with stainless but I get over it....

We really don't see it taking more time either.  We do lots of fret work as well.

Just got done doing 5 stainless refrets for a single customer, all Ibanezs'.  I added a $25 up-charge per guitar, not so much for the difficulty of the job (I don't notice that much difference) but, rather, to "amortize" the overall wear n' tear on the cutters and files. 

Two of the Ibanez's were 7-string guitars and I didn't charge any more for just that fact... but probably will in the future.

I recently did my first stainless re-fret and I will be adding an upcharge as it did take more time dressing. It also took a toll on my trusty fret cutters which now have a gap in the jaws. And these were Channellock based nippers that I've used for maybe a decade or so with no issues.

Hi Keith,

Hesh + 1.

In practice steel steel refretting takes less time than nickel silver for a number of reasons.  With the advent of stainless becoming commonplace I we as luthiers have (had) to move on to using tools purpose built for stainless steel.

Sort of like farriers becoming tire changers and losing their forge for the press.

The notion that we charge more because our tools aren't up to scratch is nixed if there is competition in the marketplace and also its self evident that unsuitable tools will take longer to do the job and therefore, on a pay by the hour job will make the job more expensive anyway.  

Better to buy the tools and charge enough to amortize the tool cost than soldier on doing it tough with poor tools.   However, SS tools will cut through nickel silver faster and better so your profit will go up on those jobs over time, well and truly balancing the extra cost of buying new tools.

We don't charge extra for SS fretwork.



You make some good points there, Rusty. Though I already seem to be having one of those years where every penny that comes in seems to get spent on tools and upgrading shop stuff! =D

how do you figure it takes less time?

which part of the process is faster than with nickel frets?

i've been at ss refets for years now and prefer them just because i feel like the result is objectively a better value for the customer, but the radiusing and cutting takes the same time, the end-nipping is harder on the tools but takes the same time, and the leveling, crowning, sanding and polishing takes longer.

(i thus charge a bit more for ss, not way more but a bit more, mostly because i think it's worth it.)

the tang-nipping has been the big obstacle for me, i've been grinding the tangs back on a bench grinder which definitely takes longer. i just got the new summit tang-nippers and am looking forward to using them this week, but at best they should bring the labor time back to what it was with regular wire and regular tang-nippers.

so how are you getting ss refrets to take less time?

Hi Walter,

How faster?:

We index refinish fretboards on our full refrets with 20" Aluminium radius cauls which we have in increments from 7.5 to 20 inches.  We also jig up to do fret drop away with the same cauls.  Boards will generally true up to a thou or two, after which we recondition the fret slots to get them as standard as possible and then refret with identical radius, factory pre-radiused Jescar SS frets.  We use a calibrated pull on a two ton fret press with standard radius cauls to press in the fret.

For unbound boards we then clamp up the frets with the radius caul and wick in thin superglue from the fret end barb to fingerboard slot gap on both sides to lock in the frets.  For bound boards we tape up and apply medium superglue into the slots when inserting the frets.

This process gives us a 90% or better fret to fret accuracy result with minimal minor spot leveling required as the rule. This means no post fretting leveling or recrowning which is where stainbless really eats up the time.  Ergo, it's faster than nickel silver refretting in terms of overall time.

We mostly use diamond tools for fret ends and all ends are done to basic semi-hemi specs.  Full hemi-ends and precision polish are a upcharge (as they are with nickel silver).

For validation of this in case you are dubious:  I pinched this process from PRS and they have an even better result straight off the press. The tech spec for our own guitars using this process is:

Our production fingerboard radiuses are done with a 4 cutter shaper head and once the radius is put on the boards they tend to cup due to the resulting asymmetric nature of the board. Once they have settled we then mill flat the fingerboard backs, glue them to the neck and refinish the original radius with the radius cauls to get a precision fully indexed surface from end to end prior to fretting.  Jescar factory preradiused frets are dead accurate and no over radiusing is used.  For fret slotting we use machine cut 23 thou slots for rosewood and 25 thou slots for ebony boards and a 2 ton press which has just the right amount of feel for fretting in this system.

That's about it, hope this helps,


that's all really awesome, but i'm not seeing how it's any faster than doing all that same stuff but with regular nickel fretwire. what am i missing?

maybe a bit of a tangent, but luthier bruce johnson has talked about something he calls "smash leveling", where production factories press all the frets in at once on the big machine, relying on the straightness of the press and the slight squishing of the softer nickel frets to conform to the press so the leveling process can be essentially skipped afterwards. 

that "squish" is something that won't happen with ss wire, which may be a key reason why the big companies seem to be resistant to using it.

(oh, and i used my sexy new summit tang nippers for a ss refret this week, freakin' fantastic.)

Hi Walter,

"This means no post fretting leveling or recrowning which is where stainless really eats up the time.  Ergo, it's faster than nickel silver refretting in terms of overall time."  Nickel silver tends to need a little more attention  post refretting than stainless which stays conformal. 

Not having to touch SS crowns is a real time saver - not to mention retaining the factory finish and consitent feel that untouched fret have.

The process we use means that SS goes in without the need to recrown and level post fretting;   Its not "smash leveling" its just precision work and preparation and, as I said, is pretty much the same process that PRS uses.  There is nothing wrong with using a full length machine caul to do the final press on a fretted board - if the board is accurate and the frets are accurately radiused it's probably a better and more accurate way than a guy with a hammer and file.  Stainless steel works fine in this application as they do not need to be overardiused.

If you need to level and recrown SS after fretting due to inaccurate fret seating you will need to charge more as it will take more time.  Stainless steel wire will squish easy enough up to 1/2" over radius with the exception of the super jumbo wires - we use  a 118x57 SS for some applications and I would probably not suggest you overardius that stuff.

While I'm here, thanks Hesh for your input on pricing.  There is not enough said or explained about pricing our work on this forum.  

We don't upcharge for SS refretting   (apart from the difference in fret prices) but we do charge for our skills and quality.   We are expensive relative to the cottage industry guys however that doesn't matter as we always have a full order book with referrals and repeat offenders making up a goodly proportion of our work.  We are about to hike our prices 15 -30% after many years of  steady pricing as all our costs (particularly insurance and government/utility charges) are starting to bite a bit.    

We'll see how we go.


"Nickel silver tends to need a little more attention  post refretting than stainless which stays conformal. 

Not having to touch SS crowns is a real time saver - not to mention retaining the factory finish and consitent feel that untouched fret have.

The process we use means that SS goes in without the need to recrown and level post fretting..."

gotcha, and yeah, that would be a big timesaver. 

Thanks Rusty, completely agree.

This is the business that we decided to be in and as such it's "expected" that we are tooled-up and knowledgable, that's all on us....  IMO clients should not be paying for our tools or education.........  

To me the considerations that go into pricing a stainless refret are:

1)  Our time

2)  Market pressures

3)  Our value-add and expertise.

We are not selling just a capability.  We are offering our expertise and what I am speaking of is the precision that we do our work to, the care that we take, the overhead that we carry (are you insured and a proper business even insuring the valuable personal property of others) and..... one's reputation.

More specifically I only price in a manner that can be justified as "value for the client...."

Mix in a healthy dose of supply and demand and you have a price....

Now what we have not discussed here is that not all refrets regardless of what material is used are created equal.  Does everyone here work in a manner that does not create a problem down the road i.e. epoxy.... widening the fret slots, etc.  

Does everyone here work to a level of precision that matches or "exceeds" a PLEK in the hands of a skilled operator?

Can everyone here get reliable action numbers as low as everyone else?

Of course the answers are not always going to be yes and that's my point.  People bring us work largely because of our reputation and experience.  Our tools are likely never even on their mind and shouldn't be, again it's expected that if we are in the biz we are tooled-up.

On a side note we do a LOT of fret work.  Yesterday both Dave and I were both doing fret jobs all afternoon.  That's not uncommon and one's choice of lunch becomes as important as the work in the farting sense.....  It's only natural that two guys would get competitive with all manner of things....;)  Yuck.... that stunk.....  Rip...... etc. :) 

One client that we have requires action of 2/64th" and 3/64th" at the 12 for his 335, 175, strat, etc.  Not bragging, that's our world.  He comes to us because he gets what he wants not because we have Jesscar tools.  He also comes to us because we stick to our promised ETA and his instruments are always handed back cleaner, minor things not even mentioned such as a loose jack are addressed on the house, etc.  We are wondering if he will claim us as defendants on his income tax forms....

I taught sales and marketing all of my life for a Fortune Five company.  Here is a thought for you guys.

When pricing place yourselves in the shoes of your prospective clients and develop your price that way based on the local market, the local economy...., and where you think that you stack up in the pecking order of Luthier expertise and how this is how you may be known in your area.  Everyone has a reputation and players do talk when they are not high or drunk or what ever.....  Kidding on that part of course....:)

Then separately develop your price based on your time, overhead, opportunity costs, you know all the business person stuff.

Compare the prices and decide how long you wish to remain in business.... or price in a manner that takes ALL of these factors into mind.

We are not the most expensive in our region but we are the second most expensive.  I used to work for a famous guy who said be number one or number two in all that you do or hang it up......  Good advice and we tend to follow that advice regionally with our business.

Pricing should always be fair to all concerned and as easy as this is to say it's not that easy to do.  If you do lousy work you should rip up the bill in my view.  I tend to be rather militant in this respect.  If you do superb work you should charge what you can reliably get.  

If you don't know what to do always error on the side of the client, that's our rule.

I agree with your point about upgrading the tools, Rusty.

And, there is also a bit of a learning curve involved to consider before arbitrarily raising prices so I'll probably give it more thought and a couple more SS re-frets before I decide.

SS has been around for quite a while but only recently have I had the occasion to actually use it, kind of a regional lag, I guess.

In any event, I will need to replace my cutters and will be looking for something capable of handling SS.

As I have been purchasing almost all of my tools and such from either StewMac or LMI, any suggestions on where to locate a better set of fret cutters?


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