Looking for your thoughts about semi-hemispherical fret ends for 5 string banjo. I have a friend who is thinking about having a refret done with them. I found a tutorial on how to make them and have made them on scrap frets. Just wondering if there is anything else I should be letting him know about them.


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Seems awfully fussy for banjo size frets. Has this person played a banjo that has semi-spherical frets? They probably don't feel as great as the name sounds.

Some thoughts: I played couple custom made guitars at the NAMM show that had that style end with a beautiful finish and installation. They where cool when you looked at them or thought about them. While playing they did not strike me as a needed change from standard ends. I tried filing a few. It was extra work, and would take a bit to get the proper strokes and procedure for consistent work. 

Never heard of this. It sounds interesting do you have a photo?

One technique I've tried involves rounding fret ends BEFORE installing the frets, using a simple jig. 

It can be done, especially on a bound fretboard, but it's really time consuming, you need to match the length of each fret to the slot and you're most likely to need some work on the fret ends again after leveling and crowning the frets. A fellow luthier reports good results using a concave grinding wheel to shape the fret ends before they go in.

Personally, I'd only do this again on a very expensive instrument and charge extra.

This is how I do all my fret ends for customers (except classicals; That's one demographic that doesn't let go of tradition, and tradition holds that if you can feel the fret ends then you're playing incorrectly) and myself, and I do it on my banjo too, because I feel it's the ideal shape if comfort is your concern. I was trained to do it from the get-go, but I really picked it up from a coworker, a Japanese luthier with uncompromising standards that I doubt I will ever meet. In addition to the comfort factor, it just looks so good when you look at the side of a neck and it looks like 20+ tiny ball bearings are dotting the edge.

It's definitely overkill, though, and will add a significant amount of time to the process; It is a process where, despite my being a militant advocate of the style, I feel you are definitely crossing the line into substantially diminished returns, with regards to a "time-invested : practical results" ratio. Ultimately, you're investing extra time to make something, which is already everything your customer expects, better than your customer expects, and it's possible it's something he won't really appreciate (or possibly even notice) to the point that he's willing to pony up extra cash. I do it mainly to light a fire under my keister; A fantastic way to improve one's skill, in my opinion, is to do things better, then do those better things faster, then regroup and do them better still while retaining that accelerated speed and so on, and you don't do that by being complacent with what's comfortable or "good enough." Beware though, as this mentality can also be a fantastic way to eat into your bottom line, if you're trying to turn a respectable profit.

When I do it, I generally give each fret 6-8 swipes, 3 times from the top on each side of the fret, and once on each side from the "bottom" (coming up the side of the neck at an angle, to facet back the face) when I can access it. From there, I'll polish it with sandpaper or abrasive pads to 1500 grit, or with a foredom/dremel wheel modified with a round file. I'm sure it goes without saying, but be sure that any leveling you might need to do is done before you do the fret ends, as leveling the frets after doing the ends will ruin your presentation by adding unmistakable flat facets to the top. Generally I find it takes me about an hour to do a level/recrown/polish in this method, unless I'm really trying to impress someone or pay back a debt and decide to break out the micro-mesh and take the polish to 12000 grit. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but when you put in the time to get your fret ends shaped like ball bearings, you will probably find yourself equally driven to polish them up to have a likewise shine, as well. It just looks. so. good.

Semi-hemi frets were the rage about 6 years ago in the small guitar builder world and even a few pre-made fret offerings emerged for sale.

But it's all hype IMO because the goal and the functionality at the end of the semi-hemi fret rainbow is a fret board where sharp fret ends are not present and moreover one is not really aware of the frets when playing.

The exact same value can be achieved simply by addressing your fret ends as you described below, some swipes, going for uniformity, etc.

Some folks would do the ends off the instrument.... and then install the frets.  Sighting down the fret board afterwards the frets are not even and uniform and reminds me of that ole G. Giles tune describing Goober Goober with the green teeth.... :)

It's overkill, not necessary, and even in the small builder world the fad seems to have passed like a bad burrito..... sands the gas....

Instead a far greater problem on many fretted instruments is the rather radical bevel that f*ctories have been doing for decades now.  They learned long ago that if you radically bevel the fret ends inward, perhaps 45 degrees and even more at times, no skilled labor is required in the f*ctory to address the ends.  Instead some Gorilla with a sanding block can address all of the ends in 30 seconds or so.

What resulted is that valuable fret top real estate is lost and many better players wanted this fret top real estate.  We've had specific complaints from clients that they wished that they had more fret top surface to play with and this often leads to a refret but this time with no radical bevel and each individual fret addressed as you described Lee.

If someone insisted on semi-hemi fret ends I would discuss where they are trying to get with them in terms of the goal and provide them with the choice of nicely done fret ends as you already do or an additional price of X for the semi-hemi fret ends because it is a lot more work to do well including installing them all to be uniform with each other.

But it's hype, won't make an instrument sound or play "better" and on a banjo it's kind of an odd request as well.  I suspect that there is a real and present issue that the player wants addressed such as sharp fret ends or too radical a bevel and the perception is that semi-hemi ends is the way forward.  It's one of the ways forward, for a price...., but not the only way forward.

I was not able to attend North Woods this year having three kidney stones and being in hospital.  But I'm told that Dave Collins demonstrated how he does the ends with a three corner file and with the frets addressed in groups.  One swipe does many frets and in his approach what results is darn near semi-hemi frets but it's done after they are installed, all of the ends are perfectly lined up, and it only take a minute or two to do.  Folks who saw the demonstration were very impressed and I suspect that more and more folks will be trying this method out.

I already do it and learned it from Dave Collins.

The bevel on a "semi-hemispherical" (why can't we just say quarter-spherical?) fret end will begin in exactly the same place as one with a 45 degree bevel.


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