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Diagnosing the Need For A Fret Level

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by micpoc, Jul 11, 2018.

  1. micpoc

    micpoc Friend of Leo's

    Mar 17, 2007
    Louisiana
    I recently had a fret level on a brand new neck done for me by a fantastic local guitar tech; it is now the easiest playing neck I have ever owned (SS frets and ebony board certainly help).

    My question is: upon bringing the uninstalled neck to him, he took a quick look down the neck at an angle and said it would need a fret level. What are techs/luthiers SEEING when they look down a neck and make such a diagnosis? Is it something in the way light is reflecting on the frets, perhaps some unevenness? I am sure the cynical answer is "a big, open wallet" ;), but I do completely trust this guy, so I am just curious what the tell-tale signs of this are.
     

  2. The Ballzz

    The Ballzz Tele-Afflicted

    Age:
    63
    Apr 11, 2016
    Las Vegas, NV
    The signs can be many and varied! A trained eye is helpful for noticing them!
    Just Sayin'
    Gene
     

  3. Nightclub Dwight

    Nightclub Dwight Tele-Holic

    551
    Aug 12, 2016
    Pittsburgh
    Why not ask your tech what he saw?
     

  4. Bootstrap

    Bootstrap TDPRI Member Vendor Member

    55
    Feb 22, 2018
    Ohio
    I don't know how other folks are doing it, but:

    If you look down the neck at a very shallow angle, the reflection of a point light source (like from a bright lightbulb or flashlight) makes a line down the frets from the reflection of the point light source off each individual fret. If the frets are straight and level, this point reflection should fall in the same place on each fret, making a smooth, straight line down the fretboard. If the line is all wobbly, some frets are not level with the others.

    This is not as accurate as a fret rocker with a neck jig simulating string tension, but if I can look down the neck and see uneven frets, it's probably due for a fret level. Looking down the fretboard is also useful for seeing bows, twists, fret lift and other guitar neck shenaniganry.

    @Nightclub Dwight has great advice in asking the tech to show you what he saw. Asking questions and confirming observations can go a long way towards avoiding pricey but unnecessary repair/maintenance work.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
    micpoc likes this.

  5. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Tele-Holic

    870
    Feb 11, 2006
    Near Athens GA USA
    Exactly my thought.

    Unless a guitar neck is way off, a cursory visual inspection won't reveal that much.
     

  6. micpoc

    micpoc Friend of Leo's

    Mar 17, 2007
    Louisiana
    I will next time I go in, but that probably will not be for quite some time.

    VERY cool info; thanks!

    I knew SOMEONE would think that. :D And I hear you, but I have taken other guitars to the same guy where he did not suggest levels; he's honest.
     

  7. poolshark

    poolshark Tele-Holic

    551
    Mar 20, 2011
    Tallahassee
    Seriously. I won't say it's impossible, but I can't think of a scenario where *I* could diagnose uneven frets by eye.
     

  8. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Tele-Holic

    870
    Feb 11, 2006
    Near Athens GA USA
    I guess I'm a bit cynical from dealing with tube amp repair folks who seem to view customers as walking ATMs.
     
    micpoc likes this.

  9. Steve_U1S

    Steve_U1S Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

    Apr 23, 2013
    Toronto, Canada
    It truly is easy enough to see if it's extreme enough - and 'extreme' in fret levelling is an otherwise relatively subtle thing at times.
    But... I do the same thing - point the headstock at a light source and sight it from the butt end, and I can see a lot in a short time.
    Much as described above; variations in the pattern become quite stark when looking at those visual cues.
    Some folks / techs have seen a lot of fretboards, and have become accustomed to reading them in that manner.
     

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