Fret leveling the old way, whatever that was

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by unfamous, Feb 13, 2018.

  1. unfamous

    unfamous Tele-Meister

    Jul 19, 2009
    North Georgia
    Stew Mac's neck jig is discussed everywhere, used frequently enough, I wold guess. So.....before there was such a thing, you did the work, strung it up, tweaked the rod until it was good? Went though lots of tune-ups (and downs) to reach an acceptable result? What about instrument without adjustable rods?
  2. DrASATele

    DrASATele Poster Extraordinaire

    Jul 6, 2012
    North of Boston
    I believe shims and girth we used to counter act the tension from the strings in those original no truss rod fenders. I think there's one guy with a story somewhere here who did an inch + thickness and had to re-plane it flat once or twice after initially getting it set up. It might have been pine too come to think of it. I wish I could remember the name, I feel like I've seen it a lot on the forum. Anyway, there's some of the answer, re-planning, shims, and additional thickness.
    Depending on what your resources are steaming and re-setting, on an acoustic or gibby like guitar, might also be an option to fix issues.
  3. DrASATele

    DrASATele Poster Extraordinaire

    Jul 6, 2012
    North of Boston
  4. unfamous

    unfamous Tele-Meister

    Jul 19, 2009
    North Georgia
    Thanks for those links.
    My question in less about neck stability than how does one achieve an acceptable result in fret leveling without a stew-mac or similar jig.
  5. DrASATele

    DrASATele Poster Extraordinaire

    Jul 6, 2012
    North of Boston
    Trial and error, which is what Bill had to deal with after he built his no truss rod neck.
    I would imagine how you compensate for issues that a rise after you first get it set up. It should set up fine tweaking the nut and saddles like you normally would. A shim if you have any issue with angle towards the bridge. After that planning and such.
  6. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Mar 30, 2003
    Ontario County
    You don't need a jig. You straighten the neck with a straightedge on top of the frets. You mask the fretboard off and put sharpie on them. Then you use a dead flat material with sticky back sandpaper on it and level the frets. No jig necessary. You could also do the same with a straight mill file...which is the old school way. Half the crap that you see people using wasn't around 20 years ago and yet people leveled their frets.... If your livelihood depends on cranking out repairs, then a lot of those nifty things could help you speed up the process.... If you are a just a hobbiest...well it just takes more time and maybe a bit more effort.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
  7. Dacious

    Dacious Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 16, 2003
    Take strings off. Lay your guitar on a workbench or table with old blanket underneath. Back off the truss rod until the neck is level checked with straightedge.

    Swathe the sides/binding and fretboard between frets with painters tape. Use a black felt tip pen to draw a stripe along the crown of each fret. Using a medium flat bastard, file until the divots are gone, using the bright metal showing through the black marker to get the frets even, using your straight edge and s small steel ruler to check for high points.

    Once you're confident you have level frets use a fret crowning file to round the sharp edges. You don't need a rounded top, just the edges.

    Then you can either 200-400-800 wetanddry each fret smooth to take out the file marks or a small Dremel polishing wheel/compound.

    Check the frets with your fingers to make sure they feel smooth otherwise you'll feel and hear it if there's filemarks

    Take off tape, adjust truss rod. You will probably need to recut your nut slots slightly to reset string height.

    Restring, play.
  8. unfamous

    unfamous Tele-Meister

    Jul 19, 2009
    North Georgia
  9. Strato50

    Strato50 Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 30, 2017
    Port Arthur TX
    I have never once after a setup had to adjust an All Parts TMO or TRO...and I live in the most crazy climate you're going to find. Girth is the way to go..JMO
  10. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Jul 18, 2010
    As far as I can tell, these jigs are very expensive bloat. Unnecessary, difficult to use (relative to the ease of working without one), and bulky. In theory, they do produce a better result, but it's so slight, it's nearly negligible.

    Consider an ideally built, brand new neck, with perfectly level frets.

    Now consider levelling the easy (normal) way. Remove strings, set neck dead flat, level and crown frets, restring, setup, play. There's no trial and error here, and the result is the same as when the neck was new, except the frets have a bit less height overall.

    This really and truly is "good enough", 99% of the time.

    Now consider the optimal setup, and the geometric relationships of string, frets, saddle. It gets more complicated when we factor in the ellipse created by a vibrating string. We usually prefer a bit of relief (.005") to accommodate this, and to get the same buzz-free playing, but with the strings closer to the fret tops (lower action). Once we curve that neck, the perfect geometry created by our level frets is skewed. Also, thanks to string tension, the neck has opposing tensile forces on the front and back of the neck (compression and stretching, respectively).

    Addressing these factors may assist in getting a hair-splittingly-low-action setup, especially if dealing with a 'problem' neck (twisted, for example).

    How does a jig help? The ONLY thing it does different is to account for neck relief. You're able to level the frets while the neck has the same curve it will under playing conditions. A jig cannot completely emulate the playing conditions, because it doesn't address the tensile forces.

    To sum up:

    1. The normal levelling method produces the same condition as a brand new neck - level frets on a level neck.
    2. This is almost always perfectly good enough, even for picky low action players.
    3. Jigs only address one of the two differences between fretting and playing conditions - relief.
    4. Most of us won't work on enough problem necks to need the subtle added benefit of a jig.
  11. trev333

    trev333 Telefied Ad Free Member

    masking tape, a texta pen, straight edge like a builders level, an Allen key to tweak it straight.....
    and a good old fine flat file that isn't too sharp...

    I play it like a piano with fingers of both hands on the file and just move it back and forth in a straight line as you work across/ up the neck ...hardly any pressure ....

    you soon see any high/low spots as the texta wears off...... the next run through you can try some more pressure to get those low spots.

    then crown/sand/polish them while the tape is still on....

    sitting at a table is a good spot.. :)

    Turser neck fret job.JPG
  12. philosofriend

    philosofriend Tele-Holic

    Oct 28, 2015
    There have always been a lot of ways to approach this. I used to make guitars better using a dead-flat fine tooth file or a large flat sharpening stone. Now I use a sharpie and sandpaper glued on a 16 inch aluminum level. More important than the tools you use are having a determination to have your strokes go as straight as you can down the lines of the strings, and keep on staring at the frets as you want to take off just enough metal to have the top of each fret just barely touched all the way across.

    The jig helps Dan with guitar necks that are weak and rubbery. Most guitars don't need any such thing.
    PhredE likes this.
  13. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Jul 18, 2010
    With no adjustable truss rod, compression fretting can be used to force a slight back bow in the unstrung neck. Certain frets are replaced with 'bar' frets, or any fret with a thicker tang.
  14. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Meister

    Sep 25, 2017
    Suburban PDX, OR
    +1. Yup.

    Another handy technique is to use a smaller metallic edge that is perfectly flat/straight to check 3 frets at a time. If the one being examined (the 'middle' one at any given fret) is markedly higher than the surrounding ones, you can notice it much easier and mark it for later work too.
    And.. I'd recommend having at least a decent and inexpensive crowning file handy in case you really have to level a lot on a fret or two -- that way, you can restore that semi-circular profile to the fret(s) after you've flattened to the top. (Learned this by painful experience first-hand). There is a common Chinese-made knock off out there on the net for about $4-$10 I've seen.

    After all that, a good polish and clean up and you're good to go.
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