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frets level...but not under tension

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Jackadder, Dec 31, 2017.

  1. Jackadder

    Jackadder Tele-Meister

    Jun 12, 2014
    West Australia
    Yep, this is proving to be a pain in the backside. Frets are glued, sanded flat as a tack, crowned, polished, the neck goes on, excitement builds, how low will the action go?... the strings go on, tightened, look down the relieved fretboard - crikey! - frets poking up everywhere!

    Thoughts appreciated.


    Confused of Perth

    Happy New Year to all, hope 2018 is a ripper for you and yours!

  2. Clive Hugh

    Clive Hugh Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 15, 2006
    Western Australia
    Was this a refret? Oops I see the date.

  3. Jupiter

    Jupiter Telefied Silver Supporter

    Jun 22, 2010
    Osaka, Japan
    Are they unseated? Popping out of the slots?

  4. jvin248

    jvin248 Friend of Leo's

    Apr 18, 2014
    Near Detroit, MI
    Jackadder likes this.

  5. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    May 1, 2003
    Jacksonville, FL
    Doug 54, LowThudd, Jackadder and 4 others like this.

  6. Jackadder

    Jackadder Tele-Meister

    Jun 12, 2014
    West Australia
    Thanks for the replies, and Happy New Year!

    No, the frets aren't popping up, just a few here and there are slightly raised, keeping the action higher than it should be, especially on the low side.

    After levelling, ready for stringing up, looking down the neck and tilting it against the light, the frets 'light up' one by one in order, which tells me they are flat.


    After stringing a few of the frets 'light up' before they should, or appear dark .... the frets are uneven. This is a different neck to above, but illustrates the point (kind of).


    Thanks, Ron, I've used your method since I started making necks. I now take care to have everything as refined as possible: dead flat neck blank and fretboard underside, fretboard sanded with long alu beam until even, fret slots cut to depth and bevelled slightly to allow good seating of fret, fret saw matching tang width, thin CA glue wicked into slots after frets are in etc etc.......

    At this stage of my neck building evolution I'm not sure I could get everything flatter & snugger than it is now before the strings go on....I just want it to be flat and snug when it's playtime. Obviously there is a problem somewhere. I'm building a neck atm and will take 3X care with each step and see how it goes.

    Just to confuse things a recent neck came out beautifully, the frets hardly needed any levelling and under tension they are still pretty flat (but not perfect) allowing for a lovely low but still resonant action. After that I was expecting all my necks to come out the same quality but alas....

    I'm presuming levelling under string tension, like with the Katana system, would solve whatever problem I'm introducing, but that is one mighty expensive bit of gear.

    Thanks again for the interest.

  7. Jackadder

    Jackadder Tele-Meister

    Jun 12, 2014
    West Australia
    Forgot to mention I use a notched straight edge and tweak the truss rod to flatten the neck before levelling.

  8. R. Stratenstein

    R. Stratenstein Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Aug 3, 2010
    Loganville, Ga.
    Have you used a fret rocker to confirm that wonky looking frets are actually high? Once identified, If you can examine the bad boys maybe even under magnification and high-level lighting, you can see if they’re pulling up anywhere along their lengths. (Or other problems). If they are pulling up, maybe if you re-glued them, and clamped them down firmly with a caul until dry, they’d stay down?

    Also, check out the links that jvin248 posted above, if you want to try working on a tensioned neck. It doesn’t look to me that the Katana system works any differently than the Earlewine neck jig, on which you measure a tensioned neck’s curves at various points along the neck while tuned to pitch, then unstrung, and clamp the guitar in the jug again, and use the adjustment stations along the jug to put in the curve again. Supposedly helps diagnose and fix problem necks. The more sophisticated ones will rotate into playing position, so any effect that gravity has will be in the “proper” direction. Stew Mac at one time, published plans for the jig: I guess it was popular because now they sell an aluminum model.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017

  9. Jackadder

    Jackadder Tele-Meister

    Jun 12, 2014
    West Australia
    Good on you, Rick, thanks for the info.

    Believe it or not, the neck on the white tele has already had the two most 'uplifted' frets spot levelled after a fret rocker put them in the spotlight. It helped lower the action, but more could be done. That particular neck had a few shallow fret slots (lesson hopefully learned) so took a bit of levelling but it looked pretty flat before the strings went on; the two frets in the shallow spots lifted a little as did a few others. I actually levelled the frets a second time, but under tension the unevenness returned, nowhere near as bad, but there nonetheless.

    I did clamp and glue the two high frets before levelling but it was obvious the slots were a little shallow. I should have pulled them and run the saw through the slots but....... I'm almost tempted to refret that neck and try to get it spot on. It's my fave - profile is perfect and the fretboard is a dazzling piece of jamwood.

    I'll check out those videos. Determined that 2018 will be the year of the perfect frets!

  10. Davecam48

    Davecam48 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Dec 31, 2009
    Queensland Australia
    Jack when you cut your fret slots do you radius the FB before or after. I see people slotting the FB THEN doing the radius! To me that would shorten up the depth of the slot so as to not allow said fret to be fully seated in the slot.

    I'm no expert but I always level the top of the neck and then add the already radiused fret board THEN cuts the slots with the slot saw. This results in the same depth slot across the fret board. I press in my frets with an arbor press and when fully seated holding on the downward pressure give each fret about three little taps with a very small hammer to push the tangs under the next piece of "virgin " wood.

    I have always thought that leveling could be done with a strap arrangement to simulate the tuned up pressure of the neck????

    Happy 2018 mate!


  11. Mat UK

    Mat UK Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

    Feb 17, 2009
    London, UK
    Just a thought.

    If you’re assuming they’re not level based on the lighting up of the frets as you tilt the neck, could your eye be seeing a variation in the recrowning of each fret? Not the overall height? After levelling then recrowning, the previously particularly high frets and particularly low frets will be of different shapes and would probably reflect light differently at the same angle... if the neck required a lot of levelling the variation would be more exaggerated then say on your neck that didn’t need much levelling.

    How does it play?
    Doug 54 likes this.

  12. Jackadder

    Jackadder Tele-Meister

    Jun 12, 2014
    West Australia
    Good on you, Dave. All the best for 2018.

    I cut the slots after radiusing. I do a rough and ready radius with router/jig, glue the fretboard on the neck blank, cut it close to final shape on the bandsaw, sand the radius 80 through to 600 or 800, cut the slots on this type of jig -


    - not to full depth but deep enough that I can come back with the depth stop on, after putting in the dots and rubbing on a few layers of tru-oil, and finish them off.

    I knock the frets in, resting a long thin strip of maple or wandoo on them and tapping with a hammer, a few at either end and in the middle first so the strip of wood sits on them and doesn't dent the fretboard.....with care it all seems to work ok.....until the neck is under tension!

    I have been watching plenty of videos and reading up on various techniques; I like the look of the Katana but not the price and thought a Martin-style truss rod would do the same thing - some googling brought up this video:

    and this thread with another video by the same bloke:

    I ordered a U channel truss rod last night and will give it a go.

    Thanks, Mat. Yes, I was tricked a few times by the difference in shapes and had to keep fret-rocking to convince myself they were flat, but others were definitely out of kilter.

    The neck on the white tele plays well - even though the action is not as 'smooth' or as low as some others I have it's my fave to play, which is kind of wierd!

  13. Jackadder

    Jackadder Tele-Meister

    Jun 12, 2014
    West Australia
    Ah, just realised that's the one I found after much googling....should have just clicked on your link!

    Lack of concentration might account for some of my build problems :oops:

  14. Buzznut

    Buzznut NEW MEMBER!

    Aug 21, 2017
    If I'm not mistaken my reasoning was as follows (theoretically speaking, all other variables assumed as optimum like f.ex. amount of relief on the neck and saddleheight);

    * When you level frets with a neck which is too or slightly concave (hollow) the end result will be that it gives fret buzz in the first half of the neck as the end frets at the nut and heel are too low giving a hump in the middle frets which results in a 'uphill battle' up to the highest fret. Past the highest one it's going downhill from the highest fret (around 8-10th fret) giving no fret buzz.
    Increasing the relief in the neck with strings on doesn't compensate for this (thinking that the lower frets 1st to 8th will come up) as the relief works over longer distances and therefore doesn't fix the height difference between individual frets.

    * When you level a neck which is too or slightly
    convex (i.e. backbow) the result will be that the frets are too low in the middle and at both ends too high giving fret buzz in the middle of the neck (i.e. roughly between the 4th and 14th fret) and not in the second half as intuition might have it considering the result of leveling a concave neck.

    * When leveling under a downward slight slope you might incorrectly reason that this extra slope will compensate for too high frets anyway. It is the difference between frets that matters, not he slope. (f.ex. trying to create a fall away from the 12th to 21st fret which some luthiers oppose or too correct for a faulty neck-to-body angle so that you don't have to use a shim in the neck as a shim is considered a taboo by many).

    I know of course that no neck is the same and many variables are included. Thats why my question is hypothetically/theoretically speaking. Just want to know if i'm on the right track here with my line of thinking.

    Anyone reacting; I'm not a native english speaker so I not too good at 'slang
    expressions', very often I don't what is meant and have to bother someone over and over again to ask what his point is.

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