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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
    Western 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 Poster Extraordinaire

    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
    Western 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
    Western 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
    Western 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 Ad Free Member

    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
    Western 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
    Western 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.
    Jackadder likes this.
  15. Jackadder

    Jackadder Tele-Meister

    Jun 12, 2014
    Western Australia
    Seems fair, Buzznut, thanks for the post. And welcome!

    Right, so the U truss rod arrived and I stuck a bit of 400 grit paper to a flat surface and gave it a quick sand (straight edge showed it was pretty flat out of the bag).....

    Stuck some 600 grit paper on it and found some dome nuts to sit either end and in the middle of the fretboard to get the correct relief on the U-sander but the nuts were so inconsistent in height that I ditched them and adjusted the rod to sit atop the frets....yep, precision compromises galore, but as the frets had already been 'levelled' the U-sander nestled down nicely without any rocking on either end.....


    The Earvana nuts I use have deep slots so was able to pull the low E across into the A slot and hold it out of the way at the heel end and go to work gently working the U-sander in a shallow X across the frets. Looking down the neck the fret ends were pretty bumpy in a couple of spots so concentrated on them until they were flat.....hitched the E and the A into the low E slot and the D into the G slot, spread the strings apart at the heel and went to work....etc, etc.....yep, could have done with some pics here....

    As the frets had already been worked on it didn't take much to start taking the felt-tip pen off the tops but I could definitely see a few spots where frets were flattened off more than others.... once I was (too easily?) satisfied with the work I took the strings off, recrowned, sanded, polished - the usual routine.

    The result? Definitely better. The action lowered, particularly low E & A, to a very comfy height (low E under 1.4mm at 12th fret) and overall was so much 'smoother'. More impressive - a day later the action seemed even better!

    I've since U-sanded the frets on my latest build, a roasted alder Blackguard, and it too has improved. Given the positive results with such a rudimentary method I'm keen to try out the Katana system......just not so keen on that price :eek:....
    kingvox likes this.
  16. kingvox

    kingvox Tele-Meister

    Mar 23, 2017
    CT, USA
    Very exciting. And thanks for sharing. The more information and talking about leveling under tension, the better.

    I've been leveling frets under string tension for over a year now, after making some custom levelers. The ones I use are flat, and fit under the strings without needing to prop them up. Mostly I use one that is 8", and a 4" for spot leveling.

    Started doing fretwork about 10 years ago, and have seen quite a bit of variation among different guitars. Since I've gone to leveling under tension, I never looked back. Many times if only for convenience and speed. Being able to check your work as you go is *alone* a tremendous advantage.

    Anyway, I ordered a U channel truss rod and will be trying this soon. I'll probably try to make a Katana replica, because I don't feel like shelling out the money for what is basically just aluminum T bar attached to a U channel truss rod. Very good idea but tremendously overpriced.

    I'm particularly interested in your noted improvements on the E and A strings specifically. In my years of setups and fretwork, the E and A have always had the most issues with buzzing, even after leveling.

    I'm convinced it's because those strings vibrate in a wider arc, and need more relief than the thinner strings in order to avoid buzzing. Leveling that relief into the frets might just be the solution for that problem.

    I've had many times where the D, G, B and E strings all played perfectly with no buzzing and crazy low action, but the E and A were still buzzing, even with the action as high as 5/64" at the 12th fret.

    I've tried putting this relief into the frets with short levelers, but trying to level a specific relief into the frets with a flat leveler is a gamble at best. Makes much more sense to use a leveler that has a pre-set convex curvature that will, with sticky sandpaper and an X shaped sanding pattern, transfer the desired concave relief profile into the frets. U channel truss rod fits the bill.

    I've had decent results with my levelers, but have gone back and forth as far as where to set the truss rod before using them. I've tried getting it dead flat with the strings on, then leveling, then re-introducing a touch of relief, as per my set up standard. Many times that works.

    But even then I've had to go back and do it again, and the E and A strings are usually the worst offenders.

    Alternatively, I've used shorter under string levelers while there is the desired amount of relief in the neck, and just worked slowly, leveling one section at a time and testing until the buzz goes away.

    And of course I've done it the traditional way many times. Just got sick of having to restring the guitar, finding a spot I missed and needing to go back.

    Anyway, I have a guitar in for repairs that needs some fretwork. The neck is unevenly bowed after years of having 13 gauge strings and no truss rod tension.

    I clamped the neck and tightened the rod and it's much better now, but slightly forward bowed on the treble side, and slightly back bowed on the bass side. Surprisingly the buzzing isn't too bad, but it's evident on the E, A and D strings. I'm going to wait for the U channel rod to arrive and see if that can fix it.

    The flat understring levelers can work (they're called the "lite" version of the Katana and are just thin I-Beams), and I've used them successfully for a year now, but I can't help but think Katana is onto something with having a leveler with adjustable relief.

    But again...just an i-beam or T bar attached to a truss rod, so it can slip under the strings without having to loosen them.

    Thanks again for sharing...I'm always amazed that the Stewmac neck jig gets such high praise, but when you suggest simplifying the process and leveling under real string tension (instead of simulated tension) and having the added benefit of checking your work as you go, people look at you like you're nuts. Oh well.

    Let us know if you have any more results to share. Would love to hear about it.
    AlabamaOutlaw likes this.
  17. Buzznut

    Buzznut NEW MEMBER!

    Aug 21, 2017
    Hi Jackadder and Kingvox

    If I understand you (Jackadder) correctly, you swapped the low E and A fret, or to say it differently, you put the A fret in the slot position of the low E? Seems like a pretty novel and brilliant way to do it.

    1) When I felt the frets where too low on the nut-end frets and heel-end frets and too high in the middle after a experimental fret job, I started all over again with the sanding bar. With a few pieces of tape on these nut and heel frets to get just the middle ones and used a sharpie (pen) to mark the frets too see where and how much was sanded down, correcting by taking or adding one piece of paper tape. Same way some people do it for fall away for 12th - 21st fret.

    2) What's the purpose of the shallow X across the frets? I think I've seen it before in a video, not sure.

    3) I think the neck seems slightly warped/twisted. When I was finished the D- high E seemed ok but the low E and especially A string were buzzing. Hence my theory from last message 14 january that if the neck is straight on most strings it can reveal a backbow on the E and A string (in this particular case) on other parts of the neck.
    Glad to hear other people have the same experience too with buzz on E and A strings, Kingvox. So was the shorter 'under string levelers' the final solution for you on this problem?
    I tried to fix it with no strings on setting the neck/trussrod straight for each string position by measuring it with the notched straight edge on each position with loop-glasses on and a light behind it. After that, still buzz on E and A.

    4) They say that "fretbuzz is the hallmark of a fresh leveling job" and you have to play it for a while to get rid of it. I feel it could be true, not sure. If this is the case in your experience how long should it be played (every day moderate playing assumed)? One week, two weeks?

    5) I felt the tone was getting better, was able to lower the action and buzz less when I set the relief from 0.10"to 0.08" (strangely enough as you'd expect the opposite) on most except the A which remained more or less the same. It seems to me if there is a oh so slight depression and inconcistancies in some positions of the neck these are can be lessened by tightening the trussrod a bit.

    6) correct?
    *Much relief and low saddles = buzz on higher frets (12th-21st)
    *Little relief and high saddles = buzz on lower frets
  18. kingvox

    kingvox Tele-Meister

    Mar 23, 2017
    CT, USA
    The reason for sanding in an X pattern:

    If you have a tool that is not flat and has some curvature, sanding lengthwise will transfer that curvature inappropriately. Imagine that the low point in the curved leveler is around the 6th or 7th fret. If you move it lengthwise too much, all of a sudden now the 8th or 9th fret is your low spot, or the 11th or 12th fret.

    The X pattern is simply used to maintain the intended curvature profile and transfer it to the frets.

    Truss rod came in today. I'm experimenting. No set in stone results yet. I will say that it does seem to be working much better than flat files or flat beams for working on the frets on the E and A string side.

    You have to be careful with the pressure you apply too. The truss rod bends very easily just by pushing on it. Using the weight of the tool and a very light touch, and an X shaped sanding pattern, seems to be the way to go.

    I'm undecided about whether to get it level with the frets, or to bow the truss rod a bit more, so I file *more* relief into the frets.

    The frets on this particular guitar are fine on the G, B, and high E strings. The D is only slightly buzzy. The A and low E much more so. It has a twist in the neck, having backbow on the bass side but forward bow on the treble side.

    Maybe on a normal neck, getting the truss rod flush with the frets would work better. With a twist like this, tightening the rod into more relief seems to make more sense, as with the neck relief set where I want it, the neck is backbowed on the bass side. A lot of times with repairs you just have to work with the cards you've been dealt. Not every single guitar can be perfect. Far from it.

    It's not a good neck to give the truss rod leveler a fair analysis, I suppose. But it has helped already, which says a lot for working on a neck with a twist in it.

    The buzz has gone from bad to almost tolerable, but I'm not done yet. That's with the action at 5/64" at the 12th fret on the low E and A. I might've underestimated how bad the twist was. It could very well be I haven't mastered the truss rod leveler yet, though, and a different amount of bow in the rod while leveling might do the trick.
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