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Help me choose the Wisest Fretwork Tools

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by Tritono, Mar 29, 2011.

  1. Tritono

    Tritono TDPRI Member

    61
    Mar 28, 2011
    Mental Multiverse
    Hey! :D Im J.P., a guitar player and melomane from the end of the world (Chile). I need to buy tools to do Fretwork in my guitar (7 String guitar 430mmR radius) because Im very picky (extremely) about my instruments and Im not satisfied with the fretwork of the local luthiers. Is a real neccesity, a life or death situation.

    I need to choose the better, durable and wisest tools for Fretwork under the "Buy once, Buy smart" lema (an intelligent inversion). There are plenty of options in the market today. I need experienced and wise opinions to make good decisions because I cant go wrong. Im not rich but Im disposed to spent the neccesary money to equip myself with good quality tools.

    Right now this is my list, all in Stewmac (in my country there arent good tools for this job, I need to import. My intention is buy in one place hopefully to pay only one shipping). I will ask some questions about some tools:

    - Diamond Offset File 300 Grid. Im inclined to Diamond Files because the legend said that they cuts smoother and quicker without leaving marks in the frets (I need smooth frets). But I dont know if they really are very good and I dont know what Diamond File to choose: the Off set Model or the Classic Shape model. http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Shaping_and_crowning/Diamond_Fret_Files.html

    - http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Leveling/Fret_Fingerboard_Levelers.html of 16". I have a couple of questions about this:

    1) Is neccesary to buy a file or a leveling block like that to level the frets if I had a Sanding Wood Block that is of the same radius than the neck? I dont know if first I need to use a file or a leveling block and then a radius block or if I can use the radius block all the time with sandpaper.

    2) If is neccesary this is my situation: first I thought in bought the File Leveler of 6" and then I discovered the Leveler Block of 16". What option is better? the 16" is longer than the 6" and use sandpaper, the 6" has a file. Im worried about scratches and precision. Im looking for the best tool for the job! in some threads I read that a 6" file or relative small block is better than a longer one because the longer one dont wear all the frets equal, but all pro shops seems to use longer blocks with sandpaper :rolleyes:

    - Fret Cutter http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Pullers,_nippers,_sizing/Fret_Cutter.html Can I use this Fret Cutter to remove the frets with success too? in the video Erlewine said that you can use it to cut frets and tangs, pull out frets and bend them.

    - What Hammer is better: the normal one with plastic and brace or the Deadblow hammer? http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Hammering/Fretting_Hammer.html vs http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Frettin...etting_Hammer.html?actn=100101&xst=3&xsr=9525

    - Fret End Dressing File http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Shaping_and_crowning/Fret_End_Dressing_File.html

    - Fret Dressing Stick http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Polishing_and_abrasives/Fret_Dressing_Stick.html

    - Fret Rocker

    - 18" Straight Edge

    - Notched Straight Edge

    - Various 3M Gold Fre-cut Sandpaper. I need to know if they really worth the money because in my country I can buy very cheap sandpapers. If they are better, I will buy them.

    - 3M Flexible Polishing Papers. The same here, they worth the money?

    - Micro Mesh Soft Touch Finishing Pads. The same here too. All the sandpaper and finishing pads that I wrote about I want to use them to polishing frets (and to do fret leveling if I bought the 16" leveling block). I dont build guitars for now, I just want the softer and smoother frets that is possible to achieve.

    - I have in the way to my home a 430mmR radius block and radius gauges that I purchased from ebay some weeks ago.

    That is. I dont know if Im missing some tools. What do you think about them? I know that I can do myself the straight edges and some things but I want to buy real durable and precisions tools. If you can help me with some advice about will much appreciated!

    Thank you in advance!

    Regards,

    J.P.
     

  2. davmac

    davmac Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 15, 2003
    Wirral, UK
    Wow big question! I'm interested in the answers to some of these because I am just about to fret my first neck, but there are a couple I can give you my opinion on.

    For the leveling tool, I made sure I read every word of Ron Kirn's post that is a sticky on this forum. I made myself a fret leveling block from a 20x3" piece of 20mm thick plate glass and it works like a dream. I don't think you need a radiused block - with Ron's sharpie method that flat block will naturally follow the radius anyway, and of course it means you can use it with any radius neck. I'm sure people can get great results with a shorter leveling block, but I wanted all the help I could get and rationalised that the job would be easier with a longer block. As a side note, it has since come in really useful for other jobs where I need to sand something dead flat.

    I wouldn't be buying an 18" straight edge from StewMac. I'm sure there will be a local tool supplier where you can get something much cheaper. One general piece of advice is that if it is a guitar specific tool, I go to someone like StewMac or LMI but, if it is a more generic tool (like the straight edge) then they are usually so much cheaper at a local tool shop.

    I don't think a notched straight edge is a "must-have" either. If you're doing three or four necks a week I can see the benefit, but for occasional use, there are plenty of suitable workarounds. There's a good thread on this over at http://www.tdpri.com/forum/tele-home-depot/266174-do-i-really-need-notched-straightedge.html. If you decide you do need one, it might be better buying two 18" straight edges and then notching one yourself?

    The 3M products are great and last well, but I'll bet that the results you can achieve with them are no better than the results you could get with locally sourced products, albeit using more, and perhaps a little extra elbow grease.

    A couple of items you don't mention in your list, which I think are worth consideration, are StewMac's fretboard guard, and some sort of fret bender.

    Edit: Just realised this is in the Tele Technical area. You might get more response if you ask in the Home Depot.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2011

  3. Vizcaster

    Vizcaster Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2007
    Glen Head, NY
    Something you didn't list which I'd consider if you're ordering from Stew Mac is their fret guards - a set of sheet metal with a slot cut out for the fret so you don't scratch the fingerboard as you file or work on a fret.

    Keep in mind a fret leveler should be far more precise (flat and straight) than a wooden radius sanding block. the blocks are for shaping or cleaning a fretboard after you've removed the old frets, they're not precise enough for a level-and-crown job.

    A do it yourself alternative for a fret leveling tool is the sole of a woodworking plane (with the iron/blade removed) and some spray adhesive for 320 or 400 grit sandpaper. I've also used the cast iron bed of a jointer with paper glued to it. What you need is something flat.

    You can make your own flush-cutting fret nippers with a grinder and a regular set of end-nippers. It might be an issue grinding away the hardened surface of a cheap tool, but it's easy and cheap and can be replaced if it gets dull.

    A dealblow hammer is nice, but not essential, unless you can't possibly find a brass-faced hammer locally (try places that sell mechanic's tools).

    Make your own safe-edged files. Start with a three-corner file (usually sold for sharpening chainsaw blades) and dress the corners on a bench grinder.

    Instead of the expensive triangular "fret rocker," try the beam from a short 6" combination square (you can spend as much or as little as you want on those).

    You can make a notched straightedge from a plastic draftsman's T-square. They're not going to be used for precision work, just for eyeballing a neck and adjusting a trussrod before you do fretwork.

    Micromesh is also a luxury product and it's really a buffing/polishing tool that picks up were fine sandpaper leaves off - great stuff, but if you're patient you can do fine with local sandpaper and maybe a rubbing compound on a polishing cloth. Once your file marks and scratches are sanded off of the frets, a final buffing with steel wool is sufficient.
     

  4. Mr. E

    Mr. E Tele-Holic

    602
    Mar 18, 2008
    Texas
    Sorry to bust in but I'm also interested in fretting tools. I've been wanting to learn how to do fretwork for some time. I can't seem to find a guitar tech locally besides Guitar Center but I don't really trust Guitar Center. Besides, I want to learn to be able to do it myself. I think setups are fairly easy compared to fret leveling and refrets. I'm thinking of getting the Essential Fretting Kit from Stew Mac. It's pretty pricey. At least to me. The reason I want to learn is so I wont have to be paying lots of money to several guitars that I want to fix. I have the option of buying a new acoustic, which I really want, or getting this kit to learn how to do fretwork (if the kit does help me). I have several necks at home I could work with. Any feedback on that kit? Any alternatives (if any)?
     

  5. Tritono

    Tritono TDPRI Member

    61
    Mar 28, 2011
    Mental Multiverse
    Thank you Davmac. This days I was studing about the tools. I will not buy the 6" fret leveler, I will buy the 24" fret/fingerboard leveler and I will put 3M sandpaper on it. I thought alot about and seems to be an intelligent decision because it can cover all the frets at the same time and I think that you get more precision about the leveling with this way. Do you think 24" is a intelligent option for an 25.5 guitar?

    I will buy a fret bender http://cgi.ebay.com/Fret-Bender-Luth...item19c0b620ab this seems to be a very good fret bender: it can work with SS and with Pre Cut wire but I dont know if the fret bender from Stewmac is better.

    I will buy 3M sandpaper because it seems to be more consistent. I will put almost definitive list, please share your opinion with me.
     

  6. Tritono

    Tritono TDPRI Member

    61
    Mar 28, 2011
    Mental Multiverse
    Do yourself a favor and learn to do fretwork. NOBODY will do a better job for you than yourself. Is a neccesity for the guitarist. In fact, Im really excited and happy about this. My goal is do a perfect job but a really plus side of learn is that I will buy like 4 different sizes of fretwire and I will try all of them to find the most perfect for my needs. You cant do things like that with a tech. Fretwork needs time, if you want a perfect job you need dedication, love and time. A guitar tech needs to save money to eat and live so 95% of them cant do a really 100% accurate job IMO.

    Dont buy the fretwork kit. Take a look to my list.

    - Diamond Off Set File 300 grit (diamond files are smoother, quicker and more effective than regular files)
    - 24" Fret/Fingerboard Leveler
    - Fret End Dressing File
    - Straithedge 18"
    - Notched Straightedge (I saw like 10 times "Fret Basics" from Erlewine and the notched straightedge seems tobe really neccesary)
    - Fret Rocker
    - 3M Fre Cut sandpapers
    - Micromesh
    - Cutting Lubricant

    I dont know two things:

    1) What hammer buy: I have two options: traditional hammer for fretwork or the Deadblow hammer. Im inclined for the traditional hammer but I dont know if the Deadblow will be better.

    2) I dont know what Fret Cutters to buy. I want to eventually try Stainless Steel frets and the Fret Cutters from Stewmac will die with SS. What Fret Cutters are the adequate for SS and NS frets?

    Any advice is welcome. And for everybody: please learn to do fretwork yourself!
     

  7. Tritono

    Tritono TDPRI Member

    61
    Mar 28, 2011
    Mental Multiverse
    Thank you Vizcaste for your help, I dont saw your comment. Im not thinking in buy the Fret Guards because I will use masking tape. If you only use fret guards you will leave dirty the fretboard, with masking tape the fretboard is protected 100%.

    I understand what you said about the fret leveler. I will use my radius sanding block to give a final exact radius at the end of the process only.

    I want to buy the more profesional and durable tools that I can get because eventually I will do fretwork in my city. Santiago of Chile needs a decent fretworker! Im thinking in buy the 24" fret/fingerboard leveler and use sandpaper with it. Seems intelligent to cover all the frets at the same time to get a more consistent result.

    I dont have the tools to do myself fret nippers. I need to buy a very good fret nippers because eventually I will work with SS (I want to try SS because all the goods things that people talk about, and if I dont like it, I will put it out and install NS again.. is the advantage of learn to do fretwork!)

    Why a Deadblow hammer is better than a traditional one? I want to use the plastic face because I dont want to leave marks in the frets. Like I said, I want to buy the better and wisest tools. Do you think that the Deadblow hammer is very good?

    Thank you for your help :)
     

  8. Vizcaster

    Vizcaster Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2007
    Glen Head, NY
    A deadblow hammer has loose shot inside. Just like it's big brothers that you use for autobody work, the deadblow hammer seems to transfer all of it's energy to the thing you hit with it, and it doesn't bounce back. On frets you use the brass face either way, with a small brass faced hammer or with a small deadblow hammer.
     

  9. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Poster Extraordinaire Vendor Member

    Age:
    71
    Mar 3, 2003
    NJ via TX
    no matter what you think you'll need or not need, or what others tell you what tools to get, you will never really know what tooling will work best for you and YOUR methods and procedures of luthiery until you get involved and pay your "luthiery dues" over time. some tools are obvious, but there are many, particularly stuff from outfits like stew-mac, that are just more sizzle than beef, and some that still aren't completely thought out (like the stew-mac nut spacing guide! ack!). good luck and best wishes. seriously.
     

  10. Tritono

    Tritono TDPRI Member

    61
    Mar 28, 2011
    Mental Multiverse
    Well, the Deadblow hammer seems a good hammer for fretwork. I think I will buy it unless someone has an argument to stick to the traditional hammer! I know that is only a hammer but I want to buy the best hammer :) "buy smart, buy once"

    I understand your words very much. There are no way to know the wisest tools for me if I dont have experience with fretwire. But Im a very perseverant and applied guy when something interest me. I watched all videos that I found from experienced luthiers. Dan Erlewine seems to be a very applied guy and I saw like 10 times the Fretwork Basic dvd. I searched in Youtube for hours and hours and considering all the information than I picked I selected that list of tools. I know you are an experienced luthier, any advice from you will be of help! :) I appreciated your wishes, I will need luck but more important: I will need consistent discipline, dedication and vision!
     

  11. RodeoTex

    RodeoTex Poster Extraordinaire

    Sep 14, 2005
    Nueces Strip
    My best experiences are:

    *Fret file - I got a double sided fret file from S-M years ago with a wide and a medium side. Keep an assortment of various grits of wet-or-dry sandpaper to put over the file to get the recrowning done quickly.

    Fret trimmer - get a pair of end nippers from the $1 bin at your local hardware store and grind away the top bevel - same thing.

    Fret end file - forget that. I use a small triangular file to do a faceted shape and cheap emory boards from the dollar store.

    Levelling beam - yes this is necessary but you can make your own much cheaper from 3/4" plywood. I have a variety of them made up with different grits of paper so I don't have to be changing the sandpaper all the time. I use them for shaping the wood and the frets.

    Straight edge - absolute necessity. I have a 24" Starrett that is marked off in 100ths of an inch. Good for fret spacing layouts on strange scales too.

    Notched straight edge - What the hell for? Well ok, I take that back, it might be useful on a REcrown or REfret but unnecessary on a new neck, but still probably not necessary any time.

    Stew-Mac makes a lot of tools that are really for non-issue problems. I'm just saying what has worked well for me so take it all with a bucket of salt. I'm sure others will disagree.
     

  12. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Poster Extraordinaire Vendor Member

    Age:
    71
    Mar 3, 2003
    NJ via TX
    personally, i vastly prefer frank ford's luthiery philosophy over the somewhat anal mr erlewine, but to each their own. frank (www.frets.com) is a no-nonsense luthier that eschews the fluff of gadgetry in favor of simplistic functional tools that get the job done by eye and touch, as opposed to a myriad plethora of expensive "high tech tools". iow, a simple, solid fretting hammer is all you need - not a jaws or a press (though i have and use both, most of the time i hammer). an $8 staples drafting t-square instead of an an $80 stew-mac straight edge. personal preference plays a big role and that takes time, involvement and understanding. some things will make more sense to you, and will work better for you than things other folks employ. many moons ago i used a triangle safe edge file for crowning but jumped on the gurian burr file when mike first offered it ... these dayze, i'd be lost without the stew-mac diamond crown file trio. in between those three crowning tool types i tried lots of others that didn't work out as well for me. you'll never know 'til you try and unfortunately, sometimes (most times) you'll pay to learn. keep at it, have fun! ;)
     

  13. SamBooka

    SamBooka Tele-Afflicted

    Apr 19, 2007
    Montreal
    Tried the stewmac one for the first time recently. I dont find it faster than the traditional type (considerably slower actually). I DO find that is works smoother and for that reason I keep using it.
    Maybe I am doing something wrong.

    EDIT: A BIG +1 on the fret guards. You may have to trim one down to fit in the 19-21 fret range.
     

  14. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Poster Extraordinaire Vendor Member

    Age:
    71
    Mar 3, 2003
    NJ via TX

    the diamond crown trio is killer for me, i've just about worn out a set. it's faster, easier and with better results. to each their own.

    tried it and don't like the fret guard thing at all.
     

  15. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Poster Extraordinaire Vendor Member

    Age:
    71
    Mar 3, 2003
    NJ via TX
    ....
     

  16. Tritono

    Tritono TDPRI Member

    61
    Mar 28, 2011
    Mental Multiverse
    Thank you everybody. This information is very important for the guitarist that is aspiring to be independent. I want to do the things myself.

    I understand Rob words.

    Let me ask this and I will be more clear:

    24" length is good to do niveling? or is too much? 24" cover an entire freboard from start to finish.

    What Fret Cutter I need to buy in order to do stainless steel refrets too? and talking about SS, can I crown them with the Diamond File 300 grit?

    Rob when you talked about the diamond crown trio: what product is that? when I can find it?

    Thank you :)
     

  17. davmac

    davmac Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 15, 2003
    Wirral, UK
    Yes, I used to think that too, but a file edge goes through masking tape remarkably quickly. :cry:

    You don't need to buy the StewMac fretboard guard though. I made one from some soft salvaged thin aluminium sheet, cut with a stanley knife.

    With a 25.5" scale, a 24 fret neck is just over 19" long. If you're going to work on a 34" scale bass and it'll be a fraction too short.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011

  18. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Poster Extraordinaire Vendor Member

    Age:
    71
    Mar 3, 2003
    NJ via TX
    ....
     

  19. ricksconnected

    ricksconnected Tele-Meister

    384
    Feb 3, 2011
    down south junkin

    whats wrong with the nut spacing guide?
     

  20. ricksconnected

    ricksconnected Tele-Meister

    384
    Feb 3, 2011
    down south junkin
    "yer on yer own with s/s frets - no luthier supply has yet to step up to the plate and offer titanium files and cutters. you will destroy any other kind of steel file or cutting tool".

    why not just buy a good set of side cutters?
     

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