Using a metal box level as a fret leveling tool?

Discussion in 'The DIY Tool Shed' started by Cysquatch, May 21, 2019.

  1. Cysquatch

    Cysquatch Tele-Meister

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    I'm about to do a full level and crown job on my #1 and, this being my first time and my favorite fiddle, am probably being too skiddish about it. I've read Mr. Kirn's guide and am going to use his process, but just have a tooling question. I have a 24" steel box level that I figured could work for the leveling process, has anyone does this? I know Kirn was a big fan of the wide countertop cutoffs, but I can't seem to find any around me at a decent price and figured if I already have the level, why not use that?

    The big worries are that the level edges are significantly thinner than his big slab o' countertop and the edges aren't perfectly smooth to the finish. They feel almost like a fine file. Is the width an issue and would using something like a good double sided foam tape to hold the sandpaper on the level work to overcome the rough face texture of the level?
     
  2. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

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    I used a very old Czechoslovakian spirit level to do mine (on a cheap 12-string Telecaster guitar kit). It was as straight and true as anything else I could find in the house. I used double-stick tape - NOT the padded kind - to hold strips of sandpaper.

    I also read Ron K's guide, as it was my first attempt too. I worked very slowly, with pretty fine-grit paper so that I wouldn't take of too much too fast. The neck I was working on had a noticeable twist so that the first 5 frets of the skinny plain strings (1, 2, and 3) were too high.

    I ended up taking quite a bit off of those frets, and I was quite worried that maybe I had overdone it. But when I assembled the guitar everything was just fine and it plays really well.
     
  3. harriswho

    harriswho TDPRI Member

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    If you have a gut feeling that tells you don't do it then you better listen to it. The level edges are much thinner than a leveling beam and that could be an issue. Also the texture that your level surface has (thin file) might not allow double sided tape to stick strong enough. I wouldn't use foam tape because that wouldn't result in a strong solid surface.
    Since this is your #1 I would wait until other members chime in and give you a solution as they usually tend to come up with great ideas for cutting corners on a budget.
    Best of luck!
     
  4. ricardo1912

    ricardo1912 Tele-Afflicted

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    I've never been brave enough to tackle a job like that but I certainly think it might be better to practice on an old cheapie rather than your fave guitar.
     
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  5. Cysquatch

    Cysquatch Tele-Meister

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    Agreed on the gut feeling alarms. I may pickup a 16" beam from Crimson to be safe. Like $30 shipped, and I'm getting a build together so investing $30 in good tools to get it done RIGHT is more than reasonable cost sink. Especially if catch the bug and keep on building.
     
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  6. Cysquatch

    Cysquatch Tele-Meister

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    How fine did you go on the sandpaper? Glad to hear it came out right. I'm sure I'm gonna be sweating bullets until I get all strung back up and it plays right.
     
  7. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    In this day and age I think you'd have to find something that is machined to be flat enough to use as a fret leveling tool. I wouldn't trust any tool you can buy cheap to be dead flat. . Get the right tool for the job at hand and save yourself grief. Extruded stuff isn't that flat on its own. You can check the specs from an online metals place. YMMV

    https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Too...MIu_2Izf-s4gIVwbjACh2HlQppEAQYASABEgJ0j_D_BwE
     
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  8. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    I need my spirit leveled....
     
  9. hotpot

    hotpot Tele-Afflicted

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    I used an old squier strat neck with rutted frets to practice on before I tried a fret level on my "Good" guitar. I used a box level on two of my guitars with no problems whatsoever. I bought a crowning file to crown the frets and finished up polishing the frets to a mirror finish. I was well happy with the outcome.

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
     
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  10. The Angle

    The Angle Tele-Meister

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    I use a level for this job exclusively, but I'd say a couple things.

    First, and way more important than anything else:

    DON'T DO YOUR FIRST-EVER LEVELING JOB ON YOUR FAVORITE GUITAR!​

    Second, and this is also important:

    DON'T DO YOUR FIRST-EVER LEVELING JOB ON YOUR FAVORITE GUITAR!​

    Go to the pawn shop or Goodwill store, pick up a beater guitar for $25, and practice on that. The first time you do this, you will make mistakes. You will use the wrong tools. You'll think you have the neck straight, but it won't be. You will take off too much fret material, or not enough. You will crown the frets badly, and then not polish them enough.

    Leveling is not an art. It's not even that hard. It's a craft that anyone with patience and an eye for detail can master. But it does need to be done precisely, and that takes practice. Don't practice on your favorite guitar.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
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  11. Cysquatch

    Cysquatch Tele-Meister

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    Probably the best advice I'll get. Mr. Kirn did a real good job making it seem easier than it is and I think I may have taken some false confidence from it. Which is not to say he understated the work, he just overachieved in his instruction material.
     
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  12. The Angle

    The Angle Tele-Meister

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    Good advice. As noted, I use a level, but not just as I pulled it off the rack. I first leveled the level by sanding it on another surface that I knew was machined perfectly flat -- the top of my table saw. Then I checked it by pushing a laser level across it and seeing that the dot on the wall didn't jiggle up and down. Doing this thoroughly takes some time, but it will save a lot of cash. I wouldn't shell out for pro-quality tools (machined leveling beams or radius blocks, diamond fret files and nut slotting files) unless you plan to do many leveling jobs. The one tool I wouldn't scrimp on is a notched straightedge for straightening the neck. You don't want to get that wrong, and few other tools can serve that function.
     
  13. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

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    you need to get an old Czech spirit leveller then!
     
  14. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

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    OK, I won't argue with any of the above posters. Expensive tools are great, everything can be machined so perfectly flat - why not spend a couple hundred bucks for good tools?

    I bought a cheap kit for $85. I wasn't about to spend 3 times that for tools to level the frets!

    I know that many fine guitars have been built over the years without the builder having access to all these fine tools. I am cheap, and willing to try stuff. I am not afraid of making/improvising tools. I understand that tolerances are acceptable to a degree, and that when they are unacceptable - I will notice.

    I worry sometimes that TDPRI guys are so GAS oriented, they get the same way about tools. And they worry too much about possible negative results; they freeze themselves with indecision, and convince themselves that buying new tools will make it all better.

    Lucky for me I can't afford all that wasted money, time, and emotion. Certainly not on an $85 guitar. Sometimes you just have to grab the bull by the horns and get down to doing the job, without spending a lot of money on tools. Look around you, find something that will work. Your house is full of possible solutions. The local hardware store or builder's emporium is like Val-f---in'-halla!

    I had a friend, years ago in Alameda. Pete (RIP, hit-and-run down on his bicycle), he was a fantastic guitar player and luthier. His shop was a mess, guitars and parts all over the place. Pit-bull dogs chewing the corners off of your shoes! I once questioned him about his cleanliness and lack of apparent order. He replied, Buddha-like: "Jon, you are focusing on the wrong thing."

    These guitars really aren't all that delicate. Don't be afraid. Get to work. Do the job. It ain't all that difficult.
     
  15. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

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    I think I started at 240, progressed through 400 to 600, maybe even higher. I just used paper that was in my drawer. I know everybody worries about how fine it must be; but at 600 it's pretty fine. After you crown the fret, you will run the 600 over it again, and then polish it. It will be beautiful! After one week of playing it with normal round-wound guitar strings, you will look at your frets and wonder why you bothered!
     
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  16. Cysquatch

    Cysquatch Tele-Meister

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    I'm not too worried about polishing, because with my sweaty swamp thing hands, I can turn a fret in about 3 hours time. You should see what I do to strings!
     
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  17. cleanheadsteve

    cleanheadsteve Tele-Meister

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    i use a level also. but i didn't think about levelling it on my table saw top. thats a great idea. i just checked it with a couple of metal straightedges (yardsticks) i had and it seemed good so away i went
     
  18. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

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    yeah, but "sweaty swamp-thing hands" are almost guaranteed to play some good stuff on a Telecaster.
    and that is all it takes. Some of us are starting to think that guitar set-up is akin to rocket science or brain surgery. Yet another thing that a normal guy can't do.
     
  19. old wrench

    old wrench Tele-Holic

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    Using something as a "straight-edge" when you are not certain of it's accuracy is a pointless exercise.

    Expressed in a different way, the best you can hope for is good luck :)!





    Best Regards,
    Geo.
     
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  20. Keefsdad

    Keefsdad Tele-Meister

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    The going rate for a fret level here is $225. I'm thinking I could buy a few decent tools for less than that.
     
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