Couple of questions about fret leveling

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by Fenderbendr, Mar 18, 2019.

  1. Fenderbendr

    Fenderbendr TDPRI Member

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    So I’m attempting to level the frets on some of my guitars, but I’m having some trouble with a couple things.

    I have all the correct tools to level, crown, and polish the frets, but I’m getting stuck on the leveling part. I’m following Ron Kirn’s guide, and I’m using a marble threshold from Home Depot with some 320 grit sticky back sandpaper stuck to the marble part of it.

    I tried using his method to get the neck straight before sanding the frets, but on both of the guitars I’ve tried it on, there’s always a couple frets in the middle that don’t get touched, no matter how I adjust the truss rod. After getting it as straight as I could, I started leveling the two guitar necks, and even after a solid 30 minutes of sanding all the frets like Ron says to do, there’s still frets in the middle that won’t get touched. I don’t think it should take this long to do it.

    Could my marble threshold not be level? I checked it with a straightedge and it seemed pretty level to me.

    Any help would be appreciated.
     
  2. boredguy6060

    boredguy6060 Friend of Leo's

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    What radius neck are you working on?
     
  3. boredguy6060

    boredguy6060 Friend of Leo's

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    Ok, so you’re marking the fret tops with a a Sharpie, and after adjusting the truss rod so that the neck is dead flat, you sand the frets with your leveling tool, but there are frets in the center of the fretboard that aren’t even touching the sand paper?
     
  4. Fenderbendr

    Fenderbendr TDPRI Member

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    The first one I tried it on was a cheap squire strat with a 9.5 radius, and right now I’m trying to do a Kramer Focus 6000 with a 14 inch or so radius. I don’t think it’s a compound radius either.
     
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  5. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    IDK if the threshold could be off, HD is a mixed bag.
    IDK how exactly you straightened the neck either, but you say you then readjusted the truss rod after dressing the frets for a while?
    If you over tighten the truss rod for some back bow, and then dress the frets level, you will have some dressed in relief, but the middle frets will be lower.
    Not the worst situation, but not ideal either.

    It might be best to finish one neck before starting two, so you get the whole picture in your head.

    Are there lots of untouched frets?
    Or just two?

    How did you level the neck before dressing?
     
  6. dkmw

    dkmw Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    It could be that your 320 paper just isn't cutting fast enough. Ron advises using 180.

    But what you're describing would definitely correspond to what you'd see if neck had slight bow. You need one of those straightedges with fret slots cut in it to see if the board is truly level.
     
  7. boredguy6060

    boredguy6060 Friend of Leo's

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    I prefer to use a radius beam or radius blocks to level frets.
    A piece of Corian is of course flat and it requires a little technic to match the radius of the neck when sanding, but that really isn’t the problem you’re experiencing.
    Any chance you’re pushing to hard and causing the neck to sag in the center?
     
  8. Fenderbendr

    Fenderbendr TDPRI Member

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    Well, I’m saying that according to Ron’s guide, the neck is ready to level when you give the leveling beam a slight shove and all the frets get grounded a little. If thery’re not all getting hit, you have to adjust the truss rod. When I tried using that method, there’s always some that aren’t getting touched in the middle of the fretboard.

    No, I didn’t adjust it after sanding them for a while. Like I said above, Ron’s guide says to give the beam a slight shove, and when all the frets are getting hit, you can start leveling them. If there’s some that aren’t, you adjust the rod until they are all getting touched. I’m the guitar I’m doing now, there’s about 7 frets in the muddle that won’t get touched. On my other one, there’s like 3-4.

    How long on average should it take to level all the frets? I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I spend 30 minutes doing it and there’s still some frets that aren’t getting touched.
     
  9. Doghouse_Riley

    Doghouse_Riley Tele-Afflicted

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    I've done 2 fret leveling jobs and I'm getting ready do a third. So I'm not a noob but I'm no expert either. YMMV.

    I agree with starting off with straightening the neck with a notched straight edge. I also tap down all the frets to make sure they are properly seated and then check them with a fret rocker before I start leveling.

    Ron Kirn's write up is great. I also checked out a few YouTube videos. I found watching somebody doing the leveling was beneficial as well as reading about it.
     
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  10. Fenderbendr

    Fenderbendr TDPRI Member

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    Yeah, I might have to try getting one of those and some 180 grit sandpaper.
    I’m not using any pressure at all, as the threshold is already a little heavy itself and applies enough pressure as is.
    Yeah, I’ve watched a few videos too, especially about how to crown the frets. I guess I can try tapping down the frets to see if that’ll help.
     
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  11. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    We just can't know what's up with the necks and the methods.
    I'm also not a used of Ron's method, nor have I dressed with sandpaper, always used files which cut faster.
    Could be the 320 is cutting slow, but if the Kirm method said the adjust the rod so the marble leveling beam hits all frets before you begin leveling, it sounds like you didn't follow the instructions?

    Again though, I don't use Ron's method and generally assume that frets need leveling because some are lower than others, so the low frets will not be touched at the beginning.

    Unless the goal is to level new frets that are neither worn nor dead level.

    Were these worn frets to begin with?
    If so, the middle frets could simply be low due to lots of playing in the middle of the neck.
    If the frets were not worn, then the middle not getting touched suggests you set the truss rod with some relief, as opposed to straight.
     
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  12. ale.istotle

    ale.istotle TDPRI Member

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    I bought a marble threshold at a diy store for this purpose and found it to be concave - badly. It was hollow by about 1/8" in the center. It was unusable for fret leveling, so it's still sitting in my shop.
    I used a cheap 24" aluminum level instead which advertised itself as flat within 0.005". I compared it with other straight edges before using it. It did a solid job. I don't recall for sure which abrasive I used. I think 220 grit. The level does not have the mass of stone, but it cut quickly. I had touched most of the frets in the first couple minutes, but there were maybe 3 frets that were the low points in places. To get to those you need to sand down all the others, so it took some patience to get the last ones.

    So my advice - check your stone against a reliable straight edge, make sure your neck is as flat as you can get it, be patient and I found it helpful to mark the low frets in a color other than black. Makes it easier to see. Good luck.
     
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  13. old wrench

    old wrench Tele-Holic

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    I don't consider myself an expert by any means. Regardless, from my own experience with leveling necks, I've found a couple of things that are important:

    #1 Whatever ya might be using for a straight-edge, it has to be straight. If it's not straight, ya have no real control over the process.

    #2 When starting the leveling process, the neck has to be as flat as possible. If not, you're going to be grinding off good fret material that doesn't need removal.
    Take it a little bit too far and ya might be learning more than ya anticipated about a re-fretting job ;).

    There is a lot of discussion about fret leveling and whether it should be done under string tension or not. Even with light gauge strings, there is still a pull of over 100 lbs. when tuned to pitch.

    I've found some necks with single-acting truss rods that will not lay flat without string tension.

    On these necks, even with the truss rod maxed out, there ends up being a couple frets somewhere in the middle that the straight-edge doesn't quite touch.

    These necks need some coercion to flatten out properly without string tension.

    For bolt-on necks with this problem, I use a simple jig that utilizes the neck screw holes as a tie-down point and a clamp at the headstock end, with a shim at the appropriate location in between to raise those "shallow" frets into the proper plane.

    It doesn't take much of a shim, sometimes only a couple thicknesses of paper.

    Ron Kirn's write-up on fret leveling is right on. I wouldn't presume to speak for Ron, but I think when he says to use a straight-edge, the assumption is that it will be straight. When he says to adjust the neck so it lays flat, he means flat :).


    A couple pics of the simple jig -


    IMG_0848.JPG


    IMG_0849.JPG


    The two holes at the bottom of the jig are for neck screws, and the cutout at the top of the jig is to accommodate tuners.






    Best Regards,
    Geo.
     
  14. Doghouse_Riley

    Doghouse_Riley Tele-Afflicted

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    @old wrench Cool neck jig! I'm going to make me one of those.
     
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  15. Fenderbendr

    Fenderbendr TDPRI Member

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    Ok, after reading everyone’s advice here, I went ahead and ordered a notched straight edge, a fret rocker, and a nice quality aluminum leveling beam. I got the straight edge and rocker from Philadelphia Luthier Supply, and the beam from Fretguru.

    I just want to get the right tools I need now so I don’t have to beat around the bush wondering if my neck is actually straight, and if my marble threshold is actually level or not.

    I’ll restart the leveling process when I get the tools and report back if they helped at all.

    Thanks for the help!
     
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  16. ladave

    ladave Tele-Holic

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    How did you make out with the new tools?

    Just did my first level and crown...browsing old threads.

    Fyi, I used 320 grit on Stewmac 16" leveling beam. Worked plenty fast, cannot imagine why anybody would need 180 grit.
     
  17. Orpingtons

    Orpingtons Tele-Meister

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    To me at least, the slotted straight edge (and all the required patience that comes with it) is a must before attempting to level anything.
     
  18. chas.wahl

    chas.wahl TDPRI Member

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    I'm wondering about something: Why is it so important to get the fretboard level, using a notched straightedge, when the real goal seems to be getting the frets level? I've been gearing up to do a setup on a new neck, and reading Freeman Keller's excellent thread on Home Depot
    http://www.tdpri.com/threads/basic-setup.952636/
    I notice (in post #13) that he flattens the neck using a plain ruler on the frets. That seems to me more sensible -- though I admit I've never done one.

    Also, in the same thread, he mentions paying attention to whether a fret is high because it's not properly seated. That also seems very sensible to me. If one can get the frets more level by seating some high ones at the beginning, it reduces the amount of material that must be removed to level with the low ones.
     
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  19. galaxiex

    galaxiex Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    I think it might be, because it could be hard to make sure the neck is straight if it has some high and low frets?

    Thus the notched straight edge.
     
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