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Fret Installation help

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Steve Holt, Jan 18, 2021.

  1. Steve Holt

    Steve Holt Friend of Leo's

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    Looking for some advice on installing frets. It seems to be the area I most struggle with on builds, and an important one at that.

    I have a fret hammer, and I also have a fret pressing tool to put in my drill press. I have a fret bender as well

    The trouble I've had is getting the radius to match the fretboard. When I first started building guitars I read somewhere that the fret wire should be slightly more round than the the fretboard you're putting it into. It seems no matter what I do I have the frets loose and popping up on the ends, or sticking up in the middle. Then I end up gluing them all in with thin CA glue.

    I get my fretboards precut from LMII and as a matter of course I buy my fret wire from them as well hoping that there will be no tolerance issue from one manufacturer to the next if I were to buy my feet wire from someone like Stewmac.

    What do you guys suggest? I watched a long series on YouTube from the guy that makes Wyn bass guitars. He puts a bead of (what appears to be thick) CA glue in each fret slot and then presses them in, waxing the fretboard first to keep the CA out of places where it ought not be. I like this idea, but I also like the idea of not needing any glue.

    Advice appreciated.
     
  2. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Telefied Ad Free Member

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    My first 10 to 12 necks always had a fret spring back. I used a hammer. I tried everything. Once I bought the stewmac arbor press things improved. The process below worked for me.


    First I'd recommend a long metal radius beam to sand the radius before fretting.


    You need a fret bender to make the fretwire slightly oversize. Then use a triangular file to chamfer the slot. Lastly a fret press works so much better than a hammer...at least that's what I found out. You also should have a dedicated fret saw with a kerf to match your fretwire.

    After I press the frets in I carefully clamp the fretboard down to straighten the neck in case the barbs have caused a back bow slightly.

    Then I use a caul and two metal rods to press the fret ends down and I put two drops of superglue on the ends.




    see post 213 and on

    Let's make a neck ( volume 2) | Page 11 | Telecaster Guitar Forum (tdpri.com)
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
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  3. Steve Holt

    Steve Holt Friend of Leo's

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    Thanks for the advice! Yeah this is neck number 10 for me and it seems like it's getting worse the more I make. I'm going to try that triangle file trick. That was also in the Wyn bass guitar videos.

    I have a fret saw with a .023" kerf. I checked out LMII and I can't find specs on what they cut their slots to. I'm pretty sure in the past before their web redesign they boasted about .023" as well but I can't confirm. The frets I always buy have a .020" tang width with a .032" barb. So maybe that's my problem? Or no? Stewmac doesn't list their tang width so I have nothing to compare to, but they say it's sized to fit 0.023" so maybe I should buy a stick or two of that. What do you think?

    "you need the fret bender to make the fretwire slightly oversize"

    Can you explain this more? I'm going for a 9.5" radius so when you say slightly oversize do you mean I need the fret wire to be closer to 10" or closer to 9" my brain can make that work either way. :lol:
     
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  4. pshupe

    pshupe Tele-Meister

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    You shouldn't have too much issue with fretting if the slot and the tang matches. I actually cut 0.024" slots and press in 0.023" fret wire and have never had an issue even when the radius wasn't over bent. I used to use a similar setup as you with the drill press and again had no issues. Could be something with your fret saw or fret wire. I had an issue one time when I got some 0.020" fret wire. I have to glue and clamp.

    Cheers Peter.
     
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  5. Asmith

    Asmith Friend of Leo's

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    I have a total of one neck under my belt but my frets are still where they should be and I hammered them in. I'm wondering what technique you used?

    I start by tapping in the edges and then I tap down the middle until the fret is flush with the board. I didnt take any of the tang off and I also used fret wire with a smaller radius than the board.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
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  6. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    I eyeball the fret radius, and definitely make it tighter than the fretboard.
    I hammer down the ends first, and the center sits maybe 3/32 to 1/8 above the slot.
    Hammering the center down pushes the ends out and helps them really jam into the slot...I think...that's my story and I'm sticking with it.
    If there's binding, all bets are off.
     
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  7. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Telefied Ad Free Member

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    They both have .023 kerf. I'd try some of thier fretwire. I have been using stewmac #148 and #149 for years. The nice part is the fretwire comes straight in 2 foot sections and you can bend it to the radius you desire. Also, I install my fretwire after the fretboard is glued on to the neck.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
  8. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    I have taken to making the fretwire radius almost the same as the fretboard due to springback issues. Just slightly up in the center in a perfect world. I use just a touch of thick CA on a toothpick (even the thick stuff flows fast.) Just a drop a couple places on the fret wire and it runs along the wire. and press it down with the fret press tool (just in a drill press)
    I immediately look at it and if anything is not flush, I wack it with the fret hammer then hold it in the press until the glue sets.
     
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  9. old wrench

    old wrench Friend of Leo's

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    I don't know that the following is a factor in your situation Steve, but it might be worth noting :).

    The more that fret wire is manipulated, in other words, radiused, straightened, bent, etc., the stiffer and springier it gets. It's called "work hardening".

    This happens with both nickel-silver and stainless steel fret wire, and although I haven't worked with the "Evo" wire, I'm sure it happens with it as well.

    I'm certain that fret wire is annealed after going through the dies and rollers that the manufacturer uses to convert regular wire into the shape of fret wire. The annealing process takes the hardness and stresses out of the worked wire and puts the metal back into a softer and more easily worked state.




    I've been buying the Jescar pre-radiused, pre-cut wire from PLS. It's a pretty economical way to go, even though the prices have gone up an awful lot, especially in the past year. Pandemic inflation.

    Their wire is always a consistent, accurate radius with clean cuts, and it presses in very nicely with no noticeable spring-back.



    The following is just blah-blah-blah about how I get the fret board ready for frets :).

    I cut my fret slots with one of the StewMac Japanese style fret saws and a miter box, and don't do any extra sawing. I measure the wire's tang depth and cut the slots just a tad deeper. When I reach that depth, I stop sawing. I don't make extra back and forth strokes for "good measure"; I think all that will do is widen the slot. Just make sure the slot cut is clean and deep enough.

    I also do the same thing Marty does - chamfer the slots edges slightly with a sharp 3-corner file. I think that serves two purposes - it helps guide the tang into the slot, and also serves to reduce the future chance of chip-out if or when the frets are pulled for a re-fret. Ya never know, it could be you doing the re-fret ;).

    The same popular press holding fixture and radiused fret cauls that most folks use, is what I use in my converted arbor press. You can exert some serious force with an arbor or drill press, enough to crumple up the fret board if ya get heavy-handed. The gearing in a press is a serious force multiplier ;).

    I'm picky as hell with my fret board prep. Nice even radius, no dips or high spots.

    I don't think I've had some sort of "beginner's luck" with frets that has mysteriously carried on, it's just meticulous attention to detail :).

    .
     
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  10. Steve Holt

    Steve Holt Friend of Leo's

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    I used the same technique when I used the hammer. I might try the hammer again. I think I had more success with that than with the press. I suppose I could try both and compare.


    Thanks for the tip! I went ahead and ordered the Pre-Radiused Pre-cut ones. from Philadelphia Luthier. That's not a bad price though. I was about to pay more from Stewmac for wire that wasn't even cut or bent. So we'll see what happens. It is the exact same size as what I'm currently buying, but I think it should be good. Hopefully getting it to the correct radius will be the problem solver I need.
     
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  11. pavel

    pavel Tele-Meister Ad Free Member

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    It looks like LMI sells Jescar, which in my experience works prefectly with a .023" kerf SM fret saw. It feels a little softer/nicer to work than the SM wire, but I might be imagining it.

    Like Marty, I get the most consistent results pressing the frets in with the SM caul and my drill press.

    I also put a bead of thick CA in the slot before pressing the fret in. I have also pressed the frets in without CA, then dripped think CA into the gap after the install. Both work well, but putting the thick CA before the fret seems to produce less CA mess.

    I usually do 3-4 frets at a time, alternating between the bench and the drill press.

    This goes without saying but make sure your fret slots are deep enough and clean of wood chips,

    I overbend the frets to e.g. 10" for a 12" board, they are 1/32 - 1/16" proud in the middle before pressing. Overbent like this, they seat in at the ends first as you press them in.

    I can't just hammer the frets in to save my life, I sure would love to have the skills to do that. I get really great results with sideways pressing frets with one piece maple necks on the other hand.
     
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  12. bender66

    bender66 Poster Extraordinaire

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    What's the appeal of not needing glue?
     
  13. Slowtwitch

    Slowtwitch Tele-Meister

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    Remember to clean your wire prior to installing from machining oils used to extrude the wire.

    I like using a bead of gel super glue on the tang edge when installing frets

    If you're having issues with normal fret wire, stay well clear of stainless steel. You'll have a nightmare with 'em jumping out to bite you
     
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  14. Steve Holt

    Steve Holt Friend of Leo's

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    Mostly just having less of a mess to deal with.
     
  15. pshupe

    pshupe Tele-Meister

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    Mainly mess but some say it is better tonally to glue the frets. If you do glue the frets there is also some debate on type of glue to use. Wood glue is easy to clean up but does not have the brittle nature of CA and some think it dampens sound or doesn't sufficiently fill the slot hard enough to transmit better. I use CA glue wicked in the fret ends but sometimes get a little too much and some seeps out under the frets onto the board. It's not too bad to clean as you just take some sand paper and sand the board on each side of the fret. This is probably the best method but I have not used glue in some cases and all the frets were seated very well and I never had any issues.

    Fretting is something that seems to work very well for me. Although I cut my boards with CNC and I carefully sand to make a perfectly flat radiused board. Like finish work, the prep is everything.

    Cheers Peter.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2021
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  16. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    Lots of good tips here. a couple of my own

    - make sure the slot is completely clean and deep enough. I make a little depth measuring tool out of a piece of the same fret wire that I will be using - tangs do vary from wire to wire even within the same manufacturer.

    - I slightly over bend the wire - can't tell you how much since I don't measure. If I lay a piece of wire on the f/b it has a bit of a gap in the middle. I also file the ends to fit if its going into a bound board

    - I press my frets in. For a long time I used the quill of my drill press but each time it scared me that I was going to break the cast table so I finally bought an arbor press. If you are going to use a drill press brace the table from below.

    - I fret all my fretboards BEFORE gluing them to the neck. That way I can support them from below on a flat surface. Remember that many of my guitars have pronounced heels and angled heads, that makes supporting the neck much harder. Obviously when I refret a guitar the f/b is on the neck and I have to deal with it.

    - when I fret a neck with the board already glued on I usually hammer the frets in.

    - I put two or three drops of medium CA in the slot before pressing. Many of my boards are bound, the glue helps hole the ends down over the binding. CA cleans up from ebony or rosewood boards very easily. I have used HHG but don't see any advantage, if the pot was hot or I was doing a vintage instrument that is what I would use. (I assume anyone refretting one of my guitars in the future will use heat when removing the frets.

    - as soon as the fret is installed I run around the crown with a 0.002 feeler gauge. If the blade slides under the crown at any point I hammer it down. Then I clamp it with a radiused caul while the CA kicks off

    - I will use stainless if someone wants it but I don't normally. Its a little harder on tools but not the horror story some people seem to think.

    - my goal when installing frets is to have to do the minimum amount of leveling and dressing later. Good prep of the board, careful measuring and pressing of the frets, a flat level neck when I glue the board on all seem to help.
     
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  17. JuneauMike

    JuneauMike Poster Extraordinaire

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    This is probably one of the better (and more entertaining) videos on fret installation. I'd get a cup of coffee, get comfortable and just watch it. He doesn't use many specialized tools either.



    And he discusses briefly the difference in approach if the fretboard is maple. That's important.
     
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  18. Steve Holt

    Steve Holt Friend of Leo's

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    Freeman, thanks for the tips. I'll be taking all of this into consideration when I get to my install.
     
  19. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    Steve, the little write up I did about setups has a section on installing frets (mainly a refret) and preparing them. Look at posts 13 and 20 on the first page

    https://www.tdpri.com/threads/basic-setup.952636/

    I also generally cover it on any give build thread
     
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