Fret leveling strung vs unstrung

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by WarBeer, Mar 9, 2020.

  1. WarBeer

    WarBeer TDPRI Member

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    I want to get more serious about working on my guitars. I'm looking to get something longer than the 6" StewMac leveling file. I was going to get a standard leveling beam...then I was reminded of the "understring" beams.

    ...so, question. Doesn't the "understring" beam defeat the whole purpose of "relief"? Are these useful or a mistake?
     
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  2. EsquireBoy

    EsquireBoy Tele-Afflicted

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    Maybe on a neck with no truss rod and that has too much relief without the strings on?
    I wish to be educated on that too!
     
  3. boredguy6060

    boredguy6060 Poster Extraordinaire

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    You gotta be real careful with StewMac’s level file, if it’s the one I think it is that baby will cut too deep too fast. Personally I think that 6” is enough to ruin a fret job.
    I like to go real slow when removing fret material.
    I use a 12” level with 320 Stik It paper. The level is only to give me a flat straight edge. Then I crown’em and polish them with flexible rotary tool with StewMac polishing wheels until they shine like new money.
    I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but that leveling file they have will cut chunks out of the frets in a second.
    Anyway, good luck with it.
    Oh! To answer your question, personally I remove the strings and remove the nut, even if I have to make a new nut. I don’t like anything in my way when I’m leveling the frets.
     
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  4. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    Thanks for this info. Do you mind sharing which 12" leveling beam you use? Is it just a level?
     
  5. boredguy6060

    boredguy6060 Poster Extraordinaire

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    It’s just a 12” carpenters level. I use it because it has a flat straight edge that sand paper sticks to. The fact it’s a level is just coincidence. I was looking for something that I could count on being straight when I spotted this aluminum carpenters level. It’s about 2” wide. I use 3m Stik It paper in 320 for cutting, 400 for scratch removal, sometimes 800 to cut down on the polishing time.
    I hope all this makes sense, I’ve been up all night and I’m a little shatter brained at the moment.
     
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  6. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    First, I level frets with strings and tension off the neck. I adjust the relieve so it is as flat as possible without strings, then I level the entire fretboard. My feelings about the neck itself are two fold - first, if I built the neck I know the fretboard is flat, and second, whether I built it or not there is nothing I can do about it at this time. Basically what happens is I decide if I can level the frets with the board as it is or whether I need to pull them and work on the neck.

    I also have some idea of how this particular neck is going to react under string tension. If you've read any of my discussions on setup or repairs you'll remember that I always MEASURE EVERYTHING BEFORE I TOUCH ANYTHING. So lets say I have 10 thousands relief with whatever strings are on it and that relaxes to 2 I know that that particular set will pull about 8 thousands.

    If you've read my setup posts you'll also know that my goal is perfect frets and as low a final relief as I can get away with - a good target is 4 or 5 thousands. I also pay attention to neck-body joint hump and any fall away (or ski jump) on the fretboard extension. I also try to be aware of where the player will play - if a bluegrass player never goes above 12 I don't worry about fall away as much....

    I have a whole arsenal of fret leveling tools ranging from small pieces of aluminum bar stock up to a full length beam. A carpenters level with double stick tape works very well and is my choice for leveling fretboards themself.

    IMG_3238.JPG

    I do not have a notched straightedge - for one reason I work on everything from mandolins to basses and I would need six or seven of the things, secondly I can tell what I need to know from the frets themselves. I also don't have one of those fancy Dan Erlewine jigs nor do I make any effort to preload the neck - I just make it as flat as possible and go from there.

    I'll finish by saying that I'm anal about fretwork - if it is not perfect the reset of the setup is not perfect.
     
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  7. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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  8. theprofessor

    theprofessor Poster Extraordinaire

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    Perfectly sensible. Thanks!
     
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  9. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

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    I use the same thing, only mine was made 50 years ago in Czhekoslovakia and I bought it in a second-hand charity-junk-shop!
     
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  10. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Meister

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    Freeeman, I think I said it before but I'll say it again.. Thanks!

    I have learned a lot about repairs/maintenance from your descriptive and insightful posts.

    Sometimes, I have to improvise and use less-than-industry-standard (say, StewMac grade tools), but with a systematic approach I usually get things done successfully. And, FWIW, to level, I use a super straight piece of poplar about 10" x 2" wide x 1" deep with glued 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper go slow and careful and this has served me well.
     
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  11. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

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    .

    Here are the places to research how tos and tools:
    -Ron Kirn's leveling yer tele thread on TDPRI
    -Sam Deeks youtube channel
    -Matt Vinson leveling jig
    -Stewmac leveling jig youtube videos
    -PLEK youtube videos

    I started with a six inch file, went to an 18inch granite beam, and now use a Vinson-style neck tensioning jig. Each step up improved my leveling results.

    .
     
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  12. Peegoo

    Peegoo Friend of Leo's

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    I've never seen the need to level under string tension.

    Also--the Stooge Mac neck jig thing introduces artificial geometry into the neck when leveling frets because of the forces it induces in the wood: it pushes the wood 90 degrees off the axis that string tension imparts into the neck. Goofy. And unnecessary.

    The use of a cheap aluminum level as a sanding beam is a great way to go. All this talk of 'accurate to .001" through its length' for mucho dinero purpose-made sanding beams is a bunch of horse hockey, because the beam is pushed lengthwise in use--not sideways. Fret rockers don't lie, and I get perfectly level fret tops without spending big bucks for the Gucci logo on my tools.
     
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  13. RatBug

    RatBug Tele-Meister

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    I am NOT an expert, but awhile ago I decided to do the set up on a couple of cheap guitars and I went looking for a cheap option for this.

    I bought one of THESE

    It has some level of guaranteed flatness and I like that it is lightweight so I have to work a bit to remove material.
     
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  14. 2blue2

    2blue2 Friend of Leo's

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    Me2
    but this is fun to see.

    The Katana Rectify Master
    doing it with the strings on. Beam has adjustable relief.

    Leave it to the Japanese:)

    dsc_07041.jpg 100752587_o3.jpg
     
  15. eallen

    eallen Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    Millions of guitars have been leveled in history before the neck tension jig ever existed. An solution to a problem that never existed. In reality, a neck leveled under tension just has to have a the neck bowed more after strings are installed because some relief is required.
    I use a 20" beam for leveling. It should hit all frets at all times.

    Eric
     
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  16. RickyRicardo

    RickyRicardo Friend of Leo's

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    I bought an inexpensive aluminum leveling beam on eBay and it works fine. I adjust the truss rod if necessary then I always start with a 40 year old carpenters level with 150 grit. Nicely flat and true. I finish up with the other at 220 grit. Then crown the frets, run sanding sponge with 800 grit over the frets to get rid of sharp edges and polish with a Dremel and buffing material. Works for me without the gadgetry. As Eric said a problem that never existed.
     
  17. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    funny how that "with the strings on" method never appeared until the availability of the aluminum "H" Channel, Panel mounting extrusions became available... If you've ever handled any of the material the flimsy nature of it would immediately set you off...

    It's the "junk"" they use to connect sections of Paneling in Mobile Homes, etc... You won't find any, holding the solid oak panels together in Biltmore..:p

    Use a good SOLID flat beam.. and take the strings off... like everyone else of any degree of respectability as a tech has done so for the past 100 years..

    r
     
  18. WarBeer

    WarBeer TDPRI Member

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    I appreciate all the advice. The consensus was exactly as I thought it would be;) Should a 16" beam be good enough...since they seem to be the most common size I'm finding?
     
  19. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    16" is fine

    r
     
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