Fret leveling with a beam: Am I the only one with this problem?

RogerC

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When I started building, I started leveling with the Stewmac fret rocker because it's what I had available. Later I got a piece of corian and was going to go with the beam method, but it ended up taking more off the the first few frets than any of the others even though, according to the fret rocker, things were in good shape there, so I hadn't used that method since.

I'm now working on another fret level and figured I'd try the beam method again. I again ran into the problem of it taking more off the first couple frets than anything else, even though the fret rocker showed those frets to be in good shape. I tried flipping the beam end-for-end and holding it closer to the frets in question (mainly 17-19), but it still seems to be taking more off the first few. Both times I've tried this method, I've used a straight edge to make sure my neck was straight prior to commencing.

Am I the only one who struggles with this technique, or am I missing something?

Thanks.
 

guitarbuilder

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Rog,
I would question maybe the flatness of the corian and are you going back in forth or just forward and lifting the beam and going back to start and going forward again? This really should be done with a machined surface in my opinion or plate glass which is level by floating it out.

Back and forth tends to take more off in the middle. I realize that isn't your problem here, but maybe you are putting more weight on it?
You should just be using hand pressure and let the weight of the beam do the work... that's from my experience anyway.
 

Ronkirn

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it sounds like the truss rod isn;t tight enough to pull the board close to level... mark the frets with the magic marker... and hit it once with the level tool.. it will remove the marker from the highest frets... tighten the truss rod nut until you see the level tool removing marker ink from some frets all the way up and down the fingerboard...

Note, it will not remove the ink uniformly from all the frets initially.. that's because they need leveling... as you work with the level tool, you will see the ink removed more and more until all the frets are clear of the ink.. then ya crown those puppies..

ron Kirn
 

mlp-mx6

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That the neck is straight is not really important here. Use the truss rod to set the *frets* as close to flat/level as you can, then level them from there. Do you have a straight edge? If so, use that to get the frets as close to flat (using the truss rod) as you can before you touch the frets with any abrasive.
 

OpenG Capo4

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I use the rocker method first to pin-point the high frets and knock those down, then the beam once they're all fairly close. I've heard its better to go across instead of parallel with the neck. That seemed to help me, at least. I'm also having frets 1-3 getting more material removed than others though. :?:
 

RogerC

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Rog,
I would question maybe the flatness of the corian and are you going back in forth or just forward and lifting the beam and going back to start and going forward again? This really should be done with a machined surface in my opinion or plate glass which is level by floating it out.

Back and forth tends to take more off in the middle. I realize that isn't your problem here, but maybe you are putting more weight on it?
You should just be using hand pressure and let the weight of the beam do the work... that's from my experience anyway.
I remember checking the flatness with my straight edge when I first got it, but that was quite awhile a go. Maybe I wasn't as discriminating as I should've been. I hadn't thought to recheck it, but you're right. That should've been my first course of action :rolleyes:. I do go back and forth across the board in a figure 8.

The rocker only identifies a high fret between a couple of others. The beam is leveling over a much longer distance. Check the neck and the beam with a longer straight edge.
I checked my neck with my 18" Stewmac straight edge, so I'm confident the neck was straight. See my reply above regarding the beam straightness, though. I think sometimes I get too focused on the minutiae to step back an look at more basic things.

it sounds like the truss rod isn;t tight enough to pull the board close to level... mark the frets with the magic marker... and hit it once with the level tool.. it will remove the marker from the highest frets... tighten the truss rod nut until you see the level tool removing marker ink from some frets all the way up and down the fingerboard...

Note, it will not remove the ink uniformly from all the frets initially.. that's because they need leveling... as you work with the level tool, you will see the ink removed more and more until all the frets are clear of the ink.. then ya crown those puppies..

ron Kirn
Thanks, Ron. As I said above, I'm confident that my neck was straight since I measured it with my precision straight edge. I like your idea of using the beam to measure the adjustment needed, though.

I use the rocker method first to pin-point the high frets and knock those down, then the beam once they're all fairly close. I've heard its better to go across instead of parallel with the neck. That seemed to help me, at least. I'm also having frets 1-3 getting more material removed than others though. :?:
I've not heard about going across the frets. I usually go up and down the board in a figure 8, making sure to accommodate for the radius.
 

Ripthorn

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Flatness of the board is not a great indicator, especially for hammered in frets. Each fret may seat slightly differently, causing small variations in relative crown heights. Like others have said, the fret rocker is great over a small distance, but you want something longer to ensure that the relationship between, say, fret 2 and fret 18 is good. I like Ron's suggestion about making sure the frets are all as close to level using the truss rod before using the beam.
 

Barncaster

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For the 2012 Challenge I did it totally differently. I didn't use a truss rod. The maple blank was heat aged the equivalent of 150 or so years to crystallize any remaining sap. Then it was squared on a surface plate. Then the ebony fretboard blank was squared on the surface plate as well, acetone wiped an hide glued to the blank. Fret slots were sawed a touch undersized to the fret tangs. Frets were pressed in with pine cauls in the bench vise. Levelness was checked after each one and given a little vise squeeze if off. This made a beautiful buzz free, zero radius neck that did not need a file touched to any fret except for end dressings. String tension provided a touch of relief and it hasn't moved in two years. It always struck me that having to file crap out of newly installed frets was due to imprecision of their installations or irregularities of their mating surface. Then again what do I know. :) My $.02.
Rob
 

Ronkirn

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Thanks, Ron. As I said above, I'm confident that my neck was straight since I measured it with my precision straight edge.

The problem with "eyeballin' stuff is it's hard to detect something like .003.. you have to be reasonably astute to do so, with a straight edge, and it's impossible to see it just eyeballing down the neck.

I don;t like to see guys try to do it with a fret rocker either... since you're only hitting a few frets at a time, it's easy to be off .001. which is impossible to see. I was teaching an American Eagle once and even HE couldn't see it... did see the mouse outside the window though... Last thing I heard from him was wings flappin' and the words, Yumm, finger food..

But if you're off .001, which is undetectable, continue up the neck, that .001 gets magnified, do so in 10 frets and ya can be off the thickness of a credit card.. and that ya can see, and worse, feel as you're playing.. the method I show, "grades" all of 'em at one time.. so there is easily achievable uniformity on all frets.

Now, sure, some do quite nicely with a rocker.. but it's an acquired skill, not one I'd recommend on a novice. Ya don't teach a kid to shoot with a Barrett M-107, ammo's too 'spensive.. :eek: You can poke holes in paper with a .22 quite nicely.

The method I outlined allow ya to see what's going on without a lot of difficulty.. ya just tighten the truss rod and scrub once, check to see if it's hitting frets somewhere up and down the board.. when it is... hop on it... should take ya about a minute or two to get them all with the leveling tool.

The only way to hit the 1st fret and the 21st, with out hitting something in the middle.. say 89th fret.. is for it to be bowed... the truss rod is designed to remove the bow, facilitating the leveling.

r
 

guitarbuilder

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Another thing I like to do Roger, is compress the neck by putting a couple of pieces of wood at the nut and heel end and put some pressure in the center of the neck with a cam clamp. Not enough pressure to bust the neck into two pieces, but enough to see a bend. The frets exert an outward pressure on the top of the neck when installed, the clamping pressure I'm talking about would put that back into balance somewhat by driving the barbs of the frets into the wood of the fret slot. I think the key is to go up and down the length of the neck and at the same time, moving across the frets, watching what's happening to the sharpie and go from there. If you adjust your neck to its straightest position, you really at first should just see the highest frets get attacked by the file or abrasive you are using.
 

Ronkirn

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How do you know when your frets need leveled?

The higher you like your action, the less having 'em leveled matters... but it ya want speed of light fast action, ya gotta get it done. How do ya know if ya need it... If you don't know that it was done, chances are sky high it hasn't been.

To achieve optimum performance, every neck made needs the treatment... it's standard operating procedure on about all high end boutique guitars, and on the masterbuilts...

Ron Kirn
 

Bentley

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I just kind of wing my fret levelling. I usually just use a flat piece of wood with some 600 grit stuck to it. Then I polish them and string the guitar. Then I set it up into a low position and play every string on every fret. Problem frets get hit, and thats usually only like 3 frets.

My methods aren't very similar to any others that I've seen. If I had a large hunk o' granite I might level it better.
 

BartS

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I level mine when I'm certain its the divots in the frets that are messing up my playing and throwing the guitar out of wack because it couldn't be me. Takes about 15 years for the divots to get that bad. Honestly the guitars I have owned that I have leveled the divots from pressing on the string while playing were so bad I probably should of just refreted them.
 

RogerC

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Ok, so after further examination, I've determined part of my problem. My corian wasn't as dead-level flat as I thought it was. When I laid my straight edge across it, there was a gap in the middle. I've been working it on a sheet of plate glass for 30 minutes or so, but it's not fixing the problem (yes, I did have sand paper on the plate glass :rolleyes:). I think I'm going to check into getting the thickest piece of plate glass I can find and use that, or I'm going to go ahead and spring for the stewmac sanding beam (the flat one, not the one with a radius). Then I'll tackle it again using Ron's method to see how much closer that gets me to what I'm looking for.

Thanks a bunch for the input, fellas.
 

RogerC

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Problem resolved. I was somewhat depressed because I didn't have the money for the Stewmac leveling beam, so I took my straight edge to Lowe's and found this level with a machined edge.



It was dead-on and only $35. I brought it home, followed Ron's advice, and now I have a guitar that plays perfect. I even played it in my rock gig tonight. Here I am as my alter ego. This guy's a maniac :cool:

 

R. Stratenstein

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Are you all talking about using a notched straight edge when you say that the neck is flat, or are you using a regular straight edge and eyeballing it?

Peace, brother.

This was my first thought. (no not peace, but what bongocaster said).

If you use a straight edge to try to determine flatness across frets that need leveling, you are working at a great disadvantage, and stand a strong chance of not determining if your board is flat. I was having all kinds of set up problems (including what you mentioned) until I bought a cheap notched straight edge from somebody on ebay, checked it's edges (one side notched for Fender, the other for Gibby) against a precision straight edge. It was dead-on, but I could have easily used float-plate glass and sandpaper to level it, if needed.

Then, using the notched straight edge, I use the truss rod, as Ron suggests, to make sure the fretboard==the wood in which the frets rest--is absolutely flat, then I'm sure that what I'm correcting is high frets, and not grinding down frets to accommodate bows in the fretboard.

However, looks like you got where you want to be, so all's well.
 




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