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

Boomhauer

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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

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Would the same idea apply if I were to cover the entire fretboard in masking tape then sanded?
 

Hopkins

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I always get the neck as close to straight as possible with a notched straight edge before leveling frets. For your lowest action, run your leveling beam along different angles along the string paths, not just back and forth until you hit all of the frets. With the neck being radiused and tapered the strings follow a conical path, so to get the lowest action possible it is important to follow the string paths.

I also use a level with a machined edge, it works great.
 

bender66

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Someone in a previous thread recommended the free yardsticks at almost any hardware store to be used as a notched straight edge to check your fretboard previous to leveling. Easy to notch out Gibby & Fender scale notches with a dremel or other type.

What's that you say about "how do you know if the yardstick edge is level?" Well, you take your sanding block to the edge of it to make sure it's level (if you're using a long enough sanding block that is.

The OP's question reminds me of when I went about obtaining my blocks per Ron's thread recommendation (can't remember what member gave the tip, but thanks). I took in a chunk of counter-top that had been given to me to use, but it was an awkwardly large piece. I initially went to ask him to cut it. When I explained to him what I was going to use it for, his eyes lit up & took me out to the scrap yard & measured it, told me it was no good. He dug through his scraps & cut me a bunch of blocks according to the sizes I wanted & mentioned how he thought it was so cool to be that resourceful to make your own tools to make a better playing guitar. He was happy to help, I was extremely grateful.
 

RogerC

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I wanted to add some info to this thread:

The reason I had to do more fret work on this guitar so soon (it was one I finished about 4 months ago) was because of the fret slots. When I initially finished it up, I was really proud that I got the slots just the perfect depth. There really wasn't any extra depth beneath the fret tang. At that time, I think it was Rich Rice who cautioned me that I should've made them deeper to have a little room for the seasonal expansion. Well, he was right. After the seasonal humidity shifts, a couple of frets ended up popping up just enough to cause problems even though I glued in the frets. So now I know for future builds to leave the slots a little deeper. I'll undercut the tang and fill in with a dust/glue mixture if I want the seamless look from now on.
 

kissTheApex

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I wanted to add some info to this thread:

The reason I had to do more fret work on this guitar so soon (it was one I finished about 4 months ago) was because of the fret slots. When I initially finished it up, I was really proud that I got the slots just the perfect depth. There really wasn't any extra depth beneath the fret tang. At that time, I think it was Rich Rice who cautioned me that I should've made them deeper to have a little room for the seasonal expansion. Well, he was right. After the seasonal humidity shifts, a couple of frets ended up popping up just enough to cause problems even though I glued in the frets. So now I know for future builds to leave the slots a little deeper. I'll undercut the tang and fill in with a dust/glue mixture if I want the seamless look from now on.

That's good to know Roger. What should the extra depth be in your opinion? Would 1 mm (<1/16th) be enough?
 

Dasher

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Once the neck is flat and the frets marked, the beam should be run diagonally across the frets at a 45 degreee angle. Do not run it up and down in line with the finger board (ie not at the 90 degrees to the frets). At least thats the method I use that I got from Benedetto.
 

dannydav709

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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
Hi Mr. Kirn, I've heard great things about your quality of advice on this forum and others. I'm new here, and am trying to attempt fret leveling on some of my cheaper guitars to perhaps improve playability and sound, but use them as practice necks for now. I am wondering if you don't mind elaborating more on the method you are voicing here. I don't fully understand what you are trying to say should be attempted. Mainly, I'm not sure I understand where a notched straight edge would play a role here (even though thats being recommended by almost everyone), since it seems you are saying to use the leveling process itself to get a feel for the neck straightness, and to see how much bow needs to be removed based on that. How exactly does removing bow based on hitting frets with the beam ensure that we are really getting accurate straightness and accurate fret leveling? I hope I didn't misinterpret what you meant. Thank you!
 

Peegoo

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The machined I-beam level is what I've been using for years. Works perfectly.

One thing to do is take. Your. Time.

And use a very light touch on the beam as you work it over the frets because the neck will flex even with a little pressure. I rely on the gravity in the level and add no additional pressure. Makes for a perfectly-flat fret field.
 

Sparky472

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Once the neck is flat and the frets marked, the beam should be run diagonally across the frets at a 45 degreee angle. Do not run it up and down in line with the finger board (ie not at the 90 degrees to the frets). At least thats the method I use that I got from Benedetto.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding but you can’t level frets properly running your beam at a 45 degree angle due to the radius of the board. The goal is to get the tops of the frets level relative to each other primarily along the path of the string.

Edit: d’oh! Darn zombie thread.
 
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Ronkirn

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it seems you are saying to use the leveling process itself to get a feel for the neck straightness

Yes. the marker on the frets allows you to see how level the neck is adjusted via the truss rod... then once that is accomplished.. you proceed to the leveling untill all the frets show that the beam has removed a little of the tops of the frets...

r
 

dannydav709

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Yes. the marker on the frets allows you to see how level the neck is adjusted via the truss rod... then once that is accomplished.. you proceed to the leveling untill all the frets show that the beam has removed a little of the tops of the frets...

r
Do you mind elaborating on the process of using the the marker on the frets to see when and how much to add/remove bow on the neck? After all frets are marker-ed, what am I looking for? Do I start sanding a little bit to see where is taken off? How do I know if to add/remove relief, based on what frets being hit? Do I only sand a little to see the frets that are being touched?
I'm sorry if this is something you've explained many times elsewhere. I hope this isn't an annoyance. Thank you!
 

stratisfied

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I've found that an aluminum level works fine for me as a sanding beam, as the surfaces are machined and lapped for straightness. The neck has to be flat as measured against the fretboard not the frets which is what you're trying to correct in the first place. You need the notched straight edge to first get the neck flat as measured relative to the fretboard. You need to loosen or tension the truss rod accordingly and use a feeler gauge to get to zero and no back bow before attempting to fret level.

If you have relief and attempt to fret level, you will remove too much material from the upper and lower frets. If you have a backbow, you will do the same thing to the middle frets.

In my own limited experience, I find by leaving the neck neutral (flat), the tension exerted by the strings naturally puts some relief in the neck and then I fine tune with the truss rod and a feeler gauge in keeping with the style guitar spec (i.e. Fender or Gibson) as a rough measure. For my style of playing, I like ethe lowest possible action and least amount of relief the neck will tolerate without fretting out. Each neck is different. Some are more stable than others and you can get away with less relief than spec.
 
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kuch

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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
1st thing I would do is make sure your beam/straightedge is straight.
 

pypa

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I am NOWHERE near experienced as Ron Kirn, so take this with due grains of salt:

I prefer to level the fretboard (checking with a straight edge) while the truss rod is perfectly neutral. Did you do that? If yes, then after applying the frets, the truss rod should not require adjusting prior to leveling (at least on the couple few I've built).

I'll only use the beam after confirming all frets are properly seated.

Using the beam is not as intuitive as one would think. You have to take great care to provide consistent pressure over the length. At the beginning and end of the stroke, that can be tricky. In addition, the top of the neck is narrower than the base, which can make it a tad harder to regulate when sanding. All this is to say, you may just be providing too much pressure at the top of the stroke. Especially since this has happened to you twice, my instinct is the problem is in the technique not the construction.
 

Ronkirn

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You have to take great care to provide consistent pressure over the length.
which is why I recommend using a beam with some "mass".. it supplies it's pressure without you doing anything other than shoving the booger back and forth..

the number one issue I see among those I have taught one on one is overthinking the process... it's not rocket science.. and pretty much anything you do is going to improve the fingerboard as lonmg as you follow the simple instructions in my thread.. or the many You Tube videos I have watched.

Just learn on a beater.. then learn a few more times... then go for it..
 

wadeeinkauf

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I realize this is an old thread but a good opportunity to share what I have learned. I too had frets that required more material removed to get them level and wonder what was causing this. First I cut my fret slots on a table saw with the StewMac thin fret blade. This thing is great…pricey but worth every cent. So, my slots are cut at a uniform depth. I radius my fretboards by hand using a radius sanding beam. It is not easy to radius at a uniform depth. Normally this is not a very big problem. Frets level normally, one end no more material removed from the frets that at the other end. You HAVE introduced a small neck angle usually easily compensated for by the bridge saddles adjustment. The problem occurs if you have reduced the depth of the fret slots to the point where the fret wire bottoms out in the slot and sets a bit proud. Depending on how old your eyes are this can be hard to determine. This causes the frets at which ever end you have the problem to be sanded down lower in order for them to be level with the other fret wires which are fully seated in their slots. I would really recommend building a radius jig with the router which will cure this problem. I obviously do not follow my own advice. Just another thing to be aware of. This is the second resurrected thread of Roger’s in a week or so.
1.jpg 2.jpg
 

Freeman Keller

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Ron's thread remains the bible for fret leveling. The only thing that I can add is that for me it is important to really think about what I am doing. Each neck is different, what exactly does this one need?

One of my goals is to take of as little material as possible from the frets. Ideally my beam (yes I use a beam) will just skim the crown of every fret. If I start with the neck as flat as it can be and well installed frets the job is much easier.

So with every neck before an abrasive gets near I try to level it as well as I can. I look at the frets and determine their condition - is there enough material to even level or is it time for replacements. I had a guitar the other day that the fret heights were all over the board (I measure), turns out many of the frets were standing a little proud of the board

IMG_7420.JPG


If I can get a 4 thousand feeler under the fret I've got more problems than just leveling.

I'll put a long straight edge on the frets and poke around with feeler gauges - where are the gaps, where are the high spots, where does it rock? I normally adjust the truss rod to neutral (loose nut on a single acting rod, neutral on a double acting). I don't use a notched straight edge - it might tell me a lot about the board but nothing about the frets.

A big problem with many necks is whatever is going on at the neck to body joint. String tension is pulling relief up to the heel, then both the tension and the truss rod don't have any affect

Neckprofile.JPG


This is pretty simplistic but shows the potential problem area, and its right where lots of electric players want to play. The fretboard extension above the joint can be flat, it can fall away or it can be a ski jump. There can be a significant high fret right at the joint. Each of these can be handled differently - the important thing is to understand what you are dealing with.

I use a long StewMac beam for most leveling along with a variety of smaller tools. I use both a long straight edge and a fret rocker to evaluate what I'm going to do. New boards are easy - I build them flat and do a good job of installing the frets - the actual leveling should be minimal. With every other board I want to understand exactly what I am dealing with before I touch it. But the goal is still the same.

IMG_3238.JPG
 

dannydav709

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Danny, review the thread I did, hopefully many of your questions are addressed.

https://www.tdpri.com/threads/fret-leveling-yer-tele-101.201556/
Hi, thank you so much! Yes, this was a great thread. I have a question however... I bought a leveling beam on amazon that looked promising, and a straight edge, and a notched straight edge. The notched edge and the straight edge both seem pretty flat (I put them together and a 0.0016 feeler gauge, the thinnest I have, wont pass through). However, the leveling beam when put together with straight edge, allows a 0.0016 feeler gauge to pass through at the ends, which may mean it's just a tiny bit convex, but I don't know how much tolerance I should allow for this. The same happens when putting the notched straight against the leveling beam, I can slightly insert a 0.0016 feeler gauge in at the ends. I ordered a replacement leveling beam, and very similar results. I don't know what to do at this point. Either both the original and replacement leveling beam are actually not perfectly flat, or one of the other tools is. How much tolerance is really allowed on the leveling beam? Hope you can give some advice, thanks!
Links to the products I'm trying to use (but not sure if I should):

Edit: tried to attach links to the products, but they disappear. I will add the names that can be found on amazon.

Notched straight edge: (Notched Straight Edge For Fender Scale/Gibson Scale - Guitar Neck Setup Tool by Skyscraper Guitars)

Straight edge: (Fulton 18 Inch Long Anodized Aluminum Straight Edge Bar with .001 Tolerance | Perfect for Checking Straightness On Metal Surface Tops Whet Stones Machinery and Can Be Used to Mark Or Scribe Lines)

Leveling Beam: (Meideal Aluminum Guitar Fret Leveling Sanding Beam, Fret Understring Leveler Leveling File Bar Pro Luthier Tool for Guitar & Bass (18 inch))
 
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