Fret slot, tang and barb dimensions

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by GeorgeG, May 14, 2021.

  1. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    After considerable research I am still confused about this. I have read so much about modifications to fit a favorite wire or inventory into the available slots (widening slots, filing barbs, scalloping tangs, filling with glue, etc). What I do know is:

    Make sure the slots are deep enough
    Too loose and you risk lifting and tone issues
    Too tight and you risk back bow
    Different fingerboard woods may need different dimensions due to hardness like ebony

    Things with no clear strategy:

    Glue (yes/no), which one. I think this one just needs preference after experience. I'll probably start with Titebond.
    Ideally how wide should the slot be vs tang width be and how much wider with the barbs
    Dead blow hammer vs press
    True fret radius vs slightly smaller radius (except SS)

    The thing I need to settle right now so I can order parts is the fret wire dimensions. I can order anything I want, I can make it a really proper fit with no compromises and then maybe even get away with no glue at all. I am looking at Jescar and Stew Mac wire.

    Once I get my slots cleaned out and measured what tang width do I want? Lets say my slots are 0.023". Do I want a perfect match at 0.023" tang width without the barbs or a few thou narrower, say 0.020 - 0.022"? There must be a range here because Stew Mac calls for a 0.023" slot width even though their wire has different tang widths.

    On a refret do you just consider the same width as the existing fret wire?

    Then what barb thickness or range of barb thickness do I want. If its a depends thing and you modify as you try to seat some test frets then how much bigger than the tang width do I need to start with?

    Lastly, any guidance on how to tell if the frets are seating with the right amount of pressure/friction fit? One guy I saw uses a torque wrench on a rotating arm and caul set up which answers the questions exactly but I don't have that set up, at least not yet.

    Thanks,

    George
     
  2. old wrench

    old wrench Friend of Leo's

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    Maybe I can help answer parts of a couple of your questions :).


    I use one of StewMac's Japanese fret slotting saws.

    It consistently cuts a measured .022" to .023" slot, but that's with a tightly and accurately set up slotting box.

    If your box or sawing technique isn't up to par, your slot width is going to vary somewhat no matter what saw that you might be using.




    I've tried a couple of different manufacturers for my fret wire, and for most of my work I like to use Jescar wire, this stuff -

    Jescar Stainless Steel Fretwire FW51100-S Electric Medium/Jumbo Pre-radiused - Philadelphia Luthier Tools & Supplies, LLC

    Jescar wire is very consistent and cleanly formed.

    If you look at the wire specs that are listed on the PLS site, I believe it's .035" wide at the barbs - that works real well with my slots.

    Most of the necks I make are all maple with maple fret boards, although I've used the same combination of wire and slot width on Rosewood and Ebony boards too.



    As far as seating the frets, it's really pretty simple - the fret is seated when the base of the fret (not the tang) has full and solid contact with the fret board.

    If any part of the fret is sticking up or sprung up, it's nothing but problems until you get it fully seated.

    It's also entirely possible to over-do the fret seating, especially if you are using a press or if you are too heavy-handed with the hammer.

    Too much pressure and you can actually crush the wood fibers and push the seat down below the surface of the board.




    It definitely takes some practice to develop good fret installation skills.

    A good idea might be to start with either with a junk neck or a practice neck that you make up yourself, or even some suitable odds or ends of wood that have laying around.

    I wouldn't want to start out with an expensive neck as my first victim ;).




    If you look real closely at fret wire you'll see that the inside and outside corners are not formed at a really sharp and perfect 90* degree angle, so it helps if you relieve the top edges of your fret slots a little bit by chamfering them a little with a fine-cut file - a three corner file works real well for this.

    You don't need to go nuts on this step, but you do want to see that the edge is broken with a small bevel.

    That chamfered edge will do a few things -

    1) It'll help guide the fret tang into the slot,

    2) It'll allow the fret to seat a bit easier,

    3) And it might reduce any tear-out in the event that you or someone else needs to pull the fret somewhere down the road


    .
     
  3. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    George, I think you are over thinking this. And while Wrench covered almost all the points I'll tell you how I do it.

    I slot very few boards myself but when I do I have a StewMac fret saw with an 0.023 blade and a home made miter box. I usually buy my boards preslotted from LMII and they also use a 0.023 blade. The third situation is a refret where I get whatever is given to me.

    I buy most of my fretwire from SM altho I have also used LMII's stuff. I use almost exclusively 0148 for medium frets on all my acoustics and my normal electric wire. If someone wants "jumbo" frets on an electric I use 0149. I keep some others, mandolin wire and a few other sizes for refrets.

    Note that 0148 and 0149 have different tang depths. Not only is the jumbo wire deeper, that fact that I often put it on boards with quite a bit of radius means the slots can get very shallow at the ends. I always check the depth and cleanness of the slot with a piece of the same fret wire with the barbs filed off. I bend it into an L shape so I can run it back and forth across the slot

    IMG_6120.JPG

    The tool with the red handle is a 0.020 fret slot cleaning saw from SM, it works good. I also use the point of the Xacto blade to clean the slot.

    I fret all my new guitars before gluing the f/b onto the neck. I do mostly acoustics and set neck guitars - doing the f/b off is much easier than dealing with the body and neck joint and heel. I press my frets in, for a long time I used my drill press expecting the table to snap off every time, I finally broke down and bought an arbor press and have never looked back

    IMG_6123.JPG

    I put a small drop of glue a couple of places in the slot before pressing. If the pot is hot I will use HHG but most of the time its just medium CA. I press and hold for the count of ten, tap the ends down, and immediately check with a 0.002 feeler gauge, if it slides under the crown at any point I give it a tap or two, if that doesn't work pull it and redo it.

    IMG_6131.JPG

    Refrets are a little different. I do bound boards but not nibs. I did one lacquered maple board and decided never again - someone else can have the hassle ((and the big bucks). I sometimes to partials on acoustics but that almost as much work as a full refret and doesn't let me get at the board to sand out divots and such. I always use CA or HHG on a refret and often I'll have some chip out that needs to be repaired.

    A couple more random thoughts. I really don't know what SM tang width is (I don't see it called out) but I never worried about it. I do not do compression refrets but it is interesting to see the back bow that just the board gets with normal wire

    IMG_2615.JPG

    That little bow clamps out perfectly flat when I glue to the neck.

    I expect the frets to be near perfect without any dressing, that means I started with a flat board and a flat neck. I do an overall level with a big beam and 400 grit paper, it should just touch the tops of each fret removing hardly any metal. I crown and polish in the usual fashion, I like micro mesh for the final polish.

    Hope that answers at least some of your questions. A while back I did a thread about setups and because frets are so important to a good setup they get discussed in post #13 and a bit about refrets in #20

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

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    Thank you.

    I noticed that Stew Mac calls for a 0.023" slot for every fret wire. Based on the rumor that Polymet makes their fret wire I found that all but two SM options have an identical Polymet match and their tang width goes from 0.020 - 0.022" so at least with SM it looks like the slot should be 1-3 thou wider than the tang body width. I'll stick with that rule for now.

    George
     
  5. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    I just went out to the shop and measured several pieces of StewMac fretwire. Using an inexpensive digital caliper I get tang widths of 0.190 to 0.220, which could be measuring technique more than actual tolerance (its actually pretty tricky to measure). That was 0148 and 0149, the two sizes I use most of the time. They have very different tang depths - again, hard to measure but 0.050 or so on the 0148 and 0.070 on the 0149.

    Also, as I said before, if you file the barbs off the tang fits nicely into a 0.023 slot (no I didn't measure, that is based on LMII's specs for their slotted boards.

    IMG_4046.JPG
     
  6. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    Your measurements confirm my theory.

    The frets that I pulled out of the current project have a 0.023" tang width and the slots measure 0.023-0.024". So for now with all of this I will run with:

    0.023" is the most common slot width, should clean out to that spec
    Check depth
    Fret tangs from 0.020 - 0.023" can work with caution on 0.023"
    Barbs may have to be filed, just have to experiment
    I am just going to have to learn about insertion force/fit.

    I am thinking about making a Harbour Freight arbor/caul press and rigging up a torque wrench like I saw in one YT video. That way at least I can get a sense for the tightness of a proper fit and force required for insertion because that guy listed his torque specs. Might save me from some heartbreak while I learn. I'm also thinking about going with no glue for now and if I get lifting, go with this CA along the fret base to lock them down. It does not look like there was glue used in the current project with the frets I just removed.

    Am I over thinking it? Could be, I am a retired engineer so I don't have much choice. LOL.

    Thanks,

    George
     
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  7. Boreas

    Boreas Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    You could try the torque-wrench experiment, but the problem is every fretboard/fret combination is different. Using precise torques will result in erratic results. It is best to develop a "feel" for the wood. It will even vary within each fretboard. Some frets simply go in harder than others - a torque wrench doesn't know that.

    Perhaps this is why engineers often make poor artists...
     
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  8. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    I understand and agree, I am not looking for precise torque specs. but I have absolutely no reference point to get me started. At least I would get in the ballpark and can develop my feel for it from there. I did the same in automotive, once I torqued my first wheel lugs and found out what 100 ft lbs felt like, I don't use the TW anymore.

    I played in a rock band in the 70's that was all engineers and technicians from my company ala Boston. Brian May is an astrophysicist. I can't speak for all engineers as artists but I played with a group of very talented musicians and we still record today. I play every instrument on my work and do all my own recording editing and mastering. I learned how to play the guitar 15 years before I became an engineer. It can go both ways. People with no attention to detail; can also make a mess of things. A lot of great artists can't set up a guitar.

    BTW, the work that I did in my career facilitated many of the technical developments of our lifetime including moon rockets, pace makers, the internet and computers, which has allowed you to be here today on the internet suggesting that some of us are poor artists because we are technical, asking for help to learn and have an attention to detail. There is room for all of us and at least for me, learning keeps me alive and growing. I have nothing but love for you brother even though you may not be technical and I know nothing about you artistry, only that most of us are here to exchange ideas and learn.

    George
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2021
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  9. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    An arbor press is a great idea, I used the quill of my drill press for many years (and fortunately didn't break it). I press all the frets in new guitars because I have the board off the neck and laying on a flat piece of material under the caul. I don't do very many Fender refrets but I have been able to support the necks well enough to press those frets (I do not do side fretted necks).

    For any necks on guitars, either new or refrets, I hammer them and go thru all sorts of gyrations to support the neck and heel and especially the fretboard extension on acoustics while I bang away. There is no way I'm ever going to get a Les Paul under my arbor press.

    The torque wrench is overkill. After making sure all the slots are clean and cutting all the frets to length and trimming the tang if there is binding I just run a little CA or HHG into the slot, tap the ends to start them, move to the arbor press and pull down for a count of ten, check that its seated. After I've done a few I clamp under a radiused caul and get a breath of air (I'm allergic to CA but I have to use it).

    Dan Erlewine has good tips on refretting in his book on repairs. My dog eared copy (signed by Dan) sits on my bench at all times.

    ps - I'm an engineer too. I try not to let that get in the way of my guitar building....
     
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  10. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    "ps - I'm an engineer too. I try not to let that get in the way of my guitar building...."

    Oh oh, the inmates are taking over the prison! lol. We better not start talking about fancy complex bindings, rosettes, inlays and all manner of precision woodworking, plek machines, cnc routers, fret wire machining, etc.

    I appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

    George
     
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  11. Boreas

    Boreas Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    Lighten up George - it was a joke! Half the people here are engineers - and I am neither artist nor engineer. Being an optometrist, I am probably closer to an engineer.

    The best way to learn how to press in frets is to learn on a couple junk necks. Pull the frets, then mash the new ones in. You will quickly get a feel for how forgiving the wood is. Even the pros (which I am NOT) mess up a fret every now and then. The key is to check each fret and adjust along the way.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2021
  12. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    I sort of wear two hats when I build guitars. I'm primarily an acoustic builder and I mostly build in traditional and vintage styles. Aesthetics are important, as is my attempt at "craftsmanship" - I choose beautiful and expensive (and endangered) woods, spend hours on binding and inlay and bling - none of which makes the guitar sound better.

    But, as I'm building I'm also wondering why. Why did CF Martin come up with the X bracing that I'm using, why are the tone bars angled the way they are. What is going on as I shave and tap the braces. Ah, yes, what am I hearing when I flex and tap and shave...

    Why do so many guitars come to me with loose bridges. What can I do to ensure my bridges never come loose.

    Why why why.

    I have some pretty cool spectrum analysis software that lets me see and compare all of these things, I still don't know how to use it to make my guitar better. But at least I can see when the theory matches what my bad old ears are telling me. I had a fun experience last summer - I challenged myself to build a guitar ((classical) out of materials on hand, literally the tuners were the only expense. I used some lovely straight grain douglas fir from the gym floor of a local school. The engineering properties of the wood were promising, the tap tones were as good as any spruce or cedar (and sort of in between). The guitar isn't very pretty but everyone who has seen/heard/played it thinks it sounds like a guitar.

    None of this has anything to do with frets, of course. I choose the size frets I like to play, try to do the best job I can installing them (my methods have changed over the years) and I'm absolutely anal about leveling and dressing. My methods seem to work for me, I don't mind sharing them, but there are lots of ways to do it.

    ps - I specifically do not want a cnc router and I dress frets after they come off a Plek, my favorite wood working tools are chisels and planes that were handed down from my grand father.
     
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  13. Boreas

    Boreas Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    Agree. There is a difference between manufacturing and crafting. Both have their positives.
     
  14. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    I do something similar in speaker design and building where computer frequency analysis helps you understand the changes that you are making and the effect it has on sound. It also helps you understand the acoustics of the room and the interplay. Part science, part art.

    When I am building tube amps on the other hand I tweak the amp tone completely by ear. I only measure to debug if needed.

    George
     
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  15. bob barcus

    bob barcus Tele-Meister

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  16. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    Thank you

    George
     
  17. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Afflicted

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    Whatever it might be worth, over the last 2 days I just finished refretted the VM'51 (in my user pic to left). I should have done a careful chronology with pics and all, but I was busy just struggling my way through my first ever fret job... anyway, I digress.

    I used an inexpensive caul I snagged off Amazon ($20 - had 3 different radius fittings) and popped it into the drill press and got pretty good results. It was an original maple board (9.5 radius) about 5 years old. The neck itself had suffered wear and tear (loaned to brother for a while.. :rolleyes:) and it came back a bit different than it went out.

    After I had removed the old frets, I did a very light sand to the fretboard followed by a couple light sprays of oil based PU (with quick, rough sand after the first), and a day to dry thoroughly, then I pressed in the new frets. One thing that really saved my bacon was that I was careful to use pre-cut exact replacement frets (Fender OEM) same as the ones that came out. That way I knew the tang dimensions and radius would match about as close as possible. It cost a couple extra bucks but was well worth it for this noob.

    The board and press installation went so well that I didn't have to level (only a very gentle spot level in 2 places) no crowing either. Just a quick polish and voila! all done.

    Edit: bottom line IMO.. yes, pressing frets in is good, and thanks to Freeman and Ron Kirn's info here especially.
     
  18. kingvox

    kingvox Tele-Meister

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    Here's my process:



    At least the latest incarnation at the time. Been doing fretwork a very long time and I'm always looking to optimize my techniques, and I've changed a couple things even since then. Lately, I've been hammering the frets in using a fret caul. I simply put the radiused caul over the fret top, as you would in an arbor press, but hammer it instead. That's just to get it started. I finish by clamping the fret with a fret clamp, after using petroleum jelly to protect the fingerboard, and wicking water thin CA glue in under the fret.

    On tight slots, you don't even need glue, though I always use it just in case. You can wick the glue into the fret ends, which is a much cleaner operation, if the frets are seating nice and tight simply from hammering. Nowadays I do think the caul is a good idea: if you hammer, to use a caul, or simply use the caul in an Arbor press. Simple. I have not seen anyone else use a radius caul while hammering frets but I've been getting fine results doing that. I think if you're not careful with the hammer, without a caul, you can deform the fret, and it will maintain that deformity even after clamping.

    I'd only really worry about the tang width and all that if you're doing this for a living. That's when you're going to want to invest in fret crimpers, potentially a tang barber, tang cutters, and more. You never know what you'll run into. Micro endmill bits in a Dremel are excellent for widening slots that are too narrow. Occasionally you may run into guitars or basses fretted with extremely large fret tangs, such as particular Warwick basses.

    The Stewmac depth stop fret slotting saw is great. Use a radius block as a caul on top of the fretboard to make sure the saw stays level, and you're good to go. .023".

    You are overthinking it, but you're talking to the king of overthinking. The remedy to overthinking is simply to do it and don't be afraid of failure. It might go perfectly, and it might not. The only remedy to this overthinking (and trust me, I face this all the time even after many years of doing guitar work) is to do it. Make the mistakes, and face them as they come up. Remember, the master is the one who has made every mistake in a very narrow field.

    The depth gauge is very important. Between that and the fret slotting saw with the depth stop, you should be able to cut your slots to a perfect .023", cleaning out any excess glue and BS in there that will keep your fret from seating properly.

    I recently used fret crimpers and they're a very valuable tool to have. I did 3 crimps: outer two ends, and the middle. Was plenty to get a loose fret to seat snug as a bug in a rug.

    IMO, visually well seated well frets is good enough. If you really want to get it perfect you can get more meticulous, but that all will come down to slot and tang preparation. Tang barber or crimper, and a little collection of slotting saws and slot cleaning tools, and a depth gauge.

    I *highly* recommend full size flush cut end nippers for pulling frets. You can make your own on a bench grinder from a pair of Channelock 357 pliers. I've heard the Stewmac fret cutters (not pullers, ironically) are good too. But may have to be ground down. I have never had to use heat at all, in any capacity, to remove frets quickly and without taking up chips.

    Having a fret puller like that is essential. If you seat a fret improperly, it is a piece of cake to remove it and try again. Sometimes you will need to cut a new piece of fretwire depending on what went wrong. But having a good puller makes all the difference in the world. I wish I recorded the time I removed 21 frets on from a Fender neck in 1 minute and 56 seconds without taking any chips up, and with no heat. It is the only way to remove frets as far as I'm concerned.

    I prefer the clamp while the glue sets up. I forgot to mention the CA accelerator. It's a nice thing to have. CA is just easiest to use and I prefer doing one fret at a time using that clamp. Pressing in the frets is great, but you're depending on a perfect slot to hold the fret in perfectly. Things do not always work out that way. The crimper can disrupt how well the fret seats if you overdo it, speaking of improper fit.

    Well anyway. I overthink things to death as well. If you got the personality for it, you got the personality. That is where the good ideas and innovation come from though. Attention to very small details. All you need to do is dive in and get to fretting. Refret one neck multiple times if you have to. You will learn fast. And make adaptations as necessary. All there is to it is....to do it. And with your skill set and history you will likely pick it up very quickly and come up with your own methods to optimize your own process.
     
  19. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    Nice video, thanks. Hammering with a caul insert is an interesting idea, I had not seen that yet. Why do you hammer instead of press?

    My first mistake was too much fret heat near the binding on a LP on the first few fret removals. I will be doing that unforecasted "repair" today with binding scraps and acetone. I did get good clean fret removal and there didn't seem to be glue in the slots so heat may not have even been necessary.

    George
     
  20. GeorgeG

    GeorgeG TDPRI Member

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    An update to a previous post:

    I noticed that Stew Mac calls for a 0.023" slot for every fret wire. Based on the rumor that Polymet makes their fret wire I found that all but two SM options have an identical Polymet match and their tang width goes from 0.020 - 0.022" so at least with SM it looks like the slot should be 1-3 thou wider than the tang body width. I'll stick with that rule for now.

    The range of barb width for those same Polymet matches is: .029" - 0.037".

    George
     
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