Tools needed for fret leveling?

johmica

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I've been slowly building my understanding of the fret-leveling process, and I want to check my understanding against the knowledge of those with experience.

I've got a couple of cheap-o Chinese made guitars that I bought specifically for the purpose of practicing my fret finishing and leveling skills. I feel like I understand the process of leveling fairly well.

First, I want a mallet to gently tap the frets, in order to insure that they're fully set in the fretboard. I then take my Sharpie and mark all of the frets lightly. Next step: I take my perfectly flat sanding block, and I sand the frets straight up and down the neck, accounting for the curvature of the fretboard radius, until all of the frets have had their Sharpie marks removed. Then, I need a little curved crowning file to re-crown the frets that have been flattened by the leveling process.

What am I missing in my summary? Where am I about to go wrong?

Second question: the frets also have a good bit of fret sprout, and they're sharp (they've not been filed at all. Just clipped). What file/files do I use to file off the excess fret wire and then round the edges of the fretwire on the ends, in order to give them that smooth feel?
 

telepraise

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It seems there's been a few threads on this topic lately. I'll add that in my experience, recrowning is the most labor intensive procedure and hard to get right without good tools. I'm shamelessly addicted to diamond files. Pricey, but they leave way less scratches to sand out (which is hard on my fingers). Good luck on your learning adventure!
 

Ronkirn

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I agree in part with telepraise.. crowning requires either a very astute level of skill with a "flat" file, or a crowning file designed specifically for the task.. I recommend the Crowning file...
and the number one piece of advice I can offer to anyone contemplating learning the process.. Don't be a putz... learn on a beater or a junk neck first... If you try to learn on your #1.. the '51 Broadcaster Great GrandPa gave ya... :eek:

What kinda moron can that be.. and yes.. I have had, in the past, several guys that tried to learn on some very old and remarkable guitars... as Ben Franklin said, "We are all born ignorant, but one has to work at remaining stupid..."

So, other than a crowning file, there's no tools that I can think of at the moment that cannot be found in any good tool department... as for the leveling beam... just follow the info contained herein..



Ron
 

Freeman Keller

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Ron and Marty have written some pretty good guides to this operation. I've done my little attempt as part of the setup thread


The setup thread is available as a Word document without all the forum chit chat, PM me if you want a copy.

In my humble opinion one of the most important things about leveling frets is to start with a perfectly level fretboard before you put them in. I just did the frets on the archtop that I'm building and they took almost no leveling at all - I marked them all, hit them with a long beam with 400 and almost no metal was removed.

Most of my tools, other than a couple of crowning files, are either standard mechanics tools (various files) and a couple of flat beams with double stick tape. I was given the long StewMac beam and I do use it but I levels a lot of frets before I got it wouldn't run out and buy one if I was starting over again.
 

fasthand

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I took this journey a few years ago
Epiphone Les Paul
I must have leveled as well as refreted four times trying different tools techniques researched on the web
I ended up with a playable instrument that had scars from some bad choices and lack of patience
I was looking for something else related to the guitar beyond playing
What I learned is stick playing
I learned a good vocabulary regarding guitar set up and such
I have access to a highly rated shop
They work on my guitars and I just play them these days
 

Ronkirn

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I might point out too. . . buying tools from a quality tool department will generally get you higher grade tools for less$ .. for the most part none of the flat files from the more noteworthy guitar tool suppliers is even in the same league as a good Nicholson File, made in the USA and available from. Lowes, Home Deopt, or about any of the larger Hardware chains..
 

Boreas

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My only addition would be to back up a step and evaluate the neck and fingerboard prior to starting. First remove any relief in the neck (preferably checking with a notched straightedge to verify a flat and non-twisted neck/fretboard), then use a rocker or straightedge to identify any high frets. If there are none, you may only need a polish or re-crown. No need to remove material unnecessary.

But since you are doing this for practice, it really doesn't matter. In fact, you may even want to create some divots or low frets before you start to see what it takes to remove them.
 
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Quexoz

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I've been slowly building my understanding of the fret-leveling process, and I want to check my understanding against the knowledge of those with experience.

I've got a couple of cheap-o Chinese made guitars that I bought specifically for the purpose of practicing my fret finishing and leveling skills. I feel like I understand the process of leveling fairly well.

First, I want a mallet to gently tap the frets, in order to insure that they're fully set in the fretboard. I then take my Sharpie and mark all of the frets lightly. Next step: I take my perfectly flat sanding block, and I sand the frets straight up and down the neck, accounting for the curvature of the fretboard radius, until all of the frets have had their Sharpie marks removed. Then, I need a little curved crowning file to re-crown the frets that have been flattened by the leveling process.

What am I missing in my summary? Where am I about to go wrong?

Second question: the frets also have a good bit of fret sprout, and they're sharp (they've not been filed at all. Just clipped). What file/files do I use to file off the excess fret wire and then round the edges of the fretwire on the ends, in order to give them that smooth feel?
I am not an expert but have leveled/crowned about 10 of my guitars and completely refretted one that a luthier at the local guitar shop ruined by over filing on a springy fret. This is when I decided to learn to do it myself. In all cases below, do it lightly and stop frequently checking results. Take your time!

1. Test them all with a rocker. If they are not very bad, with just a couple high spots, you can just carefully hit the high spots with a stone or file, whatever. Then test with a rocker, repeat until level. If many are high...move on to 2.

2. I would not suggest the mallet (not metal, use rubber/plastic fret mallet) unless you can visibly see a sizeable gap under the fret, and/or you can press it down and it pops back up, springy fret. In that case, you carefully clamp it down and wick thin glue under it first. If any go down from the mallet, odds are they will pop right back up unless glued.

3. Don't forget to use the truss rod to straighten/level the neck first.

4. The sanding block. I would go with a long one, like a leveling beam that covers all the frets at once (I actually use the side of a cheap aluminum level, with the bubbles in it, can't afford $50+ for a proper one). Some folks do it with those little 6 inch things, but that seems sketchy to me.

5. For fret ends you need a triangle fret file (or similar fret specific file) with the corners/edges smoothed, or be VERY careful not to cut "V" groves in the fretboard at the ends of your frets when smoothing/rounding them off. Taping it off may help, but may also get in the way a bit. For excessive sprout, just run the sanding block right down the edge of the fretboard at an angle equal to the frets...um...slope? Like 45 degrees? Just be sure you don't go sanding away the corner of the fretboard any more than you want it "rounded". Fret ends are more about feel > sand > feel > file > feel > file. Very light, spotty, and touchy.

6. Crowning, yeah, use a dedicated crowning file, even if a cheaper one. Remark the top and only go at it until the mark gets thin. It doesn't have to be totally gone.

7. Polish with lighter grits of sand paper. 0000 Steel wool is good for the final step IF you can remove the neck from the body (magnetic pickups will suck that steel in!) or you thoroughly tape off the pickup area and thoroughly clean away steel dust before uncovering them.

NOTE: If anything weird happens, STOP. If one fret is not acting like the sanding block is hitting it when you think it should, check it for being springy (fairly rare but nasty if you don't catch it)! Those spring down as the file/sanding beam passes over and then spring up nearly untouched after it clears and cause you to just file and file away other frets that don't need it. See comment above about "luthier at the local guitar shop".
 
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Ronkirn

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allow me to further expand...

there is not one definitively "correct" method to use in leveling the frets. There are a few basics... get the fingerboard as straight as you can... don't remove any more fret material than necessary... do not go OCD Nuclear... NASA spec precision is NOT the goal.. in fact is it impossible to achieve, even with a Plek, with Dr Plekopolous at the controls.. this because as soon as you get through.. the ambient temperature, etc begin having their way with the lil Lady and she starts bending, writhing, moving around... all limited to a few thou... but moving to be sure...

All leveling does is eleminate random highs and lows to a series of gradual ups and downs.. and that makes one hell of a difference..

You can easily begin with the thread I did back when... once you get comfportable with that, and want to expand to replacing frets, etc.. visit You Tube, and absorb all you can .. then allow it all to "stew" into your own technique and rock on..

r
 

Quexoz

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NASA spec precision is NOT the goal.. in fact is it impossible to achieve, even with a Plek, with Dr Plekopolous at the controls.. this because as soon as you get through.. the ambient temperature, etc begin having their way with the lil Lady and she starts bending, writhing, moving around... all limited to a few thou... but moving to be sure...
Good point. Not to mention when you adjust the truss rod for a bit of relief later. The goal is just to knock off dramatically high frets and hope for the mojo!
 




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