What's the learning curve on fret leveling?

Ronkirn

Doctor of Teleocity
Vendor Member
Joined
May 1, 2003
Posts
12,686
Age
75
Location
Jacksonville, FL
I would encourage any considering setting up to do fret leveling... check out my thread before ya run out and spend considerable $$$ on tools you probably do not need, or, can find at your local Lowes or Home Depot.. the only tools that can't be found in any good hardware store tool department are the nut slot files (DO NOT USE welding tip cleaners, often sold as nut slotting tools) . . and the fret crowning file... and a few others you may want to add later as the need developes..

Lutherie, including fret leveling is an "art" meaning you wull develop your own methods..Your. unique method may need some tools others do not require.. or you may not need tools others suggest. Such does not make you better or not so much.. it only means you have refined your processes to the point you know what you're doing..

Start simple, on a beater, get the hang of what is required before ya run out and drop hundreds on useless stuff....
 

COOPSTER

TDPRI Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2020
Posts
87
Age
57
Location
Canada
I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of my cheap-o Chinese guitar (it'll probably be February or later before I get it, given the current supply-chain disruptions).

Anyway, the short story is that I bought a $300 Chibson-eque guitar (it's actually a rip-off of a Gretsch, so I don't know what that's called. A Grinese? A Chetch?). I got the guitar so that I could use it as a learning tool. I'm going to do some router work and re-wire it, I'm thinking about trying to strip the paint and refinish it, etc.

In this line of thought, I have two questions, the first of which is in the title of the thread:

1) What's the learning curve on learning how to level and polish frets? Is it possible to do a professional-quality job on your first try, if you're a bit handy and patient? Or is experience vitally important?

2) What tools do I need, and what tools do I want (i.e., what tools are out there that, while not necessary, certainly make the job easier).

As always, thanks for the responses. I'm just trying to keep my mind busy while I wait for the box to show up on my doorstep.

Levelled and crowned one of my teles the other day with no special tools (just a couple blocks and various grades of sandpaper).

See Fabian's DIY instructions:

My results after level and hand crown (it had a polish after these pics)...

Of course, if I was doing more of this work I would buy a good levelling bar and fret crowning tool, but I'm not and I like a challenge. Nice and slow is the key, think about each move twice before doing anything.

IMG_2284 (1).JPG
IMG_2286.JPG
 
Last edited:

Chuck berry

TDPRI Member
Joined
Feb 17, 2016
Posts
94
Location
Memrancook nb Canada
Well it depends. You might get lucky and do a good job or you may fail. But hey don't put yourself down though. Today people are more lucky than many would admit. You have vedeos that shows you all that needs to be done. Most tools if your handy at fabricating things you can make yourself. Others unfortunately you have to buy.
The guy that showed me the placing or frets leveling etc., told as my 1st lesson when you look at your instrument in repair, look at it as if its an expensive one. This way you will be as careful as you can be. He said for ex: if you change your plugs in your car and you forget to intall the wire on what of your plugs your engine it'll run rough.This is not to put any stress or pressure on you. Its think twice before starting.
Dan Erwine of Stew Mac he's got really good vedeos on all you need to do and actually shows you. So go at it and good luck.
 

Frankentronics

TDPRI Member
Joined
Jun 18, 2020
Posts
90
Location
New York City
I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of my cheap-o Chinese guitar (it'll probably be February or later before I get it, given the current supply-chain disruptions).

Anyway, the short story is that I bought a $300 Chibson-eque guitar (it's actually a rip-off of a Gretsch, so I don't know what that's called. A Grinese? A Chetch?). I got the guitar so that I could use it as a learning tool. I'm going to do some router work and re-wire it, I'm thinking about trying to strip the paint and refinish it, etc.

Not wanting to sound negative, you can buy plenty of used guitars, under $300, at the Guitar Center, or on eBay. You do not have to send money Chinese counterfeiters (which is BTW a federal felony), just to be able to practice on junk guitars.


In this line of thought, I have two questions, the first of which is in the title of the thread:

1) What's the learning curve on learning how to level and polish frets? Is it possible to do a professional-quality job on your first try, if you're a bit handy and patient? Or is experience vitally important?

I'll focus on these questions, in mixed order.

...is experience vitally important?

Silly question. Is experience vitally important in doing any high skilled work? C'mon, you know the answer to that one.

...What's the learning curve on learning how to level and polish frets?

That depends on the person. Some never learn, some are naturals. It helps if you can do other similar skilled work. There is no answer to that question. I know of of full time tech that still doesn't know how to do this job, yet, he is very confident. Some techs exhibit a high level of confidence because they've done it a million time, they do it every day, they know all the tricks an nuances. With this tech (who shall remain unnamed) the situation is different. He exhibits a high level of confidence because he is so clueless that he doesn't even have the capacity to grasp how clueless he is. But he's do it and he thinks he's done great work because the frets were shiny after the polishing. When a customer comes u to his bench, the customer is under the impression that the tech knows what he's doing, because the exhibits a high level of confidence. God help the customer leaving their vintage Martin. Just to give you an example of how clueless he is, he once opened up the control cavity of a Les Paul and was asking me for some advise on rewiring. Then, he said something about, "...but there are these transistors here," while pointing to capacitors. But, hey, he's confident.

you never know what kind of tech you land on.

Is it possible to do a professional-quality job on your first try, if you're a bit handy and patient?

Anything is possible. It's possible to do a great studio recording on your first try, on the first take. But the reality is that you will see that things tent to improve with multiple trials. You get better at it, as you do more jobs (unless you are like the above-mentioned tech).

In closing, I might say something about the word "professional".

That word is never used properly. The word professional means (in this context) that you paid a professional to do the job, so you got a professional job done. That only means that the pro is someone that does that kind of work for a living.

The unnamed tech is a great example of a professional that does professional work and #uck's it up almost every time. He once string up a Bidgsby incorrectly, so the strings went straight from the Bigsby's vibrato bar onto the bridge, without running the strings under the retention bar, so without any break angle. So, there was buzzing, duh. So, to eliminate the buzz he simply kept raising the action on the bridge until it was high enough to produce a somewhat sufficient break angle on the strings.

I've also seen two headstock repairs by that guy. Both completely botched up.
 

Thebluesman

Tele-Holic
Joined
Feb 20, 2009
Posts
752
Location
nowhere anymore/UK
every l and c is a challenge to overcome =every gtr is [subtly]unique. confidence is.. the key.=practise, practise, practise=there is no short cut.. never was nor will be.
 

Ronkirn

Doctor of Teleocity
Vendor Member
Joined
May 1, 2003
Posts
12,686
Age
75
Location
Jacksonville, FL
i once had a gtr plekked=result...it buzzed and still needed a set up etc.

While it's been a few years ago now... I gave my Gibby playing Son 'in Law a Gibson LP.. The one USA made and pleked at the factory... what ya see is one pass with the level beam... I use the LMII tool too.

well I level frets on about every guitar that comes across my desk, so as I was getting in to it... I thought these photos would go to show what I mean when I say the neck is in a constant state of flux...

I don't post this to discredit a Plek Machine, but rather to illustrate how a fully leveled neck isn't really level.. Heck... If I had a hundred K to throw around, I'd probably buy a Plek too... But Caitlyn wants a new BVLGARI bobble, and the hundred large will at least hold it till I get summore jing to throw at it.. :p


DSC_7688.JPG
DSC_7689.JPG
DSC_7690.JPG
DSC_7691.JPG
 

Bob J

Tele-Holic
Joined
Feb 26, 2010
Posts
816
Location
Portland OR
I just finished my third level and crown. First was on a prebuilt neck from a kit, I thought it was a pretty good neck until I leveled and crowned it. Turned out ok but I’m a beginner and don’t have much experience to go on. My second was on the first neck I built, I thought it was an ok neck until I leveled it, what a mess! Still it turned out ok and is reasonably playable. This third one is my second build, again what a mess! Some frets are really flat while others are barely touched (before crowning). We’ll see if it is playable in a few weeks, but clearly I need more practice building necks.

For me, that’s where the tough learning curve is.
 

chazo64

Tele-Meister
Joined
Aug 30, 2021
Posts
272
Age
57
Location
Chipley ,Florida 32428
Cheap guitars are great for learning how to maintian and customise guitars the fret work is very easy yes there is a learning curve but you tought yourself how to play guitar .....get a good fret crown file make sure to tape everything off well. you have to start by gett that neck truss rod in a playable position before you even know if your frets NEED to be leveled. Most of the time they just need a little dressing and polish. if you dont have a notch straight edge place a straight edge on the back of the neck and get it sraight it needs tho be flat then check your frets with the striaght edge.
 

Thebluesman

Tele-Holic
Joined
Feb 20, 2009
Posts
752
Location
nowhere anymore/UK
all gtrs have frets=newly installed frets=they will require l and c 'n g.a light fret dress is l and c 'n g the frets regardless=same preparation required.
 

enorbet2

Tele-Meister
Joined
Nov 26, 2019
Posts
103
Age
75
Location
Viurginia, USA
It is possible to do a decent job on the first try IF you have proper tools and make certain the NECK is straight... perfectly straight, no "relief", before you put a straight edge on the frets. The shadow of the strings is a decent indicator of neck condition. Assuming the guitar isn't awful to start with it's best to apply "less is more" and not take off too much metal from the frets, unless you really like that "fretless wonder" effect and don't care much about string bending. Be sure to mask off the fingerboard at the very least before crowning and polishing. I like to treat raw wood fingerboards with Woodwind Bore oil,,, even works on ebony.
 

Ronkirn

Doctor of Teleocity
Vendor Member
Joined
May 1, 2003
Posts
12,686
Age
75
Location
Jacksonville, FL
a setup IS absolutely necessary as a follow-up to the fret leveling.... but for those with a bit of "shop acumen" it's pretty easy... as is the actual fret leveling.... For those that must study the instructions that come with a hammer.... well y'all might do better leaving it to a tech.

If ya want to know how, there is only one way... get that beater, open the thread I did (see below) and get at it.. the info below is free... and . . . mean a real free.. not like a Politicians "free" where it doesn't cost ya anything, but your taxes just doubled...


http://www.tdpri.com/forum/tele-technical/201556-fret-leveling-yer-tele-101-a.html

https://www.ronkirn.com/books-1
 

drumtime

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Mar 17, 2018
Posts
1,297
Age
70
Location
the mountains of Virginia
Everything you need to know is in Ron Kirn's guides, which he links to above. Do what he says, and you'll end up with a better-playing guitar.

I bought a $140 Douglas guitar from Rondo to practice on, and used a piece of marble threshold with stick-on sandpaper. Bought a Grizzly crowning file, more sandpaper, and blue masking tape. That's it for tools. If you're doing a complete L&C, no real need to identify high frets, IMO, but no harm either. A credit card works fine, but a fret rocker is a bit better.

I've done a lot of work with tools all of my adult life, so I started with some basic skills, which no doubt helped. At any rate, the Douglas came out so good, after a setup (also my first) that it's the one I play most these days.
 




Top