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View Full Version : What tools to level and crown frets?


DGDGBD
09-05-2009, 10:49 AM
I'm thinking of teaching myself to level and crown my own guitars. I have a spare neck and a beater guitar that could serve as guinea pigs. I was wondering what tools I would need to get at minimum to do this the right way.

Keyser Soze
09-05-2009, 11:35 AM
First you'll need the basic stuff necessary to adjust the neck straight. Allen wrench and straight edge at a minimum. Some (me included) like to use a straight edge that has been notched for the frets so that you can actually level the fretboard.

Tape, for taping off the fretboard.

Blue sharpie for measuring progress as you work the frets (blue ink is more visible on metal than black.)

For actual levelling I use carbide paper on an aluminum spirit level with a machined flat surface. If you have access to a decent sized pane of glass you can lay out sandpaper then sand a proper flat into a metal carpenter's level.

Crowning I mainly do by hand with a triangle file and some 'custom made' crowning tools. Basically old plastic toothbrush handles that I have cut rounded channels into for holding various grits of sandpaper. Files for shaping, sandpaper tool for polishing.

Then a dremel tool with a felt pad and polishing compound for final shine.

Tone_Terrific
09-05-2009, 02:08 PM
There are some youtube vids outlining the process, too.
Tedious work.

GtrDr
09-05-2009, 08:23 PM
Some of the You Tube stuff is really good. You'll get an idea of what your going to be doing before you buy tools. It's my favorite thing to do because you can turn a train wreck into a great playing guitar.

walterw
09-06-2009, 10:54 PM
some kind of neck jig to simulate string tension when the thing is unstrung, otherwise you're just guessing if your fret tops will be actually level with each other when you're all done.

little twists and humps will present themselves while strung and disappear when the strings are off, so if you level without accounting for this, those humps and warps will come right back when you string the guitar up with your nice new frets :FM.

DGDGBD
09-07-2009, 10:31 AM
some kind of neck jig to simulate string tension when the thing is unstrung, otherwise you're just guessing if your fret tops will be actually level with each other when you're all done. Sorry for the dumb question, but I thought the truss rod should be adjusted so that the neck is flat (no relief) for leveling. Is that wrong?

Boris Bubbanov
09-07-2009, 11:22 AM
Sorry for the dumb question, but I thought the truss rod should be adjusted so that the neck is flat (no relief) for leveling. Is that wrong?

You'd have to let any truss rod adjustment "take effect" at least overnight before you could know what it amounts to.

If the wood "does its own thing" while not under string tension, you can bet it'll really run off on its own once you remove most of the influence of the truss rod.

I guess this is why manufacturers like to see a hard finish with a low "Perm" rating. The easier a neck is to maintain over time; the more guys who can keep "Neck X" in tip top order, the better the manufacturer's reputation becomes. Maybe Walter will disagree, but I think a newer neck is less prone to all those variances he describes, and also a fatter section neck is less prone.

walterw
09-07-2009, 11:30 AM
Think about it. You adjust the rod with it strung to pitch to be as straight as possible. Then you take the strings off, and the neck goes into backbow. So you adjust the rod again to get the neck straight. Now the neck has no tension from the strings and way less tension from the rod, so is in a completely different state of compression than it will be when strung up again.

Because of this difference, any irregularities that are caused by string and truss rod tension will disappear, and will not be corrected with the fret leveling process.

With a tensioning system, the neck is adjusted to be straight, the strings are then removed (allowing backbow), then the neck is "pushed" back up into the straighness it had. Now the tension is a lot closer to how it will be when strung, and the leveling profile you create will actually be the same when you string it up again.

Keyser Soze
09-07-2009, 11:42 AM
Maybe Walter will disagree, but I think a newer neck is less prone to all those variances he describes, and also a fatter section neck is less prone.

That certainly has been my (albeit limited) experience. But then again I do not work with any truly vintage guitars.

What I do is level the fretboard under normal string tension. Then remove the neck and check to see if it has moved. Most of my necks are modern aftermarket and none of them move appreciably during the leveling process. Maybe they would if I gave them a day or two, but usually have then off then back on within a couple hours.

Two others do back bow a little (enough to feel the straightedge rocking, but barely enough for a feeler gauge at the end.) The set neck I just accept because I don't want to tinker too much with the truss rod. The other is a maple Fender that I just re-straighten. Again, these deviations are very minor, and since I prefer a little relief in all of my set-ups thankfully it is not much of an issue anyway.

Not as perfect a solution as Walter's though. If I was set on dead level fretboards with no relief and ultra low action (or was cursed by owning some real vintage guitars...) that is the way I would go.

DGDGBD
09-07-2009, 02:27 PM
Gotcha, thanks. I like a little relief in my neck; so I should make sure its level with no string tension before I start, yes?.

Think about it. You adjust the rod with it strung to pitch to be as straight as possible. Then you take the strings off, and the neck goes into backbow. So you adjust the rod again to get the neck straight. Now the neck has no tension from the strings and way less tension from the rod, so is in a completely different state of compression than it will be when strung up again.

Because of this difference, any irregularities that are caused by string and truss rod tension will disappear, and will not be corrected with the fret leveling process.

With a tensioning system, the neck is adjusted to be straight, the strings are then removed (allowing backbow), then the neck is "pushed" back up into the straighness it had. Now the tension is a lot closer to how it will be when strung, and the leveling profile you create will actually be the same when you string it up again.

Soapbarstrat
09-07-2009, 03:07 PM
With a tensioning system, the neck is adjusted to be straight, the strings are then removed (allowing backbow), then the neck is "pushed" back up into the straighness it had.

I've found that if I set all the supports while it's still strung up at pitch (and in the playing position), and then remove the strings, the dial indicators usually stay ridiculously close to the zero points.

walterw
09-07-2009, 10:02 PM
I've found that if I set all the supports while it's still strung up at pitch (and in the playing position), and then remove the strings, the dial indicators usually stay ridiculously close to the zero points.
oh, you're talking about a "real" tensioning jig like the stew mac version, where the neck is locked into place while strung, and pretty much gets held there when the strings are removed. nice.

i rigged myself up a shoestring version years ago that doesn't flip up or have dials or anything (it's just hi-hat clutches built into my work bench :p).

the first time i used it, i found that clamping everything down and then removing the strings still gave me a little more movement than i liked, so i learned to just adjust for max straightness with the guitar in my lap while strung, take the strings off (allowing backbow) and then lock the guitar body on the jig.

i then precisely push up the back of the neck under the nut by turning a wing nut on a threaded rod support until it's at the same place it was while strung.

i've been using it for years with consistently good results (i call it my acoustic plek machine:banana).

9fingers
09-07-2009, 10:18 PM
Walter, could you post a picture of that "rig" in action?

Kingbeegtrs
09-09-2009, 05:18 PM
I'm thinking of teaching myself to level and crown my own guitars. I have a spare neck and a beater guitar that could serve as guinea pigs. I was wondering what tools I would need to get at minimum to do this the right way.

a notched straight edge
a fret rocker
a stew mac cant saw file
a stew mac fret file (if you don't like the cant saw file)
400, 800, and 1000 grit sand paper
steel wool
patience.

DGDGBD
09-09-2009, 07:22 PM
a notched straight edge
a fret rocker
a stew mac cant saw file
a stew mac fret file (if you don't like the cant saw file)
400, 800, and 1000 grit sand paper
steel wool
patience.
Thanks!

Soapbarstrat
09-09-2009, 08:38 PM
Don't buy any stewmac straight-edges, unless you have a high quality straight-edge from another source to check the accuracy of the StewMac SE. I've had to send back several StewMac straight-edges and I know other people who had to do the same.

Rosewood
09-09-2009, 10:19 PM
oh, you're talking about a "real" tensioning jig like the stew mac version, where the neck is locked into place while strung, and pretty much gets held there when the strings are removed. nice.

i rigged myself up a shoestring version years ago that doesn't flip up or have dials or anything (it's just hi-hat clutches built into my work bench :p).

the first time i used it, i found that clamping everything down and then removing the strings still gave me a little more movement than i liked, so i learned to just adjust for max straightness with the guitar in my lap while strung, take the strings off (allowing backbow) and then lock the guitar body on the jig.

i then precisely push up the back of the neck under the nut by turning a wing nut on a threaded rod support until it's at the same place it was while strung.

i've been using it for years with consistently good results (i call it my acoustic plek machine:banana).
Walter, we have about the same jig (acoustic plek :cool:) sounds like. I use 4 L shaped padded supports screwed to the bench and a neck support similar to Stew Mac.

walterw
09-22-2009, 08:05 PM
Walter, could you post a picture of that "rig" in action?
ok, you've called me out, so i tried taking some iphone pictures, and hey, they came out pretty good!


here's the jig when installed into my bench
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/neckjig9-09001.jpg
note lots of extra holes so i can rig up different guitars

here it is with a guitar in it and my leveling beam on it (actually it's a customer's neck and my dummy body)
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/neckjig9-09006.jpg
note the most excellent sonic research turbo-tuner mounted behind it (get one, it smokes everything else out there, including mechanical strobes)

walterw
09-22-2009, 08:13 PM
here's what i level and check with
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/neckjig9-09016.jpg
+1 to being skeptical of straightness, but these two are as perfect as i can visually test (at least the one side of the leveling beam is; the other is like .004" concave, so i don't use that side)

here's what the fret tops look like after i'm done, with the guitar strapped down, the rod adjusted while strung so that it was straight, and the neck pushed up by the padded rest under the first fret so that it's just as straight unstrung
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/neckjig9-09015.jpg

here's what happens when i release the band clamp holding it down (neck support is also lowered out of the way)
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/neckjig9-09012.jpg
when it's done and strung up, it goes right back to dead straight, at which point i can relax the rod a little and get just the relief i want, usually almost none :aok

walterw
09-22-2009, 08:29 PM
here's the high-tech items i made the neck supports from :rolleyes:
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/neckjig9-09003.jpg
primary neck cushion that i use to push the neck into correct straightness (via wingnut) on the left, secondary support that in multiples holds the rest of the neck in place down to the body end in the middle, original stewmac spool clamp that i made these from on the right.

finally, state-of-the-art locking mechanisms that hold the neck supports in place from underneath the benchtop (hi-hat clutches :rolleyes: :rolleyes:)
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/neckjig9-09019.jpg

the whole thing is kinda spindly and shoe-string, but i've gotten good at using it over the years.

Rob Sharer
09-22-2009, 09:24 PM
No shame there....it reminds me of this old question: in an emergency, who would you rather have remove your appendix, a famous surgeon with a dull steak-knife, or an amateur with the latest gear?


Rob

walterw
09-22-2009, 09:59 PM
No shame there....it reminds me of this old question: in an emergency, who would you rather have remove your appendix, a famous surgeon with a dull steak-knife, or an amateur with the latest gear?


Rob
oh, yeah? oh yeah? well what do you use? :FM

no seriously, i would love to see pics of what other folks doing the "tension-leveling" thing have got going on (so i can steal ideas :D)

Rob Sharer
09-23-2009, 08:46 AM
Damn, thought that was a compliment.


R

walterw
09-23-2009, 10:49 AM
Damn, thought that was a compliment.


R:beer

walterw
09-23-2009, 08:08 PM
so yeah, pictures, anyone? :o

guitar mangler
09-24-2009, 03:26 AM
walterw, awesome jig. I've looked at stewmac rig, and discounted it because of the expense. I only want to ' have a go ' at refretting on some of my guitars. Will be eyeing up some high hat clutches pretty soon.http://www.thegearpage.net/board/images/icons/icon7.gif

Quick general question. I have refretted a couple of guitars ( pre internet so I followed a book and kinda guessed a bit ) I didn't encounter too many problems except when cutting the fret wire. When I used jim dunlop 6000's I found it very hard to snip lengths off, and when I did manage to the ends were seriously chewed up. I compensated by leaving an excess and just filling it down to the edges of the fingerboard.
Perhaps my nippers were blunt? My hand grip is ok, but I found it very tiring after a while.
Is there a particular pair of nippers or cutters anyone would recommend? I was thinking perhaps I could use a dremel to cut lengths off. Overkill?

Soapbarstrat
09-24-2009, 05:10 AM
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v398/soapbarstrat/fret-work30.jpg

Haven't had a camera in a while. This is my old jig (an old StewMac 'Luthier's Workstation' built from plans they sold, fall of 1989). Dial indicators added several years ago. I had to change to longer rods because of the indicators. There's a 3rd indicator under one side of the headstock to help show neck twisting.
My new one is a hollow aluminum beam with that same wood "jigging bock" (with metal sleeves for the pins) bolted inside the beam. I managed to get a tilt vise just like StewMac sells, on ebay for under $25.00, so I can tilt the beam into playing position (the top of the 'luthiers workstation' also tilted all the way around). Then I cobbled together my own "shop stand" to mount it on. Being able to adjust the height of the whole deal on the "shop stand" is a huge plus (can get those frets right in my face). But oddly I started doing less fret-work after getting this set-up (just a coincidence).

The stewmac tools in the pic got sent back right away. I didn't even finish the neck with that leveling bar. I quickly found out my old Ken Donnel fret plane was more flat. Rocker had a defect too. Wish I wouldn't have included the stew tools on the pic.

walterw
09-24-2009, 11:08 PM
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v398/soapbarstrat/fret-work30.jpg


nice! (and kinda intimidating with all the dial indicators)

what do those do for you anyway? you lock the guitar in the jig, tilt the whole thing into playing position, slide the support rods in place and lock them, and take the strings off, right? if the guitar's clamped down right and the rods are tight, nothing should move, so what are you measuring?

walterw
09-24-2009, 11:20 PM
Perhaps my nippers were blunt? My hand grip is ok, but I found it very tiring after a while.
Is there a particular pair of nippers or cutters anyone would recommend? I was thinking perhaps I could use a dremel to cut lengths off. Overkill?
if you're talking about cutting overhangs on the guitar, a dremel would get the frets too hot.

i use mini-bolt-cutters, which cut even stainless wire effortlessly. i had a friend with access to an EDM machine cut them down to be almost flush on one side.

i also leave enough hanging over that any deformation gets filed away.

Soapbarstrat
09-25-2009, 12:19 AM
what do those do for you anyway?

The most important thing they do is tell me if I'm pushing up too far or not far enough with the supports. Before the indicators, I depended on the back-light to show me when I've just touched the back of the neck with the rods. BUT, It seems guitars I had fretted without the indicators play just as well as the ones I do now. Guess that shows there's a precision point that's futile to go beyond.
I suppose the indicators help me set the rods faster. They were cheap. Lots of other uses for 'em around the shop too.
Also, I guess they're needed if you're doing the pushing up at the headstock end and pulling down at the nut area, the way Erlewine shows in the neck-jig video (now on DVD)
They can also show how much back-bow tight frets are putting into the neck as you're going along.
Kind of like a peterson VS-2, it does more than you might need it to (plus makes you sorry you bought it after seeing the turbo tuner on someone elses bench.)

Oh by the way, I tried to find that photo of David Collins jig I mentioned a while back but couldn't find it.

guitar mangler
09-25-2009, 11:20 AM
if you're talking about cutting overhangs on the guitar, a dremel would get the frets too hot.

i use mini-bolt-cutters, which cut even stainless wire effortlessly. i had a friend with access to an EDM machine cut them down to be almost flush on one side.

i also leave enough hanging over that any deformation gets filed away.

Thanks, that's a great idea. Will go and grab a pair.

The Pup
09-25-2009, 02:09 PM
Really enjoyed seeing the home-made jig...very cool.

9fingers
09-25-2009, 08:13 PM
Thanks Walter fo taking the time to take & post pix of your affordable neck tension rig.

DGDGBD
09-25-2009, 08:45 PM
Thanks Walter fo taking the time to take & post pix of your affordable neck tension rig.
I second that (soapbarstrat too)! :beer

GtrDr
11-14-2009, 12:16 PM
Very nice Walter. I'm stealing that set up.

Bob V
11-14-2009, 01:01 PM
As far as collecting tools is concerned, I prefer to use a no 5 woodworking plane body (with the iron removed, duh) with 400 grit paper on the bottom. If the tool was properly dressed it will have a perfectly flat sole. Self-adhesive rolls are ideal, but spray adhesive from the art supply store works well, too, if you don't mind cleaning the residue off the tool with naptha or acetone later. If the leveling tool is too long, I find that I take too much off the middle frets, but if it's shorter I can still get it level while controlling the overlap of the strokes.

For crowning, the most economical set is the small crank-necked handle that comes with three short burrs from Stew Mac or Luthier's Mercantile so you can do narrow, medium, and wide frets. The next step up in expense are individual files from Luthier's Mercantile which have pretty rosewood-ish handles and two different files - coarse and fine - for each size. But you'll need a set of those for narrow (vintage electrics or most acoustics), medium (modern medium-jumbo), and wide (jumbo) fret sizes in order to shape the crown the best. The most expensive fret crowning files are the diamond grit ones which I suppose would be nice if you're investing in doing stainless fretwire (haven't tried them).

For dressing the fret ends (and shaping the tops of nuts) you can just grind off the teeth from the edge of a large three-corner file like the ones they sell to sharpen chainsaws. There's a quarter-round fret file at Stew Mac that's really nifty for doing "hot-dog" fret ends but it's sort of a luxury otherwise (and you can't crown wide fret wire with it, the radius is too tight).

I reach for the satin finished Starret 6" combination square for lots of setup measurements because the etching is so fine and easy to read (64ths and 32nds on one side, 16ths and 18ths on the other). Also, the beam from a good 6" combination square is helpful since it has three different lengths of flat area that you can use to rock across sets of three frets to find one that's high and might need a little more seating with a hammer before you start leveling. Which brings me to my favorite fret hammer, a small "deadblow" hammer with a brass face and loose shot inside the orange plastic head that I found in a woodworking catalog. If you can't find one of those, then a small hammer with interchangeable heads is fine (brass and yellow plastic, or yellow plastic and rubber).

You should already have feeler gauges and straightedges (I have the Stew mac one, made slightly longer one from a piece of aluminum, and a plastic one for bass necks from LMI). As for a notched straightege, you can make one from an acrylic t-square from the art supply store.

My favorite trussrod wrench is the t-handle nutdriver that Stewmac used to sell; the long screwdriver-handled ones they have now are almost as nice (5/16" for Gibson, 1/4" for Guild). I wish my metric T-handle allen wrenches had long enough shafts to do the imported rods.

walterw
11-15-2009, 11:59 PM
If the leveling tool is too long, I find that I take too much off the middle frets, but if it's shorter I can still get it level while controlling the overlap of the strokes.
see, i could never get that. to me, the whole idea of leveling the board (and the frets afterward) is to eliminate the hills and valleys, creating a straight surface. with a long leveler like the 2 foot thing i use, the high parts get knocked down while the low parts get left alone. with a short planing tool, i'd just end up following the hills and valleys, unless i constantly stopped and checked the results with a straightedge over and over. and what about trying to do a compound radius that way? with the big bar, i can create my starting and ending radii using radius blocks, then "connect" them using the bar. :dunno

it strikes me as the difference between trying to freehand sketch a straight line and just tracing one with a ruler.
Which brings me to my favorite fret hammer, a small "deadblow" hammer with a brass face and loose shot inside the orange plastic head that I found in a woodworking catalog. If you can't find one of those, then a small hammer with interchangeable heads is fine (brass and yellow plastic, or yellow plastic and rubber).

+1
the one stewmac sells is kinda light and dinky, though. i found a slightly bigger one that was all-plastic at home depot, and just cut the plastic away from one end of the head, revealing a steel surface. i use it on my stainless refrets, and sometimes on my non-stainless ones (when someone talks me into doing one), since any dings get filed away on the leveling step.

i sometimes think i "should" be using a fret press instead of a hammer, but how do you press in on a compound radius? i have this vague idea for an articulated fret caul that conforms to whatever radius it's pressing on (look at your windshield wipers for the mechanism i'm thinking of), but i'm no machinist, so it's the hammer for me.

walterw
12-15-2010, 10:40 PM
soapbarstrat PM'd me this, and it's too good to sit on, so i'm reviving this old thread:
I think I mentioned seeing this here on the forum a while back, and you were interested, but I couldn't find a photo, and David didn't seem to notice we were interested.

Anyway, the photo has surfaced again here :

http://www.tdpri.com/forum/tele-home-depot/251433-new-jig-fret-leveling.html

Post #29

Rob

http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/sjneckjig1.jpg (http://www.collinsluthiery.com/images/sjneckjig1.jpg)

holy crap! David Collins is "several rungs up the ladder" indeed!

i've struggled with the longitudinal compression problem too; some necks show warps when strung that disappear even when pushed up in a regular neck jig.

my shoestring efforts so far have consisted of a 6" flat bit of bar stock, padded and shoved behind the nut, with a short machine screw in each end; the strings get hooked around the screws (3 on each side) to spread them away from over the board. at the other end, a flat little block of wood gets shoved between the strings down near the bridge to spread them apart down there.

i then tighten the strings until the neck is in the same state it was when tuned up (measured with straightedges and whatnot), then lock it into my jig and level with my 2-foot sanding bar over the now-exposed fretboard.

it may not present precisely the same forces in precisely the same directions, but with the few "problem" necks i've used this on, i've gotten way closer than without it.

a proper (i.e., easy, flexible and accurate) way of creating actual and controllable longitudinal pressure would be a very good thing IMO.

as an aside, man the "techyness" level over at TDP seems pretty high; we need more of that over here!

w

slainempire
12-21-2010, 12:07 AM
Before you decide to do it yourself or not do yourself a big favor and buy this book...http://www.amazon.com/Guitar-Player-Repair-Guide-Book/dp/0879309210/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292911740&sr=8-1

Dan Erlewine is the man for sure.

Johns7022
12-21-2010, 01:58 AM
I too am wandering into fret country...anyone know where I can buy diamond crowning files cheaper then Stew Mac...??? I don't have the skill to be doing them with flat files and such...

Eagle1
12-21-2010, 07:01 AM
I find the jigs better than nothing but still not able to replicate string tension . Pushing the neck from the back doesn't find the weakest part of the wood in the same way as pulling it from the head with strings so if you have an undesirable relief dressing it out with one of these jigs is not as effective as the Plek.
Oh and I modified high quality files because the stew mac ones ware out real fast on SS frets and my CK ones don't.
The main tool as mentioned above is patience.

walterw
12-21-2010, 09:14 PM
right, hence my thread-reviving response to that crazy longitudinal jig david collins created.

"CK" files?

Eagle1
12-22-2010, 03:16 AM
right, hence my thread-reviving response to that crazy longitudinal jig david collins created.

"CK" files?
CK is a Japanese tool company and I find there files just go on for ever, but this makes them very hard to cut and modify , worth it though.

cdntac
12-22-2010, 10:04 AM
After having the frets leveled and crowned on my Byrdland a few months ago I decided that I would buy a crowning file from Stew-Mac and attempt to crown the frets on my other two guitars. I figured I may as well buy my own file as it would be cheaper than paying for two more guitars to be done by a luthier!

I bought this one from Stew-Mac (300 grit version): http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Shaping_and_crowning/Diamond_Fret_Files/Offset_Diamond_Fret_File.html

Reading Dan Erlewine's Guitar Player's Repair Guide also gave me the confidence to try this.

After lightly crowning them I used 400, 600 and 1500 grit black wet/dry sandpaper and then used Gorgomyte on the frets and fretboard.


And I can emphatically say that --- Wow...did it ever make a difference on my guitars!

Crowning frets is very easy to do --- at least with this file. I immediately noticed that my two guitars had much more of a ring to them (makes sense with crowned frets as opposed to those which are slightly worn down).

I'd equate crowning frets with doing an oil change on a car. It's not that hard --- you just need the proper tools and some patience.

Since November I've done seven guitars for friends --- all have noticed that their guitars have more of a ring to them and sustain longer. Just yesterday I did two guitars for a friend and he sent me an e-mail this morning saying he stayed up past midnight playing them because they just sounded so much better.

I'd really like to encourage those who have been curious about crowning their own frets to give it a try. Just use the right tools and be patient. It's a lot easier than you may think.

Common sense prevails though. Leveling frets is another story. But I can honestly say that buying that diamond offset file is one of the best guitar accessories I've ever purchased.

cyguitar
12-22-2010, 02:06 PM
I am curious to know how they level the frets at Gibson, Fender, PRS, Martin, Taylor, etc. Do they simulate string tension when doing this on a new guitar? I too am about to dive into the world of fret work and nut work.

GuitslingerTim
12-23-2010, 09:42 PM
I am curious to know how they level the frets at Gibson, Fender, PRS, Martin, Taylor, etc. Do they simulate string tension when doing this on a new guitar? I too am about to dive into the world of fret work and nut work.

Gibson is plekking some of their guitars, namely the high-end models. As far as other factory guitars are concerned, none that I have owned or evaluated have had truly level frets, which tells me that tension jigs are not seeing widespread use.

Rhomco
12-24-2010, 12:42 PM
Lots of $20.00 bills or a fat CC.
:rotflmao

walterw
10-22-2012, 08:31 PM
OK, another thread revival!

after using my homemade rig-up forever, i finally bit the bullet and got the real thing!

i've come to learn that the detail of "pushing up behind the headstock while pulling down at the nut", and of using dial indicators to control the results of that torquing, isn't just a nice perk, but is the key to the operation!

just pushing up behind the nut may allow for the kink at the body to "present" for removal, but doesn't factor in the string pull over the keys and onto the nut and how that affects the lower end of the neck.

i've only used it a couple times now and am still modifying it to suit, but controlling the headstock torque plus the use of the indicators to really get things back exactly where they were while strung is already giving me great results, both in predicting fret profiles and in doing the whole thing faster.

http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/Untitled.jpg
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj50/walterw2/Untitled-1.jpg

John Coloccia
10-22-2012, 09:59 PM
I just got one a month or two ago. It's quite a cool little device. Honestly, I've only recently come to realize how important something like this can be to get a problem neck under control. Maybe not essential...well, certainly not essential....but boy does it save a crap load of fiddling, measuring and futzing on the problem necks. On good necks, it just makes everything a little easier and just that much more precise.

Did you buy Jaws yet, Walter? Jaws rocks too.

walterw
10-23-2012, 12:12 AM
Did you buy Jaws yet, Walter? Jaws rocks too.
oh, absolutely (http://www.thegearpage.net/board/showthread.php?t=935872).

that universal caul i made up works nicely in my jaws I and II, and also in the regular arbor fret press.

walterw
10-23-2012, 12:23 AM
I just got one a month or two ago. It's quite a cool little device.
did yours come with the nylon strap to pull the nut area down? i hated that, it was way too stretchy and unstable. my first attempt at something to remove any "give" for that operation is (as you can see) a bit of metal plate with a rubber backing (drum parts, actually) with two eyebolts attached to a little metal cable.

i also ditched the rubber bits on the ends of the support rods for little wood plugs (again to eliminate as much "slop" in the positioning as possible).

John Coloccia
10-23-2012, 02:38 AM
did yours come with the nylon strap to pull the nut area down? i hated that, it was way too stretchy and unstable. my first attempt at something to remove any "give" for that operation is (as you can see) a bit of metal plate with a rubber backing (drum parts, actually) with two eyebolts attached to a little metal cable.

i also ditched the rubber bits on the ends of the support rods for little wood plugs (again to eliminate as much "slop" in the positioning as possible).

Mine has the nylon strap. Yeah, it's frustrating to use. I have to keep squeezing it and retightening to get the slop out, but it eventually settles down. I've been scratching my head about that one, actually, and I'm liking your solution. I also like the idea of wooden plugs. The plastic caps it comes with seem too springy. The black headstock one especially is practically useless. Not really sure what they had in mind there.

nateclark
10-23-2012, 07:19 AM
The strap on mine eventually stretched out and has been pretty stable. It still sometimes requires a small follow up adjustment after a few minutes but is quick to set up much better than it was.

A couple of tips, which you probably figured out already:

I set the height of the jack at the end of the hedstock after I've adjusted the dial indicators but while the guitar is in the jig with strings on.

If I don't have to pull frets then I leave the jack in place and set the posts before taking the strings off.

I then use my hand to push the nut area down while I fine tune the jack. I also push down at the nut zeroing the indicators as I tighten down the strap.

The point of all of this is to avoid spending a bunch of time adjusting the jack, then the post, then the jack, then the post, etc...

fumbler
10-23-2012, 08:14 AM
Hey guys, for a few years I've just been doing "slack neck" level/crowns without a jig (following Ron Kirn's tutorial on TDPRI). This is all on my own (and friends/relations) guitars. And every single one has made a significant improvement in the guitars playability and allows one to set the action nice and low.

Of course, I assume ALL necks behave differently under string/truss rod tension BUT, for MOST necks, this effect is NOT large. Therefore; IMHO one can do a "pretty good" level job on a slack neck. Of course, you guys with jigs can do an "excellent" level; while those with special jigs that apply REAL string tension can do a "near-perfection" job that is likely the equivalent of a PLEK machine (because, well, that is what a PLEK machine does. Sort of.)

So I have a few questions for you pros:

1. Basically, what am I missing by not having a tensioning jig? (I understand it's hard to define what constitutes a "good enough" fret level.)

And another question that many of you might be interested in sharing anecdotal info:

2. Roughly what fraction of necks have you come across that you would describe as "problem" necks? Meaning: necks that hump or twist under tension enough that a 'slack level job' would be way off. I would especially love to know if any of you have an opinion on which woods tend to do this more. Maple vs. mahogany (with various fingerboards) are the obvious options. Any opinions on flame/birdseye etc.?

And a big "Thanks" to all of you level-headed folks. (See what I did there?) :)

John Coloccia
10-23-2012, 09:29 AM
re: what are you missing
Really depends on the neck. A well behaved neck (i.e. one that pulls up properly under relief, is able to be adjusted dead straight with the strings off, and doesn't have anything fancy going on) will level just fine out of the jig, though the jig makes it a little more convenient. It's like a fretting workstation.

re: "problem" necks that benefit from the jig
To one degree or another, almost every neck I see benefits from use of the jig. That's not to say NOT using the jig would give an inadequate job...just that using it gives a slightly better job. Probably not anything to worry about. A good portion of necks I see that are in for complete re-frets have minor problems where the jig probably helps you do a measurably better job than just NAIVELY straightening the neck and leveling. You can certainly measure what's going on under string tension and then manually work that into the frets if you really wanted to. It seems like over time, many necks tend to settle in and always have little undulations you don't really want going on. Again, how much practical difference does it really make? Probably just enough to make it worth buying or building a jig if you do this for a living.

And then there are the occasional necks that are absolute basket cases. Here, the jig is a major time saver. I'm working on one right now, in fact. Neck was stuck in an up bow, had twist, and already had some of the twist removed by sanding. I'm sure it was refretted at some point. This one has been a real struggle because there was very little wood left to work with on the fingerboard. It's required heat pressing, sanding, tall frets, expanded tangs, etc to get it under control. It's just about there now. The jig was really helpful because it's a very reactive neck.

walterw
10-23-2012, 09:50 AM
I see the difference between "jig" and "no jig" as the difference between laying down a ruler on a sheet of paper and tracing a straight line vs. trying to sketch that same straight line freehand.

fumbler
10-23-2012, 10:21 AM
Thank you for your replies, gentlemen.

This is my dilemma: it is very difficult to simultaneously be both a perfectionist and a cheapskate.

If I can find the space and time for it, I can definitely see myself building something like the homebrew jig in Walter's earlier posts.

GuitslingerTim
10-23-2012, 11:54 AM
1. Basically, what am I missing by not having a tensioning jig? (I understand it's hard to define what constitutes a "good enough" fret level.)



You can answer that question by stringing up a neck after leveling the frets without a jig and checking the levelness of the frets.

All wooden necks will be affected by linear compression under tension, which can elevate certain frets.



2. Roughly what fraction of necks have you come across that you would describe as "problem" necks? Meaning: necks that hump or twist under tension enough that a 'slack level job' would be way off. I would especially love to know if any of you have an opinion on which woods tend to do this more. Maple vs. mahogany (with various fingerboards) are the obvious options. Any opinions on flame/birdseye etc.?

The issue with problem necks is when a twist appears under string tension that can't be duplicated using simulated tension created with a jig, hence the need for David Collins jig that uses actual string tension. I've seen a few twisted necks, most of which were caused by leaving a guitar in front of an open window in the hot sun, or in the trunk of car in high temperatures; they are rare in my experience.

nateclark
10-23-2012, 12:37 PM
Thank you for your replies, gentlemen.

This is my dilemma: it is very difficult to simultaneously be both a perfectionist and a cheapskate.

If I can find the space and time for it, I can definitely see myself building something like the homebrew jig in Walter's earlier posts.

Maybe you just need to convince your "cheapskate" side of how much money you are actually saving by doing fretwork yourself:

I live in Ithaca NY where there are lots of hills so my wife and I go through LOTS of brakes. Years ago I made the decision to always change our pads, shoes and rotors myself.

Just about every time I do a brake job (literally, once if not twice a year) I buy a new tool specifically for speeding up brake jobs. After a few years of this, I have just about everything I could really use.

Because of the money saved, I really have no trouble justifying a few hundred dollars of tools to myself or my wife.

I would say that the neck jig is like an air compressor, air ratchet and impact wrench all in one. In other words, it allows you to quickly move through more mundane and otherwise time consuming aspects of refretting without worry so that you can spend more time fussing with other aspects of the job. Your work will probably be better and more consistent, I know my fretwork has, since I got the neck jig a few years back.

John Coloccia
10-23-2012, 07:05 PM
Thank you for your replies, gentlemen.

This is my dilemma: it is very difficult to simultaneously be both a perfectionist and a cheapskate.

If I can find the space and time for it, I can definitely see myself building something like the homebrew jig in Walter's earlier posts.

I almost built one. It wouldn't be hard to build. It will be a bit of a PITA make the little rods work, and to figure out the location of the supports so they work for a lot of different guitars. In the end, you'll certainly save a few bucks. The way StewMac's tools go, you usually save a few bucks making it yourself, but they typically sell for a pretty fair price. For example, Jaws (without cauls) is $220, but if you source the Facom mole grips they use, you'll find they're about $80 retail just on their own. $220 is pretty reasonable.