How to get frets smoooooooth?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by Lavely, Dec 30, 2017.


  1. Lavely

    Lavely Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    Learning a bit about leveling, crowning & polishing frets. Working on crappy, old necks...they may or may not ever see "real" usage, but I'm enjoying learning on them. I feel like I have the hang of leveling, I'm probably halfway there on crowning, but I can't get them smooth at the end of the job? When I string up & play, the frets work well, but they are "gritty" for a while until the strings wear down the grit.

    I'm leveling w/StewMac "bar" thingy with sandpaper on the bottom. Then, crowning with hand files. Then, sanding with 600 grit sandpaper. Lastly, going through with some micro-mesh pads - I have a set of nine pads including 1500, 1800, 2400, 3200, 3600, 4000, 6000, 8000, and 12000 grits. I usually pick 3 or so pads to use.

    What is your process, post-leveling? How many times to you sand/polish, and with what grits?
     
  2. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    it's nice when you can finish with actual powered buffing as opposed to sanding, that's how you get the frictionless mirror finish. if you don't have the big fancy standing buffing wheel, try the stew-mac foam pads that fit in the hand drill, charged up with the finest polishing compound.

    i'm having good luck with regular wet-dry paper, running the grits 400 to 800 to 1500 to 2000 before hitting the buffing wheel.

    a trick that works for me as the last step before buffing is backing some 2000 with a hard perfectly flat block and "lapping" the fret tops, sanding strictly side-to-side over batches of frets so that the remaining invisible micro-scratches on the thin strip on the very top of the frets (the part that that actually contacts the string) are in the direction of string bending and vibrato.

    follow that with machine-buffing to the mirror finish (also finishing the last pass so that the wheel is in line with the frets and perpendicular to the neck itself) and they'll be super frictionless on bends and vibrato.
     
  3. jelloman

    jelloman Member

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    I use wet/dry sandpaper wrapped around a eraser....600/800/1200/1500/2000 grit in that order, then use a buffer on a Dremel with emerald stropping paste...once finished there is no resistance from the frets at all...
     
  4. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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    I do the micromesh pad thing, too, and something you have to keep in mind is that the finer the grit, the slower it cuts. You can spend a lotta time without seeing much in the line of results - you almost have to take it on faith or get out a jeweler's loupe to know when to change grits.
     
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  5. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    From your description I would say you may need more grits in between the 600 paper and the 1500 grit Micro Mesh. You likely have scratches from the 600 that the Micro Mesh is too fine to get out. Or scratches from the crowing file that the 600 paper is too fine to get out. After crowning try going 400, 600, 800, 1000, and 1200 paper (look in the body & paint section of an auto parts store for those grits). I tuck strips of the paper into the groove of the crowning file. It does not take that long if I keep precut pieces of each grit in order of grits so I keep the process moving smoothly. Label the back of each small piece so they don't get mixed up.
    Then go to your Micro Mesh.

    Skipping big numbers in grits means you don't get out the bigger scratches with too fine a grit in the next step. (I learned this the hard way.)
     
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  6. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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  7. Ayrton

    Ayrton Member

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    I start with 220, 320, 400, 600, 800 paper then switch to micromesh wrapped around a hard foam block. 1500, 1800, 2200, 3200, 3600. I finish with a Dremel polishing wheel and Mothers Billet compound.

    You do this with stainless and you never have to touch them again.

    FYI, if you use micromesh on metal, make that set metal only. I seperate my finish grits from my metal grits.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
  8. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    huh.

    is it like on a big buffing wheel, where the one you use for metal stuff turns black?
     
  9. Ayrton

    Ayrton Member

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    Not exactly black, but it does contaminate the grit with material that I can't wash out. I "discovered" this when sanding some maple and left streaks.
     
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  10. Timtam

    Timtam Member

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    Micromesh grits are different to US paper grits. The conversions are roughly ...
    MICROMESH -> US GRIT
    1500 400
    1800 600
    2400 900
    3200 1200
    3600 1350
    4000 1500
    http://www.sisweb.com/micromesh/conversion.htm

    So if he's starting with 1500 micromesh that's equivalent to 400 paper.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
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  11. Lavely

    Lavely Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    9fingers - that's kind of what I was thinking - I need to adjust my "grits" and try that. Next stop - buy more stuff!

    Timtam - wow...the world just gets more complicated, right? I'll take a look at the micromesh compared to some sandpaper...thanks for the heads-up
     
  12. Lavely

    Lavely Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    Ayrton (& others) - how long do you spend with each grit? Roughly how many "back & forth strokes" do you do on each fret? I'm thinking 8-10 strokes with each grit should suffice, no?

    Also, looking at the diagram below, I have been using (on a Dremel as the last step) the #429 Felt 1" diameter thingy (which is pretty soft) for polishing, with Brasso. Looks like maybe the 420 1/2" tip might be more solid and more useful?


    [​IMG]
     
  13. stratamania

    stratamania Member

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    Don't skip grits between the 600 and the Micromesh. You need the grits in between. Also if the 600 has not yet got rid of the 400 scratches, there is no point in jumping to 800 yet.
     
  14. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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    Not to make your head explode, but it's even more complicated than that. Even when corrected for grit density there's a difference in abrasives, so some are more suitable for some things than others. A 400 grit polishing paper will not cut the same way a 400 grit finishing paper or 400 grit sandpaper. The material used as an abrasive has different shapes/qualities to it, as well as the adhesive and backing it's bonded to. That's why there are so many products out there. You have to match the abrasive to the job/material.
     
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  15. bob-i

    bob-i Member

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  16. Jack Daniels

    Jack Daniels Supporting Member

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    I don’t understand why someone would touch their frets with 220, 320 or even 400 grit paper. I have never found a fret job that I couldn’t resolve starting at 600. Good paper cuts fast.

    For the first grit, Sand enough strokes until each fret had just barely been touched. I may go one grit more to remove any heavy scratches. I don’t get too crazy with running through the different grits at this point as very littl of the top surface remains when done.

    Once level, I crown the frets until only a small section of each fret still shows a flat spot on top. Then I sand/polish with 1200-1500 and finish with white compound.

    I’ll have to take a picture of the tools I made for polishing frets but it essentially is wood handle with a groove cut into it that fits the top of the frets. I place the paper in the grove and sand/polish same direction of the fret wire.
     
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  17. Ayrton

    Ayrton Member

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    Depends really. I start with 220 to get file marks out and rapidly progress up thru grits. I also don't bevel my fret ends with a file. I start with 220, and by the time I am polishing with a wheel they have a nice rounded off feel.


    10-15 swipes back and forth is probaly about right. I vary it by what I am trying to sand out. I use my fingers until I get to the micromesh, then I switch to the foam block.

    I use the 1" felt wheels I buy off of Amazon or ebay. You can get a bag of 100 for well under $20, and that last me a long time. I also use Mothers Billet Aluminum polish. I have various compounds, but the Mothers always does an excellent job, so I stuck with it.
     
  18. Failsafe306

    Failsafe306 Member

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    After crowning, I go through the grits from 320 up to 1500, going the length of the neck, from nut to end of fretboard. Then, I use 000 and 0000 steel wool on each fret, from high E to low E. After that, I put a small amount of Mother’s Mag polish on each fret and hit it with the Dremel on low speed. Perfect mirror finish every time.
     
  19. Timtam

    Timtam Member

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    There does seem to be some variation in how much fret-by-fret smoothing work people do. Obviously crowning has to be done fret-by-fret. But smoothing need not require working on frets one by one. See for example the 3M sanding sponges as recently advocated by the inimitable Dave of youtube fame ...


    I just got a set of these in the following grits (not all for fret smoothing) ...
    120/180 medium
    230/400 fine
    500/600 superfine
    600/800 ultrafine
    1200/1500 microfine

    This is easier than wrapping a piece of sandpaper around your finger (with a succession of grits), like at 8:40 here ....


    Or some people like Crimson Guitars' fret polishing rubbers, which can be used fret-by-fret as in the same video, or run along the whole neck (shown at 12:20 in the above video).
     
  20. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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    Other than leveling, I'd say 95% of my fretwork is fret-by-fret. I've just never been able to get happy with anything longitudinal.
     

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