Luthier for refret in DC / NoVA area?

es446

Member
Messages
15
I've been having a tough time finding a reputable luthier to do a refret on my vintage Gibson ES-225 in my area. When I search the forums, most folks people recommend have either retired, or don't do refrets.
 

eoengineer

Supporting Member
Messages
1,980
I've been having a tough time finding a reputable luthier to do a refret on my vintage Gibson ES-225 in my area. When I search the forums, most folks people recommend have either retired, or don't do refrets.
The above thread was mine. Let me save you some hassle. I’d checkout philtone in Baltimore. I know it’s a hike but there is literally nobody reputable out in Northern Virginia. I’d LOVE to be proven wrong.
 

Qstick333

Member
Messages
804
I’ve heard great things about Todd Stock in Germantown md. He builds acoustic guitars, his business is greenridge guitars, but does a lot of luthier based work. Similar story for Marty Fair of fairbuilt guitars in loudoun county. I haven’t used either of these guys, but people I know have and they all speak highly. It’s worth checking out.

I’ve used Phil (philtone) multiple times and the work has always been great. There can be a long wait for stuff that you have to leave with him.
 

es446

Member
Messages
15
Thanks everybody! Had a great email exchange with Phil and booked an appointment. He said he really likes ES-225's which made me more excited to work with him.

Brian - Thanks! I'll bookmark your page for future reference!
 

Unique

Member
Messages
11
Please provide updates on your experience.

Has anyone used Union Street guitar Works in Quantico for a refret? I have seen some positive reviews but mostly for set ups and fret dressing.
 

es446

Member
Messages
15
Update.
Got the guitar back. This was an awful experience and I will not use this guy for any kind of work.

The (only) good - the frets were removed carefully without pulling on the rosewood, and the new frets are seated properly. The dead notes it had are gone. When I was in the shop, my initial impression was that the fretwork was okay. It felt rough to my hands but I thought it was maybe because I was not used to the guitar having taller frets.

The bad.

When I finally got home and got to spend more than 10 rushed minutes to inspect the work, I noticed the rough-feel I felt was not just because the guitar had taller frets than what I was used to. The two biggest issues are the final crowning/polish and the edges.

The fret edges were not beveled and smoothed out correctly so moving your hand up and down the neck, you feel little daggers jabbing you in the fingers. I spent a good two hours when I got home filing and polish the fret ends so that it would not stab my fingers.

The worst part is the crowning - something I can't fix and will need to ship the guitar to someone I can actually trust (was trying to avoid shipping it with this job, but alas, here we are).

The crowning (or lack thereof) is absolutely awful. The fret tops are SQUARED off. The worst edge is the side of the frets that face the bridge. The edge of the frets that face the headstock has a tiny bit of curve, but still not enough to call it a proper crowning job. The result is when you move your hand up and down the fretboard, you are hitting a hard edge along the whole side of all the frets (not edges, but the length of each fret itself).

The hard edge is almost 90 degrees on the bridge-facing side of the frets. Additionally, if you look at the frets closely you can see little tooling marks throughout. The polishing was minimal at best. For example, if you play a vibrato with your fingers, it emits a scraping sound - rough like sandpaper.

To add insult to injury, when I went to pay, the final bill was 25% above the written estimate because of additional work he did on the pickup rings THAT I DID NOT ASK FOR. When I told him I would not have approved this if he had asked me first, his response was "time is money". Well, sir, my money comes from my hard work and time spent working - I'm not your free-money tree. I should have been asked if I wanted $100 worth of extra work that had little to do with the fretwork. He did this work anyway and charged me extra money on top of the estimate without my consent.

The final price was $525 plus two day-long drives to Baltimore and time away from work. I could have just shipped it to my regular guys for that kind of money (and possibly less).

From the beginning, I should have trusted my gut. When I arrived at his shop, he immediately began to upsell me services and did not at any time listen to my actual concerns. I asked for a refret and a new nut, and rather than hearing my concerns/desires he did most of the talking and offering so many options that I was overwhelmed.

From my experience, good luthiers do the opposite - they listen more than they talk, and they don't overwhelm you with options that you don't need to make decisions. My request for "smaller vintage frets" was responded to with a plethora of fret catalog part numbers and multiple measurements, that only confused and overwhelmed me. Most of my initial visit he spent time saying my Bigsby-to-bridge break angle wasn't steep enough, and insisted on additional work to correct this. I've had this guitar for years and the string break angle has never caused me problems because I use thick flatwounds.

Sorry this is so long, but this experience sucked. I get a lot of work done on guitars that I buy/sell and was really hoping to find someone local who is excellent and fun to work with. This was an unpleasant and abrasive experience, and the final result was not worth the stress of dealing with an abrasive know-it-all, who doesn't actually know it all. I've got roughly 15+ refrets done over the last 20 years and this ranks at the bottom.

Disclaimer: This is solely my opinion from personal experience. This guy responds to questions like he's used to getting sued, so I want to make sure I cover myself here - this not intended to be statements of facts - just my personal subjective experience/opinions of having my guitar worked on.
 
Last edited:

es446

Member
Messages
15
Please provide updates on your experience.

Has anyone used Union Street guitar Works in Quantico for a refret? I have seen some positive reviews but mostly for set ups and fret dressing.
I had Justin from Union Street do some minor wood repairs and he was good. I haven't seen his fret work so I have no opinion on it, but he seemed more of a setup and structural repair shop - so I didn't take the fretwork risk.

Experience with Phil was negative.

I made a lot of phone calls and drives around the area for a good fret/luthier and have come up empty. My recommendation would be to ship it out. The best fretwork I've had done has come from Chicago Fret Works and Third Coast (also Chicago). I've had work from both shops come back absolutely perfect with no complaints or follow-up work needed.
 

bluesky636

Member
Messages
2,316
Update.
Got the guitar back. This was an awful experience and I will not use this guy for any kind of work.

The (only) good - the frets were removed carefully without pulling on the rosewood, and the new frets are seated properly. The dead notes it had are gone. When I was in the shop, my initial impression was that the fretwork was okay. It felt rough to my hands but I thought it was maybe because I was not used to the guitar having taller frets.

The bad.

When I finally got home and got to spend more than 10 rushed minutes to inspect the work, I noticed the rough-feel I felt was not just because the guitar had taller frets than what I was used to. The two biggest issues are the final crowning/polish and the edges.

The fret edges were not beveled and smoothed out correctly so moving your hand up and down the neck, you feel little daggers jabbing you in the fingers. I spent a good two hours when I got home filing and polish the fret ends so that it would not stab my fingers.

The worst part is the crowning - something I can't fix and will need to ship the guitar to someone I can actually trust (was trying to avoid shipping it with this job, but alas, here we are).

The crowning (or lack thereof) is absolutely awful. The fret tops are SQUARED off. The worst edge is the side of the frets that face the bridge. The edge of the frets that face the headstock has a tiny bit of curve, but still not enough to call it a proper crowning job. The result is when you move your hand up and down the fretboard, you are hitting a hard edge along the whole side of all the frets (not edges, but the length of each fret itself).

The hard edge is almost 90 degrees on the bridge-facing side of the frets. Additionally, if you look at the frets closely you can see little tooling marks throughout. The polishing was minimal at best. For example, if you play a vibrato with your fingers, it emits a scraping sound - rough like sandpaper.

To add insult to injury, when I went to pay, the final bill was 25% above the written estimate because of additional work he did on the pickup rings THAT I DID NOT ASK FOR. When I told him I would not have approved this if he had asked me first, his response was "time is money". Well, sir, my money comes from my hard work and time spent working - I'm not your free-money tree. I should have been asked if I wanted $100 worth of extra work that had little to do with the fretwork. He did this work anyway and charged me extra money on top of the estimate without my consent.

The final price was $525 plus two day-long drives to Baltimore and time away from work. I could have just shipped it to my regular guys for that kind of money (and possibly less).

From the beginning, I should have trusted my gut. When I arrived at his shop, he immediately began to upsell me services and did not at any time listen to my actual concerns. I asked for a refret and a new nut, and rather than hearing my concerns/desires he did most of the talking and offering so many options that I was overwhelmed.

From my experience, good luthiers do the opposite - they listen more than they talk, and they don't overwhelm you with options that you don't need to make decisions. My request for "smaller vintage frets" was responded to with a plethora of fret catalog part numbers and multiple measurements, that only confused and overwhelmed me. Most of my initial visit he spent time saying my Bigsby-to-bridge break angle wasn't steep enough, and insisted on additional work to correct this. I've had this guitar for years and the string break angle has never caused me problems because I use thick flatwounds.

Sorry this is so long, but this experience sucked. I get a lot of work done on guitars that I buy/sell and was really hoping to find someone local who is excellent and fun to work with. This was an unpleasant and abrasive experience, and the final result was not worth the stress of dealing with an abrasive know-it-all, who doesn't actually know it all. I've got roughly 15+ refrets done over the last 20 years and this ranks at the bottom.

Disclaimer: This is solely my opinion from personal experience. This guy responds to questions like he's used to getting sued, so I want to make sure I cover myself here - this not intended to be statements of facts - just my personal subjective experience/opinions of having my guitar worked on.
Too bad you didn't contact Larry at Wooden Wizards like I recommended in the other thread.
 

es446

Member
Messages
15
Too bad you didn't contact Larry at Wooden Wizards like I recommended in the other thread.
Larry is no longer in the area and moved to Florida. He rebuilt a couple of bone nuts for me in the past and did a really nice job. I wasn't too impressed with his fretwork examples so I didn't risk it.
 

bluesky636

Member
Messages
2,316
Larry is no longer in the area and moved to Florida. He rebuilt a couple of bone nuts for me in the past and did a really nice job. I wasn't too impressed with his fretwork examples so I didn't risk it.
That's too bad. Looks like this just happened recently as his website announced the move in August. Guess I'll cross him off my list. :cry:
 

M40A1

Supporting Member
Messages
1,895
Update.
Got the guitar back. This was an awful experience and I will not use this guy for any kind of work.

The (only) good - the frets were removed carefully without pulling on the rosewood, and the new frets are seated properly. The dead notes it had are gone. When I was in the shop, my initial impression was that the fretwork was okay. It felt rough to my hands but I thought it was maybe because I was not used to the guitar having taller frets.

The bad.

When I finally got home and got to spend more than 10 rushed minutes to inspect the work, I noticed the rough-feel I felt was not just because the guitar had taller frets than what I was used to. The two biggest issues are the final crowning/polish and the edges.

The fret edges were not beveled and smoothed out correctly so moving your hand up and down the neck, you feel little daggers jabbing you in the fingers. I spent a good two hours when I got home filing and polish the fret ends so that it would not stab my fingers.

The worst part is the crowning - something I can't fix and will need to ship the guitar to someone I can actually trust (was trying to avoid shipping it with this job, but alas, here we are).

The crowning (or lack thereof) is absolutely awful. The fret tops are SQUARED off. The worst edge is the side of the frets that face the bridge. The edge of the frets that face the headstock has a tiny bit of curve, but still not enough to call it a proper crowning job. The result is when you move your hand up and down the fretboard, you are hitting a hard edge along the whole side of all the frets (not edges, but the length of each fret itself).

The hard edge is almost 90 degrees on the bridge-facing side of the frets. Additionally, if you look at the frets closely you can see little tooling marks throughout. The polishing was minimal at best. For example, if you play a vibrato with your fingers, it emits a scraping sound - rough like sandpaper.

To add insult to injury, when I went to pay, the final bill was 25% above the written estimate because of additional work he did on the pickup rings THAT I DID NOT ASK FOR. When I told him I would not have approved this if he had asked me first, his response was "time is money". Well, sir, my money comes from my hard work and time spent working - I'm not your free-money tree. I should have been asked if I wanted $100 worth of extra work that had little to do with the fretwork. He did this work anyway and charged me extra money on top of the estimate without my consent.

The final price was $525 plus two day-long drives to Baltimore and time away from work. I could have just shipped it to my regular guys for that kind of money (and possibly less).

From the beginning, I should have trusted my gut. When I arrived at his shop, he immediately began to upsell me services and did not at any time listen to my actual concerns. I asked for a refret and a new nut, and rather than hearing my concerns/desires he did most of the talking and offering so many options that I was overwhelmed.

From my experience, good luthiers do the opposite - they listen more than they talk, and they don't overwhelm you with options that you don't need to make decisions. My request for "smaller vintage frets" was responded to with a plethora of fret catalog part numbers and multiple measurements, that only confused and overwhelmed me. Most of my initial visit he spent time saying my Bigsby-to-bridge break angle wasn't steep enough, and insisted on additional work to correct this. I've had this guitar for years and the string break angle has never caused me problems because I use thick flatwounds.

Sorry this is so long, but this experience sucked. I get a lot of work done on guitars that I buy/sell and was really hoping to find someone local who is excellent and fun to work with. This was an unpleasant and abrasive experience, and the final result was not worth the stress of dealing with an abrasive know-it-all, who doesn't actually know it all. I've got roughly 15+ refrets done over the last 20 years and this ranks at the bottom.

Disclaimer: This is solely my opinion from personal experience. This guy responds to questions like he's used to getting sued, so I want to make sure I cover myself here - this not intended to be statements of facts - just my personal subjective experience/opinions of having my guitar worked on.
Do you have any pictures of the finished job? I’d be interested to see how he crowned them and left the edges untouched. I’m certainly not doubting you, just keenly interested in seeing what they look like.
 

B. Howard

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,211
Depends what you call the metro area.... I get referrals from shops in DC to do the stuff they can't all the time. Should have come over to see me.
 

whoismarykelly

Oh look! This is a thing I can change!
Messages
7,829
Update.
Got the guitar back. This was an awful experience and I will not use this guy for any kind of work.

The (only) good - the frets were removed carefully without pulling on the rosewood, and the new frets are seated properly. The dead notes it had are gone. When I was in the shop, my initial impression was that the fretwork was okay. It felt rough to my hands but I thought it was maybe because I was not used to the guitar having taller frets.

The bad.

When I finally got home and got to spend more than 10 rushed minutes to inspect the work, I noticed the rough-feel I felt was not just because the guitar had taller frets than what I was used to. The two biggest issues are the final crowning/polish and the edges.

The fret edges were not beveled and smoothed out correctly so moving your hand up and down the neck, you feel little daggers jabbing you in the fingers. I spent a good two hours when I got home filing and polish the fret ends so that it would not stab my fingers.

The worst part is the crowning - something I can't fix and will need to ship the guitar to someone I can actually trust (was trying to avoid shipping it with this job, but alas, here we are).

The crowning (or lack thereof) is absolutely awful. The fret tops are SQUARED off. The worst edge is the side of the frets that face the bridge. The edge of the frets that face the headstock has a tiny bit of curve, but still not enough to call it a proper crowning job. The result is when you move your hand up and down the fretboard, you are hitting a hard edge along the whole side of all the frets (not edges, but the length of each fret itself).

The hard edge is almost 90 degrees on the bridge-facing side of the frets. Additionally, if you look at the frets closely you can see little tooling marks throughout. The polishing was minimal at best. For example, if you play a vibrato with your fingers, it emits a scraping sound - rough like sandpaper.

To add insult to injury, when I went to pay, the final bill was 25% above the written estimate because of additional work he did on the pickup rings THAT I DID NOT ASK FOR. When I told him I would not have approved this if he had asked me first, his response was "time is money". Well, sir, my money comes from my hard work and time spent working - I'm not your free-money tree. I should have been asked if I wanted $100 worth of extra work that had little to do with the fretwork. He did this work anyway and charged me extra money on top of the estimate without my consent.

The final price was $525 plus two day-long drives to Baltimore and time away from work. I could have just shipped it to my regular guys for that kind of money (and possibly less).

From the beginning, I should have trusted my gut. When I arrived at his shop, he immediately began to upsell me services and did not at any time listen to my actual concerns. I asked for a refret and a new nut, and rather than hearing my concerns/desires he did most of the talking and offering so many options that I was overwhelmed.

From my experience, good luthiers do the opposite - they listen more than they talk, and they don't overwhelm you with options that you don't need to make decisions. My request for "smaller vintage frets" was responded to with a plethora of fret catalog part numbers and multiple measurements, that only confused and overwhelmed me. Most of my initial visit he spent time saying my Bigsby-to-bridge break angle wasn't steep enough, and insisted on additional work to correct this. I've had this guitar for years and the string break angle has never caused me problems because I use thick flatwounds.

Sorry this is so long, but this experience sucked. I get a lot of work done on guitars that I buy/sell and was really hoping to find someone local who is excellent and fun to work with. This was an unpleasant and abrasive experience, and the final result was not worth the stress of dealing with an abrasive know-it-all, who doesn't actually know it all. I've got roughly 15+ refrets done over the last 20 years and this ranks at the bottom.

Disclaimer: This is solely my opinion from personal experience. This guy responds to questions like he's used to getting sued, so I want to make sure I cover myself here - this not intended to be statements of facts - just my personal subjective experience/opinions of having my guitar worked on.
Yeah I don’t bother with Phil Jacoby any more because he’s so abrasive and his prices are extremely high. I would have gone to Olde Town Lutherie up here before Phil. Jamie does excellent work and is much more interested in what the customer wants.

I am somewhat surprised the work from Phil wasn’t good. That’s usually the one thing that is solid.
 




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