Which Fret Files to Buy

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by zwish, Apr 12, 2018.


  1. zwish

    zwish Member

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    I've got an 80's Charvel Bass where the frets are sticking out on either side of the fretboard. I'm looking to get my feet wet with doing my own frets and I'm unsure of which files to purchase to bring these flush with the fretboard. I was looking at these 3 files from StewMac.

    Fret End Dressing File: http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Fretting/Fret_End_Dressing_File.html

    Fret Beveling File:
    http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Fretting/Fret_Beveling_File.html

    What I'm unsure about is which file i would use to knock down all of the protruding fret ends. Would it be something like this: (6" fret leveler)
    http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tool...Fretting/Fret_Fingerboard_Leveling_Files.html

    And then finally something to polish up the fret ends like a Fret Eraser?

    Here's a photo of the problem:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. lemonman

    lemonman Supporting Member

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    If you're just doing your own maintenance fretwork, the only one out of that group I'd say you really 'need' is the fret end dressing file; it is really nice for doing the final smoothing of the fret ends. If you have the skills and the access to grinders, etc, you can buy some ordinary files at the home center and grind/polish a smooth edge on them and make your own.

    The beveling file is really only necessary for refrets, and then only if you're doing a lot of them; you can achieve the same results with simpler tools and a little more care and time. As for fret sprout, you can knock them down with about anything- file, sanding block, etc. I personally prefer to use a small whetstone most of the time, as it leaves a very smooth finish, floats over the finish, and NS frets are quite soft as metals go. If they're really sticking out, or for the new fret beveling I'll use a file that has a block of wood hot glued to it for a handle.

    What I'm saying is, Stew Mac makes some cool stuff, and if you don't mind spending the money, go ahead and jump in; I've bought plenty of stuff from them. But you can achieve great results by making some of these tools yourself, for a LOT less money. Also check out Philadelphia Luthier and compare. They are less complete, but what they have is often a better value: http://www.philadelphialuthiertools.com
     
  3. Qmax

    Qmax Member

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    I built a bevel file by cutting a mill file to size and glueing it to a block of wood. It works great for fret sprout.
    I also just bought another fret end dressing file off amazon for much less than stew Mac charges and it works just as well.

    FretGuru Ultimate Fret End File 2 - Fix Sharp Fret Ends, Fret Sprout, Fret End Dressing File Pro Luthier Tool Guitar Tech [FINALLY AVAILABLE AGAIN - A
     
  4. Tony Done

    Tony Done Member

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    I made a bevelling block, that holds a small flat file with the handle cut off, or a diamond nail file for finishing. For fret levelling, I use a diamond sharpening stone mounted on a wood block. I think that the crowning file is important, and I have found this one very good:

    http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Types_of_Tools/Files/Dual-grit_Diamond_Fret_File.html

    I use a dremel with a home-made hard leather wheel for fret polishing jobs, and metal masks to protect the fretboard.
     
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  5. bob-i

    bob-i Member

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    If all you want to do is address this issue, get the fret end dressing file.
     
  6. Ayrton

    Ayrton Member

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    I have just about every fret file known to man, and I only use three of them most of the time.

    The small detail file is what you want out of the three you listed.

    However, for smoothing protruding fret ends, you will want a fine cut flat file. Also, pick up a tri file and smooth the edges yourself.

    You can buy Nicholson Black Dimond files at Home Depot or even Amazon for about $6 each.
     
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  7. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    You have a heck of a case of fret sprout there OP!
    The little fret end dressing file is for contouring the fret ends AFTER they have been filed flush. It is not the correct tool for initial address of fret sprout. You want a larger flat surface (single cut mill file or diamond sharpening stone work well - many good suggestions above) that you use parallel to the neck across many fret ends at once.
    THEN you contour the fret ends with the little fret end file.
     
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  8. zwish

    zwish Member

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    Thanks so much for the great info everyone! This is what I was thinking was the correct approach after watching many videos of people addressing fret sprout (The long flat surface working across many frets at once). Looks like it takes just the right touch to avoid digging into the side of the neck if you go too far, or file too deeply.
     
  9. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    You can easily feel when your file (or other tool) goes from skating over fret material and starts touching finish - it kind of "slides" on finish. They feel very different. If you pay close attention there should be very little finish damage from filing fret sprout.
     
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  10. Khromo

    Khromo Supporting Member

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    I don't get the part about how the FretGuru file costs "much less" than the StewMac file.

    It looks to me like the FretGuru file costs twice as much as the StewMac file.



    http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Fretting/Fret_End_Dressing_File.html

    I've got both of those files, although I bought my FretGuru file a while ago, and I can't tell if they are different now.

    The FretGuru file had well-polished safe edges out of the box, which saved me half an hour on a stone, and it might be a hair wider than the StewMac file. But it costs twice as much, not less. Both good tools, both good deals. Neither are the best tool for the OP's task.

    I use a small, fine, flat file, with the shank and tail cut off. I use my fingertips and the edge of my thumb to hold the edges of the file and index on the neck and fingerboard as I use light, long strokes over the protruding fret ends. You will immediately feel when you are no longer sliding the file over frets, and are settling the file onto the finish. As 9fingers pointed out, it is unmistakeable even if you are doing it for the first time. (You should still practice on a beater.) After you've done it a few times, you will need no or next-to-no clean up of the finish when you are done.

    That's one of the "luthier tools" that you can confidently buy at the hardware store. Most of my general purpose files are Nicholsons, and after you clean up the edges on a stone and break them in, they work well, seemingly forever!
     
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  11. GA20T

    GA20T Member

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    Yes, the feel and sound/lack thereof is quite intuitive. If you hear/feel metal using the file, you need to keep going (provided you're filing perpendicular to the fingerboard); if you don't, then you need to stop. What is important is that the working face and length of the file is flat.

    If there is some minimal marring of the finish, it's no big deal to polish it back up with a fingertip, a rag dipped in a little auto polishing compound, and some elbow grease. If it's a little more aggressive than that, you can lightly wet sand the area with 800/1000 grit before polishing as above.

    $6 file, scrap of walnut, some epoxy & wax:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2018
  12. Qmax

    Qmax Member

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    @Kromo.

    You’re absolutely right. I must’ve been thinking about something else. My mistake.
     
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  13. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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    The diamond sharpening stones are a good way to knock back fret sprout. I use a 6" x 2" Diasharp with a drawer pull epoxied to it like this...

    [​IMG]

    That one is a bit fine to start with, I usually start with a 220 grit unit. They come in several grades.
     
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  14. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    Cool, I prefer a diamond "stone" for fret sprout as well. I like the handle idea! I got a set of different grits cheap at Harbor Freight.
     
  15. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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    The handle makes them a helluva lot easier to work with. That's just 5 minute epoxy on there, and I've had those for a long time. I was a little apprehensive about the cost to start, but it turned out to be money well spent. I wouldn't want to be without them now.

    The finer grades are also good for taking out scratches after leveling.
     
  16. NamaEnsou

    NamaEnsou Supporting Member

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    This will make some cringe, but I've been getting rid of fret sprout for a couple decades now using the smooth side of my Leatherman files. Requires a lot of care but can easily be done without marring the finish or fingerboard.
     
  17. zwish

    zwish Member

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    Based on the photos I posted above, when filing down the fret sprout with the 6" file, should I be holding the file at a 90° perpendicular angle to the frets, or should I be trying to match the bevel angle to knock them back? Thanks!
     
  18. GA20T

    GA20T Member

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    Perpendicular to file them flush to the fingerboard (down the length of the neck). Then, if you have a steady hand, you can round the flat you've created, blending it back in to the existing bevel. You will then have to use an end dressing file or similar to gently round over the fret ends as you'll have created a sharp angle on the cross section. Take care not to over file the bevel, it will reduce the playing area of the fret crowns.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2018
  19. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    kinda split the difference.

    90° would have you grinding into the wood before you even touched the fret end, while matching the bevel would take away fret top real estate.

    you should quickly be able to feel the angle where the file is hitting the sharp ends and missing the wood, and like folks are saying the file will actually sort of glide on the finish once you get there.
     

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