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Who's leveled frets?

drewl

Senior Member
Messages
8,578
I've always been a hands on person and can fix anything electronic and have been doing guitar adjustments since my first barre chord.
I've had my '85 lesPaul for over 10years now, and since it's my main guitar it's recieved alot of abuse.

I was getting some fret buzz at different parts of the neck and no neck/bridge or truss adjustment would fix it so I started leveling the frets last last and already it's alot better.

Any tips, ideas or things to look for while leveling, or any good links to fret work?

Thanks.
 

RockStarNick

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
3,632
What tools are you using?

I've done spot levels, using a stew mac fret-rocker straightedge, and a crowning tool, and it's been incredible.
 

jawjatek

Member
Messages
714
I bought a nice machinists straight edge, and had my machinist friend (great to have one of these and he can get the tool cheaper) cut it to neck length, and notched one side for fret clearance to measure board straightness. I took the scrap piece and cut some short pieces for "fret rockers" from it. Much cheaper than the SM tools. I did buy the SM fret leveler used with the stik-it sandpaper. It works great. I stick with the Fret Work book and the GP repair guide for reference.
Tips:
Mark the tops of all frets with a sharpie so you can see where you're hitting metal.

Make the board as straight as possible with the truss rod using the notched straightedge before leveling.

After leveling, sand the high register a little more to create a little "fall-away" for clearance during high-register bends. (This is really only necessary on a vintage-radius Fenders, which is mostly what I play).

When finished leveling, mark the fret tops with the sharpie again, and then round the frets with the crowning file (I love SMs diamond one for this), leaving a thin line of black down the middle.

Now polish the frets. I use a moto tool but ya gotta be real careful. I use Flitz on a felt wheel for the final shine.

Haven't been to a tech in over 15 years.
 

walterw

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
38,478
you'll only really get perfect results if you level the frets while the neck is under tension simulating the string-pull. stew-mac sells a neck jig gadget, but i made my own from hi-hat clutches, a cloth strap clamp and padded bits of wood, and built it into my bench.

leveling frets without a way to recreate string tension is like trying to draw a perfectly straight line freehand: it's possible if you're really good and take a long time, but it'll never be as accurate as 5 seconds with a pencil and a straightedge.
 

drewl

Senior Member
Messages
8,578
Thanks all.
I used some emory cloth, sanding block straight edge and calipers.
Aside from some dents, the usual EADGB position frets were worn a little more than others especially high E 12th fret, still need to sand down from there up.
I guess I shouldn't complain, over ten years of gigs 2 or 3 nights a week, I can always save up and treat my baby to a refret.
 

fr8_trane

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
6,998
I'm interested in learning to do this myself as well. I have spoken to some pro's and downloaded some tutorials that you might like. In general I do not think a neck jig is necessary as many of the pro's who do this work don't use one. I wouldn't expect great results your first time out and most of the folks told me to practice on a beater neck first. The point is that with a few simple tools and some practice you should be able to do this yourself.

Frettech level and crown tutorial:
http://www.frettech.com/
go to info --> level and crown

Here is an amazing thread from Luthier Ron Kirn about building a strat from scratch. Half way down this page is his tutorial on fret leveling complete with pictures

http://www.tdpri.com/forum/stratocaster-discussion-forum/104487-ok-so-i-promised-here-ya-5.html

A couple more variations on the theme

http://www.skguitar.com/SKGS/sk/fretcrowning.htm

http://stevegasm.net/dump/bass/_tabs/Info/Fret%20leveling%20and%20Crowning.pdf
 

bunny

Member
Messages
442
Practice on junk guitars first!!!
Buy Dan Erlewine's books (Guitar Player's Repair Guide & Fretwork)
 

Ron Kirn

Member
Messages
7,198
Go for it ... it ain't rocket science.... that thread I did will get ya through it.... try it on one of your "lesser" guitars first, that will get ya way up the learning curve, once you've done one, ya start looking at all the rest of the heard...

Ron Kirn
 

Rock Johnson

Member
Messages
4,745
I leveled the frets on my acoustic and my cheapie Baretta clone. Leveling the frets was easy. Polishing them afterwards was hard.
 

walterw

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
38,478
Walter,

Just curious, can your jig simulate the tongue hump, like on a Les Paul?
it's not as slick as the movable stew-mac one, but i've had pretty consistently dead-on results with it.

i adjust the rod so the neck is as straight as it can get with the strings on; if that means a little upbow here and a little backbow there, ok. i then take the strings off, which of course lets the neck fall into total backbow.

i then clamp the body flat over my bench (i use a beater body for bolt-ons), and use a padded cradle-thingy underneath the nut with a threaded shaft and a wing nut to carefully push the neck up into the exact same orientation it had with strings on it (checked with a 24" straightedge on the frets). once there, it's locked in place, and a few more supports are slid up and locked along the neck's length to keep it from moving.

this seems to "bring out" all the humps and warps in the neck that sometimes disappear when all the tension from both the strings and the rod is removed, including the typical "rising tongue". it then becomes reasonably easy to use a big ol' 24" steel bar with sticky sandpaper on it ($tew-mac, but it works great) to knock off the "hills" while leaving the "valleys" alone.

if done right (including maybe a little extra "english" on the last few frets like ron kirn talks about), it gets the playing surface that the strings see basically perfect.
 
Last edited:
Messages
23,951
Thanks, Walter. Great post!

I'll eventually get something along these lines happening. For the time being I've simulated some string tension with:

A) 1-2 beat up old strings tensioned up and/or;

B) A little change of relief on the truss rod. But I really don't like extra-curricular monkeying with the truss rod, so I need to get straight and start doing something like you've just described.

Thanks.
 

Rock Johnson

Member
Messages
4,745
i then clamp the body flat over my bench (i use a beater body for bolt-ons), and use a padded cradle-thingy underneath the nut with a threaded shaft and a wing nut to carefully push the neck up into the exact same orientation it had with strings on it (checked with an 18" straightedge on the frets). once there, it's locked in place, and a few more supports are slid up and locked along the neck's length to keep it from moving.
Damn, Walter, that's genius. I love it!!! By using the beater body, you're basically reproducing forces that create the tongue. Simple but ingenius.
 

walterw

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
38,478
By using the beater body, you're basically reproducing forces that create the tongue.
:jo i totally didn't think about that! i just use the surrogate body to avoid scratching up the actual body, but you're right, having the neck held by its 4 screws would create the same stresses that the original does, hopefully causing the neck to present the same way.

i guess if i really wanted to, i could put whatever shims were in the original pocket in the surrogate's pocket as well, but usually if i'm deep enough into the guitar to be leveling the frets, i'll try to eliminate the need for the shims.
 

Rock Johnson

Member
Messages
4,745
You know... you could take a 2x4 and route a neck pocket into the end. That would be easier to clamp onto the table, wouldn't it? It'd still achieve the same effect. Heck, for that matter, it'd be a cool little jig to have - a six or eight inch piece of wood with a neck pocket carved into the end. You could just bolt the end down to your workbench, and voila!
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
33,342
You know... you could take a 2x4 and route a neck pocket into the end. That would be easier to clamp onto the table, wouldn't it? It'd still achieve the same effect. Heck, for that matter, it'd be a cool little jig to have - a six or eight inch piece of wood with a neck pocket carved into the end. You could just bolt the end down to your workbench, and voila!
http://www.tdpri.com/forum/stratocaster-discussion-forum/104487-ok-so-i-promised-here-ya-5.html

It's done. Kirn is so slick.
 




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