Fret Repair, Guitar frets, refretting, fret job, fretwork, major guitar repair

Fret Repair - Analysis - Part 1

Fret Repair Analysis | Analyze your guitar frets to see whether you need refretting, a fret job or fretwork in this major guitar repair article.

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Fret Repair

Fret Repair is an all encompassing word that can include maintaining frets, replacing frets or completing an entire fret job. Also it is referred to as fretwork, refretting or just replacing guitar frets.

Anatomy of a Fret

Frets function to provide accurate intonation for each 1/2 tone of the guitar. The fret wire itself is a metal extrusion and consists of two parts:

  • The Tang: This is the portion of the fret that is tapped into grooves or channels that are sawn into the fretboard (or fingerboard). Frets are made in different gages and material compositions. Usually frets are a copper/nickel alloy to add softness and playability to the metal. The Tang also has small "barbs" that help hold the fret into the fretboard without the aid of any adhesives.
  • The Crown: This is a half-round portion of the wire that extends completely above the fretboard. The width of this half-round varies in size and height as well. Quite often the smallest frets are used for mandolins, next banjos and then the guitar.
  • Why Do Frets Wear?

    Really there is a simple reason for this. Frets are designed to be softer than the strings that they serve. So in order to get longer life on your strings, frets are sacrificed. Luckily this wearing process can take many years unless you are a very prolific player.

    Also musicians who use capos frequently tend to wear out frets much quicker than those of us who don't. Usually Bluegrass Music requires the use of capos in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and other positions causing quite severe fret wear.

    Usually the 2 plain treble strings will wear out the frets prior to the bass or wound strings. A couple of reasons for this. This plain steel strings are smaller gage and hardened steel and cut into the soft fretwire very quickly.

    The wound or bass strings are made of much softer copper windings and are of much larger gage, thus minimizing fret wear.

    Also note that classical guitars have even softer frets than those of their steel stringed cousins. The reason for this is the classical guitar strings are very soft and fragile, when compared to steel strings. It is also very rare for you to have to replace frets on a classical guitar.

    Why Do We Need To Replace Our Frets?

    Reasons for replacing frets can vary. Some of the reasons are:

  • A few frets are worn and in need of replacement. Most often frets are replaced only on the first 4 or 5 frets, because this is where the vast majority of people spend most of their time playing their guitar.
  • Gradually as the lower frets wear and the frets above them do not, the strings will start to buzz. This is because the worn fret allows the string to depress lower and the string cannot clear the frets above the worn fret any longer.

    The greater capability the musician has the more likely he is to have frets worn completely up the neck.

  • Another common reason for a fret repair job is the neck is in need of relief and the neck truss rod adjustment cannot give the amount of relief that is needed.
  • To solve this problem install guitar frets with a larger gage tang (the part of the fret that is pounded into the fretboard). This forces the fretboard to arch more due to the wedging action that the larger tang provides.
  • Measure Your Fret Wire:

    Before attempting your fret job, you need to assemble the proper fret material and the tools to do the job.

    Most Fret Wire is Divided Into (3) Divisions:
  • Narrow fret wire: .053" to .080" which is used for mandolins, banjos, dulcimers and vintage acoustic guitars.
  • Medium Fret wire: .80" to .095" which is used primarily for standard acoustic, classical and electric guitars.
  • Wide Fret wire: .100" to .110" which is used for modern electric guitars and bass guitars.
  • Within each of these (3) major divisions are several options for differing heights, allowing greater flexibility in crown height.
  • The best way to measure your fret crown height and width is with a digital vernier caliper.
  • One caution: Beware of a fret repair job with frets that are too high or tall. This can cause intonation problems due to the fact that typically strings are pressed firmly down to the fretboard, not just to the top of the fret.

    By stretching the string this additional distance you can cause the string to stretch an additional micro distance, causing intonation problems.

    Fret  Options:

    The first option in a Fret Repair Job is to top-dress your frets: If you have enough fret height, your first fret repair option may be to top-dress the frets in lieu of actual fret replacement. This operation is usually limited to minor to moderate fret wear and can often put off a complete fret job by several years.

    Top Dressing is by far the easiest fret repair operation for the do-it-yourself musician to complete as it does not involve any fret pulling or fret installation. You do however, have to remove your guitar nut.