Fret Repair Part 4: Have to Replace Just a Few Frets? This is the Right Place to be.

Fret Repair - Replace A Few Frets - Part 1

Learn How To Replace A Few Worn Frets

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Fret Repair - Replacing A Few Frets:

If you haven't already, visit the general Fret Assessment Page for options and assessment of frets and fretwork. Also visit the Fret Repair Tools Page to know what tools you will need to make for this operation.

If your guitar is past the point of completing a Fret Leveling procedure, you will have to replace a few frets and then do a fret leveling. How do you now when it is time to shift into total refret job from a partial? I usually made the break at 6 or 7 frets. If you have more than that, it is time for a total refret job

Assessing Fret Condition For Fret Repair:

How do you know if you have to replace some frets? Normal fretwire is between .039 and .050" high. A fret that is .050 will be somewhat uncommon and you are likely to see frets more in the .043" range.

If you take down roughly 1/3 of the fret height with a leveling process, you will be at .030" in height, which is still an acceptable height for comfort and clarity.

How do you measure fret height when your frets are already installed? With a vernier caliper. Just use the butt end of the caliper

Fret Repair - Tools & Preparation Work:

Tools Needed For This Repair:

    Fret Rocker
    220 & 400 & 600 Grit Sandpaper

    12" Mill Bastard File

    Fret Channel Cleaning Tool

    Plastic Tipped Hammer

    End Cutting Nippers

    Thin-Kerfed Back Saw

    Fret Rounding File

Additional Tools You Can Make:

    Fret Rocker

    Fret End Dressing Tool

    Neck Support Cradle

Let The Work Begin:

Start by taking the strings completely off the guitar and store them.

Set the guitar neck in your neck cradle fixture. See our article on how to make your own Neck Cradle. You will want to securely support the neck of your guitar with this cradle.

Also place a pad beneath the body of the guitar or a soft carpet remnant or a soft small rug.

  • We will also need to remove the guitar nut. Most nuts will release with a firm tap from a Plastic Tipped Hammer and a small block of wood.
  • If you have a nut that was glued with an excessive amount of glue or epoxy, take a very fine Thin Kerfed Back Saw and make a straight cut between the nut and fingerboard, carefully down to the bottom of the nut. Be sure to take it easy as you approach the bottom of the neck and go very slow.
  • Also, prior to starting a Fret Repair project, protect the finish of the guitar by placing 2" wide blue painters tape next to the fingerboard on the guitar top. Also craft either some cardboard  or thin polystyrene to fit around the fingerboard and protect the entire top of the guitar.
  • This protection can be used for many repair operations besides fret repair for the guitar. A variation can include a cutout area at the bridge for bridge repair operations, or crack repairing.
  • Let's Get Into Fret Replacement
  • First we need to pull the worn frets. The best fret repair tool for this is the modified End Nippers. This tool allows you to grasp the fret by the bottom of the crown and gently pull the fret out of it's seated position.
  • Do this very carefully as you may find your guitar had another fret job and the repairman decided to glue the frets in with epoxy. I would recommend that you treat all fret removal as if they were glued in.
  • What you need to do is heat the frets with a soldering iron first. To make the soldering iron easier to hold on top of the fret, file a concave notch in the tip that matches your fret profile. That way the iron will not slide off during the operation.
  • After heating the fret, work the modified end-nippers (see the modification in the image at the bottom of this page) under the fret on one end and use a gentle rocking motion to work the fret out of it's seated position.
  • This should be accomplished without much splintering. If you do have splinters, try not to dislodge them and we will have to glue them in.
  • Once you have removed all of the worn frets, take a piece of 220 grit garnet sandpaper and gently sand the fingerboard, being careful not to touch the existing frets (tape them off is you are concerned about this). Repeat this process with 320 grit sandpaper until the fingerboard shines.
  • Clean Out The Fret Channels
  • One fret repair tip I like to use is a fretsaw for unbound fingerboards and a Hooked Knife for bound fingerboards to remove all the dust and or old glue from the fret grooves.
  • Cut a piece of fret wire - make it about 1/4" to 1/2"  longer than the fretboard.
  • Unbound Fingerboards:
  • For unbound fingerboards, start at one end of the fret and gently tap the fret in with the Plastic Tipped Hammer. work your way down the fret checking to make sure that the fret is being seated correctly and not crooked.
  • This should be done with the neck support jig placed directly below the fret you are working on. The support jig will absorb most of the shock of the hammer and leave the neck undamaged.
  • Once you have the fret mostly seated in the fret groove, tap slightly harder to work the fret into the groove all the way. Sight between the fret crown and the fingerboard and make sure the fret is seated tightly against the fingerboard.
  • If it does not seat, hammer with more force. Sometimes fretwire can be a little stubborn and they go in harder than expected, if the tang is straight it will go in completely. Also make sure there are no humps along the fret, but a smooth even installation.
  • Check to make sure the fret is standing upright in the groove after the first few taps and that it is not going in the channel crooked.
  • After you seated all the new frets, take your end nipper and cut the fret end flush with the side of the fingerboard. Notice the two lines superimposed on the End Nippers Above. The dashed line indicates the original outfacing jaw contour. The solid red line is the jaw contour after grinding.

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