Fret Repair - Complete Fret Job:
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
If your guitar is past the point of completing a Fret
Leveling procedure, or Replacing
A Few Frets, you will be into a complete fret job. 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.
I will also give you some information on specialized tools available to
make this job even easier.
Assessing Fret Condition For Fret Repair:
How do you know if you have to replace all your frets? Normal fretwire
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.
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. If your are beyond this with more than the 6 or 7
frets, then go for the complete job. It's not much more involved than a
partial fret job and in some respects better because you can flatten
your whole fingerboard in the process.
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:
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:
Let The Work Begin:Start your fret repair job Fret by taking the strings
completely off the guitar and
Set the guitar neck in your Neck Cradle Fixture.
Also place a pad beneath the body of the guitar or a soft
We will also need to remove the guitar nut. Take a very fine
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.
Now make a small block of wood (3/4" x 3/4" x 3") and place
the nut and resting on the fingerboard and give it a gentle tap. The
nut should come loose very easily.
Also, prior to starting a Fret Repair project, protect the
finish of the guitar by placing 2" wide blue
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
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
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
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. Use Titebond II glue for this.
Once you have removed all of the frets, you should clean out
the fret channels of the fingerboard.
Fret End Dressing Tool
Neck Support Cradle
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
Cut a piece of fret wire - make it about 1/4" to 3/8" longer
than the fretboard.
Leveling Your Fingerboard:
The least expensive route for this fret repair job is to use
sanding block with garnet sandpaper adhered to the block. The block
should be 1" x 2" x 10" long and made from Hard Maple. Make sure it is
You can do this with a Drum Sander, which
is a stationary piece of machinery or on a 6" x 48" stationary belt
sander. Don't forget to knock the corners off
the block by chamfering
Adhere the sandpaper to the sanding block with
feathering disc adhesive, or use sandpaper with a self-adhesive. You
can visit the fret repair section at our Store.
If you have a radius on your fingerboard, you have to be extra careful
not to remove or change this crown. Special pre-curved keyboard sanding
block are available.
Run this sanding block along
the length of the fingerboard, using medium downward pressure. Sight
down the fingerboard and estimate where there are humps or dips and
mark these areas with a white pencil. Give these areas some special
Installing Frets in Unbound Fingerboards:
You will find that different sized frets can have different
width or gage of fret tangs. This smaller or larger gage can cause
problems for you when performing you fret repair. The new fret should
be able to be tapped in quite easily, without a great deal of force.
It's not as though you can't force the fret in the slot - you
you may not want to. If you force a fret into a fret slot, you cause a
wedging action on the fingerboard, causing it to arch upward.
There are certain instances where this is desirable. Read our article on Neck Relief for information.
For unbound fingerboards, start at one end of the fret and
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
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.
You will find that with an acoustic or classical guitar, all
well until you get to about the 3 or 4 frets onto the guitar top. The
problem is that the top is flexible and absorbs the strike of the fret
hammer and all the energy that would otherwise be used to drive in the
fret is absorbed by the top.
What I have done to combat this is to fill a small bag with
Then hold this bag inside the guitar, direction beneath the fret you
are pounding in. The lead will absorb the top rebound and allow you to
install your upper frets much easier.
Once you have the fret mostly seated in the fret groove, tap
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 not hammer with more force. Sometimes fretwire can be a
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.
After you seated all the new frets, take your end nipper and
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
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