Fret Repair: Facing a Complete Fret Job? This is the Right Place to be.


Fret Repair - Complete Fret Job - Part 2

Learn How To Complete An Entire Fret Job And Fretboard Reconditioning

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Fret Repair - A Bound Fingerboard
Fretboard Section

Section Through Bound Fingerboard

  • For fingerboards that have a plastic, wood, abalone mother of pearl binding or any of these in combination, the procedure is a bit more tedious. You need to cut out the tang to overhang the binding. Refer to the Neck/Binding Diagram Above.
  • You can easily remove this portion of the tang with the modified End Nippers Fret Repair Tool. If you don't get quite enough of the tang from the underside of the crown, you can carefully file the remainder. Be careful not to file into the crown or you will have to start over. Also, the tang length should be slightly shorter than the available channel by about 1/16" or a bit more.
  • Place the fret into the groove with the tang resting against the binding side of the groove and gently tap this end of the fret down into the channel. Work the fret into the slot tapping as you go.
  • Make sure you have no gaps between the crown and fingerboard. If you do, pound with more conviction and make sure you have the neck support fixture directly beneath the fret you are working on. The support jig will absorb most of the shock of the hammer and leave the neck undamaged.
  • When completely seated, take the End Nippers and cut the end of the fret overhanging the binding flush with the finding.
  • Fret Repair: Bound Fingerboard With Nubs:

    You will know if you have an instrument with binding nubs by looking at the ends of the frets and the fretboard binding "bumps" up from the fretboard and follows the contour of the the fret.

    When you do an entire fret job, you will loose these nubs during the fretboard sanding process. This will not be a problem as you can overhang the binding similar the the "bound fingerboard diagram" above.

    Fret Repair: Finished Maple Fretboards

    Another condition you may come across is a maple fretboard that is finished with lacquer, as is typical on many Fender guitars.

    These guitars are fretted and they sprayed with lacquer, which covers the fretboard as well as the frets. These guitars take a bit of special attention in the fret removal and re-installation process.

    Before you remove the frets you should carefully cut along each side of each fret, cutting through the finish, down to the fingerboard. Then remove the frets as usual. Give the fretboard a light sanding to remove the inconsistencies and allow the final finish to adhere.

    Follow the steps to the rest of this article. Then , one final step is to take a spray gun and spray a couple of coats of nitrocellulose lacquer over the fretboard and frets.

    Search For High Frets:

    Sight down the fretboard and look for any extremely high frets. If you find one or more you will have to work on these separately with a Fret File. Check your work often as you file with the Fret Rocker. See our plans on how to make a Fret Rocker Fret Repair Tool.

    Level The Frets With a Mill File:
  • For this step in our Fret Repair take the 12" Mill Bastard File and place on the fingerboard and make long straight cuts on the fret surface. Make sure to apply even pressure on the file. Go very slowly first to make sure you don't slam into a high fret. If you beveled the fret leveling mill file you should minimize this problem.
  • Continue to work the ENTIRE fretboard frets down in very small increments, checking your work after every few strokes. Since the frets are very soft, you will take off material very quickly so don't push down too hard.
  • When all frets are at least touched along their entire length you are almost finished with the leveling process. The easy way to tell this is to inspect every fret and each of them should show a shiny area on the top from the filing process. Try to keep this milling process to a minimum as you don't want to lower your frets any more than you have to.
  • Some frets could be cut down quite a bit. Now look at the frets that were worn the worst. If you still see slight indentations on these frets, continue with your leveling, just a few strokes at a time until all traces of the indentations are no longer visible.
  • Clean away all the fret shavings and make absolutely sure there are none beneath the body of the instrument as these can really mess up a great finish.
  • Now we have to round all the tops of the frets to get the crown back. If you skip this step - as I have seen in many botched repair jobs, you will not get clear tones off a flat-topped fret.
  • Using the Fret File

    Fret Files are a very specialized tool and you cannot substitute any other tool for the job a fret file does. You can purchase one At Our Store.

    File across the full length of the fret and again inspect often as you go. You should file the frets until there is just a very little sliver of flatness left - then just make a few more strokes to complete the process. Make sure the fret is evenly crowned for it's entire length.

    Do this with all the frets.

    Fret Repair - Check With The Fret Rocker:
  • Now check all the frets with your Fret Rocker Fret Repair Tool. Click HERE to see how to make one of these. This tool should space 3 frets and you rock the tool constantly at each new location. If you find a high fret, knock it down and check it often with the fret rocker.
  • After you have checked all the frets it is time for the fret finishing process.
  • Fret End Dressing:
  • Now take an 8" mill file with fine teeth and gently run it along the sides of the fingerboard, carefully cutting down the nipped ends of the frets. These ends should be files even with the fingerboard for unbound fingerboards and just the fret overhand needs filing on bound fingerboards.
  • You do have to be very careful that you don't file the finish from the edge of the fingerboard. Some of the finish is unavoidable, but with care, you can still save the finish.
  • Fret End File

    Fret Repair Detail File To Deburr Fret Ends

    Fret Repair Fret End Dressing Tool:
  • Now take the Fret Repair End Dressing Tool and run the wooden portion on top of the frets, while the angled file cut a 45 degree bevel on the fret ends. Continue to cut down the fret ends until you cut a very small chamfer on the fingerboard or binding. Light strokes again are required. Switch sides and do the other side of the fingerboard with a similar procedure.
  • It is wise to use a small deburring file to remove any burrs or sharp edges on the ends of frets, as indicated in the photo above.
  • Fret Repair: Fret Finishing:

    Your frets are looking pretty good by now. But we have to smoothen and polish the frets now.

  • Take some grit #220 wet/dry sandpaper. Check here for sources it is also know as silicone carbide sandpaper. Rip a 1/4 sheet of it and fold it in half. Sand each fret on all sides of the crown. To get the bottom of the crown, where it meets the fretboard, try to dig your fingernail into the sandpaper and guide it along the fret.
  • When all traces of scratches are gone and the fret takes on a dull, even shine move on to the next fret. If you like you can sand the wood of the fingerboard as well to clean it up.
  • Now sand the length of the fingerboard, including over all the frets. This will tear up quite a bit of sandpaper, but it really buffs the fingerboard and frets.
  • Once you have finished all sanding with #600 grit wet/dry silicone carbide sandpaper and do the same sanding operations as for the #220 paper.
  • Next buff the frets with #0000 steel wool. Now you will see the frets get more shine and they will become very smooth. The wood of the fingerboard will buff up nicely too.
  • Clean Up the Nut:
  • Clean up the nut with very sharp chisels and sandpaper to clean all glue and imperfections. Try not to take too much material off the nut as this will affect the fitting of the nut to the channel. Apply a couple of drops of Titebond glue to the edge of the nut that abuts the fingerboard and press into place. Hold the nut in place with a couple of strips of masking tape. When dry...
  • That's it for this Fret Repair. Place some fingerboard conditioner on the wood, string up your guitar and enjoy.
  • Specialized Tools Available:

    Fret Compression Tool:
    Radiused Sanding Blocks:
    Fret Wire:
    Fret Bending Pliers:
    Fret Tang Size Reducer:
    Fret Tang Masher:
    Fret Tang Nipper:
    Fret end Dressing File:

    The above links take you to Stewart MacDonald Website, which deals in all sorts of specialized repair tools.

    Use the drop-down menu below to go to the first part of this article or any other article on fret repair. Simply select the article you want and press the GO button.