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


Fret Repair - Complete Fret Job - Part 1

Learn How To Complete An Entire Fret Job And Fretboard Reconditioning

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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 for this operation.

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 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. 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:

    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 your fret repair job Fret by taking the strings completely off the guitar and store them.
  • Set the guitar neck in your Neck Cradle Fixture.
  • Also place a pad beneath the body of the guitar or a soft carpet remnant.
  • We will also need to remove the guitar nut. Take a very fine fret 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.

  • Now make a small block of wood (3/4" x 3/4" x 3") and place it against 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 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. Use Titebond II glue for this.
  • Once you have removed all of the frets, you should clean out the fret channels of the fingerboard.
  • 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 3/8"  longer than the fretboard.

    Leveling Your Fingerboard:
  • The least expensive route for this fret repair job is to use a 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 absolutely FLAT.
  • 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 them.
  • 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 attention.
  • 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 can. But, 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 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.
  • You will find that with an acoustic or classical guitar, all will go 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 lead shot. 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 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 not 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.
  • 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.
  • Use the drop-down menu below to go to the second part of this article or any other article on fret repair. Simply select the article you want and press the GO button.