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Gluing Acoustic Guitar Loose Frets

4/28/15

 

This article originally appeared in Guitarmaker Magazine, the trade journal of the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans.

 

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1. Larrivee makes some pretty cool guitars.  This one is a limited edition LV10 with a good tone and some cool shell work. 2. Loose Frets.  There is sporadic fret buzz throughout the neck because the frets aren’t properly seated.  There is no way this guitar is going to function properly without gluing and clamping down the frets.
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3. Loose Fret Ends, there are a bunch of loose fret ends, probably because the guitar dried out and the fretboard shrank allowing the ebony to loosen it’s already tenuous grasp on the frets. 4. Gaps in the Middle of the frets are also prevalent on this guitar.  I suspect that the frets were installed without glue or with an inadequate amount of glue.  Properly seated and glued frets tend to stay that way, even when the fretboard shrinks.
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5. Oiling the Fretboard will help keep the glue from staining the ebony and reduce its adhesion to the playing surface of the fretboard.  I’m using stew mac’s fretboard finishing oil but boiled linseed oil or tung oil will also work for this. 6. Gluing the Frets one at a time.  A generous bead of thin super glue applied with a whip tip next to the fret crown will flow into the fret slot.
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7. Clean Up with a small square of paper towel lightly dampened with acetone gets rid of the excess glue. 8. Jaws is my tool of choice for clamping the first 7 or 8 frets.  I’ll use my universal clamping caul because the fretboard has a compound radius.  This clamping caul is a 6″ radius insert that I cut in half then rounded all four edges in order to have 4 points of contact with any fret of any radius 6″ or larger.
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9. Glue Squeeze Out reveals where this fret wasn’t properly seated.  I’ll clean up this squeeze out as best I can with an acetone dampened paper towel. 10. Super Glue Accelerator speeds the drying time of the glue so I can glue and clamp the next fret after a minute or less.  I’m applying the accelerator with an eye dropper.
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11. A Sharp Chisel cleans up any squeeze out that I can’t remove with the acetone and paper towel square. 12. The Drill Press clamps the frets over the heel of the neck and the body that the original jaws tool can’t reach.  The Taylor fret buck supports the underside of the fretboard tongue as I clamp the last few frets.
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13. Neck Support.  I have the guitar in my modified Erlewine neck jig in order to support the neck and neck block during clamping.  Two small clamps hold the support rods in place.  The support rods are supporting a cork-lined clamping caul that has a guitar neck profile. 14. Neck Block Support is provided by an adjustable swivel-top screw that’s threaded into a bed-bolt nut in the neck jig.  The swivel top screw is the same type that the rim of the guitar rests on when it’s in the jig.
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15. Leveling Frets with a flat sanding beam and some PSA sandpaper only takes a few minutes.  The neck jig simulates string tension so I know the frets will be level under actual string tension.  Next, I’ll recrown and sand the frets. 16. Polishing the Frets with the buffing arbor goes fast.  I start with the red compound then clean the fretboard with naphtha.  The final buffing is with the white compound.  Each buffing wheel must be dedicated to one grit of compound.
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17. Level Frets have this great sounding guitar ready for work. 18. Stable Frets that are properly pressed and glued are a must for buzz free playing.
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19. Done.