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Repairing Poor Factory Fretwork


This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Guitarmaker Magazine, the trade journal of the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans.

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1. A Cheap Gutiar.  Guitar shops and music catalogs are full of cheap, mass produced instruments imported and sold  for a fraction of the cost of their domestic counterparts.  Lots of these guitars come stock with lousy fretwork. 2. Loose Frets.  Warped and twisted necks, poorly seated frets and rough fret ends are all too common with these guitars.  Before a good set up can be accomplished the frets have to be repaired.
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3. Oil the Fretboard.  I apply a light coat of stew mac’s fretboard finishing oil and immediately wipe off the excess oil with a paper towel across the grain. 4. Glue the Frets.  I use thin super glue to hold down the frets.  A generous bead of c.a. next to one side of the fret is all thats necessary.
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5. Clean Up.  I clean up the excess c.a. with a small square of paper towel lightly dampened with acetone. 6. Arbor Press for bolt on necks.  I immediately clamp the fret before the glue has a chance to cure.  Once the fret is seated I apply super glue accelerator with an eye dropper or the tip of a pump-spray tube.
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7. Jaws for set-necks.  The original jaws tool does a great job of clamping frets on a set-neck guitar. 8. DIY with a quick grip and a homemade clamping caul.  This is the way I clamped frets for years, using a set of shop-made clamping cauls that hold radiused fret pressing inserts.
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9. Drill Press.  You can clamp frets with a drill press, the stew mac arbor press caul and radiused brass insert.  A modified Erlewine neck jig is a good way to support a set neck guitar during fret pressing/clamping with a drill press. 10. Glue Squeeze Out is inevitable when you’re gluing and clamping ill-seated frets.  Whatever can’t be cleaned up immediately with a paper towel dampened with acetone cane be removed with a very sharp chisel.
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11. Level the Frets.  I level, the frets in the Erlewine neck jig with a radiused sanding beam with various grits of psa sandpaper ending with 400 grit. 12. Recrown the Frets.  I recrown the frets where necessary with a 150 grit diamond crowing file followed by a 300 grit crowning file.  I then clean up the fret ends with the 300 grit file.
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13. Sand and Polish.  I sand the frets with 600, 1000 and 2000 grit sandpapers.  A quick trip to the buffing arbor with red, then white menzerna buffing compound polishes the stock nickel frets. 14. All Done.  This process isn’t cheap so it’s not appropriate for every budget guitar and customer.  But as long as the guitar has no other issues, repairing the frets can make a cheap guitar play great.