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Repairing Vintage Martin Loose Fret Ends



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1_Martin_refret_with_original_frets 2_Martin_refret_with_original_frets
1. A Vintage Martin.  This all original 0-18 was built in 1946.  I’ve just reset the neck, now it’s time to address the frets and fretboard. 2. The Original Frets are not securely seated in the fretboard.  The fret-ends are as springy as a diving-board.  There’s also the typical high spot around the neck body joint that you usually see after a neck reset.
3_Martin_refret_with_original_frets 4_Martin_refret_with_original_frets
3. Fret and Fretboard Wear.  The customer wants the guitar to play well without fret buzz and wants to keep the original frets.  He also wants to maintain the fret and fretboard patina.  I’ll have to refret the guitar with the original frets. 4. Removing the Frets.  I’ve marked the bass side of each fret.  A soldering gun and modified end-nippers pull the frets without chipping the fretboard.  I set the frets aside in order so that I can reinstall them later.
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5. Scraping the Fretboard around the pearl at the neck body joint will bring down the high spot in the neck. 6. Sanding the Freboard at the neck/body joint trues the fretboard so I can set the guitar up with relatively low action.  I’ll go back and forth between the scraper and sanding block until the high spot is gone.
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7. Mimicking Oxidation.  The Patina of the Fretboard is gone in the area that I sanded.  The fretboard is a lighter color and sanded to a smooth surface with 600 grit.  Now I’m oxidizing the sanded area to match the dark color of the rest of the fretboard.  I’m using 1 part #421 antique stain from howard core mixed with 2 parts water. 8. Mimicking the Pores.  The unmodified portion of the fretboard has some lacquer from the factory and some grime in the pores.  I’ve mixed some finely crushed soil with amber and brown tinted nitrocellulose lacquer.  I’m scrubbing the lacquer mixture into the pores across the grain.
9_Martin_refret_with_original_frets  10_Martin_refret_with_original_frets
 9. Mimicking Normal Wear.  The fretboard color looks old but the smoothly sanded surface isn’t quite right.  I’m roughing up the surface of the modified portion of the fretboard with soil.  The soil leaves lots of tiny, randomly sized scratches that make the fretboard look old.  I’ll clean the repaired section of fretboard with acetone. 10. Bending the Frets to more or less match the radius of the fretboard.  The radius of the fretboard is a little uneven in places so I’m only trying to get the frets close with the bender.
 11_Martin_refret_with_original_frets 12_Martin_refret_with_original_frets
11. Custom Bending each fret to match the shape of the fretboard in the specific location of each fret seat.   Flush ground end nippers are a good way to grab the tang as I bend this fret end to match the fretboard at it’s corresponding fret slot. 12. Gluing the Frets will help prevent them from coming loose again in the future.  I’m using hot hide glue because it’s the type of glue used by Martin to build this guitar.
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13. Wiping Away the Hide Glue with a small piece of paper towel dampened with hot water. 14. Clamping the Fret with the original jaws tool and my shop made universal clamping caul.  The frets will now be securely seated.
15_Martin_refret_with_original_frets  16_Martin_refret_with_original_frets
15. Glue Squeeze Out.  I’ll clean up the squeeze out after the glue has cured for a few minutes. 16. A High Fret.  I’ve securely seated all of the original frets in their original orientations in their slots.  Because the frets weren’t seated properly when previously “leveled”, there are now a couple fret ends that are a little taller than the surrounding frets.
 17_Martin_refret_with_original_frets  18_Martin_refret_with_original_frets
17. Spot Leveling the two high fret ends with a mill file.  I won’t level, crown and polish all of the frets in the usual fashion because the customer wants to maintain the patina of the frets. 18. A Small Plateau in the fret crown will have to be recrowned.
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19. Recrowning the Fret Ends in the old-time fashion with a triangular shaped file. 20. Marring the Recrowned Frets.  I dragged the 6th string back and forth across the freshly crowned frets to give them a lightly worn look.
21_Martin_refret_with_original_frets 22_Martin_refret_with_original_frets
21. Oxidized Fretboard. 22.  Original Frets.