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FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / Can too much knowledge be a bad thing???

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Apr 6th, 2017 04:01 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I'm only half kidding on this matter.
Let me 'splain it to you...

OK, I've just (and I mean just) expanded my personal guitar tech work to some more advanced fretwork. Just levelling and crowning at this point, not re-fretting.

So I've acquired the necessary tools (files, fret rocker, notched straight-edge etc) asked questions, paid attention to all the senior contributors here, sought info from other sources, blah-blah-blah...

Upon completing my first full level & crown on a spare "test neck", and being quite satisfied with the result, I started investigating the guitars in my "collection". (only 7 atm)

Now, here's the rub.
Armed with this new found knowledge I begin applying my shiny new fret rocker to multiple fretboards and, to my shock & horror, I find most of them are, let's say... less than perfect.

Some are practically brand new. Most of them are Mexican Fenders and what I consider to be nice (and nice playing) instruments.

Now, I've been playing all of these in fairly regular rotation and *never* have I thought to myself "Geez, this guitar doesn't feel right...", or "...those frets aren't perfectly level", or "...really needs a fret dress."

Now that I know a little more about this stuff, I'm wondering if I was better off in my prior blissful ignorance.
I guess I could also have titled this post "Can a little knowledge be a dangerous thing?"

I can't help but think the guitar makers and guitars they made "back in the day" (pre-CNC, pre-internet information overflow) also had plenty of "imperfections" but didn't prevent our favourite artists coaxing magical tones out of them.

Remember, half joking here...

btw, I've never heard of an album called "Shut Up 'n Level Yer Frets"


(This message was last edited by Mick Reid at 06:11 PM, Apr 6th, 2017)

Contributing Member


Apr 6th, 2017 04:29 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I think you and I are at the same place, Mick. The thing is, are you using the fret rocker on the neck strung, with relief? Are you (like me) finding minor rocking around relief points in the neck, or the notorious Fender Bump area (near the neck joint)?

I'm relatively pleased with the work I've done thus far except on the low e/a strings north of the 12th fret. I've still got some lernin' to do.


michigan usa

Apr 6th, 2017 04:54 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Yeah, I don't have much need for the fret rocker. I have one and keep it around in case I run into a weird buzzing situation or the like. It can show you "problems" that don't really exist. As with any measuring equipment, small increments tend to become larger as more attention is paid to them.

That said, I am one of those who tends to want everything to be perfect even if I know that no one else will ever see/notice. But with frets you can't see those harmless imperfections without busting out the measuring equipment.

Fret work is not all that hard once you learn how to do it and there is more margin for error than you might think.

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Apr 6th, 2017 05:08 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Hey Mick, If you think and education is expensive consider the cost of ignorance! Hehe!

I've run across very few necks from the factory that I would call "good enough". Just about everything needs a little tweak somewhere.

You however are the only one who knows how your guitar should feel (or your guitar tech if you have one). This makes up for the small (and sometimes large) imperfections the manufacturers let out the door.

I find much more error in nut work that fretwork from the factories. Most are too high and string height may vary greatly.

As you gain more experience in fretwork and set up you will become more demanding of yourself and the accuracy of your work. Just the way it works it seems.

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Apr 6th, 2017 05:39 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Good stuff from all you above and I agree with all of it. I'd love to remark point by point with each of you but it would be tedious reading!

Just to reiterate, I was a bit tongue in cheek on this subject.
I'm happy & excited that I've made the leap to something I've been talking about/contemplating (read procrastinating) for yonks.

I know that learning and doing the work properly pays more than reasonable dividends and is not just hocus pocus.

I think my post was more about "the human condition" and how it's funny that we can't help notice things we didn't see before once we've been educated.

@ littleuch:
Yes, my guitar were all strung with relief. I'm sure that makes a difference but I wasn't about to flatten & re-adjust all my "working" axes!
Interestingly, when Dan Erlewine demos the FR on that '59 Gibbie, doesn't take out the relief.

"I've still got some lernin' to do."
Amen to that brother!

(This message was last edited by Mick Reid at 08:31 PM, Apr 6th, 2017)

Contributing Member

North Florida

A Friend of Bill W.
Apr 7th, 2017 07:30 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I usually don't fix the "no problem" things. I also notice the nut slots are usually too high. Once that problem is corrected then some fret work may become noticeable and need correction.

I've heard "Good ol' Boys" say their ain't no money above the 5th fret. Some of the action in that area with a high nut is just painfull "o)



Apr 7th, 2017 09:28 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Hahaha. I feel your pain!

Look at it this way... if you're guitar shopping, you suddenly have more guitars you can consider. You don't have to say "this one sounds better but this one plays better"... you just get the one that sounds better and MAKE it play better.

You're absolutely right that setups and final fret work are the two most rushed things in factories. Two reasons for this:

1. It requires the most training. When working in the white or with finish both jobs are complicated, but can be broken down for entry level positions. I'm not saying they're simpler jobs, but they are just fundamentally more capable of being divided up in a manufacturing process. Times may change, but most factory setups are surprisingly similar to normal work bench setups... just a guy tweaking it. He'll have more specialized tools and spec sheets, but it is fundamentally the same.

2. It takes time. Time is money. Manufacturing often is about reducing time. Now, ideally when reducing time you're only reducing non-value added time and things like good fretwork and setups stay and other things go, but it doesn't always work out that way unfortunately.

Also, I don't think too much knowledge is a bad thing, but I'm a firm believer in the saying "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". One can get themselves into real trouble jumping into things when not fully prepared (like hushnel referencing people fixing things where there are no problems), but you're awfully methodical and into preparation Mick, so I don't think that applies here. :)

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Apr 7th, 2017 10:26 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Just a quick comment. When your neck is set up with a bit of relief, that can mask high frets to a degree. The rocker won't rock or rocks less. You will be amazed at how little relief is actually required when the frets are actually level.

Some people like that feel, some don't. I rarely measure relief. I set it by eyeball and feel. I like my personal guitars with just enough that I can grab a big string bend at the 3rd-7th fret and pick up the strings comfortably with my bending finger rather than have them slip under it.

Lower is not always better at least for my style of play.

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Apr 7th, 2017 04:21 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Good food for thought Hammond. You too Funky!
Keep 'em coming...


LA , Calif

I try my best
Apr 7th, 2017 04:31 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I never got into checking guitars I bought unless there was some fret buzz that really made the guitar unplayable which was the cheap EPI AJ-100.

I checked my seagull grand and found a few frets that the rocker rocked a tiny bit yet it plays fine so I leave well enough alone.

I prefer higher action simply because if it's to low bending is on the ball of my fingers. It's easier to play with a lower action no doubt and 3/32" and 2/32 " is as low as I can go on an acoustic I prefer 4/32" and 3/32" at the 12th fret. On electrics I go a bit higher and prefer 13 to 58 and tall frets. I guess when I learned guitar in 63 there was no such thing as .009" or slinkies you had light , med and heavy so heavy was what I chose. I stick with what the acoustics I have came with, 12's since that's what they were designed for. I have to have at least .010" to .012" relief because of the way I play other wise I end up with fret buzz no matter how level the frets are. As old as the guitars I built are none have uneven frets or fret sprout even though I never humidify them all are solid electrics.

I built at least 20 back in the mid 80's and sold all but 4 and all had brazil rose wood finger boards thanks to a fellow who I worked with gave me a bunch of wood. I was never in a rush . I waited a week after gluing up a neck before leveling then another after the finger board was glued on to level it and made certain the frets were seated and never needed to dress the frets other than the ends . Sold one to a fellow in NY and he emailed me saying he could not believe it had no fret buzz and how stable it was he only wished I put my name on it which I never did and never thought of.

I think most mass produced guitars even though the wood is aged are glued up and finished well before all the water in the glue is gone. Things swell with that moisture then they shrink and change shape. I imagine high dollar acoustics take their time before leveling things.

Contributing Member

Broke Down

in the Brassicas
Apr 7th, 2017 05:11 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"I was never in a rush. I waited a week... then another..."

Catnineblue, that is inspiring to hear. If I ever get to building from scratch I hope I'll have the presence of mind to remember this.

"I imagine high dollar acoustics take their time before leveling things."

Don't know if it depends on exactly how high dollar you're talking, but one of my early (and frankly, scary, given the cost of the guitar) fret skims was an Ovation Custom Elite for a buddy who liked a low action. For me, it would have been OK from the factory, but it wasn't 100%.

So yes Mick, I never take a fret rocker to a guitar if it plays OK! :-)

And now, I'm going to put on my brown trousers, have a defibrillator handy and get the blue masking tape (pre-stuck to my jeans, thanks for that guys!) to sort out some fret buzz on a 1962 Gibson SG Special. Which barely has frets to begin with. My scariest job yet, but what's life without a challenge, eh?


LA , Calif

I try my best
Apr 7th, 2017 08:42 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"Don't know if it depends on exactly how high dollar you're talking"

For me high dollar these days is $500 , yet I refer to reality and that would be above $ 3,000.

Back in the early 60's a great Gibson was $400 to $450 and that was with a good factory hard shell case. In 67 I bought a Gibson J160E new for $400 and a Gibson twelve string for $450. A Casino was close to $425. Strats were around the same price.

It's insane now and has been for quite some time. I'll bet even a new high dollar Gibson today is no where near the quality they were back then because of the wood and labor.

Around 2002 I wanted an acoustic and went to GC here which used to be a small little store on Hollywood Blvd with great deals in the early 80's then they moved across the street with a huge store and I got a Fender acoustic , steel string they now would title a grand not parlor and it was $400 on sale and also a Fender Stratacoustic same price yet they were on sale , normal price they say was $650 and I think , not sure if the Fender acoustic maybe had a solid top and it was ok for a year then turned into the worst POS no matter what I did and it was imported which I didn't know at the time. I went down there to find something better and played quite a few acoustics and there was this Yellow Daisy Rock which had a sort of fiber glass one piece sides and back and dead strings and it sounded and played better than $2,000 guitars so I traded and got hosed and even had some GC store idiots saying the Fender was better and got smirks it's a girls guitar. Well new strings and that thing blew away that fender and most other offerings they had hanging there.

I kept it for a few years then decided since it was neck heavy to just sell it and the stratocoustic on the bay and get an AMI and the seagull grand 2006 and a few years back 2007 sold the AMI which I really liked and later 2015 got the EPI EL-00 pro which is good enough for me. Yet no where near the old Gibsons I had. The seagull grand I got in 2006 was a new 2004 model and the EL-00 in 2015 was a 2013 model , seems I always get one that's 2 years old which you don't know until you check the serial number. At least to me , if they held up 2 years sitting in a warehouse since I got them through on-line stores they held up 2 years and probably are stable. I prefer to play what I want yet no one had any around here. The fender acoustic was hanging on GC's wall and they said let me get one from the room and they did and it was really bad , the neck was not close to centered and they brought another and it was worse. That should have powered the light bulb so live and learn.

Contributing Member

The spotlight

looks like a prison break
Apr 8th, 2017 12:37 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I've been watching the discussion here.

All *great* points. There are many ways to approach this stuff, because guitar playing and guitar repair are a mixture of technique, skill, and philosophy. It's all very fuzzy stuff.

Mick, you may have initially been tongue-in-cheek, but this topic actually is quite important if you're in the business of building/repairing, or even playing and doing your own tech work.

Like I mentioned in the fret dressing thread, the ol' "polishing the cannonball" issue is hard to ignore when you're trying to dial in a guitar. There is a point you can take it to--and any venture beyond that point results in diminishing returns.

Here's the issue as I see it: Guitars, as they come from the factory, are not tweaked to perfection on purpose. The reason is that guitars, being made of wood, tend to move around and change dimensions with humidity and temperature variations.

Get things too perfect, and as soon as the humidity/temperature of the wood changes, it's out of whack again.

Ideally, the guitar should set up somewhere in the middle of the Goldilocks Zone of guitar geometry: it's not too hot, and it's not too cold. It's "just right."

I view this setup tweaking as very similar to setting the intonation on individual strings: it cannot be perfect at every fret, but it can be 'averaged' for best performance across all the frets at the same time.

Dialing in the setup, including frets, is a law-of-averages activity. Get it close enough and that is good enough.

Keeping a guitar dialed in to perfection is a tail-chasing exercise. It can frustrate the bejeezuz out of a person.

But getting a guitar to where it plays great and sounds great (over weeks and months with no tweaking) is what I shoot for, because I'm in it to play.

But I *do* love working on guitars! It's a disease!

Contributing Member

New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Apr 8th, 2017 03:08 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Rule #1. Don't fix anything that isn't broke.
If a guitar plays well,... feels and sounds good, don't take out your fret rocker. Don't work to address anything that isn't a problem that you can see, hear, or feel.

My fret leveling process is overkill. I could make a lot more per hour if I understood how unlevel frets could be. -but what is okay on one guitar may not be okay on another so there is a lot of wasted time in the long run. Its a balancing act but a thoroughly tension leveled fretboard may, might, ought to, should, yield an instrument that stays okay for longer -- maybe. It at least establishes a base line so I can proceed to all of the other adjustments and not need to start all over again due to a glitch in the fretwork.

Relief requirement is a unique setting for each individual guitar. There are generalities only. There is a lot more going on than just geometry.

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Apr 8th, 2017 04:02 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"I view this setup tweaking as very similar to setting the intonation on individual strings: it cannot be perfect at every fret, but it can be 'averaged' for best performance across all the frets at the same time.

Dialing in the setup, including frets, is a law-of-averages activity. Get it close enough and that is good enough."

Thanks Peegoo. That's a great analogy, and how my brain works. I use analogies all the time when explaining things to my students.

Also, when I first delved into the "guitar tech" stuff, it started with just adjusting intonation.
I quickly learnt there is no such thing as "perfect intonation" but, in compromise, everything works together harmoniously. (bad pun)

"There is a lot more going on than just geometry."

Also good a point wrnchbndr, and I like the rest of your comment as well. Thanks

FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / Can too much knowledge be a bad thing???

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