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FDP Forum / Miscellaneous and Non-Fender Topics / Fret leveling

greg1948
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Vero Beach FL

Tbird Greg
Aug 4th, 2017 08:44 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

My latest guitar (Ibanez AR620), which I bought used from a private party, has some playability issues. Specifically, fret buzz between 7-9th frets. I've adjusted the truss rod and bridge to the point where when the buzz goes away, the action towards the 12th fret and above is higher than I want. So I'm thinking that maybe there's a high fret that is the culprit.

I've seen Stew-Mac's fret leveling tools, but I've never done this before, so if someone has experience (Peegoo?), I'd appreciate the input.

BbendFender
Contributing Member
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American Patriot

About as ordinary as you can get.
Aug 4th, 2017 09:13 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I made my own fret leveling file many years ago. I just "glued" a medium sized file onto a piece of flat maple. Mark the top of your frets with some type of marker and carefully file "up the neck" and watch for high or low spots on the frets. A high fret will show quickly. I use the marker several times to be sure I file enough. "Enough" is really very little. I have a crowning file to remove the flat top of the frets you just filed. Next step would be to dress the fret to smooth it with 400 wet/dry sandpaper using a block behind the sandpaper. Next, go over the frets with 0000 steel wool. You don't needs lots of fret leveling equipment to do this job.
This is my method and I may not have explained it enough but if you are confident, you can give it a try.
Also, there should be YT videos on how to do this.

Hammond101
Contributing Member
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So. Cal. USA

Aug 4th, 2017 10:09 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

The first thing you have to do is find out why it does this and then solve the problem. Remove the strings and using a straight edge adjust the truss rod so the neck is flat.

Get a "Fret Rocker" and see where the high and or low spots are. Your straight edge and a small flashlight are helpful in determining the low spots.

If you do have a high fret(s). You can bring it/them down with a crowning file then polish. Only the high fret(s) would need to be worked on.

If you have wear issues the process may be more complex. A fret or 2-3 may need to be replaced or a full level crown and polish. A replace fret would need to be leveled down to watch the wear of the rest of the neck/frets.

Cal-Woody

USA/California

Why do I keep fixing things that work?
Aug 4th, 2017 10:47 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

In the 'Guitar Mods' section, Wrnch and several others have been very generous with their tutorials concerning this entire process and would be good information about to research.
Just do a search for the topic on Frets and several topics will be available the best way to approach the work you want to do and have also mentioned the tools needed, along with their techniques. It is worth the search and print out their provided guidelines/tools used.
Best regards, Woody

littleuch
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Florida

Aug 4th, 2017 11:12 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I've recently taken it on without disastrous results. Aside from info obtained here, I also did some youtubing and consultation with a friend who has the skills. The tools and materials I bought to facilitate are; Stew Mac 3 in 1 fret file, Stew Mac fret rocker, Stewmac 6" fret leveling file, a Fender/Gibson scale notched straight edge from Neckcheck, a Great Planes Easy-Touch 11" Bar Sander from Amazon, various grit wet sandpaper and micro mesh. I also fashioned a fret crowning tool for final sanding but abandoned that for a sandpaper wrapped around a good old fashioned rubber eraser. Other supplies; blue tape,sharpie, beer.



larryguitar19
Contributing Member
*****

South Florida

larryguitar
Aug 4th, 2017 01:59 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

A word of caution.

I ran the fret leveler over a fretboard on one of my beaters so I could get familiar with the process.

I found the fret leveler definitely takes off some fret material. But it also made the frets rough. When I bent the strings I could feel that I lost some of the smoothness.

In order to get it back in playing condition I had to use the fret sanding erasers working from the 200 to the 8000 grit. Then I finished it off with the Dremel polisher.

IF you haven't done it you should try it on something other than your favorite guitar.

fret leveler

Peegoo
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The rain sounds like

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Aug 4th, 2017 05:00 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

All good advice.

Call me crazy, but I level high frets with a fine diamond stone (see link), then re-profile with a diamond fret crowning file, then polish.

The re-profile is the critical step--especially if you have to grind a flat area across the top of one or more frets.

Buy one from an outfitter--not a guitar tools supplier--and save 50% or more.

greg1948
Contributing Member
*******

Vero Beach FL

Tbird Greg
Aug 7th, 2017 05:47 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Had GC's tech look at my guitar. He didn't find any high frets, so I won't worry about that. He managed to tweak the neck a bit which lowered the action a bit more. Didn't charge me for his time, but I tipped him well.

larryguitar19
Contributing Member
*****

South Florida

larryguitar
Aug 7th, 2017 05:30 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Peeg's post got me to thinking on sharpening stones. I would like progressively fine grit and think I need something that spans 600 to 1200.

I want the frets glassy smooth.

I curious if anybody has any thoughts.

sharpening stones

(This message was last edited by larryguitar19 at 07:34 PM, Aug 7th, 2017)

twangdoodles

michigan usa

Aug 7th, 2017 05:54 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

You don't wanna use those on your guitars, too messy. Plus, you have to resurface them often. Also, no need to worry about getting 'em shiny during the leveling process; you'll be taking care of that later, after re-crowning. I use 320 grit sandpaper on a leveling bar. I've used diamond plates before but prefer something longer and heavier. Less work...

Cal-Woody

USA/California

Why do I keep fixing things that work?
Aug 7th, 2017 06:31 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

If you are going to attempt fret leveling, one of the must have tools are a good quality straight edge and a notched straight edge for the scale length of your guitar.
The use of a fret rocker is a really nice tool, but you must learn to use it after you've dialed in the neck to its flatest possible position. Otherwise, you will get a lot of miscalculations.
I have not mastered the fret rocker yet, but use the 2 straight edges I mentioned all the time. A fret rocker is tedious and does give good results, but I have not used it enough to be proficient with it. So, I get everything level then mark all the fret tops with a Sharpie and go over it one time with my steel sanding bar (Stew-Mac product) with adhesive backed 320 grit, to see where my problem areas are. If most of the fret tops get marked by the sanding bar, then it is all about crowning and polishing from that point. But you must get the best information from the use of both straight edges to achieve the best results when fret leveling. Anything else is a dangerous compromise and can result in uneven frets and the fret height across the neck. Remember, you are trying to keep your fret wire intact without creating a fret field that goes high at either end and just even the surface. Sometimes on a set neck guitar,I may remove a slight bit more on the heel end of the neck because of heel rise, but the real work that I'm compromising there is a fret board level and refret. But I have done this before with good results, but it truly is a compromise!!!
Get the proper tools and get proper results, but the 2 straight edges I mentioned are useful for doing good setups also.
So far, I've only mentioned dialing in your neck/fretboard surface, there are a lot more steps to level, crown and polish.

Best regards, Woody

Peegoo
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The rain sounds like

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Aug 7th, 2017 08:20 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Mineral-composition stones are not good for fret leveling. Go with diamond. They never wear out and always stay flat.

A really inexpensive and great option is to get an aluminum 1" square tube 8-10" long, and use self-adhesive 320 sandpaper stuck to one edge for leveling frets.

The trick (not really a trick) is to let the weight of the tool do the grinding. Don't press down. You slowly and carefully move the tool across the tops of the frets.

Do the Sharpie thing too because it will tell you when to stop grinding.

(This message was last edited by Peegoo at 10:22 PM, Aug 7th, 2017)

super mario
Contributing Member
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USA

I am on a quest...just not sure where!
Aug 8th, 2017 07:15 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Really great discussion here on fret leveling techniques. This is why I love the FDP and its members!

larryguitar19
Contributing Member
*****

South Florida

larryguitar
Aug 8th, 2017 12:05 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I may have misspoken. It's not that I need "fret leveling". Rather I need "fret smoothing"

This is what happened:

a.) on one the guitars I noticed there were dimples or gouges caused by string wear. Also the edges had some sharp points where the wood had contracted over time.

b.) So I took the StewMac Fret leveler and ran over the fretboard much like a wood planer. I did the marker thing and tape and it worked out fine.

c.) The problem was that after I put the strings back on the frets were level but didn't "feel right". When I bend strings it feels rough and like I'm catching sandpaper laterally. So I inspected with a magnifying glass and could see the leveler had created a cross stitch groove pattern on the frets and my sanding block and dremel didn't really polish it enough. Obviously the Stew Mac fret leveler is fairly coarse.

It's not a huge problem but it's enough that it irritates me. I want the fretwire back like it came from the factory...or better.

d.) So I ordered the little StewMac diamond erasers sanders that go from 250 to 4000. It helped quite a bit but it never brought it back to original.

e.) My thoughts were the erasers bend or conform and don't really give you the polishing leverage needed. I was thinking I might need to step up the sanding artillery or worse might need a new fretjob.

f.) I have some older Strats and Teles. I can see what's happening to the frets and would like to sand them down level and smooth but before I go to town on the frets I want to make sure I'm not making things worse.

(This message was last edited by larryguitar19 at 02:08 PM, Aug 8th, 2017)

vomer
Contributing Member
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Broke Down

in the Brassicas
Aug 8th, 2017 01:53 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I haven't used the Stewmac erasers but from what you've described, two things come to mind.

First, the frets need a crowning after a levelling to give a 'shoulder' on the fret. This leaves about 1-1.5mm contact surface on top of the fret. There are various crowning files available.

Second, after crowning, if the fret is rough I'd use 600 grit paper (carefully), only across the fretboard, not along it; i.e. only go along the length of the fret, the direction the string moves when you bend. Then 1000 grit, again only in that direction, then 00000 steel wool, or ultra-fine grit paper. After the wool I don't usually do any further polishing, though other folk may.

(This message was last edited by vomer at 06:58 PM, Aug 8th, 2017)

Pinetree
Moderator Emeritus
(with many stars)

NW Pennsylvania

Aug 8th, 2017 02:18 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

You're definitely going to want a crowning file.

Let Dave show you how.

twangdoodles

michigan usa

Aug 8th, 2017 07:00 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"This leaves about 1-1.5mm contact surface on top of the fret."

Do you mean after leveling and before crowning? You surely don't want that much of a contact surface after crowning. You want your frets to be rounded such that the area that the string makes contact with is miniscule.

After you level the frets you still wanna use the sharpie as you re-crown 'em leaving only the very thinnest remains of ink. After that I use sand paper and then steel wool. This provides a more than adequate surface. If I want ultra-mirrored frets then I sand to a very high grit.

Larry: from your post it sounds like you skipped the crowning and sanding steps. Anything you use to level will leave a rougher surface than what you want when you're done. The idea is crown the frets after leveling, shaping the frets but leaving only thinnest strip on the very top untouched (so you don't un-level you leveling job you just finished). Since that untouched part is to thin it is then easy to take care of with sand paper without mucking up your leveling job. Works for me anyway...

(This message was last edited by twangdoodles at 09:05 PM, Aug 8th, 2017)

larryguitar19
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South Florida

larryguitar
Aug 8th, 2017 08:46 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Thanks guys. I think you may be right.

FWIW--I did some crowning but I don't think I did any recrowning after the leveling. And that does make sense.

If memory serves the roughness increased the harder I fretted the string which probably means that tiny change in the angle caught the string against an uncrowned edge.

(This message was last edited by larryguitar19 at 10:48 PM, Aug 8th, 2017)

vomer
Contributing Member
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Broke Down

in the Brassicas
Aug 9th, 2017 03:46 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"[1-1.5mm] You surely don't want that much of a contact surface after crowning. You want your frets to be rounded such that the area that the string makes contact with is miniscule."

Sorry twangdoodles, you're right, I shouldn't have said 1.5mm. Less than a mm, definitely. I had to check by looking at a ruler. As a guideline for someone who hasn't done it before I'd say aim for 1mm first, to avoid removing too much by mistake. But yes, my crowned frets would be under 1mm.

FDP Forum / Miscellaneous and Non-Fender Topics / Fret leveling




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