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FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / What files do you use for leveling and crowning?



Sep 14th, 2017 09:28 AM   Edit   Profile  

I plan to do spot leveling and crowning. I've looked at files at Stew-Mac, Amazon, and eBay. There are so many leveling files and crowning files! The price range is like $8 to over $100. Because I'll do spot leveling and crowning once in a blue moon, I won't need top-of-the-line files, but I don't want to waste my money on super cheap ones.

If you use a leveling file and a crowning file, please let me know what you use so that I can make an informed decision.

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Sep 14th, 2017 03:42 PM   Edit   Profile  

StewMac #4491 is what I would get. About $45, cuts well and leaves a fairly smooth finish.

I have as well as others and use this the most.



Sep 14th, 2017 04:53 PM   Edit   Profile  

The 4491 is for crowning. What about a dressing file?

(This message was last edited by Chris-K at 06:59 PM, Sep 14th, 2017)

Contributing Member

South Florida

Sep 14th, 2017 05:04 PM   Edit   Profile  

I use the Fret Leveler #0862. Then I go over the frets with the erasers #0467 to 0474. Then I crown with the Z file.

(This message was last edited by larryguitar19 at 07:06 PM, Sep 14th, 2017)

Contributing Member

New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Sep 14th, 2017 05:55 PM   Edit   Profile  

I do my end dressing with cheap 3-corner files like you'd find at harbor freight. I flatten the pointed edges (make them safe) to a width of about .5mm using a diamond sharpening stone. These files work fine for dressing. You do not need high quality eternally sharp teeth and I actually prefer one that is a little worn for most fret dressing with the exception of when I'm dressing stainless steel. Nickel alloy is very soft and a cheap file will last for years as long as you only cut on the forward stroke and keep you files clean and dry.

With practice, you don't even need safe edges but they help when you're doing an abbreviated job on a very cheap instrument that just needs the sharp ends fixed.

Contributing Member

Broke Down

in the Brassicas
Sep 14th, 2017 06:19 PM   Edit   Profile  

If you're only doing spot levelling you can use wet & dry paper on a sanding block rather than buying a file.

For levelling larger areas and doing full skims, when I started out I bought several Stewmac radius blocks which were a good way to start, in that they were accurate and reassuring. I've since experimented with a flat block and paper and found it easier than I thought to follow the radius. On this basis, if I were to start over again I would probably just get a flat diamond stone.

For crowning I did get the Stewmac 'offset diamond fret file' which does work well but is expensive; not essential, and other folk here will have more economical suggestions which will work just as well.

For fret ends I really like the Stewmac fret end dressing file. At $14 it is more expensive than buying an ordinary file, but it does have a safed edge, and it's light, easy to use, and cuts well. Definitely worth it.

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Sep 15th, 2017 03:55 AM   Edit   Profile  

I'm guessing this a spillover from your earlier Warmoth neck post...

I'll add two things:
As said above, you don't need to break the bank, but do yourself a favour and don't cheap out either.

I went cheap with my first set of crowning files, and whilst they got the job done, they made harder work of it than my newer, higher priced set.

Secondly, it is because of this mob here that I got the confidence to take my "guitar tech" skills to this next step of fret work.
Follow the advice of these more experienced guys, take your time, go in baby steps and you'll do fine.

Steve Dallman
Contributing Member

Merrill, Wisconsin

Age is just a number...mine is big
Sep 15th, 2017 06:25 AM   Edit   Profile  

One of my favorite leveling tools is a piece of glass I had cut. I had a 1/4" thick piece of glass cut...3"x8". I spray adhesive on it, and stick whatever emery paper on it I need. Cheap and very flat.

I made a couple padded supports I stick under each end of the strings to raise the strings enough to run the glass between the strings and frets. This method allows me to tune the strings to pitch and then level.

With the strings off, I use radius blocks with paper on them, once I've straightened the neck with a truss rod adjustment.

I have a few crowning files, as well as triangle files. I prepare a triangle file by smoothing two edges and then polishing the edges to keep from scraping the fingerboard.



Sep 15th, 2017 10:36 AM   Edit   Profile  

"I'm guessing this a spillover from your earlier Warmoth neck post..."

You're 100% correct :-) I've been doing my own setups and filing nut slots for over 30 years (I'm 50), but I have never done anything about frets. Reading posts here and watching YouTube videos convinced me that I could do a good job with good tools.

So I ordered a double-edge crowning file, a triangle file and a fret edge file from Stew-Mac
for about $100, thinking, "I probably wouldn't buy another fret file in my lifetime. So let me buy good stuff." I already have a fret rocker, so I'll be business!

(This message was last edited by Chris-K at 12:38 PM, Sep 15th, 2017)



Sep 15th, 2017 08:45 PM   Edit   Profile  

If you have a good grip on setups (including cutting nut slots) then doing a decent level/crown/polish isn't that much more work. I think setups take a lot more time to really wrap your head around than fret leveling... you just need to have a basic machinist's sense of straight lines and tolerances. And, even if you don't have much of that, you will still improve on whatever you have even if by accident.



Why do I keep fixing things that work?
Sep 15th, 2017 09:58 PM   Edit   Profile  

I'm really curious about the diamond grit 'Z' file. They look like the cats meow! Because regular crowning files are Ok,but the Z file looks perfect for the job. They bring the sides and fret tops into shape better because the standard crowning files that just work the top and have to also tilt/cant the file slightly to get a good side wall taper on the frets, thus leaving you with a better focus of the string touching just the fret tops and have better intonation and truer pitch.
They would be my next purchase to add to the fret work tools.

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
Sep 16th, 2017 04:15 AM   Edit   Profile  

"I'm really curious about the diamond grit 'Z' file."

I know I've only been at this (fret work) for a short time, but I found that I get the same result without compromising the levelled height with the "traditional" crowning files.

It's how I gauge when to stop filing. Once I have a sliver of "flat" on the centre of the fret, I finish by just polishing. (after all filing is done)

Those Z files are more than twice the price of the rounded ones.

Contributing Member

New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Sep 18th, 2017 08:25 AM   Edit   Profile  

Sharpie on the frets before the crowning file. Work for an even width of the sharpie line using the crowning file. You want the line to be a little less than 1/3rd the total width of the fret using a conventional crowning file and then a couple light passes with a diamond crowning file. Or you can just go to 400 grit sandpaper followed by 600, 1000, and your available polishing method.
Be careful with the sharpie on maple fretboards.



Sep 18th, 2017 11:42 AM   Edit   Profile  

I've received a StewMac double edge file (4990 for narrow/medium). I ordered it thinking that it would do the job for narrow tall and medium jumbo frets. But the grooves on the 4990 look very tight for the job. Would the 4991 (wide / jumbo) be better?

Contributing Member

New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Sep 18th, 2017 01:07 PM   Edit   Profile  

Sorry Chris, my crowning files are all over ten years old now and I have no idea if they're even comparable to what is offered now. I have a conventional toothed file w/ med and wide and a number of diamond crowning files with med and wide sides. I too wish I had a slightly wider conventional crowning file for the really massive wide frets. I only use the diamond files for light finishing and the wide side works as long as I employ a variation of angle in my passes. I forget the name of the company but its one of the upmarket file makers and the company begins with the letter "G". They make a wider crowning file. Its good to buy premium quality for conventional crowning files and care for them well.



Sep 21st, 2017 05:01 PM   Edit   Profile  

My first ever fret job turned out to be pretty good! Using a fret rocker, I identified 8 offending frets on my '17 Mexican Deluxe HSS Strat. I leveled and crowned with Stew-Mac 3 corner and double-edge files. It was not difficult at all and took about one hour.

Of course, the quality of my fret job is merely OK, but that Mexican Strat now plays almost as good as my American Tele and Strat.

FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / What files do you use for leveling and crowning?

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