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Thread: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

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    Frito's Better Half beandip's Avatar
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    Default How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    First: The tools you'll need can be purchased at any Home Depot, Lowes, Northern Tool, Ace Hardware of similar place of business.

    Here's a list of what you'll need. Links to said tools are provided.

    24" straight edge. A large carpenter's square will work as well, and is actually cheaper. Use a hacksaw to shorten it, and you've got two!
    http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/...3+90401+500992

    Single cut 6" mill file. Cut off the tang so it will lay perfectly flat.
    http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?actio...260&lpage=none

    A depth gauge or a set of cheap calipers
    http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?actio...722&lpage=none

    Various grits of sandpaper, I prefer to use 220, 320, 400, 480, 520, 580, 600 and the four "0" grades of steel wool (0,00,000,0000).

    Let's get started, shall we?

    First, remove the strings and have the guitar rested firmly on a table, workbench, or the like. Support the neck with something sturdy but soft at approx. a 15% angle. Remove all hardware that could possibly come off (TOM bridges and tailpieces especially).

    Loosen the truss rod, and using the straightedge you just purchased, get the neck to as little relief as possible. If you can't get it perfectly straight, at least try and get it into the low thousandths of an inch. Now, normally I work a TINY bit of relief into the frets so that I can have a stronger, straighter neck but still achieve maximum playability. We'll save that for another time

    Using a slightly damp cloth (I prefer the blue shop paper towels) give the board a good 10-15 second wipe down. This will remove any oil or grime buildup on the frets that could hinder proper measuring, and give you a clean work area. After you've done all this, using the depth gauge or calipers, mark the exact height of your fret crown above the board.

    Take a sharpie marker (I prefer the chisel tipped black ones), mark the very top of the crown of the fret down the entire board. Go slow, and be careful. If you slip, it's a PITA to get sharpie out of a light colored rosewood board, and lemme tell ya about those satin maple Fender necks. Just because we're on a budget, don't mean we ain't gonna do things right.

    Now, using our modified single cut mill file, use very light (and I mean LIGHT) pressure, run the file lengthwise down the board. Notice how the Sharpie's disappearing? Your goal is here, to make the Sharpie disappear in an even fashion. So, starting at the edge (I usually start at the treble and work right to left, but whatever is most comfortable for you), remove the very tops of the frets. Remember to take it slow and don't rush it. Now, once you get to the middle of the board, move to the bass side and work your way inward. What this does is maintain the radius, and minimizes the ability to flatten out the tops of the frets.

    Do that twice, or until any worn down spots have disappeared. Try not to drop the top of the frets down too low, because you're still going to have to do the crowning by hand using sandpaper, and well it's hard to do when your frets are too low. I know, I know, but we're on a budget, and not exactly trained repairmen (except for those of us at the Luthier's Workshop. Enough name dropping and rubbing it in ).

    Now, before we go all willy nilly with some sandpaper, we need to tape off the board. I suggest that while you're out at your favorite tool emporium, you pick up some 3/4" blue painters or drafters tape. If you'd like to save yourself the trouble of cutting up itty bitty pieces of tape to fit between the frets in the higher register, you can check your local drafting store, college bookstore that stocks school needed art supplies, Micheal's, Hobby Lobby, or the like for some 1/4" and 1/8" masking tape. It's a great time saver, but not "needed" for what we're doing here. Don't forget to run some tape along the fingerboard edges, unless you're wanting to roll the edges of the board while we're doing this step.
    This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. - St. Augustine of Hippo

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    Frito's Better Half beandip's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    *CONTINUED*

    Take a 4x4" piece of your 220, and using the tips and pads of your fingers, you're going to follow the same technique used with the mill file. Very even, light pressure, and keep an eye on the crown. Now, keep in mind, this will not give you a perfectly crowned fret, but more of the "rounded school bus" fret that was popular on Jackson's for awhile. Now, watch the crown until it gets to where you'd like it. Keep note to use even pressure, and don't spend too much time in one area! If you do that, well everything you just did was a waste.

    Follow this step up to 600 grit. Using lighter and lighter pressure with each grit you move up. Once you've reached 600, you're no longer removing much material, if any. It's more of a "scratch remover" for the grits before it. Leave the masking tape on the board and whip out that 0 grade steel wool. Pinch you off a good bit, and go across the top of the frets like you would with 0000 grit. Once you've done that, pinch you off another piece and go lengthwise down the board. Do this with 00, 000, and 0000 grades. What you're doing here is adding a little bit more of a crown to the fret. Make sure you're not too off center, or else you'll have improper intonation. But, that's part of the beauty of the school bus top.

    After you've completed all these steps, carefully remove the tape off the fingerboard, and run the 0000 grade steel wool up and down the board. Using a dry towel, give the board a good scrubbing up. After you've done that, give it a quick wipe with some naphtha and condition with your fretboard conditioner of choice (or none for maple boards)

    Now, remember that height measurement we took? Write that number down and take it again now. Using simple subtraction, find the difference between the two numbers. You now know how much you removed from the fret and can adjust your action accordingly. To lower the nut, use a block of wood (or the end of the mill file) and give the nut a little tap, that should break it loose of it's glue joint. Oh, and don't forget to use a razor blade and scour the finish around the nut if it goes up on it. Some do, some don't. Pay attention to your guitar. There's no "budget fix" for a finish repair. Remove said amount from the bottom of the nut by taping a piece of the 220 grit sandpaper to a flat surface. The table you place your guitar to be worked on is a fine choice. Once again, the key here is to go slow and not over do it. Check your progress every minute or so. Those of you out there with vintage style Fender nuts that have a radius on the underside as well, shoot me a PM. If there's a few, I'll do another thread about how to cut a nut on a budget as well.

    Before gluing your now height adjusted nut back in the slot, you've gotta clean out all the old glue. Guess what? Your mill file is pretty good at this. If you look at the edge, it should be toothed. Use that to slowly (notice a pattern yet?) to remove the glue from the nut slot. Keep in mind that your mill file's edge IS NOT straight, so use common sense to keep the bottom of your slot the way it is

    Some guys like to use superglue to put their nuts back in, if you use this method I will personally drive to wherever you are and kick you in the gonads. Two or three small drops of white or yellow wood glue is ample to hold the nut in the place. Don't worry about "glue robbing your tone". The nut material and it's proper seating have a MUCH bigger impact on your tone than whether you chose Hot Stuff or Elmer's.

    String up with your choice of strings, to tension but not to pitch. You want just enough pressure to hold the nut in place for about 10 minutes. Give the glue time to set before putting an uneven load on the nut with string tension. Once you're all tuned up, check your intonation and adjust accordingly.

    And there ya have it folks. A great fret level and crown for less than a decent steak.

    *Edited to add that you should periodically check your progress and the "levelness" of the board with your straightedge. Probably a good idea every few minutes when using the mill file, and after every grit switch when using the sandpaper*
    Last edited by beandip; 06-09-2009 at 12:45 AM.
    This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. - St. Augustine of Hippo

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    Skaforlifeologist super rad stuff's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    cool, i'll have to stop by the hardware store soon then. the funny thing is that the cost is mostly in the sandpaper and wool
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    Frito's Better Half beandip's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Quote Originally Posted by super rad stuff View Post
    cool, i'll have to stop by the hardware store soon then. the funny thing is that the cost is mostly in the sandpaper and wool
    Things turn out like that sometimes. If you run into any problems, shoot me a PM. That goes for the rest of you guys who try this. I'll do my best to walk you through it.

    One more thing to add, make sure the mill file you buy is SINGLE CUT. A double cut or bastard will remove material much too quickly for a novice and could wind up costing you hundreds in repair because you thought you could handle a much more aggressive cut.
    This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. - St. Augustine of Hippo

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    Ultimate Tone Member Thurisaz's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    beandip, can I call you the Hank Hill of Guitar and Guitar accessories?

    Kidding aside, that was realllllly informative... it should be stickied.

    Make sure you're not too off center, or else you'll have improper intonation. But, that's part of the beauty of the school bus top.
    Is that statement saying that the beauty of the "school bus top" is improper intonation?
    Last edited by Thurisaz; 06-09-2009 at 04:01 AM.

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    Senior Member Stuntman Jim's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Thanks alot! And I bookmarked this page so please don't remove your posts.
    I'll try this the next time I take my guitars apart (which happens way too often).

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker jimijames's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    is there anything in the vault like this? I'm just sayin'...

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    Skaforlifeologist super rad stuff's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Quote Originally Posted by jimijames View Post
    is there anything in the vault like this? I'm just sayin'...
    i just looked, there's nothin'.

    vault this!
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    MonkeyDungologist dr. ad's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    can we sticky and/or vault this pls?

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    High Voltologist Wattage's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    I would suggest taping off the board before using the sharpie

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    Frito's Better Half beandip's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Quote Originally Posted by Thurisaz View Post
    beandip, can I call you the Hank Hill of Guitar and Guitar accessories?

    Kidding aside, that was realllllly informative... it should be stickied.



    Is that statement saying that the beauty of the "school bus top" is improper intonation?
    No, the beauty of the school bus top is you're able to get proper intonation without a perfect crown.

    And Wattage is correct. Tape of the board BEFORE using the sharpie.
    This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. - St. Augustine of Hippo

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    Uptonogood
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    vault! vault! vault! Now that were on topic I think the wells should be moved somewhere else...this is the kinda stuff we need in the vault!

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    BerriesAndCreamologist Fender_Punk's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Quote Originally Posted by super rad stuff View Post
    i just looked, there's nothin'.

    vault this!
    +1. Very informative and well-explained thread.
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    Heel Whacker tone4days's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    about how long would you estimate this to take an absolute beginner assuming he has all the tools needed and no interruptions and works as slowly as you suggest?
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    Frito's Better Half beandip's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Quote Originally Posted by tone4days View Post
    about how long would you estimate this to take an absolute beginner assuming he has all the tools needed and no interruptions and works as slowly as you suggest?
    2 to 3 hours. That's with a few breaks to keep you sharp and so your hands don't cramp up.
    This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. - St. Augustine of Hippo

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    Heel Whacker tone4days's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    cool - great thread - thanks for it
    gear list in profile

    "no seymour - no tone ... know seymour - know tone!"

    Is it not the glory of the people of America that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience?" - James Madison - Federalist #14

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker Will S-T's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    This is the sort of stuff that makes this place so great.
    Thanks Beandip!

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    Mojo's Minions Binnerscot's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Would there be anything to consider differently when performing this on stainless steel frets?

    I think I am going to take a stab at this.....

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    Frito's Better Half beandip's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    Quote Originally Posted by Binnerscot View Post
    Would there be anything to consider differently when performing this on stainless steel frets?

    I think I am going to take a stab at this.....
    It's going to take longer, and use more sandpaper than you would like Really, there's not much difference when leveling and crowing SS frets (although if you need a level and crown, kudos to having a grip like King Kong). It's the fretting itself that SS frets rear their pain in the ass heads.
    This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. - St. Augustine of Hippo

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    Off-Topic Lurker rashayritto's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to properly level and crown frets for the DIY'er

    we should move the beandip tutorial threads to the vault
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