Stupid question from me: I've recently read a booklet called Setting Up Your Guitar To Professional Standards, written by one Ron Kirn. I bought it on EBay, and the booklet appears to be homemade, and printed by Ron on his desktop inkjet at home...
Anyway, he says that even top quality guitars like standard American Fender Strat's come from the factory with frets that are not properly dressed, apparently in order to keep production costs down. Only the custom shop axes come with properly dressed frets. He goes on to describe how to dress frets and makes it sound real easy.
If I understand him correctly, it means that one should take your brand new guitar and do a fret job on it first thing?
I've been brave with my guitars before, but I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to try this. What do you think? Also, I've read about a machine called a "Pleck" (?spelling), which dresses frets to within fractions of a millimeter, much more accurate than a good luthier can do by hand. Anyone know anything about this?
I am not familiar with the term of fret dressing, but it sure sounds serious, LOL
I personally do not think this is true what he say. I have an American Standard Strat and the frets were pretty perfect when I got it and still is. After 20 years the varnish on the fretboard gets a bit worn out, but that is about it.
I have tried some cheaper guitars (e.g. the Behringers) where the finishing is not up to standard. In such cases I simply would not buy the guitar. A very common problem I found with these cheap models is that the frets are not properly finished filed at the ends and sometimes cut the thumb when moving fast up or down the fretboard. That should be a fairly easy job to fix by yourself, but myself, I would rather not buy such guitar.
I have never found such problems with proper brand names like Fender, Gibson, etc.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but what Ron says is very true. BTW -Ron is a well respected small builder in the US. http://www.ronkirn.com/
Dressing is the technique used by builders and repairers to get frets level. It involves four stages:
- Levelling -cutting all the frets to the same level usually done with special files or more commonly, radiused sanding blocks.
- Crowning - reshaping the top of the frets so they are not flat where the file has cut them level.
- Polishing - smoothing the fret to get rid of tool marks and then polishing it to a shine.
- Touch up - under string tension, the neck will distort along unpredictable lines (thanks to the vagaries of wood) so it is necessary to check it with the strings on. There will usually be a few isolated frets here and there which are still not perfectly level, affecting action or causing buzzing. These frets must be touched up one by one, recrowned and repolished
This is all very labour and time intensive and usually not done on most production guitars unless there are really bad problems and it fails QC. Even if they are dressed, touch ups are almost never done as this are the most labour intensive step - in fact some big, expensive guitar manufacturers will level frets and not bother to even crown them, let alone polish them (are you listening, "big G"?).
Riaan, the Plek (see www.plek.com)is an amazing machine - far more accurate than a human can possibly do it. I know guys who have 1mm action at the 12th fret with no buzzing after a Plek dress . Heritage, Suhr and other top brands are using them standard to do fret dressing on their instruments and Gibson was recently forced to start using them on the Historic series as they started losing sales to Heritage over their appalling setups and dressing. I got a quote for a Plek machine last week, but they are about the same price as a good house (R950,000), so unless someone is looking for an investment opportunity (?), I'm not getting one soon 🙂.
I just Google'd Ron Kirn - guess I should have done so before - and yes, he is a well respected builder with excellent reviews of his custom guitars. Something bothered me about my Ibanez RX series guitar - it is an entry level guitar and cheap - the fret edges are sharp at the edges of the fretboard and quite uncomfortable. But a friend said to me that "that is how frets are...you gotta get used to them and get your fingers hard..." I did not know any better until I read about fret dressing.
So if the frets of even far more expensive guitars are not dressed, and mine's edges are sharp, I can only wonder about the levelness of my frets.
So let me confess: After reading Ron's book, I began wondering....and I looked at fret files on EBay....read Ron's book again....eventually bought a fret file and a level with a sanding strip ... DON'T DO IT, I hear ye all!
I haven't... yet, mainly because my workshop is still a mess after my building project and I don't have a decent, neat and tidy place to work in at the moment.
I must emphasize that though I'm quite handy with tools, and do all sorts of things in the workshop, I've never done any guitar building or major repairs apart from changing strings, adjusting the truss rod and in a brave moment adjusted my acoustic's bridge.
So, should I or not... :-\ We'll see...
You may someday see in the classifieds: "Ibanez guitar for sale, frets need professional attention, otherwise in mint condition" or else "Fret levelling kit for sale, never used"
Watch this space.
Years ago, a friend of mine, Robert Schoenraad had a new top of the range Guild Guitar. He didn't like the frets so he bought some Gibson oval fret wire came over to my place to refret his guitar. I did'nt want to be a part of the carnage so I told him I did'nt have any tools. He found a butter knife in the kitchen and started prizing out the existing frets. He hammered in the new frets with the heel of his shoe and trimmed them to size with a pair of tailors scissors that happend to be lying about. After about 2 hours the job was done I then took pity on him and let him borrow a flat sharpening stone to smooth out any uneveness. He put the old strings back on ,tuned the guitar, played a few dozen licks and scales, stop every now and again and sand a fret with an emory board. After another half hour he had the fret finish he desired. After that I have never been afraid to tamper with my guitar I would NEVER TAKE A BUTTER KNIFE TO MY FRETBOARD but I am not above sanding an errant fret on my Strat with a nail file and polioswhing it by smearing the string over it a few times. After all it is my guitar honed to my hands.
DON'T DO IT, I hear ye all!
On the contrary. That's how I learned - a lot of reading and a lot of doing.
Dressing is a tricky proceedure - lots of little do's and don'ts which all make a big difference (like don't forget to slack your trussrod completely and give it 24 hours for the neck to settle before levelling and the same after tensioning up before touchups). It's not undoable if you're handy though - just do your homework first.
If your fret edges are rough, but the action is low enough, you just need to touch up your fret edges, which is relatively easy. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the finish or you must be prepared to touch up. I like using a second cut file with the ends cut off to make sure it is perfectly flat, running it along the edges of all the frets together (not one by one) at an angle. Do this until you start biting into the edges of the fingerboard. This gives you a smoother, angled edge to the fingerboard which is more comfortable to play on - something like rolled edges. Just make sure that the angle is not too flat, or you reduce the playing area and strings will tend to slip off the edges of the board. I then do the same with a fine file - just a few strokes to smooth the edges a little.
Then I use a small flat key file or watchmaker's file to round off the edges of every single fret, one by one. I then do a few passes at an angle with a rubber sanding block with 400, 600, 800 and 1000 wet or dry paper. The nice thing about using rubber is it tends to wrap around the edges a little, smoothing them and reducing sharp angles. At all stages, run your hand up and down the edges of the neck and make sure that it is smooth enough to feel.
Thanks Alan! I'm gonna give it a go soon.
How much should one pay for fret work. I had to have 2 of the frets on my hagstrom dressed and I let my buddy do it (He did it for free 🙂 ) but I wouldn't let anyone who isn't a professional near my Gretsch guitars.
Depends entirely on how much work is needed, anywhere from a few hundred (simple dress) to a few thousand (refretting a bound maple board on a through neck).
I guess I'll have to take the RT in and see what they say. I need to get the nut replaced, so I'm thinking of getting the Earvana nut and a floyd Rose tremolo fitted at the same time. Decided not to redo the finish. Spending my cash on other things instead 🙂
So earlier this evening I got brave...took my Ibanez RX totally apart and armed with what I've learned here, and Ron Kirn's booklet, I dressed my frets. Following the steps in the booklet, I immediately realised what he says is true. Several frets were higher than the rest. So I sanded them down with a fret dressing level I bought on EBay, crowned the frets with a fret file I bought some time ago and polished them all. Cleaned the whole guitar, resoldered a few wires that had to be cut (ground and at the jack plug). Reassembled the whole thing, new strings and did a setup. Voila! Frets are smooth and shiny, no fret buzzes, low action and intonation perfect!
Unplugged it sounds great. A bit late now to play through my amp, but will do so tomorrow evening.
This was a pleasure that reached orgasmic preportions... 😀...I will definitely mod this guitar further: next will be a new nut, new pickups and piezo's. Can't wait!
It's a rush isn't it? 🙂
Ron Kirn knows his stuff. I didn't know he had a booklet out though.
Boy oh boy do I badly wanna learn to do these things to professional standards myself. Setting action, on a Floyd Rose took me like months to actually get down to a fine art lol. Now that I can do that, setting intonation is something I've avoided for many many years, but now want to get to grips with. I understand the concept, but I guess I'm to lazy to actually do it since it's not THAT expensive to just let em do it in a general guitar setup in a shop.
setting intonation is something I've avoided for many many years, but now want to get to grips with.
You really should. As with most things on a double-locking trem it's a bit fiddly, but here are specialised tools to help. Then truss rods next... 🙂
Meir, when you learn, show me. My intonation has been out for 2 weeks and it's made playing quite horrible. I think it went out when Frankie lowered the action for me. I wanna know how to do this stuff but I want someone there to show me. Learning from tips online scares the bejezuz out of me 😛
NB: Coz there's no undo button in real life 😛
hehehe, yeah. It's dangerous ground, unless you have a spare guitar lying around that you don't care for TO much, and wanna experiment. It's alot like lessons on the net tho. I have found plenty articles on how to do this and that, but they just don't 'speak' to me in my language.
you learn more from screwing up and having to fix it than from just getting it right. Don't ask me how I know this - I never made mistakes :-[