DIY: How to Level, Crown & Dress Frets on Your Guitar
In this do-it-yourself instructional video, Nashville luthier and repair tech Dave Johnson from Scale Model Guitars demonstrates how to fret level your guitar.
Johnson goes to work on a Squier Stratocaster, with frets that haven’t been glued down—a common feature on models that have been manufactured overseas. As a result, some of them have wiggled around in their slot, so there’s no uniform fret height down the neck. This affects not just playability, but sound, too, since loose frets result in weaker vibrations across the guitar. The first step Johnson takes is to make sure that the neck is straight by making tiny adjustments to the truss rod. Next, he slaps some paste wax down on the fretboard, which acts as a guard of sorts from the heavy-duty cyanoacrylate super glue that’s wicked down the edges of the fret slots with a whip tip to cement the fret wire in place.
Once the frets are solid, Johnson sets to work with a StewMac fret leveling bar (https://stewmac.sjv.io/Jr5By7) to bring the frets to a uniform height up and down the neck. The higher frets, however, will still be a little different, which Johnson explains with the concept of fall-away.
Next up is a once-over with a fine fret edge tool that smooths out any tough angles on the ends of the fret wires, then a diamond file to round them out again after the leveling. Johnson rakes the frets—a sanding and polishing process with 400, 800, and 1000 grit sandpaper. Then it’s time to scrape the board back. With a razor blade, he scrapes away the wax and glue to get back to the soft Indian laurel wood underneath, then dusts off the gritty leftovers with steel wool. (Careful, though. Johnson says if your guitar has particularly large or precious inlays, it’s a good idea to take some extra precautions at the board-scraping stage.) A few drops of fretboard oil later, and the guitar is ready to rip. Thanks, Dave!
A few drops of fretboard oil later, and the guitar is ready to rip. Thanks, Dave!
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