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Pain in the Neck

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Pain in the Neck

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Tue Aug 23, 2016 11:51 pm

Has anyone here ever built a neck that did not need a complete fret level?
I never have, and I try really hard to get everything straight and even while building.

There always seems to be 3 or 4 or more frets that are just a bit high, or low.
And quite frankly, the neck and fret setup is one of the most important aspects of building.

A beautiful guitar that plays poorly is just that.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Jason Rodgers » Wed Aug 24, 2016 12:05 am

What is your fretboard preparation and fret installation method?
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Peter Wilcox » Wed Aug 24, 2016 1:49 am

Gordon Bellerose wrote:Has anyone here ever built a neck that did not need a complete fret level?

Not me - except the fretless and resophonic ones. :lol:
Some are close, but they all need at least a touch of the file.
Maybe I can't fix it, but I can fix it so no one can fix it
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Joshua Levin-Epstein » Wed Aug 24, 2016 9:57 am

You know, there's no guarantee that the fret height is consistent throughout the roll. The manufacturer has tolerances as well.

Blame them.
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Eric Baack » Wed Aug 24, 2016 10:03 am

I've seen frets that were very inconsistent in height as measured with a caliper
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Barry Daniels » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:18 am

I once built 36 necks for one specific style of guitar. Near the end of the run I got one neck that came out near perfect. As soon as I started leveling the frets my sanding beam was hitting all of the fret tops. But this one was just lucky, I guess.
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Steve Sawyer » Wed Aug 24, 2016 12:58 pm

Obviously I'm not speaking from experience in luthiery here, Gordon, but based on years of experience in woodworking and generally building stuff, I would fall over in a dead faint if I ever build a neck that didn't need fret leveling. Considering that the difference between frets that are level and those that aren't can be measured in the ten-thousandths of an inch, I don't see how it would ever be possible (other than through dumb luck) to avoid having to level the frets. Variations in the height of the fret crown, the contour of the neck, the seating of the frets, even the glue used to hold the frets in place will all contribute to small variations in the relative height of the frets.

Whenever I build things, I frequently avoid cutting or shaping things to a measured size, instead getting it close, then trimming to get a perfect fit. I do this whether I'm building a shop jig, a piece of furniture or some home remodeling (especially the latter - nothing in a house is flat, level, square...) I don't expect to do anything different when building a neck.
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Randolph Rhett » Wed Aug 24, 2016 8:30 pm

My next roll of frets is going to be SUPER tall, just so I can grind away at them and end up with something that still looks like a new guitar! :lol:
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Wed Aug 24, 2016 10:56 pm

Jason Rodgers wrote:What is your fretboard preparation and fret installation method?

1. I cut the fret board close to thickness with the band saw.
2. I run it through the thickness sander to get a nice flat even blank.
3. While it is still square, I cut the fret slots.
4. I use my radius routing jig to rout the radius.
5. I cut the fret board to shape by double-stick taping it to a template, cut it close with the band saw, and then rout it to final shape.
6. At this point, if it is a bolt-on I may attach it to the neck, or install frets. I use a fret press.
7. If I have installed frets first, I then attach it to the neck. I use my radius sanding blocks as gluing cauls.
8. On an unbound fret board, I will wick in superglue while the radius blocks are still on the frets.

9. After the neck and fret board are glued together, I straighten the neck, using a notched straight edge on the board.
10. Once the neck is straight, I check fret heights with a straight edge and feeler gauges.


I think it's a pretty standard method. It only varies slightly if the fret board is bound.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:03 pm

Randolph Rhett wrote:My next roll of frets is going to be SUPER tall, just so I can grind away at them and end up with something that still looks like a new guitar! :lol:

I start with .050 tall frets, and usually end up with .038 - .040.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Chris Richards » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:40 am

Hi Gordon....

I rarely find spot leveling successful, I usually end up "chasing" the error up and down the fretboard.

Generally this is how I do it

1) Cut the fb blank square and to thickness.
2) Cut the fret slots but not to final depth.
3) Cut the fretboard blank to shape (plan view), if it's a bound fb then the plan shape is exactly to size, if unbound slightly generous.
4) Glue the fb to the neck, I use locating pins to avoid any slippage.
5) plane the rough camber, careful to not plane away the fret slots, if this looks like happening re cut them a little deeper.
6) Tighten the truss rod to give a slight back bow, 1mm is good, and sand the final camber on the fb, make sure the fb is now 100% flat
7) fit the marker dots...If you're doing a fancy inlay do this process between 3 & 4.
8) Cut the fret slots to depth with a saw that has a depth stop.
9) Run a triangular file over the top of the fret slots, this removes and burr left by the saw and makes it SO much easier to press the frets in.. I find this REALLY helps to get the frets to sit nicely also make sure that the fret slots are perfectly clean.
10) using a level surface with abrasive paper stuck to it, mark the top of each fret with a marker pen and sand away until all the marker pen disappears. then re crown and polish the frets.

There's obviously the fret edges to do at some point and this is a list of just the major points of how I do it. Personally I would never finish a fb then glue it to the neck. If you use a 2-way truss rod there's no need to set it to a back bow, this only applies to a one way truss rod. And obviously if you're doing a refret on a set neck guitar then this method goes out of the window! The biggest improvement in my fretting technique was simply running a triangular file over the top of the fret slots especially in harder woods like ebony and most rosewoods.

In my experience fretting should be easy, if it's not then something is wrong, whenever I've done a fretboard that I have to fight with it usually ends up as a mess...
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Dave Weir » Sun Aug 28, 2016 9:33 pm

I rarely do any traditional fret leveling any more. The boards come off the belt sander very straight.
I arch cut the fret slots after it is radius-ed so they are the same depth as the fret wire tang. Set the frets with an arbor press and a torque wrench. 175 inch pounds. Then cut the fret ends and add about 5 inch pounds and reset. Then check them. If any are high, I add another 5 pounds and reset the high ones. The neck I made this morning didn't require any resets.
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby David King » Mon Aug 29, 2016 1:24 am

Long ago I imagined pressing all of my frets to depth at once with a full length steel caul that was cnc milled to the exact conical fingerboard radius.
This vision soon became impractical when I started to think about all the different radii that I end up building to. Now I find I get very close with good fretwire (Jescar) that I prebend to the radius of each slot and press into a very hard fingerboard like African blackwood or pakkawood® and clamp in place while the glue dries. It's so slow that I find a modest amount of grinding and polishing is quicker.
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Re: Pain in the Neck

Postby Chris Richards » Tue Aug 30, 2016 6:29 am

I think Gordon has raised an important point here. From a business perspective I find it quite difficult at times as on one hand I'm viewed as some kind of "artisan" and expected to lavish time and my skills on a customers guitar and producing something less than perfect would not be acceptable to the customer, even though they want it done to a very tight budget and are not afraid to beat you down on price. After all a car mechanic wouldn't fix your back brakes then fix your front ones as a favour, he'd be on the phone to you upping your bill.

I suppose where I'm going with this is that Gordon is complaining about how long it takes to do a quality refret and bottom line is; time is money, the going rate for a refret in the UK starts at just over £100 for a Fender type neck and really to make decent profit you have to get your skates on so any way to speed up the process gets a huge thumbs-up from me, if you don't make a profit then you aren't going to be in business very long.

Over the years I've become a lot more straight talking with customers and good customers really appreciate this, I still do favours but it's on my terms. Getting that business mentality in your head when your doing a job you love can be really difficult.
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