Doing a refret

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Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sat Sep 21, 2019 4:32 pm

Now that build #2 is done, and build #3 is still on the drawing board, this is a good time to do a badly-needed re-fret on my Strat.

Other than being careful when removing the old frets, is there anything different about the process (vs a new build) that I should be aware of? I've always loved this guitar, and really don't want to screw it up...
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby John Clifford » Sat Sep 21, 2019 5:41 pm

First, are you sure it really needs a re-fret? Are you unhappy with the way it plays now, and are you sure your unhappiness is due to fret wear? Or are you just seeing worn frets and thinking they need fixing?

I have a Les Paul Deluxe I got in 1975 that still has its original frets. They are very worn. It plays like butter and I wouldn't touch those frets.

Just sayin.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sun Sep 22, 2019 12:45 pm

John Clifford wrote:First, are you sure it really needs a re-fret? Are you unhappy with the way it plays now, and are you sure your unhappiness is due to fret wear? Or are you just seeing worn frets and thinking they need fixing?

Valid point, John. They have looked terrible for years with big flat tops, but played fine. In the last year or so it has been harder to do clean bends and vibrato as my finger tips are rubbing hard against the FB. If I was only playing chords they'd be fine.

It's time!

In thinking about this, I'm wondering if there is any reason not to remove the neck for the re-fret?
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Freeman Keller » Sun Sep 22, 2019 2:24 pm

The Fender refrets that I stay away from are (1) that series of vintage guitars where the frets were pushed in from the side and (2) any maple fretboard that is going to require refinishing. I figure I can do either but why bother, I don't want to be the guy that screws up a vintage guitar.

I do do a fair number of refrets on both Fenders and other guitars - this is a very good time to clean up fretboard wear, divots and such, and to correct any humps and bumps.
Fenders are nice because the neck comes off - I mostly press the new ones in but do a little hammering if required. I glue frets in with CA on any refret and I use heat when I pull the old ones. Double check the slot depth all the way across - I got burned on this one once. I'll consider SS if the owner wants it - I don't use it on my own guitars.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Sep 23, 2019 12:27 pm

Good tips, Freeman. Thanks.

This fortunately has a rosewood FB, so no refinishing. I hadn't thought of doing a cleanup of the surface, but it does have some minor divots, so I'll plan on doing that too.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby David King » Tue Sep 24, 2019 6:14 pm

You haven't mentioned the age or the country of origin of this strat but you might consider a compound radius on the fingerboard if you dress it. A 7-1/4" to 12" or 9-1/2" to 16" would help get the action down without having to file the frets to achieve the same effect.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Wed Sep 25, 2019 1:09 pm

David King wrote:You haven't mentioned the age or the country of origin of this strat but you might consider a compound radius on the fingerboard if you dress it. A 7-1/4" to 12" or 9-1/2" to 16" would help get the action down without having to file the frets to achieve the same effect.

It's an early 90's MIM, David. Just double-checked the radius and it's uniformly 9 1/2". Given that I've always loved how this guitar plays, I'm kinda hesitant to mess with it too much. I'm already nervous about possibly having to adjust the nut slots after the re-fret.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Freeman Keller » Wed Sep 25, 2019 6:17 pm

Steve, any time you do a refret plan on a complete setup including, if required, a new nut. Frequently your frets will end up a little higher than they were before, particularly if they had been dressed a time or two (or you decided to move up a size in wire). I use a refret as the time to correct anything wrong with the fretboard, then an absolutely level fret plane, followed by a change to get all those little parameters dialed in perfectly.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Wed Sep 25, 2019 7:27 pm

Freeman Keller wrote:Steve, any time you do a refret plan on a complete setup including, if required, a new nut. Frequently your frets will end up a little higher than they were before, particularly if they had been dressed a time or two (or you decided to move up a size in wire). I use a refret as the time to correct anything wrong with the fretboard, then an absolutely level fret plane, followed by a change to get all those little parameters dialed in perfectly.

Yeah - When I removed the nut I realized it was plastic, and that I'd probably want to make a new nut. Also, the divots are worse than I thought. Almost thirty years of playing takes its toll!
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby David King » Thu Sep 26, 2019 12:57 am

I don't think I've ever done a refret without doing a new nut. A bone nut replacement would be a nice improvement on that guitar and it's a relatively quick easy job since it's so narrow.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Joshua Levin-Epstein » Fri Sep 27, 2019 1:19 pm

As has been said, you should take this opportunity to correct any issues with the fingerboard. You should not try to sand those divots out. This is a link to a short article by Frank Ford
http://www.frets.com/FretsPages/Luthier ... divot.html

Now I haven't seen your guitar but I would bet the end of the fingerboard is pushed up. If this is the case (and it may show only under string tension), check to see if there is enough fingerboard to sand/plane the end straight. If the fingerboard is thin, you can take some of the offending height off the frets. You should also assume the fingerboard was not perfectly planed straight at the factory.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sun Sep 29, 2019 8:35 pm

Joshua Levin-Epstein wrote:As has been said, you should take this opportunity to correct any issues with the fingerboard. You should not try to sand those divots out. This is a link to a short article by Frank Ford
http://www.frets.com/FretsPages/Luthier ... divot.html

Now I haven't seen your guitar but I would bet the end of the fingerboard is pushed up. If this is the case (and it may show only under string tension), check to see if there is enough fingerboard to sand/plane the end straight. If the fingerboard is thin, you can take some of the offending height off the frets. You should also assume the fingerboard was not perfectly planed straight at the factory.

Thanks, Joshua - but you're too late. I sanded out the divots yesterday. All but one, actually, as it was quite deep, but the FB is 100% better than it was. Also, there seems to be absolutely nothing wrong with this FB otherwise. I was even able to get the frets out without much chipping. I did fill about four spots with a mixture of rosewood dust and CA, and the were so small that they are hard to find now. I'm not sure what you mean by "pushed up", but the FB seems to be perfectly intact, with no discernible issues other than the divots (and 30 years worth of finger gunk). It sounds like you're referring to something on one end or the other, and having inspected them closely in the process of removing the nut, frets, sanding and installing the new ones I didn't notice anything amiss. There is plenty of "meat" on this FB though.

The FB was almost perfectly flat once the string tension was removed. When leveling the new frets (which I did today) I only had to move the truss rod nut about 1/8 turn to bring it perfectly flat.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Mark Wybierala » Wed Oct 02, 2019 9:21 am

Absolutely do the refret with the neck removed. I don't think there's an easier refret made than a modern Fender like the one you have. I would have never bothered with divits other than damage caused by something other than normal wear. Give a thorough reinspection of the fretboard level using a straightedge on all six of the string positions. I find the point at which the trussrod creates the tiniest amount of back bow, and then check all six again to see that the level is the same across the width.
MIM strats are generally decently made. If the edge of the rosewood has a sharper edge than you prefer, you can round it over a little if there is width to spare but you need to preserve the functional width so be careful. Be sure to clean out the fret slots thoroughly. Make yourself a tool to verify that the depth of the fretslots is adequate for your new frets then clean out the fretslots again.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Wed Oct 02, 2019 6:13 pm

Mark Wybierala wrote:Absolutely do the refret with the neck removed. I don't think there's an easier refret made than a modern Fender like the one you have. I would have never bothered with divits other than damage caused by something other than normal wear. Give a thorough reinspection of the fretboard level using a straightedge on all six of the string positions. I find the point at which the trussrod creates the tiniest amount of back bow, and then check all six again to see that the level is the same across the width.
MIM strats are generally decently made. If the edge of the rosewood has a sharper edge than you prefer, you can round it over a little if there is width to spare but you need to preserve the functional width so be careful. Be sure to clean out the fret slots thoroughly. Make yourself a tool to verify that the depth of the fretslots is adequate for your new frets then clean out the fretslots again.

Thanks, Mark. I finished the re-fret yesterday. I managed to follow most of your suggestions, though I did sand out most of the divots. There is a remnant of one between the 1st and 2nd frets, but everything else cleaned up with radius sanding blocks.

Everything came out really good, with the exception that I somehow filed the nut slots a little deep. I was able to easily correct that with a little trick that I won't mention because I'm sure it isn't GAL-approved, but I did it on one slot on my first build, and it has held up through three string changes, so it seems to be permanent. Don't know how I managed the mistake as I used a stack of feeler gauges just as I did for my last build which came out perfect. Next time I'll deliberately go a little shallow, dry fit, then sneak up on the final depth so I don't run into this again.

I'm so glad I did this. Once I got it all dialed-in, it plays just as nice as it always has, and string-bending and vibrato are much easier now that I'm not plowing against the FB! :)
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Mark Wybierala » Wed Oct 02, 2019 9:01 pm

Glad to hear you got a good result. I also go too deep on occasion and its because I'm rushing. If you're using bone, sometimes there is a soft spot -- bone is not always dependable for consistency. My fix is to elevate the entire nut if its something I can get away with -- it happens. Its awesome when you feel perky about a refret.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Mike Conner » Thu Oct 03, 2019 6:14 am

Steve:
I haven't found feeler gages to be reliable in judging the nut slot depths. The half-a-pencil technique has worked very well for me. The pencil rides on the 1st through 3rd frets and I am careful to not go too near the line when roughing in the slots.

I usually go through a set of cheap setup strings while cutting the slots. Pressing the string down on the 3rd fret crown, I look and listen for the gap between the 1st fret and the string. Since the pencil line has some width to it, I am typically a good bit above the 1st fret at the start. Loosen string, file some more, drop in the string, tighten, and repeat until the string is just above the 1st fret crown while the string is pressed down to the 3rd fret. I can tap the string on the 1st fret, and that sound helps confirm that I am close enough.

Once the slot depths are set, the setup strings come off and I take the top of the nut down so that only about 2/3 of the wound string diameter is in the slot. Then profile the rest of the nut, and polish with inexpensive finger nail buffing sticks. With a little time and patience you can get that bone to shine like plastic ;-)

I have found that unbleached bone nuts (and saddles) seem to be denser and less likely to have porous spots that behave as soft spots. I happen to prefer the more aged appearance of the unbleached bone, and after polishing there is not a big visual difference.


The slot repair techniques can work out for a while, but I change strings so often that eventually the string(s) will saw through the filler. Now that you are happy with your refret and setup, and have some experience with making the new nut, perhaps after some playing time you will be ready to replace the nut?
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Fri Oct 04, 2019 5:31 pm

Mike - the technique I used is I found the "stack" that exactly matches the height of the 1st fret using a stainless steel rule across the 1st and 2nd frets. Note that in my experience, this will vary slightly from string to string. I then use the correct stack for each string and add a .004" feeler gauge on top. I did this on my last build and everything was jake. Something that may have caused a problem was using abrasive cord to polish the bottom of the slots, and using it too aggressively. I dunno. Nut making is probably the most "fussy" part of a build, and I can see that it takes a while to get good at it. Because all the slots were a scrunch too deep, I could, as Mark suggests, raise the entire nut. I thought of that, but I was concerned that I could lose some sustain if the nut isn't really solidly seated to the neck.

And yes, I will likely make a new nut for this at some point. It's not all that time-consuming and good practice. Note that to minimize wear in the "repaired" slots, I placed a small piece of appropriate-sized guitar string in the bottom of each slot along with the powdered bone and CA. This gives a harder bearing surface on which the strings rest, and also allowed me to "tune" each slot to the correct depth by using successively larger string diameters until the clearance above the 1st fret was right. I know it's a kludge, but got this axe back into use for now.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Mark Wybierala » Sat Oct 12, 2019 8:38 am

Sustain...
As far as tone, sustain, and mojo, the nut is totally irrelevant except when open strings are played. Any time a string is fretted, the nut is out of the picture. For fretted notes, the only impact the nut has is maybe intonation problems if the slots are too shallow causing the strings to be excessively high from the fretboard; and, tuning instability if the strings don't freely respond to minor adjustments of the tuner.

To each his own and we all have idiosyncrasies that we pursue with determination. But sustain I feel is an overrated pursuit except when the total lack of it is obvious. Most recorded examples of super awesome sustain have a lot more to do with effect pedals and feedback. But there are a few guitars such as a Les Paul which have a noticeable tendency to sustain better than a bolt-on neck Fender and that is really only a generality. But again, when a string is fretted, the nut is out of the picture.

To elevate a nut, I prefer using built up layers of CA by employing masking tape in a perimeter around the base and applying multiple layers of CA letting each application fully cure before applying another layer. I tend to use water-thin CA in very light (thin) applications and employ an accelerator. It may take up to eight applications of CA to achieve enough build up and then it becomes a matter of reshaping the base of the nut to fit. I do the same thing often with acoustic saddles. Its very important to not make the layers too thick ending up with "wet bubbles" of CA below the surface. In severe cases, I may employ a strip of cut plastic shim but I always use CA to ensure that there are no voids between the original nut or saddle material and the shim. The exception would be floyd style locking nuts where I use brass or aluminum shim material.

I never use the CA and baking soda method of reconstructing a nut slot.
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Re: Doing a refret

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sat Oct 12, 2019 9:13 am

Thanks, Mark. Good point re sustain. And excellent suggestions in raising the nut a bit.
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