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DIY Fret Leveling & crowning

Keg8605

Power User
Has anybody started doing their own fret work? I've been considering buying a fret leveling beam as it doesn't seem all that hard to do and the more I do it I'm sure the better you get. Until now I've had my local shop do it....
 

Musikron

Experienced
It takes a lot more than just the proper tools to get right. Get a few practice necks under your belt before you try a real guitar. You’ll need fret files, a fret rocker, something to polish them up with, and lots and lots of practice. No easier way to ruin a guitar.
 

USMC_Trev

Fractal Fanatic
Has anybody started doing their own fret work? I've been considering buying a fret leveling beam as it doesn't seem all that hard to do and the more I do it I'm sure the better you get. Until now I've had my local shop do it....
If you're willing to try, mess up and learn, and maybe have to have it re-fretted to correct your mistakes, go for it. Start with a guitar that's not as precious.

This is the part of the American spirit, the rugged individualist, I wish there was more of. DIY. Eff yeah, mate. Eff yeah.
 

Architect

Member
It's definitely possible to DIY, and it can be very economical when you own multiple guitars. The initial outlay on the necessary tools and abrasives etc will be quite high but it soon pays for itself.

Also there's plenty of instructional resources around the interwebs, some of which are from veterans of the trade. You'll be fine.

My advice (having been down the same road) is to stick with a minimum 16" Steel leveling beam (like you said) as opposed to the small leveling files that are available - the files will leave chatter marks that take hours to sand/ polish out, and the short length can create dips/valleys if you're not careful. Sandpaper is your friend and a high grit will be much less aggressive at taking off material while you practice.

A Diamond crowning file will also be the easiest and fastest method for crowning and subsequent polishing while you learn.

It all depends on how much time you can dedicate to doing it right (which could end up being hours and hours per guitar) or just leave it to the pros.

I say, have at it. It's not rocket surgery!
 

lwknives

Power User
Ive done one of my guitar necks, it took me about 4 hours and I was super stressed the whole time but it turned out fine, it now has a better fret job than most of my new guitars had from the factory.
 

Sonofiam

Power User
I've done 6 now and each time they get easier with better results. Take your time, get quality tools, read and research techniques and methods. There are a lot them and no single one is the "right way". You will eventually discover what works for you and gives you the results you want.
 

pat6969

Inspired
Ya, it's easy, simple as that. Just buy the right tools and watch a couple tutorial videos. I am assuming you're somewhat mechanically inclined and like to work with your hands. If that's the case, fly at it!!
 

paranoid

Fractal Fanatic
I have done many level recrown jobs and even refrets with simple basic, inexpensive tools. it takes time, but if you have more time then money give it a try on a cheap guitar first, and see how it comes out. If it is bad give up. if it is good, save your self some money. Do not think you have to buy out stew mac to do this work.
After making sure the neck is straight, I level frets with a hardware store quality aluminum level with sand paper wrapped around it. the only special tool I bought was a crown file to round the frets after leveling. if you don't mind square toped frets it is very easy to just use a simple file to taper the top of the frets. sand paper of different grits, and steel wool will do most of this work, and is very cheap to purchase.
When you fix your own guitars yourself you will have a new love and respect for your instrument.
 

Sonofiam

Power User
I don't believe Stu-mac has the highest quality tools and their prices are usually twice what you can get elsewhere. Quality tools are made from materials that are durable and to very strict tolerances. I've built a small toolbox of luthier tools from various places and have not had to spend a ton of money to get them. You can get a sanding block from a countertop shop. Just ask for a scrap 2"X12-18" piece of granite or quartz. Most will just give them to you. Fret crowning file is highly recommended and will probably be the most expensive tool you'll purchase.. Depending upon how much material is removed, leaving the tops of the frets flat can lead to intonation headaches. For fret polishing, I use the MIcro Mesh sanding system with the 3"x6" sheets, does a fantastic job.

Biggest piece of advice, tape your fretboard and the top of the guitar before beginning any sanding or filing. Blue painter's tape works great.
 

muttonhead

Inspired
I don't believe Stu-mac has the highest quality tools and their prices are usually twice what you can get elsewhere. Quality tools are made from materials that are durable and to very strict tolerances. I've built a small toolbox of luthier tools from various places and have not had to spend a ton of money to get them. You can get a sanding block from a countertop shop. Just ask for a scrap 2"X12-18" piece of granite or quartz. Most will just give them to you. Fret crowning file is highly recommended and will probably be the most expensive tool you'll purchase.. Depending upon how much material is removed, leaving the tops of the frets flat can lead to intonation headaches. For fret polishing, I use the MIcro Mesh sanding system with the 3"x6" sheets, does a fantastic job.

Biggest piece of advice, tape your fretboard and the top of the guitar before beginning any sanding or filing. Blue painter's tape works great.

Could share some of your sources? I’ve also purchased some tools and supplies from Luthiers Mercantile. Some of StewMac items are a bit pricey and with a bit of detective work can be found cheaper, some, not so. I purchased their diamond fret crowning files around 25 years ago and they’re still doing the job. I’d say that that is a pretty good value. If I’m thinking about purchasing one of their specialty tools, I’ll read the reviews to see if it looks like it’s worth it and also do a little YouTube searching to see if there are any DIY alternatives. I did see an old Dan Erlewine video where he’s using a notched, cut-off T square to check a fingerboard for relief. These are definitely cheaper than buying the StewMac metal version.
 

Sonofiam

Power User
Could share some of your sources? I’ve also purchased some tools and supplies from Luthiers Mercantile. Some of StewMac items are a bit pricey and with a bit of detective work can be found cheaper, some, not so. I purchased their diamond fret crowning files around 25 years ago and they’re still doing the job. I’d say that that is a pretty good value. If I’m thinking about purchasing one of their specialty tools, I’ll read the reviews to see if it looks like it’s worth it and also do a little YouTube searching to see if there are any DIY alternatives. I did see an old Dan Erlewine video where he’s using a notched, cut-off T square to check a fingerboard for relief. These are definitely cheaper than buying the StewMac metal version.
ebay is a great place to find good deals on things like the notched straight edge and sanding block. With ebay though you need to double check the item description, read feedback and make sure they have a return policy. Personally, if a seller does not have a return policy for a brand new item, I won't buy it no matter how good the deal. I will also avoid sellers in China and Indonesia. Hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowes have tools that can be easily modified, turning them into more expensive specialty tools. It doesn't take a lot of tools to get good results. My refret/fret level "toolkit" consists of:
Fret puller - I use the end cutters from this set. I used a bench grinder to make them flush cutting. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Husky-Mini-Pliers-Set-with-Bonus-Pouch-5-Piece-1052/206679302

Notched Sraight Edge - Not crucial if you can get your fretboard perfectly straight using another method. https://www.ebay.com/itm/GUITAR-NEC...hash=item3cf4aa30b1:m:m_-VTf8GA7AAE4NhFxjmfDw

Fret hammer - This is what I use, I like the small head, but any small nylon head hammer will work. https://www.ebay.com/itm/Luthiers-P...575920?hash=item2f1482bf70:g:P1cAAOSw4UtWSiRU

Fret End Cutter - Any 6" or larger FLUSH end cutter will work. These are what I use, a third the cost of SM https://www.ebay.com/itm/Fret-Wire-...186196&hash=item35e1ed02e9:g:ldgAAOSwuMFUj-b9

Sanding Block - Again, you can get a scrap of solid countertop material for little to no cost. I bought one of these before realizing I didn't need to spend much money but it has worked great for me. https://www.ebay.com/itm/Precision-...663526&hash=item33dee98935:g:XK4AAOSw7NNUEJPQ

Fret Crowning File - You have the diamond crowning file already which I use as well. Here's another option that works well but requires a more sanding if you're not careful. https://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-Gurian...818229?hash=item3f3ad29275:g:qIgAAMXQKLdR4jVG

Fret End File - I use a set of triangle files from Lowes. I used a bench grinder to smooth two of the edges so they would not damage the fretboard edge. https://www.lowes.com/pd/Kobalt-2-Piece-6-in-Slim-X-Slim-File-Set/4307535

Fret Sanding/Polishing Kit- This has made finishing the job very easy. I use the Micro Mesh sanding kit and it's just a matter of progressing through the different grits. https://www.ebay.com/itm/Micro-Mesh...612166?hash=item232f6e4906:g:DZcAAOxyY9VRJmqA
I've also purchased the Micro Mesh sanding sticks and they are pretty convenient for fret end finishing and spot polishing.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/Micro-Mesh...616873?hash=item2f0f726029:g:h3sAAOSw~QRaFnvI
 
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mr_fender

Axe-Master
You can also go to someplace like Home Depot and buy Granite floor tiles in various sizes to use as flat sanding blocks. Only costs a few bucks each. Cut down or score and break a 12" or 18" polished granite floor tile and you'll have a very nice flat sanding beam. they work great with regular wet-dry sandpaper for sharpening chisels too.
 
I do all my own fretwork. I’ve just started moving to stainless for all my instruments. In addition to it being cheaper, once you get some experience under your belt and you learn what you like, you can make them play exactly how you want them. I refret new guitars I get because my work is so perfect for me. Highly recommended skill to learn as a guitarist.
 

Sonofiam

Power User
Maybe I'm dense... But how are you using a flat sanding block with a radiused fretboard?
It is much more precise and gives a lot more control of the amount of fret material you're removing. It's also easier to see the areas you're targeting and maintain the same amount of pressure over the entire width of the block. Using a radiused block could cause the fret radius to shift or angle either way from the nut if you're not careful.
 
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