When to Level and Crown Frets on a New Build?

SlingBlader

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Just looking for opinions on what stage in the building process is best to level, crown and polish frets? I'm assuming that experienced builders wait until the end... but I'm wondering if I should do it prior to finishing since I'm a noob? I can see pros and cons to either way.

I asked this question in my build thread, but my posts are so long that my questions are probably overlooked. Lol

Thanks,
Gary
 

Skyjerk

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I have no idea at all how everyone else does it, but I do it dead last. All thats left to do after the fretwork is put a fresh set of strings on it and make a ruckus :)

I dont see any potential benefit for a novice doing it earlier in the process. If you are afraid you'll
put dings in your finish doing the fretwork the solution for that is to mask off everything, use padded surfaces to sit the guitar on, and be careful :)
 

Fretrattler

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Before I do anything I work on the neck. I have enough experience to do refrets, finishing etc. I think the most important thing are the frets followed by the nut and bridge. I would follow your own way, I don't see anything right or wrong. I use lots of painters tape to protect the finish.
 

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Freddy G

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I like to install the frets so perfectly that they don't need any dressing. Seriously. But that's a goal that is not always achievable for one minor reason or another. In that case the frets get dressed last, after everything else is dialed in with the set-up. After the fret dress however a slight touch up on nut slots may be necessary.
But you know when a new build really needs a fret level? After being strung up for about a year. That's when the guitar largely settles in to it's tensions. It's for that reason that I try to install the frets so well that the instrument is playable with only perhaps the lightest kiss of leveling right away. I don't want to waste fret material when I know that a year down the road is really the time. But that's a heck of a luxury, and I will only do that if the build is for someone local (or for myself).
 

geoffstgermaine

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I do it the same as the others here - at the very end and if things go well then only a few swipes with my fret level gets all of the frets touched on each string path. It wasn't always so but extreme care in getting the fretboard level saves much work on the (metal) frets.
 

SlingBlader

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I have no idea at all how everyone else does it, but I do it dead last. All thats left to do after the fretwork is put a fresh set of strings on it and make a ruckus :)

I dont see any potential benefit for a novice doing it earlier in the process. If you are afraid you'll
put dings in your finish doing the fretwork the solution for that is to mask off everything, use padded surfaces to sit the guitar on, and be careful :)
Thanks for the input, Chris. I think I should have given more information and maybe posed a slightly different question. My builds will be ready for finish relatively soon. The problem is, we're coming into the most humid part of the year. So, it's possible that I'll be fully assembling and playing these guitars (carefully) until there is a break in the weather for spraying. I'm just thinking it would be a more enjoyable playing experience while I wait. Maybe I should have asked if there are significant drawbacks to leveling frets before finishing?

Masking tape is your friend.
Don't I know it... I have a category in our monthly budget for tape. LOL

Before I do anything I work on the neck. I have enough experience to do refrets, finishing etc. I think the most important thing are the frets followed by the nut and bridge. I would follow your own way, I don't see anything right or wrong. I use lots of painters tape to protect the finish.
Thanks, I use so much painters tape that it's borderline embarrassing. :shock:

I like to install the frets so perfectly that they don't need any dressing. Seriously. But that's a goal that is not always achievable for one minor reason or another. In that case the frets get dressed last, after everything else is dialed in with the set-up. After the fret dress however a slight touch up on nut slots may be necessary.
But you know when a new build really needs a fret level? After being strung up for about a year. That's when the guitar largely settles in to it's tensions. It's for that reason that I try to install the frets so well that the instrument is playable with only perhaps the lightest kiss of leveling right away. I don't want to waste fret material when I know that a year down the road is really the time. But that's a heck of a luxury, and I will only do that if the build is for someone local (or for myself).
Thanks for the reply, Freddy. I'm just working to complete my first builds, and while I do aspire to be another Freddy Gabrsek, I'm just not there yet. :rofl: ...I know I have a few high spots here and there. I totally understand about the lightest leveling that can be done and will take that advice to heart. As I mentioned to Chris earlier, I may be playing these for a while before I finish them, so I should have asked if it poses problems to dress the frets prior to finishing. Thanks again for the advice and all that you contribute here!
 

SlingBlader

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I do it the same as the others here - at the very end and if things go well then only a few swipes with my fret level gets all of the frets touched on each string path. It wasn't always so but extreme care in getting the fretboard level saves much work on the (metal) frets.
Yep, sounds like the consensus is to wait. I think I'll string them up, do a rough setup and see if there is anything drastic to worry about.
 

Skyjerk

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Actually on the occasions where there's been some time between completing the build and shooting a finish I usually set it all up and play it too. My 22 Magnum build I did over the winter is still strung up and playing. Fretwork not done yet.

My 24 Magnum I'm just finishing now was going to get a finish right away, but I still hooked it all up and played it for a week. Fretwork will still go last.

I doubt my frets go in as perfectly as Freddy's but the guitars are definitely playable in that state with low action and no buzzing.

One issue you'll have to watch out for playing it like that is getting dirt and oils from your skin on the bare wood and staining it, especially if you have a maple top or other really light colored wood.

I make a point of always thoroughly washing my hands and arms and wear a clean shirt when playing them "naked" as I prefer to not have to do a lot of sanding to clean them up. I get my tops right where I want them and don't want to potentially alter the shape sanding dirty wood off
 
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emoney

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I like to tell myself I'm going to do the majority of the fret work while the neck is still separate from
the body, simply because of the ease of access.....however that never seems to work out and always
find that the fretwork is done post-finish.
 

Thamar

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Just looking for opinions on what stage in the building process is best to level, crown and polish frets? I'm assuming that experienced builders wait until the end... but I'm wondering if I should do it prior to finishing since I'm a noob? I can see pros and cons to either way.

I asked this question in my build thread, but my posts are so long that my questions are probably overlooked. Lol

Thanks,
Gary
We all learn through our mistake and I've made a ton of them.

What I do now is to flatten my neck (fretboard is not glued in yet) before I glue it into the body. Then I flatten it again after it's glued in. Then I glue on the fretboard. After that, I flatten the fretboard with one of those long aluminum radius bar (I think I bought it from StewMac).

If you get the "base" tight like this, then the fret flattening goes a heck of a lot easier.

Before I do the fret flattening I run a straight edge over all the installed frets. I then adjust the neck relief to try to get the installed frets as level as possible.

At this point I then use the long radius bar with 800grit sticky sandpaper to flatten the frets.

Then I trim up the fret ends and crown the frets.

Most times this works. However, once the neck gets strung and is under tension, the neck may not behave itself. You may have to reflatten and re crown if you have an uncooperative neck.

I finish the neck after the first (and hopefully the only) flattening and crowning.

No matter what, I always manage to get some finish in the fretboard. I found some Super Glue remover (I think it was on Amazon). The stuff doesn't stink at all and works like a charm to clean up any finish that bleeds onto the fretboard.
 


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