A Guided Tour of a Full Guitar Re-Fret

The description given is not the definitive method for doing this work; there are more variations than there are Strat makers! What’s written here is what works for me.

The neck shown below is part of a guitar purchased on a whim from a famous internet auction sight, (we’ve all been tempted!) It cost about thirty quid & is obviously not a Fender, nor was it sold as such. It had been rather butchered but it was playable…just. Visible below is a black replacement nut that hadn’t been fitted so much as clubbed into submission.

There are many reasons for which people might require this work, most obviously if the frets are so badly worn that dressing them will not suffice. A player might also feel that a different wire width might suit their playing style better. A gouged fingerboard will also often be corrected as part of a re-fret, but this depends on the depth of the damage weighed against the amount of material left.

The first step is to appraise the instrument. As well as a visual check, measurements of the relief, action & neck angle are taken. The effect of string tension on the relief is carefully noted as this will help determine how the neck should be supported during fret dressing. The influence & effectiveness of the trussrod is also determined, usually this is done once the neck has been removed as sometimes the adjuster is at the body end.

The tuners are stripped from the headstock to prevent damage. Then the nut is carefully tapped free; usually a new nut will be needed as they’re often damaged during removal. Each fret is heated with a soldering iron; this helps to free any glue that might have been used during installation & also seems to seal the edges of the fret slot. The hot fret is then eased out using the appropriate pliers. Any wood chips detached with the fret are immediately glued back into place.

In my case, the nut slot has been quite badly damaged. Luckily the edge nearest the frets is straight, vertical & in the right place, (aside from the superglue flooding the corners!) The other edge of the slot has been crudely knifed out to get the black nut in & will require some correction.

Once free of hardware the neck can be set up ready for the fingerboard to be reworked. At this point the previously taken measurements are used to determine how the neck will be supported. I aim to do this job such that as little as possible of the trussrod adjustment will be used. This allows for future movement in the neck to be catered for.

For me, & for most bolt on guitars, support at each end of the neck is all that’s required & the work can be completed with the neck separated from the body. Using this method, I have to take great care not to deflect the neck as I sand the fingerboard & later when I stone the frets.

The fingerboard is now sanded along each string line. When complete, it will be straight on the treble side with relief graduated across the neck to 0.15mm on the bass side. This is checked by shining a light behind a straight edge held against the fingerboard. Feeler gauges are used under the straight edge to measure the amount of relief that is sanded in. Care is taken to maintain the fingerboard camber during sanding.

The fret slots have to be cleared of glue & debris. They may also need to be deepened depending on how much material has had to be removed from the fingerboard.

After sanding, the new frets are prepared. They are first cut to length & then bent to a rather tighter radius than the fingerboard. The fret tang ends are also cut away. I do this to restrict any damage to the finish on the fingerboard edge as far as possible.

The frets are then installed using a fretting hammer. I use a little wood glue in each slot to swell the wood slightly & to take some of the friction out of the fitting. The barbs on the tang should be sufficient to hold the fret without superglue. The seating of each fret is checked by trying to insert a thin feeler gauge between the fret & the fingerboard.

After most of the excess has been trimmed from each fret, the ends are stoned to give a single facet at an angle that will maximise playing area & give a comfortable feel to the guitar.

The frets are then stoned (or dressed) to give a graduated relief across the neck, from 0 on the treble side to 0.15mm on the bass side, again checking with a straight edge & feeler gauges.

To recreate the right shape, the frets must be re-crowned. Each fret is filed until just a tiny area at the centre still shows evidence of the stoning process. A sharp burr will form on the fret end; this is removed by filing a slight radius at the corner.

The frets are polished using abrasive paper in a succession of finer grits, each time removing the marks left by the previous paper. Ultimately the frets are shined with a mildly cutting polish & the fingerboard treated with lemon oil. The tiny open slot at each end is filled with beeswax & polished back to the original finish.

A new bone nut is made, the shape is finalized after a process of trial stringing & set-up. I had to correct the nut slot on this guitar before I could make a new nut to fit. If a nut is fitted correctly, string pressure & a couple of tiny spots of glue will be all that is needed to keep it in place. This means that if it ever has to come out again it will not be such a difficult procedure!

After being reassembled the guitar can receive a final setup to suit the players’ requirements.

What is the cost of a full refret?

If your are refretting a guitar the chances are you will also require a new nut (as in the case shown above) which would normally cost £40 (hand cut from bone/tusq).  It seems pointless to have a guitar refretted only to be let down by the nut which may be warn too.

A full setup is also required following a refret in order to intonate correctly and get the desired playing action set to your liking.

I have to stress that on every level our work is diligent, comprehensive and of the highest quality.

Refret + New Nut + Final Setup: £250 (less VAT if you can claim it back)

For further details please call Richard on 01789 26 33 33