Many musicians don’t realize when their guitars and basses need servicing. Some of these folks wait until an instrument has played its last clear note before they decide to have it examined and appraised for restorative work. If you have invested your hard earned money in a quality guitar or bass, you should seek out the services of a reputable, experienced Luthier who can check your instrument out thoroughly, offer a explanation of what needs to be done, and give you a fair and detailed estimate of how much the work will cost. Remember…it’s your money….ask questions.
Before you trundle your instrument off to a repair shop, there is a visual inspection you can perform, and some things you need to look for in order to determine if the trip is necessary.
1) Let’s go back to a prior article Understanding The Guitar Neck and review what I wrote about inspecting, or “reading” the neck for Relief , Warpage, and Twisting.
2) Get yourself a can of Naptha at the hardware store, pour some on a paper towel, then wipe down and clean off the fretboard.
3) Take a good look at the frets. Are the tops of the frets uneven, are there visible flat spots, wear spots, ruts or dings ? Are the fret ends lifting or loose? Are the fret ends sharp and uncomfortable to the touch? If you answered yes to any items in #3, then you may need either a fret dressing or a
4) If it has been determined that there is “sufficient”, not “just enough”, but sufficient fret material existing throughout the fret board to grind, sand, or file wear and other discrepancies out of the frets, and that each fret’s radius can be restored, rendering a level playing surface when checked with a quality straight edge, then a dressing is an option. A dressing isn’t a good choice, however when it will yield frets that are uncomfortably low….so ask questions !!
Fret Dressing, Fret Milling and Grind and Polish are nothing more than regional terms for exactly the same thing. A professional fret dressing should consist of :
1) The fingerboard must be cleaned thoroughly, and the frets tested for integrity (ie) loose frets, lifting
fret ends, badly worn, unsalvageable frets.
2) Loose or damaged frets re-glued, repaired or replaced (partial re-fret).
3) Neck properly adjusted and checked with a quality straight edge. The headstock to third fret area of the neck should also be tested for Headstock Deflection. Some necks tend to deflect, or curl up in the aforementioned area under tension. The same test is also imperative to a quality re-fret.
4) Frets leveled: I use a machine shop calibrated metal leveling bar and special machinist grade files and abrasive papers to level frets.
5) Frets re-radiused using special restorative files, abrasive papers and polishing compounds.
6) Fingerboard reconditioned and polished. Inlays checked for integrity.
7) Proceed to re-stringing, micro dressing / polishing and final set up
Fret Dressing vs. Re-Fret
A re-fret is usually only performed if there isn’t enough fret material left to dress the frets and ensure that they will remain at a comfortable height. Frets that have been dressed in the past, or are too low and/or have lost their radius (ie) frets have flattened out from use, and will not render clear notes or intonate properly, are usually not candidates for a dressing, A re-fret is usually recommended in this instance. To continue playing a guitar with worn frets will quickly with cause ruts and wear spots to develop in the fretboard.