Fret level and crown

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Hi All,

At some point I need to learn and practice levelling and crowning frets. I have seen a few people post on here about tips so I know they would be interested in tips for starters.  Basically, I would like the fret aspect of the setup of my guitars done to a high standard. I know some luthiers that are superb but a) It takes time to get the guitar to them and b) The good ones (quite rightly) are not cheap. I have tried a few others and . . . . .

Any of my more valuable guitars I don't think I would ever touch unless I became super confident. I have some lesser value guitars but I think I will buy 1 (or 2) very cheap bolt on necks just to practice. I understand levels etc courtesy of my plastering apprenticeship - shine a light along a 'flat wall' and see what bumps and dips appear or run your finger (amazingly sensitive) over the edge of a patched plaster wall where the old plaster meets the new. Ever plastered a squash court ;-) This qualifies me I think to venture into fret levelling, I am sure I can do the job if I understand the mechanics and the gotchas.

I have just watched part 1 and two of this youtube video which covers the mechanics very well I think:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDy7cF255dY

I know he starts with a stanley knife blade as a rocker which seems a little crude but later you realise he was probably just assessing the situation and demonstrating any 3 fret straight edge will suffice.

Any comments about his approach appreciated. He seems to be very thorough and takes time and care but also uses the basic tools. Please remember to like/subscribe if you find useful. Duncan does mention on there that he usually uses diamond tipped crowning files - are they worth the money? I realise they are good accurate time savers if doing the job regularly but I guess you also need to buy the correct crowning file for each group of fret wire?

Any better/preferred approach in viedo format?

Thanks Folks
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Comments

  • sweepysweepy Frets: 1804
    Diamond faced crowning files are a Godsend, the ones from Stewmac have more than earnt their pay. One golden rule is to take your time, double and triple check everything and it's better to make many small adjustments rather than a couple of Gung Ho stabs at it, it really is commonsense and an eye for detail tbh 
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  • notanonnotanon Frets: 226
    @sweepy thanks for the feedback. Appreciated.
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  • lonestarlonestar Frets: 1839
    You’ll need..

    A levelling beam
    A notched straight edge 
    Fret rocker 
    Crowning file
    Fret end file
    Masking tape 
    Fresh Stanley blades
    Plenty of wet and dry paper from 120/240 upto micromesh 12,000 or so
    Double sided tape
    Marker pen

    Ive probably missed something but other than that get a few el cheapo necks and give it a blast.
    Owner of SC Relics Guitars 
    www.screlics.co.uk • www.facebook.com/screlics 
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  • rexterrexter Frets: 161
    edited June 22
    Nice list from @lonestar there that will do you well! I have quite a few tools made by Chris Alsop including a nice diamond crowning file. Nicely made in the uk and a good place to start with fretwork - he’ll also help you out with any questions using the tools too I think  

    Used  to be terrified of the thought of fretwork a few years back - but it’s like anything with decent tools and practice you’ll get the hang of it. So much help online these days too!
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  • BillKatBillKat Frets: 1058

    I use a milled ally levelling beam and two flat diamond files, one shorty about 75mm for crowning and ends. Each edge I took the sharpness and grit off, so that doesn't cut in. A longer diamond file for doing fallaway.

    I like crowning with the dinky flat file. Lets me see how it's progressing up to the crown, like the control, one file works for any fret size.
    Got a Gurian 3-1 crowning file but didn't like the chattering and fixed sizes of the inserts, but I do use it to start off fret end rounding.

    So pretty cheap to get going. Plus tape & sandpaper, I use Scotchbrite as well. I've never used a fret rocker, I'm mostly doing the whole board and if there's one problem fret on a strung-up guitar you can tell where that is.

    With the beam and the sandpaper strips, a quick squirt and wipe with WD40 or similar de-clogs it and the paper lasts for donks, I've done 20-something on the same two bits of paper. Not that it's expensive but the de-clarting keeps it cutting evenly, and less faff changing strips & cleanup etc.


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  • davebarlowguitardavebarlowguitar Frets: 0
    edited June 22
    Lots of great content on YouTube for this, I refret using Stainless Steel frets now, makes a big difference but a tad more difficult.
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  • notanonnotanon Frets: 226
    Thanks again for the tips. I've watched sufficient YouTube videos now to think it is time to give it a blast. @rexter yep I'm at the terrified stage, hence the cheap guitar / neck approach first.
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  • lonestarlonestar Frets: 1839
    Once you’ve taken the levelling beam to your first neck you’ll be flying.


    Owner of SC Relics Guitars 
    www.screlics.co.uk • www.facebook.com/screlics 
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  • Marktigere1Marktigere1 Frets: 54
    I think using a straight levelling bean is a great way to start fret work and is how I refretted my 1984 Westone as I did not fancy letting anyone else do it.  I agree with the above.

    However, I have switched to fret levelling with the neck under string tension.  This has allowed more accuracy and also enables a lower action to be achieved.

    I followed Sam Deeks method here

    Having built three guitars and re-fretted a number using this method, I have found it best for me. (Not everyone will agree but there you go).

    I also found I did not need to add fall away which I felt seemed hit and miss and also defeated the object of levelling the whole board.

    I love the low-tech approach ;)


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  • finest1finest1 Frets: 27
    edited July 12
    I think using a straight levelling bean is a great way to start fret work and is how I refretted my 1984 Westone as I did not fancy letting anyone else do it.  I agree with the above.

    However, I have switched to fret levelling with the neck under string tension.  This has allowed more accuracy and also enables a lower action to be achieved.

    I followed Sam Deeks method here

    Having built three guitars and re-fretted a number using this method, I have found it best for me. (Not everyone will agree but there you go).

    I also found I did not need to add fall away which I felt seemed hit and miss and also defeated the object of levelling the whole board.

    I love the low-tech approach


    this is an interesting topic I would like to explore more.

    I watched the sam deeks video. this idea has also been around the net.. alongside which is better?

    the person that does my fretwork (although I would like to start doing it) does it with the strings and neck off (traditional) and has never been an issue.

    regarding the strings on method I was wondering this: if the guitar is first set up and under tension, then the fretwork will reflect that particular set up.  what would happen if you decide to change the string gauge, or adjust the action, or put more relief in the neck? then would  the frets still cater? and would it cause an issue.  however, if the neck is off and levelled the traditional way, then the frets are at one level which means it should cater for any set up. I say this because I can change the string gauges on my guitar and the guitar will play fine.

    discuss
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  • BridgehouseBridgehouse Frets: 15388
    lonestar said:
    You’ll need..

    A levelling beam
    A notched straight edge 
    Fret rocker 
    Crowning file
    Fret end file
    Masking tape 
    Fresh Stanley blades
    Plenty of wet and dry paper from 120/240 upto micromesh 12,000 or so
    Double sided tape
    Marker pen

    Ive probably missed something but other than that get a few el cheapo necks and give it a blast.
    Tea. You forgot lots and lots of nerve calming tea...
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  • AidanspaghettiAidanspaghetti Frets: 512
    Never done a squash court but been plastered often =)

    Give a man a fire and he's warm for the day. But set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life
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  • WezVWezV Frets: 8883
    finest1 said:


    regarding the strings on method I was wondering this: if the guitar is first set up and under tension, then the fretwork will reflect that particular set up.  what would happen if you decide to change the string gauge, or adjust the action, or put more relief in the neck? then would  the frets still cater? and would it cause an issue.  however, if the neck is off and levelled the traditional way, then the frets are at one level which means it should cater for any set up. I say this because I can change the string gauges on my guitar and the guitar will play fine.

    discuss
    the only real difference, assuming no issues with the neck,  will be how much you need to tweak the truss rod
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  • Marktigere1Marktigere1 Frets: 54
    finest1 said:

    regarding the strings on method I was wondering this: if the guitar is first set up and under tension, then the fretwork will reflect that particular set up.  what would happen if you decide to change the string gauge, or adjust the action, or put more relief in the neck? then would  the frets still cater? and would it cause an issue.  however, if the neck is off and levelled the traditional way, then the frets are at one level which means it should cater for any set up. I say this because I can change the string gauges on my guitar and the guitar will play fine.
    I think truss rod tweaking might cause an issue but I have always stuck to a low action with 10's setup and never had a problem.

    I find adding slope to the bridge end of the fretboard a bit hit and miss and as I don't like guess work when it comes to frets, like the strings on approach.

    Cheers
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  • finest1finest1 Frets: 27
    finest1 said:

    regarding the strings on method I was wondering this: if the guitar is first set up and under tension, then the fretwork will reflect that particular set up.  what would happen if you decide to change the string gauge, or adjust the action, or put more relief in the neck? then would  the frets still cater? and would it cause an issue.  however, if the neck is off and levelled the traditional way, then the frets are at one level which means it should cater for any set up. I say this because I can change the string gauges on my guitar and the guitar will play fine.
    I think truss rod tweaking might cause an issue but I have always stuck to a low action with 10's setup and never had a problem.

    I find adding slope to the bridge end of the fretboard a bit hit and miss and as I don't like guess work when it comes to frets, like the strings on approach.

    Cheers
    so you agree with what I was saying about the traditional approach?
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  • Marktigere1Marktigere1 Frets: 54
    finest1 said:
    so you agree with what I was saying about the traditional approach?
    I have used both methods and if you take your time, they both work fine.

    I have started using the 'neck under tension' method for newly built necks.  This allows the neck to move into its set position under tension from the strings, then I fret level and dress.

    I would add that I set the string height and nut height before fret levelling as well although this is after around a week to allow the neck to move.

    My old Westone I levelled with a straight neck and that too worked okay, just not happy about adding slope.

    I think when changing string gauge you won't have an issue.  This is because you will need to adjust the nut and string height to allow for the new gauge.  I don't believe the fret under tension method will cause an issue to the new setup but I have not done this so am not an authority.

    Best have a go on an old neck using both methods.  Whichever one works for you is the one to go for.

    Cheers

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  • HenrytwangHenrytwang Frets: 32
    I use the old fashioned method,strings off and get great results. Over the years I’ve acquired a few fancy tools but started with just a steel ruler, single cut flat file and a crowning file. The special tools I’ve obtained over the years have made things a little easier but good results are down to taking care and not trying to rush things. Something like an old £15, ( or less), boot sale guitar is a good way to start.
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