Luthier Shop: Dressing The Frets On A Guitar Neck

Buzzing strings ruining your sound? You may have some worn out frets to take care of. As the frets on your guitar start to wear, they often spread out slightly and become uneven, keeping your strings from sustaining the right notes. Instead of replacing the frets altogether, you can dress the frets and bring them back to level. Let’s take a look at the steps you need to take to dress your frets.

Tools needed

  1. Peg winder
  2. Painter’s tape
  3. Sharpie (or other permanent marker)
  4. Fret beveling file
  5. Fret rocker
  6. Fret kisser
  7. Fret crowning z file
  8. Core sanding sponge
  9. Super fine steel wool\

Filing the bevel

  1. Loosen the strings with a peg winder. If you don’t have a peg winder, you can do this manually.
  2. Remove the retainer bar to clear the strings from the work path.
  3. Stack painter’s tape around the neck pocket to protect the finish of the body. You can also make a guard out of a manilla folder to reuse.
  4. Put a few strips of tape above, behind, and around the nut for protection.
  5. Put the fret beveling file on top of the fretboard, and cut down the edges to a uniform 35-degree angle. The teeth of the beveling file cut both ways, so you can make passes in both directions.
  6. Make sure to be slow and steady while filling as to not jump the edges and file the top of your frets.
  7. One the edges are smooth, repeat this process on the other side.

Leveling the frets

  1. Use a fret rocker to inspect the frets.
    1. To do this, put the fret rocker over three frets at a time, and make sure they’re all level.
  2. If the tool rocks back and forth, one of your frets is higher and will cause a buzz to the frets before it. 
  3. If only a few are uneven, you can use a fret kisser to push them into place. 
    1. The fret kisser is the same shape as the fret rocker but is thicker and has indentations along the side. Place the indentations over the uneven frets, and move up and down to even out the fret.
  4. If many of the frets are uneven, use the fret beveling file to even up the frets.
  5. To get the leveling process started, mark the top of the frets with a sharpie. If you accidentally get sharpie on the fretboard, rubbing alcohol will get rid of most of the stain.
  6. Move your fret beveling file down the neck starting from the first fret and moving all the way down to the heel. You’ll see lines where the sharpie has been removed, and the low spots will be in blue.
  7. When everything looks even, check your work with the fret rocker, and hit any remaining spots with the fret kisser.

Crowning and polishing

  1. Mark the top of your frets with a sharpie again going down the neck.
  2. Use a fret crowning z file and rub the file back and forth on the fret till the sharpie is evenly removed. Flip the file to the other side and repeat the process. You should be left with a thin line across the top down the fretboard. Continue this process down the neck until all frets are even.
  3. Place super fine steel wool around each fret, and use your core sanding sponge to bring the frets to a mirror shine. Move down the neck until all frets are polished.
  4. Once that’s done, take off the tape, clean up your guitar, string back to pitch, and shred away! 
Dressing your frets can take some time, but it saves you even more time and money by not having to fully replace the frets. For more luthier info and tools, visit our website.
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