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DIY Fret leveling advice

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  • DIY Fret leveling advice

    I have a guitar I’m putting together. It all feels solid, however the frets buzz like crazy and I have a decent amount of relief on the neck.
    I’m wondering if a fret leveling would be in order. I’m considering doing this job myself, does anyone have any advice on the best ways to go about this? I’ve never done a leveling job or any kind of fretwork, so anything would be appreciated.

  • #2
    Get a radius block, a half round crowning file, and a quarter round file for the ends. Then practice on some cheap necks. Not relevant to the frets, but you will probably also need files to set the height at the nut as well. Those are all the major tools. Then there's sandpaper which is cheap. I use rough for the radius block to level, 60 or 80. Then my crowning file is 150. Then I keep on hand 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, and 2000 and will maybe use half of them in the process of a fret. For example after it's at 150 from my crowning file I'll use 220, 320, 800, 1000, 2000.

    This guy's video is the best I've seen. It's long so you can put it on 2x speed and skip through it for the rough overview then stop at parts that you want to learn. The only part where I improve on him is he sands the frets by hand with 320 when all you need to do is stick the sandpaper in your crowning file. I hope all this made sense.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVWUUwYCnHA
    Last edited by Clint 55; 02-23-2021, 07:17 PM.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Clint 55 View Post
      Get a radius block, a half round crowning file, and a quarter round file for the ends. Then practice on some cheap necks. Not relevant to the frets, but you will probably also need files to set the height at the nut as well. Those are all the major tools. Then there's sandpaper which is cheap. I use rough for the radius block to level, 60 or 80. Then my crowning file is 150. Then I keep on hand 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, and 2000 and will maybe use half of them in the process of a fret. For example after it's at 150 from my crowning file I'll use 220, 320, 800, 1000, 2000.
      how would the radius block work on something with a compound radius?
      as far as the nut goes, will I have to remove it and redo the height on it?

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      • #4
        Oh, for a compound radius, you have to just use a flat block or file and then eyeball it. It's more guesswork, but it is possible to improve it and make every note playable. The guy goes over both methods in the video, it's the first tool he shows. No, you don't need to remove the nut. After the fret job the action at the nut will be slightly higher so it can be good to have files if the action wasn't that good in the first place.
        Last edited by Clint 55; 02-23-2021, 07:34 PM.
        The things that you wanted
        I bought them for you

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        • #5
          I'm considering doing this job myself, does anyone have any advice on the best ways to go about this
          Let's see.... Must buy specialized tools and learn specialized techniques. Or just pay someone with experience to do it. That's the best way.

          aka Chris Pile, formerly of Six String Fever

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          • #6
            It's possible to learn or at least do a reasonable job after a few necks. I certainly wouldn't go at a nice guitar first try tho. It's something I'd recommend so then you'll always know and won't have to pay other people forever.
            The things that you wanted
            I bought them for you

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            • #7
              Originally posted by ICTGoober View Post

              Let's see.... Must buy specialized tools and learn specialized techniques. Or just pay someone with experience to do it. That's the best way.
              Well, I was asking questions to possibly learn some techniques. Thanks.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Birdman642 View Post
                I have a guitar I’m putting together. It all feels solid, however the frets buzz like crazy and I have a decent amount of relief on the neck.
                I’m wondering if a fret leveling would be in order. I’m considering doing this job myself, does anyone have any advice on the best ways to go about this? I’ve never done a leveling job or any kind of fretwork, so anything would be appreciated.
                Watch a few youtube videos and then give it a shot! Most guitar work is actually pretty straight forward. It doesn't require a lot of experience to get great results if you're patient (if you're not patient then definitely pay someone else to do it). My experience is that an awful lot of people who call themselves guitar techs will do a worse job than you can on your own though.

                For fret leveling you will need a few tools:
                - fret levelling file (this is just a file glued to a block)
                - credit card
                - a sharpie
                - Masking tape/painters tape.
                - a whole lot of very fine sandpaper (this isn't for the levelling, but to smooth out the scratches in the frets so they feel nice and smooth after you're done)

                Way to do it:
                - Use the credit card to rock back and forth over 3 frets at a time to find high spots
                - Mark the high spots with the sharpie
                - Do a couple light passes with the fret levelling file over the marked spots until the sharpie starts to show a little (go slow).
                - Repeat all steps until you can't find any spots that rock back and forth.

                Usually I'll do this for an hour a day for four or five days and the frets will be pretty close to perfect. When you're filing, keep the file over 4-5 frets at a time then there's really no chance of scratching the fretboard.

                After this you start polishing the frets with your sand paper. Tape off the fretboard first to avoid accidental scratches. Then I usually just cut a thin strip of sandpaper and lightly press it while going over the each fret one at a time. You're not trying to dig into the fret, just smooth out any file marks. Work your way up through the grits going about 100 more each time 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000. It will be glossy smooth at the end, but again . . . this takes forever. Take it slow, with lots of breaks.

                My first attempt at this came out really good with no prior experience.
                Join me in the fight against muscular atrophy!

                Originally posted by Douglas Adams
                This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

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                • #9
                  It helps to add a couple mm of fallaway over the heel because the truss rod is ineffective there and the strings can sometimes have a hill to get over. You can gauge how much fallaway to add with the neck on the guitar, or even better if you already have it strung up.

                  Also the purpose of crowning is to keep the intonation point in the center of the fret.
                  Last edited by Clint 55; 02-23-2021, 08:58 PM.
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                  • #10
                    Clint is right. I forgot about the crowning step (takes place before sanding and after levelling). I found it easiest to use a fret crowning file for this.

                    - tape off the fretboard
                    - Mark the tops of all the frets with a sharpie
                    - perform the crowning with the file (just go back and forth until the black line on each fret is only a thin line)

                    good thing is that crowning is pretty short work and only takes an hour or so.
                    Join me in the fight against muscular atrophy!

                    Originally posted by Douglas Adams
                    This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GuitarStv View Post
                      Clint is right. I forgot about the crowning step (takes place before sanding and after levelling). I found it easiest to use a fret crowning file for this.

                      - tape off the fretboard
                      - Mark the tops of all the frets with a sharpie
                      - perform the crowning with the file (just go back and forth until the black line on each fret is only a thin line)

                      good thing is that crowning is pretty short work and only takes an hour or so.
                      Did you get your crowning file from Stew-Mac or is there another place it’s available? 108 dollars is a little steep right now. I don’t think my girlfriend would be too happy about that purchase haha.

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                      • #12
                        There are a crapload on ebay.

                        https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_fro...+file&_sacat=0
                        The things that you wanted
                        I bought them for you

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                        • #13
                          I tried the fret rocking method with the credit card that STV recommended. It only rocked at one point higher up the neck. Would a fret level still help with the buzzing?

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                          • #14
                            If you only have one spot that the fret rocker actually rocks at, you have another issue. It can be from too low of action, too low of a nut, or too little neck relief. There is also the neurotic aspect of it. I once had a client who complained his guitar's intonation, or frets were bad because when he played it was always out of tune. His frets were perfect, his neck relief was perfect, his nut cut was perfect, but his action was 10 miles high. I lowered it and he complained there was too much fret buzz... I kept raising his action until he said it was good ( about double the factory spec!!!! ) and when he played, the guitar went out of tune... He then complained about that fact. I told him with the action as high as he wants it, he will have to live with the tuning issues. I can intonate to fix it in one spot, but not the whole neck. He didn't quite grasp it and I think I will be happy to never get a call back from him!

                            So your idea of buzzing is different from mine was the point. What is your action set to? If you are at or below the typical spec of about 1.5mm, then you may just be super sensitive to buzz. I prefer super low action and shoot for .75mm if I can get it, I also don't mind the buzz that comes with it. If your relief, nut cut, and frets are relatively level, then your action is all that is left to equate things too. Where are you currently at there?

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Ewizard View Post
                              If you only have one spot that the fret rocker actually rocks at, you have another issue. It can be from too low of action, too low of a nut, or too little neck relief. There is also the neurotic aspect of it. I once had a client who complained his guitar's intonation, or frets were bad because when he played it was always out of tune. His frets were perfect, his neck relief was perfect, his nut cut was perfect, but his action was 10 miles high. I lowered it and he complained there was too much fret buzz... I kept raising his action until he said it was good ( about double the factory spec!!!! ) and when he played, the guitar went out of tune... He then complained about that fact. I told him with the action as high as he wants it, he will have to live with the tuning issues. I can intonate to fix it in one spot, but not the whole neck. He didn't quite grasp it and I think I will be happy to never get a call back from him!

                              So your idea of buzzing is different from mine was the point. What is your action set to? If you are at or below the typical spec of about 1.5mm, then you may just be super sensitive to buzz. I prefer super low action and shoot for .75mm if I can get it, I also don't mind the buzz that comes with it. If your relief, nut cut, and frets are relatively level, then your action is all that is left to equate things too. Where are you currently at there?
                              I don’t have anything to measure that fine of a measurement at the moment. The page won’t let me upload pictures. I tried taking some from the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets. The action is relatively low, it’s a Jackson Dinky, so it’s supposed to ride a little low. It’s not quite as low as my other Jackson though. That other one has no issues with buzzing and has lower action. Both are the same model. The other one, however has a Locking nut and this current one has a regular plastic nut.
                              Edit: I didn’t take the neck off and straighten it as much as I could
                              Last edited by Birdman642; 02-24-2021, 12:15 AM.

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