This was meant to be a looong article to highlight the typical problems and solutions that pop up in refrets, accompanied by a bunch of drawings and such things showing how wood movement effects necks, and a bunch of stuff about frets. Not a how-to, but more an educational thing. I've never said this before, but unfortunately this refret went really smoothly and is atypically easy I'll just shove a few pics here for the morbidly curious, and leave the details for another time.
The guitar in question is a 1988 Heartfield EXII, made by FugiGen in Japan, so the quality is very good. The frets were original, a little worn, and loose in their slots. Loose frets are extremely common but not really understood by most players and, from what I gather, a lot of repair/tech guys too.
You can see how the middle sections of the frets sit off the board
Trying to level these frets without reseating them would be problematic. When the levelling file passes over a loose, high fret it presses the fret down, just skimming the top. Once the file is past the fret springs back up and is once again higher than it's neighbours. The solution is to glue the fret back down solid against the board. That's a reasonable amount of work and these frets are getting a little low anyway so I'm going to refret it.
I check the neck profile to get an idea of what needs to be done. It's reasonably straight with the radius changing a little along it's length due to wood movement. Problem number one with doing this as an article is that it's not really that bad overall
Near the nut the radius is about right at 16"
Up near the 3rd fret it gets flatter. It's hard to see in the pics but from about the 3rd fret to the body join the radius flattens out.
Then after the neck/body join it goes the other way, getting tighter than 16"
So, I take out the frets using a soldering iron to heat them first, which we've all seen before, and end up with the fretboard wood almost entirely undamaged. Normally there are least a couple of small tear outs to repair that I could make an example of, but not this time.
I run a quick line of thin CA (superglue) along the edges of each fret slot to stabilize the wood. It's really not necessary this time but I do it anyway.
Then I start the board levelling/radiusing. You can see how the radiused sanding block is hitting areas corresponding to the radius problems mentioned earlier.
After a while it's level and correctly radiused. I take it to 800 grit paper. On tighter grained wood like ebony I'll go to finer grits but on indian rosewood it's generally not worthwhile.
Another problem I come across trying to use this as an example is the fret slots. The damn things are perfectly sized with the correct width for my intended wire and plenty of depth, and they're clean so just need a gentle scrape to get that sanding dust out. I don't have to resize fret tang or slots, I don't need to pick and scrape out nasty bits of weird glue. I do file a very light chamfer on the top edges of the slots to allow the wire to seat nicely, and have a quick think about how to approach the fret ends on this one.
The frets have come out without damaging the lacquer on the ends. A few areas of lacquer were very slightly lifting due to wood shrinkage causing the fret ends to separate paint from wood, but it's mostly intact. I can either treat it like a bound board and remove the tang from the fret ends and not disturb the lacquer, or I can cut through the lacquer and not modify the fret. Weighing up the pros and cons I decide to carefully cut through the lacquer, risking some chipping off.... which doesn't happen, of course, so I've got nothing to make an example of.
So I press in the frets using Stewart MacDonald's Jaws tools, like so
and over the body area
which all goes unusually smoothly, again. I try a few glue techniques and settle on flowing thin CA under the fret from both ends while the clamp is on. The glue doesn't just adhere, it also seals the end grain to help prevent shrinkage, and in the case of thin CA it should cause the grain to swell up a little and grip the fret tighter. Wood loses moisture easily from end grain. I believe that a lot of loose frets are caused or at least worsened by shrinking end grain which has the effect of enlarging the fret slot. I probably wouldn't risk thin CA from the ends on a nitro finished guitar as there's a chance it might run out the other end of the slot and over the neck. The finish on this guitar is impervious to acetone (CA's solvent) so it's not an issue.
In the end I'm left with a bunch of frets that have their ends sticking out.
The ends look a bit funky with the CA dregs on there.
But that's cool, because the next step is to put yet more CA on the ends! I'm using medium viscosity now to seal up the bottom of the fret slot and also in the 90 degree angles of the underside of the fret's T shape. This is to fully seal that area and get a better looking end result. Any minute gap where the flat of the fret meets the board will catch a metal burr when the fret ends are filed flush, and that looks craptacular.
Time for a break from the frets as the glue fully cures. I'll get back to it in between other jobs in the next couple of days and make it look like nothing ever happened
What a thoroughly interesting post. Thanks!