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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Luthiers input

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Banjojono - Posted - 10/01/2019:  23:46:17

I was watching a few videos about leveling frets and this particular guy was explaining a simple mistake that a lot o people make when leveling frets with a sanding bar. He reckons that you should have a bar the length of the fretboard and sand across, not up and down the neck. He says the reason for this is, when you sand up and down the neck, the middle of the neck frets are under the sanding beam more often than the ends, so they get sanded more if you do it that way and you end up with fret problems when you then string up.
I'd never heard or seen it done this way before and wondered if there was any truth in this?

Mirwa - Posted - 10/02/2019:  02:41:37

Do not worry about it, people over analyze everything.

Mark your fret crowns black, file / sand the neck with what have you to remove said black marks, recrown the frets and your good to go.

Some people use long bars, some people use radius cauls, some people use small files, some people use plek machines, some people use all methods combined, there is no right or wrong way, just what works for you


Banjojono - Posted - 10/02/2019:  03:00:01

That sounds like good advice Steve. Thanks.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 10/02/2019:  05:18:43

I think that regardless of by what means the frets are leveled, they must be checked with a straightedge afterwards.  Strings have a way of telling you if you have a high fret.

My personal favorite method is to mark the tops of all the frets with a magic marker before leveling.

stelldeergibber - Posted - 10/02/2019:  06:07:33

I always make sure the fretboard wood is level before I do anything with frets. A notched straightedge, which goes around the frets, is my favorite tool for doing that. The accuracy of the problem that guy described then depends on the length of your fret leveller or radius block, what you call the sanding bar or beam, as well as application of even pressure on this device. If you had a real short one, say six inches, you could easily spend too much time in the middle of the neck. I use a 'Ken Donnell fingerboard plane' I bought years ago from Stewart Macdonald which is a piece of tempered glass 13 and 1/2" long backed by wood with a handle on it, or else their radius beams which are 18" long. Lots of products and names, I'm sure some people make their own, but length basically negates the described problem. As far as watching what you are doing, I have used the marker effect, but generally just pause to look at how much metal dust is coming off each fret. Remember that if exactly the same amount did come off each fret, you wouldn't need any fret levelling at all. I don't see going sideways, that would rip up the sandpaper.

stelldeergibber - Posted - 10/02/2019:  06:13:23

I ignored the aspect of relief when I said 'level', in regard to the fretboard. You need a tiny amount of dip or relief in the middle of a neck, you can read up on that in various places.

tbeeson58 - Posted - 10/02/2019:  06:28:11

I'm not luthier by any respects, but the simple geometry would suggest using a longer sanding bar and an across sanding pattern would make the overall fret height more consistent. Even though we may be talking only a few thousandths of an inch, it can make a difference in string buzz.

Now, one question for the luthiers related would be how truss rod setting (neck bow) might affect this. Thinking in terms of the fretboard itself being slightly bowed, then sanding and dressing the frets to a level point, what might be the affects, if any? Taking in to consideration that the strings will be straight, but not perpendicular to the frets or the fretboard.

I agree to a point with Mirwa that this may be some overthinking in most cases. But if I were a professional card carrying string musician who makes a living with the instrument and, especially studio musicians (with no less respect for live performers) who rely on sound perfection, I would think this could be a real issue.


G Edward Porgie - Posted - 10/02/2019:  06:50:17

My response to the advice of sanding across is that what works in theory doesn't always work in practice, particularly when the theory doesn't take in all the possible effects of a situation. Sanding across a fretboard might simply mean that the so-called middle of the fretboard has simply been changed directionally, from the length of the board to the width, and that the frets could end up being lower for the two middle strings, particularly if it's a radiused board.

Another problem I can see is that some necks do not have truss rods and so have "relief" already built in. A full-length fret leveler just isn't going to work on one of those.

As has been mentioned, people tend to overthink. To me, leveling frets depends much more on analyzing the neck and frets first, then carefully watching what you're doing with whatever tool(s) you have chosen to do a particular job with. Not all necks are the same, and tools and techniques sometimes need to be altered somewhat for each particular application.

Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 10/02/2019 06:51:18

rcc56 - Posted - 10/02/2019:  07:52:29

Here's my process for levelling:

1. I check for loose frets, and take care of them before I do anything else.
2. I use 6", 3", and 2" straightedges and try to rock them back and forth to locate any high spots. I knock the high spots down with a small file. If I take a lot off a spot, I'll follow it with a crowning file.
3. I mark the frets with a marker, and dress lengthwise with the fine side of an 8" hardware store India stone.
4. I lightly polish cross-ways with the same stone, working gradually up the board without stopping. I re-check for high spots, and take care of anything I missed.
5. I crown the frets, clean up the fret ends, and polish with 400 and 600 sandpaper, followed by 0000 steel or plastic wool.

If I have to do a lot of levelling with the stone, I cease and desist and re-check my work, because I've missed something.

I don't use long sanding beams. I find them difficult to control.

If you are installing new frets, it is essential to get the fingerboard as true as possible and insure that the frets are firmly seated. If those two things are done well, very little levelling will be necessary.

Edited by - rcc56 on 10/02/2019 08:07:35

Banjojono - Posted - 10/02/2019:  08:51:07

Thanks for everyone's input on this, some very useful information there.

beegee - Posted - 10/02/2019:  10:08:12

I have a piece of aluminum t-bar 12" long. it came from a fabricator of marine tuna towers and is the material they use for making ladder rungs. I use self-stick sandpaper. It is easy to handle and does a great job. It does not take a lot of pressure and it takes very little time to level the frets.

Adjust the truss rod to remove any bow. I check with a straight edge and fret rocker for any high frets. Blacken the fret tops, sand until all the black is gone. I then sand all the frets with 600 paper, re-black and use the crowning file. Then I dress the fret ends. Once the frets are crowned. I polish them with #0000 steel wool, then wipe the fingerboard with a little bit of mineral oil on a muslin cloth to burnish.

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