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Feb 16, 2020 - 11:02:19 AM
218 posts since 12/7/2017

In case of obvious fret wear, I wonder if I should leave it as is as long as it’s playable (there is no buzzing at all, nowhere) or If it’s better to level or replace the frets. Can just a fret work by itself improve the sound ?

Feb 16, 2020 - 12:37:20 PM

Alex Z

USA

3764 posts since 12/7/2006

"It depends," of course, on how extensive the obvious fret wear is and how deep.

Myself, I never have the frets leveled -- all that is done is filing down all the frets to the depth of the maximum wear.  Then, the frets are at a height I don't want.  Will let the experts give their thoughts on the criteria for new frets, partial or all.

Will offer this, as frets wear up and down the fingerboard, the clarity of the sound will be affected before any buzz is noticed.  This is because as the frets get lower, the notes in the worn spots result in the string very slightly being damped farther up the neck -- that is, same as a "buzz" but too soft to hear as a separate buzz.

A luthier might measure the height of the fret and the worn spots.  For example, if the full fret height is .043" and the groove is at .039 and no buzz, should be OK.  But if the groove is, say, at .029, then you're ready for new frets.  Somewhere in between?  "It depends."  smiley

Hope this helps.

Feb 16, 2020 - 1:09:42 PM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14988 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by pasdimo

In case of obvious fret wear, I wonder if I should leave it as is as long as it’s playable (there is no buzzing at all, nowhere) or If it’s better to level or replace the frets. Can just a fret work by itself improve the sound ?


If you're happy with the action and there's no buzz then "Don't mess with success".

Sometimes obvious fret wear isn't as bad as it looks.  Before making any judgements from visual observation do polish the frets using 0000 steel wool (or 3M pad equivilant...)  In many cases "obvious" fret wear will be much less obvious after a polishing of the frets.

The sound isn't going to be noticeably effected by fret wear and if the string even just barely touches any of the higher frets you'll know it by audible string buzz.

Play until you know that work is necessary and THEN attend to it.  If it isn't obvious it isn't a problem.

Feb 16, 2020 - 1:19:55 PM

6853 posts since 8/28/2013

Fret buzz is not the only issue with fret wear. As Alex points out, tone can be affected, and in my own experience, intonation and playability can suffer, too. With a worn fret, the string can be pulled very slightly sharp because it's being stretched further down to that worn fret. It may not be noticeably sharp, but will make the overall sound seem just a bit "off" somehow. It also becomes tricky when one is fretting a worn fret or frets differently than the unworn ones, and that can make it more difficult to play.

I also do not think "dressing" or filing frets is a good option. There's just no sense having all the frets being too low. One could conceivably dress the frets if the wear is very slight, but very slight wear probably isn't a problem and won't need dressing for a while, away.

You shoud attempt to post some detailed close-up pictures of what you are dealing with, and the true experts can better advise what you might wish to do.

Feb 16, 2020 - 2:51:07 PM

rcc56

USA

2564 posts since 2/20/2016

Start off by making sure that there are not any loose, lifting, or uneven frets. These problems must be attended to first. If there are many that are loose or uneven, I generally just refret the whole instrument.

If grooves are fairly shallow, I will recrown the offending frets with a crowning file, and then give them a quick polish with 600 sandpaper and #0000 steel wool.  If everything else is in good shape, further levelling will usually be unnecessary.

Deeply grooved frets will produce notes that are noticeably sharp. If grooves are deep, I replace only the grooved frets and leave the rest alone.  Again, if the rest of the frets are in good shape, any further levelling is often not necessary.

If a very slight levelling is necessary, I can take just a 3 or 4 vertical strokes with the fine side of a hardware store india sharpening stone. I follow with a quick cross-polish with the same tool, then crown, and finally polish with the sandpaper and steel wool.

If you know what you're doing, you won't take off enough height to make a noticeable difference in playability.

However, if you don't know what you're doing, you might end up with frets that are low, flat, hard to play, and still buzz and rattle. Then you'll have to send the instrument to someone who knows what they are doing, and they'll have to perform a complete re-fret.

I see a lot of instruments that need to be complete re-fretted because they were worked on by somebody who didn't know what they were doing.  One thing for beginners to bear in mind is that a re-crown and polish generally costs $75 to $100 in my shop, and replacing a few badly grooved frets costs $18-$20 per fret; but a complete re-fret costs $300 or more.

An instrument can sound better with a fresh set of well-installed frets. Whether this is because the instrument is easier to play or it is because the mechanics of installing new frets actually stiffens things up a tad is a judgement call.

Edited by - rcc56 on 02/16/2020 15:11:16

Feb 16, 2020 - 4:02:37 PM

3863 posts since 9/21/2009

Play it till it buzzes and have a set of SS frets installed and forget about it.

Feb 16, 2020 - 4:53 PM

1185 posts since 2/2/2008
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by banjoman56

Play it till it buzzes and have a set of SS frets installed and forget about it.


Hi Carl, there has been many remarks about tone with Stainless steel frets. Whats your opinion here? For a lutheir it is hard on tools.

As for fret wear I just replace the worn ones when I think it is dug out by some strings. When doing this which is an easy process, the focus is leveling that fret to match the older ones around it. It is not uncommon that I will replace the first 5 frets only for customers. That makes my job a little easier.

The only reason I would level a complete fretboard is when the neck and fretboard itself is a problem on some cheap banjos. Fitting new frets alone will not fix this type of issue of high and low frets everywhere.

Feb 16, 2020 - 8:13:13 PM
likes this

3863 posts since 9/21/2009

I had the frets replaced with SS on my Stelling and I can't tell that it made any difference in the tone. If I ever have to have them changed on my other banjos, they'll get SS too. It is harder on tools and a bit more expensive, but they'll out last me, so I wont have to have them replaced gain. John Boulding replaced mine and did a great job on them at a very reasonable price.

Edited by - banjoman56 on 02/16/2020 20:17:59

Feb 16, 2020 - 10:23:09 PM

1185 posts since 2/2/2008
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by banjoman56

I had the frets replaced with SS on my Stelling and I can't tell that it made any difference in the tone.


Thank you for your feedback. I have not tried yet because of what folks have said about tools. I also thought it would take more effort and time when mosr customers want quick affordable repairs. I must buy some and decide for myself.

Feb 17, 2020 - 6:53:10 AM

3863 posts since 9/21/2009

You're welcome Leon.

Feb 18, 2020 - 3:47:29 AM

2584 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

All this discussion is focused on a flat fretboard. For radiused fretboard, tools are needed to check the fretboard and the frets for the radii. Check the nut also.

In my case, the specs said 12”. Below the 5th fret, the fretboard said 7.25” and 6” above the 5th. The nut was flat.

I was very careful to not use a monster grip when I played. I was surprised to find frets 2 and 3 with deep gouges for strings 3 and 2. 1 and 4 were normal wear. After recognizing the three different radii, I am convinced that string vibrations behind the fretted note beyond 5th fret are the cause of the damage.

I decided to first to standardize on a radius more inline with the fretboard. 7.25” was my decision. I built a radius nut and choose EVO Gold fret wire to replace the frets. The job is finished and I enjoy the fruit of the effort.

Feb 25, 2020 - 3:40:14 PM

904 posts since 6/6/2008

I have a gib blackjack and had to refret. I used stainless steel. To my ear, it actually improved the sound.

Edited by - o2playlikeEarl on 02/25/2020 15:40:44

Feb 26, 2020 - 7:14:51 AM

1597 posts since 2/10/2013

I can't make recommendations on sound changes, but I strongly suggest that you make sure the work is being done by a qualified person with an outstanding reputation. I once had fret work done by two regional repairmen and ended up getting rid of a banjo.

I wouldn't have fret work done unless a very good banjo player evaluates the condition of the frets on my banjo and recommends having the frets "dressed" or replaced.   I have read recommendations that when having frets replaced, have all the frets replaced.   In the previous paragraph I told the first repairman to replace all the frets.  He did not do that and I think that caused the rest of the problems.

Edited by - Richard Hauser on 02/26/2020 07:19:24

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