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May 17, 2022 - 7:02:02 AM
37 posts since 5/15/2022


Doing some research. These tools I think I need for refret:

Fret puller

Fret Hammer

Fret Bender - do I need this for a 1923 Vega Little Wonder tenor?

Fret Beveling file

Leveling beam

Fret crowning file

All of these would be for my 1923 Vega. Look at the picture here and let me know if these are what I need?

We you can see there are indents on the lower end of the neck and I can tell it is impacting intonation. I’d like to learn instead of taking it somewhere.

I reamed my headstock holes for new tuners so hoping I can pull this off if I am concise and organized.



May 17, 2022 - 7:39:33 AM

1358 posts since 1/9/2012

The first complete refret I attempted was on a Tubaphone of that same vintage. The frets had no barbs! So, there was absolutely no chipping. No guarantees, but that may well be the same for you.

All frets come out easier with heating. It softens the wood (as well as glue, which I don't think you have). My favorite method is Ohmic heating, implemented with a gun soldering iron whose tip is cut off, leads separated to the length of a fret, and filed to fit the fret tops. (I got the idea from a Richie Dotson YouTube, which I can't find right now.) The sign that it's hot enough is steam from the wood. You don't want smoke.

You'll need to clean out the slots. The biggest challenge will be finding fret wire that works. Too wide of tang, and you warp the neck. Too narrow, and they don't hold. On different old banjos, I've ended up filing barbs a bit or putting in a bit more crimp. If the originals are narrower than some modern standard, I guess you could widen to spec with a modern fret saw (or carefully chosen substitute).

May 17, 2022 - 7:49:12 AM

4425 posts since 5/29/2011

Your list of tools sounds reasonable. There is also a small, slim file which is used to smooth the ends of frets. I find it to be most useful. And a tang nipper is helpful to make frets fit bound necks well although you can do the same job with a small pair of side cutters if you are careful.
You asked if you need a fret bender. No, not absolutely, but it does help to put a little arch in the fret wire. That helps the ends of the frets stay down when you tap them in.

May 17, 2022 - 9:13:58 AM
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590 posts since 5/29/2015
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I dont see any photos, but as a general note to any beginners, fret wear can look much worse than it is to many people who have not done fret work. Sometimes a leveling is all that is needed.

I refretted several dozen guitars bought as returns from an online superstore before I became comfortable with refretting. I still have not seen all of the problems on other instruments that I had to address on these guitars to get them working.

One of the issues with old instruments without truss rods is that the frets are a bunch of tiny wedges. One can create a back bow by pounding in frets with tangs. Monitoring bow in the neck as fretting proceeds is important to avoid this costly error.

May 17, 2022 - 3:49:18 PM
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4251 posts since 2/20/2016

I've driven several thousand frets.   You can spend a lot of money on specialty tools from luthiers' suppliers that you really don't need.  Instead, many tools can be bought at the hardware store, some can be modified, and only a few specialty tools are needed.

From your list:

Fret puller-- you can grind down the face on a set of end nippers. I did eventually purchase a fret puller from Stew-mac because the temper on my homemade tool wasn't so good.

Fret hammer-- I just use a good carpenter's hammer.

Fret bender-- You can cut a couple of notches in a pair of long nose pliers. I use a round notch in one jaw, and a triangular notch in the other. The round notch holds the crown, the triangle holds the tang.  And yes, I put a little radius into frets before I drive them even if the board is flat.  Otherwise, the ends are more likely to lift up, either when you're driving them or later.  You'll find out all about that.

Fret end beveling file -- I ground the corners smooth on a 4" extra slim triangle taper file. Mine came from Sears in the old days. Probably easy to find at Lowe's or Home Depot.

Leveling beam-- I use sandpaper blocks of different sizes to level fingerboards, checking with straightedges of different lengths as I go. I use the fine side of an 8" Norton double sided sharpening stone [available at any Ace hardware store] for levelling frets. There are at least a dozen weapons of choice for levelling frets. I like the sharpening stone. Frank Ford uses sandpaper glued to the base of a plane body. Some folks prefer files of various sorts. When I've tried to use a very long tool [such as a levelling beam] for levelling, I found it to be clumsy and hard to control.

Fret crowning file-- I have two. The one that gets the most use is the old fashioned double sided standard crowning file. One side handles medium wire, the other side handles jumbo. I've about worn mine out and will replace it with another of the same type. The other file I use is the Gurian style file with bent handle and interchangeable burrs. Avoid the super-duper expensive "great new design" crowning file of the year-- most of them aren't worth the money.

Not on your list:

Good 12" straightedge-- Get a good one. McMaster-Carr is a good supplier.

Good 18" straightedge-- Not essential, but useful. Also McMaster-Carr.

Short straightedges or "Fret rocker"-- I took a good metal ruler and cut it into three pieces: 2", 3", and 6". But the fret rocker is good and accurate and worth it.

Tool[s] for cleaning slots-- For unbound fingerboards an ~ 0.020" to .0.22" razor saw or Japanese saw will work well. Woodcraft carries a Japanese saw that's the right size. For bound boards, I use a Dremel on a router base with the appropriate burr. I modified the standard Dremel router base with a home-made smaller plexiglass base plate. If you don't have budget for a Dremel, the Stew-mac #3602 Refret Saw might be suitable, but I haven't tried it. Also useful, but not essential, is the Stew-mac #4871 replacement chisel for their Fret Slot Cleaning Tool. It will fit in an X-Acto knife handle. You've got to be careful with this one though-- it's easy to make a slip with it.

Fret tang nipper-- Only necessary for bound fingerboards. In the old days, we undercut the tang by hand. This tool saves a couple of hours of labor and is well worth it if you're going to do even a few fret jobs.

Visit Frank Ford's and read every article on fretwork. Although methods vary depending on a repair person's preferences, you can't go wrong with Frank Ford's instructions.

Edited by - rcc56 on 05/17/2022 16:04:16

May 17, 2022 - 10:21:53 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)


26071 posts since 6/25/2005

Read everything Frank Ford says about refretting on

May 17, 2022 - 10:48:12 PM



4251 posts since 2/20/2016

. . . at least two or three times.

May 18, 2022 - 3:51:37 AM

172 posts since 7/14/2017

I'd suggest finding a piece of scrap (oak would work, hard enough to practice on) and install a few frets in that. You *will* make mistakes to start with.

I put hot hide glue on the tang - helps them slide in easier. Liquid hide glue should work for this. Titebond is a bit sticky and harder to clean up.

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