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Jun 13, 2024 - 7:43:41 PM
15407 posts since 6/2/2008

Don't know what happened, but out of nowhere the third fret on my 70s RB250 neck has become high (confirmed with a fret rocker), causing second fret note to fret out. The fourth fret is also a bit high but is causing no audible problem.

If I put on magnifying readers to look at the fret, I don't see anything unusual. It could be my vision isn't good enough.

While I have an assortment of tools, I have no experience doing anything with frets. I have an email out to the nearest repair person. He takes in work through the local music shop but people can also work with him directly. If he can't take the banjo, there's another one I can contact.  After him, I'm going to have to start asking around the area for recommendations.

Anybody else ever experience this?

Fortunately I have other banjos to use while this one is unplayable.

Jun 13, 2024 - 8:49:01 PM
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1695 posts since 1/9/2012

Good for frets, too?


 

Jun 13, 2024 - 9:44:34 PM
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5827 posts since 5/29/2011

One of these little gadgets is worth its weight in gold. It's called a fret setter. They are available at Stewart MacDonald. Or, you could do like I did and get one on eBay much cheaper. $29 and change at StewMac, or half that on eBay.

Since you have a fret rocker and know how to use it, you wouldn't have much trouble navigating one of these. Just put the indentation over the high spot in the fret and tap it GENTLY with a mallet. Check it with the fret rocker until the fret is level again.


 

Edited by - Culloden on 06/13/2024 21:49:25

Jun 13, 2024 - 10:41:45 PM
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rcc56

USA

5148 posts since 2/20/2016

"Anybody else ever experience this?"

Yes, those of us who do repair work see it at least from time to time, especially on older instruments.  Sometimes it's only one or two frets, sometimes it's many frets.

The fret has lost its "seat." Sometimes it can be tapped down. Sometimes it has to be removed, re-arched, and re-installed. If only an end is loose, sometimes one drop only of super glue can be applied, the end pushed down and held in place with a nail set or screwdriver until the glue kicks off, and then any excess glue cleaned off.

If 2 or 3 frets rise up, we can often get by with re-seating them by whatever means are most practical. If a dozen have picked up, I usually recommend a full fret job.

When I re-fret an instrument, I install the new frets with liquid hide glue.  I believe it helps them stay down for the long term.  Some folks use Titebond, some use CA glue, and many use no glue at all.  CA can be annoying for the next guy who works on it, because we get a noxious gas in the eyes and nose when we heat the frets to remove them.  Probably not enough to hurt anyone, but it can make the job unpleasant.

Oh- if you think about it, the Stewmac tool can easily be made from the shaft of a worn out screwdriver with a little patience and a couple of small files.  If I were to make one tonight, I'd start a slot with a sharp triangle file, then maybe deepen it with a few careful strokes with a small hack saw or Jeweler's saw,  enlarge and round the slot with a small round file, then knock off any sharp edges with whatever is handy.

Edited by - rcc56 on 06/13/2024 22:50:55

Jun 13, 2024 - 11:43:49 PM
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15407 posts since 6/2/2008

Ordered a fret setter for $10 shipped on Amazon. It will arrive over the weekend while I'm visiting grandchildren and should be here for me to try my hand Monday night or Tuesday.

I'll also try looking again to see if I can see the fret lifted.

I'll think about using glue.

Jun 14, 2024 - 8:06:39 AM
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2967 posts since 9/18/2010

I feel no need for a special tool to seat frets because I have hammers of various descriptions and simply tap down the offending fret. If it doesn't want to stay down, a bit of glue as Bob mentioned.

Frets are metal pieces inserted into slots in wood. Wood and metal move differently in response to temperature and humidity changes so it is not unusual for frets to move, and it is not uncommon for frets on older instruments to need some fret leveling even if they were installed nice and level originally.

Jun 14, 2024 - 11:22:37 AM
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rcc56

USA

5148 posts since 2/20/2016

No special seating tool for me either. If I want to concentrate force to a small area when I hammer, I lay the back end of a nail set where I want it and give the other end a tap.

I also cut a radius into a hardwood block. Sometimes I'll lay that over a fret and give it a tap.

But I've found that more often than not, if try I to tap a loose end down by hammering, it just springs up again and gets worse. The alternative is to use the one drop and glue and push the end down, or pull, re-arch, and re-install the fret.

Edited by - rcc56 on 06/14/2024 11:28:13

Jun 14, 2024 - 3:26:32 PM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

Thanks for the continued discussion and insights. 

I may have some single-use tubes of super glue at home. Plus I have some whip tips to add to the tubes to help put small amounts right where I want them.

Jun 14, 2024 - 5:34:24 PM
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2967 posts since 9/18/2010

This is barely off topic, so...
When I have to tightly control superglue I use striping tape. It is sold at stores that sell automotive painting supplies, and it is plastic tape that will mask off paint and superglue when correctly applied. I strip of striping tape on the fingerboard, right next to the fret, allows us to seep CA under a fret without getting it on the visible part of the 'board...as long as it doesn't leak, and that is mostly dependent on correct application.

Jun 16, 2024 - 1:33:03 PM
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jonc

USA

474 posts since 10/23/2014

I have a small amber resin hammer for tapping frets down

doesn't harm the frets or the board

Jun 17, 2024 - 3:12:40 PM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

Fret setter didn't do it.

I tried two complete passes and there's no noticeable change. Well -- the fret-out is all on first string. The other strings aren't even buzzing when fretted at 2nd fret. Maybe that got better. I don't know.

Looking through magnifiers, I still can't see the third fret as being high or popped. If anything, the second fret looks low or sunk at the first string end.

I guess my next step is finding someone in the DC area who's good with banjo fretboards. I'm not averse to a full refret. Should be the only time I'll ever need it. The frets on this banjo have always looked like they coiuld use some attention. Some have worn grooves, some are flat-topped. But it's noted fine the nearly six years I've owned it, so I've left well-enough alone.

-  -  -  -  -

Now as I write this, I'm wondering if the depth of the concave end of the fret setter is deeper than the height of the fret. Maybe I'm going to have to tap the fret directly with my ball peen hammer or the back end of a nail set. Or set something else on the fret as some of you suggested above.

I'll report back.

Jun 17, 2024 - 6:15:05 PM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

Used a small block of hardwood on the fret. Hit that with the hammer. Still no improvement.

So it goes to a repair person, when I find one.

Jun 17, 2024 - 6:35:59 PM
Players Union Member

DRL777

USA

327 posts since 12/12/2021

Is the neck slightly rotated with a very low action?

Jun 17, 2024 - 7:01:36 PM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by DRL777

Is the neck slightly rotated with a very low action?


Not that I can see.

And to be clear: This is issue is at one fret and one string. It's the third fret being high enough to raise the first string when fretted at second fret. Instead of getting a clean E, I get a buzzy F.

Jun 17, 2024 - 9:23:35 PM
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115 posts since 9/1/2020

Maybe try giving it a minor chiropractic adjustment.
Sometimes the change in weather can cause a little back bow, which is troublesome for low action.
If you lay your instrument face down in your lap, with the offending location centered over your thigh. Then press gently on the back of the neck (not the peghead) and see if it returns to a proper relief.

Jun 17, 2024 - 10:28:14 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

72253 posts since 10/5/2013

My layman’s attempt would be to use a clamp or tighten a capo at the offending fret. Leave it overnight and check in the morning ,, sans 2 aspirin.
I’ve also just (crudely) filed down offending high frets, and/or loosened the truss rod a bit.

Jun 18, 2024 - 3:00:50 PM
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15407 posts since 6/2/2008

Thanks for the continued ideas.

I did sight down the neck yesterday and saw the fretboard is flatter than I recall. I have adjusted the truss rod a few times in the 5+ years I've owned this banjo - in both directions. While the need for a little relief did strike me as a possibility, the narrowness of the problem -- only E note on D string -- makes me question whether loosening the truss rod would do anything.

And I do have a fret file. It occurred to me to take a try with that. Since I'm already prepared to take the banjo to a repair person, I guess messing up a fret in an attempt to fix it doesn't put me in any worse of a situation than I currently am.

Based on recommendations from the Maryland Bluegrass group on Facebook, I've written to Mike Munford to ask if he'll take the banjo for examination and fret work. I knew of his reputation as a set-up expert, but didn't know his skills included more extensive work.

Jun 18, 2024 - 4:14:40 PM
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rcc56

USA

5148 posts since 2/20/2016

If what you've already tried didn't work, you might want to cease and desist.
Otherwise, you may just be adding to the cost of your repair bill.    [That's a hint to quit monkeying]

BTW, any good fretted instrument repairman should be able to straighten it out. Fretwork on a banjo does not require a banjo specialist.

Edited by - rcc56 on 06/18/2024 16:18:03

Jun 19, 2024 - 3:31:12 PM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

I did try clamping with a capo and that did nothing.

What did work is bumping up to a .656 bridge, which on this banjo gives me 1/8-inch height at the 22nd fret. The bridge I was using was actually a bit lower than 5/8.  It was originally a .656 Scorpion that I sanded the bottom a bit to lower. Was shooting for 5/8 but went a little too far. It's closer to .6.

Meanwhile, I've made contact with Mike Munford. We're exchanging messages, missing each other in real time. He says he often repairs or replaces a single fret, or does partial refrets, and only suggests or does full refrets if necessary. 

So my situation is the banjo is playable with either no buzz or too little buzz to hear at second fret from high third fret. But I will still have the high fret addressed so I have the flexibility to use a 5/8-inch bridge.

Thanks for all the suggestions.

Jun 19, 2024 - 6:19:39 PM

671 posts since 11/2/2009

I do have a question. What is the string height above the fretboard at the first fret? Is it uniform across the fret?

Beyond that I would say that my OCD can push me to do things I regret and wish I had been more patient about. You were making me nervous, Ken. Particularly when you used the term "ball peen hammer". I was hoping you were kidding, but couldn't be sure.

The other comment would be that with respect to gluing a fret back in, I don't know that super glue is the way to go. You may need to remove the fret someday and that is much harder if you use the wrong glue or too much of the right glue, and that can actually cause some of your fret wood to break away when the fret comes out - particularly if the fret is near some inlay. I had a fret completely pop out of a TB conversion and was told to use some Elmer's - not ALOT, SOME. I'm just saying to look into the right kind of glue if this comes up again or you can't bring yourself to stop fiddling with it and it lifts out. None of this is actual "advice" other than to consider treading lightly.

Jun 20, 2024 - 1:56:14 PM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by gcpicken

I do have a question. What is the string height above the fretboard at the first fret? Is it uniform across the fret?


Have to admit I don't know for sure. I think when I filled and reslotted three of the four slots quite a ways back, I set a feeler gauge to put the bottoms of the slots at about .01 above the first fret. I also believe I provided for slightly higher clearance for the 4th string.

But more to the current problem: The first string at first fret notes cleanly as does the open first string. The third fret tests high with a fret rocker and the first string at second fret produces a buzzy F instead of clean E. So the third fret on the first string end is definitely the problem. It's possible the second fret is low.

 

quote:
Originally posted by gcpicken


Beyond that I would say that my OCD can push me to do things I regret and wish I had been more patient about. You were making me nervous, Ken. Particularly when you used the term "ball peen hammer". I was hoping you were kidding, but couldn't be sure.


Why was I making you nervous? I did very little. I reported the problem here before I did anything. Based on early replies, I ordered a fret setter and went away for the weekend.

When I returned, I tapped the fret setter a few times along the length of the fret with a lightweight ball peen hammer. (See below). This hammer is smaller than those I've seen luthiers using in videos. That didn't work, so I laid a block of wood on the fret and tapped that in a few spots, over a period of maybe 15 seconds tops. That didn't work, so a day or so later, I clamped a capo directly on the fret for a few hours. That didn't work, so I've given up.

Altogether, I've done barely a minute of atual hammering or activity.

Between hammering the wood block and clamping with a capo, I reached to Mike Munford. We exchanged messages. The upshot is I'll be bringing my banjo to him this time next month. As I said in my previous message, he prefers to do only what's necessary. So if one fret can be tapped down or replaced, that's what he'll do. If the high fret also needs a touch of filing, then that's a possibility. Additional frets or all frets would be replaced only if it appears that will solve the problem. Seeing as the rest of the frets -- even the flat ones -- aren't causing problems anywhere, I'd expect they'll be left alone.

 

quote:
Originally posted by gcpicken

The other comment would be that with respect to gluing a fret back in, I don't know that super glue is the way to go. 


I'm not gluing a fret and I'm not doing anything else active.

quote:
Originally posted by gcpicken

None of this is actual "advice" other than to consider treading lightly.


As of now, I'm done trying to fix the problem. As I said in my last comment, installing a .656-inch (21/32) bridge has eliminated the problem -- first string second fret notes cleanly instead of fretting out on third. But it hasn't addressed the root cause.

This banjo produces low action with a 5/8-inch bridge, so it delivers acceptable (and common) action with a 21/32 bridge. At the 22nd fret, the string is dead center on the 1/8-inch mark on my 6-inch rule. I prefer 3/32 to 7/64, but 1/8-inch is easily playable -- and is lower than the 1/8-inch at 12th that so many others prefer.

 

Ball peen hammer shown below. I haven't weighed it, but it's not a heavy hammer. I have two lighter hammers that I use for installing RR spikes into pilot holes. I thought I needed to use something a bit heftier for a fret.


Jun 21, 2024 - 12:19:16 PM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

The head of my hammer looks to be the same size as the one Richie Dotson uses here to hammer capo spikes.

 

Jun 27, 2024 - 10:32:37 PM

4 posts since 12/10/2023

quote:
Originally posted by DRL777

Is the neck slightly rotated with a very low action?


Hey just wondering why you would ask this? I have an old gibson I might make a separate post on that has very low frets, and starts to sound pretty dull around the 7th fret. I noticed where the neck meets the banjo one side is very slightly higher. Sorry off topic

Jun 29, 2024 - 4:16:33 AM

41427 posts since 3/5/2008

I'm afraid yer gonna...halfta...Blast.... :0)

Jun 29, 2024 - 9:29:42 AM

79819 posts since 5/9/2007

I keep putting off buying a StewMac fret "press".

Jun 29, 2024 - 9:35:13 AM

15407 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by matthewmetscaviz
quote:
Originally posted by DRL777

Is the neck slightly rotated with a very low action?


Hey just wondering why you would ask this? I have an old gibson I might make a separate post on that has very low frets, and starts to sound pretty dull around the 7th fret. I noticed where the neck meets the banjo one side is very slightly higher. Sorry off topic


Minelooks level to me when sight up the neck from the tail end. In any event, I don't see how a tilted neck woul explain this situation happening at just the second and third fret.

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