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Thread: Luthier tips and tricks

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    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Luthier tips and tricks

    This thread will hopefully consolidate some of the great information on-line concerning the luthiery arts along with tips and tricks that MEF members have come up with, focusing on the setup, maintenance and repair of electric and acoustic guitars. (Building acoustic guitars from scratch will be outside the focus of this thread.)

    Steve A.

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    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Leveling frets under string tension

    There is much information on leveling frets throughout the internet and here at MEF but there is one thing I have noticed about wooden guitar necks: no matter how level they are when you adjust the truss rod without string tension once you tune them up to pitch you will have high and low spots as can be detected with a 3 fret rocker tool. Wood is organic and as you increase the string tension it doesn't flex with perfect evenness. Even going from 9's to 10's can change the equation.

    There are many different approaches to leveling frets under string tension, ranging up to the $600+ rig at StewMac which will hold the guitar in a vertical playing position, keeping the neck under normal tension.

    On eBay there are several different leveling systems which will sand frets under the strings tuned to pitch ranging from $50 to $150-250. I ran across this post at TGP which spells out how to do that for a fraction of the price.

    Quote Originally Posted by PFCG, TGP
    I have a very simple and fool proof way to do fret leveling, and I will take some pictures of how I do it sometime this coming week if you remind me!

    I get a thin u channel of aluminum from McMaster Carr. About 2mm thick on all sides. Cut to about an 8 inch length. Buy a piece of glass, or use your dead flat stone, and stick sandpaper to it. Sand the channel till it's dead flat on the bottom side. And you use that side to stick your fine sand paper for leveling. After the frets go in, you string up the guitar and tune it to pitch. It's great if the nut is not cut perfectly yet. The higher the better.

    Set the truss rod so there is no relief in the neck whatsoever, just dead flat.

    Now you slide the channel under two strings at a time, and while under pitch, you sand the frets level with 600 grit paper. Make sure the guitar is supported under the neck completely, so you don't get the wrong relief and it screws up your results

    Now move one string over at a time, using the two string method, sand the frets level from first to last fret.

    Crown with a diamond file, leaving a very minor line on the very top of the fret still scuffed by the sandpaper on the u channel.

    Then use 3m sanding sponges from fine, to super fine, to ultra fine to polish up the fret wire, then either use steel wool or buff with a Dremel or buffing wheel.

    Done. Perfect every time.

    A Plek will do a scientifically perfect fret job every time, but this method works pretty damn good.
    I picked up an 8 foot length of 3/4" 3/4" 3/4" U-Channel of 6063 aluminum for $10.55 from Grainger Supply (their stock # 6ALY7)

    The TGP discussion goes on with some people griping about the 8" length. Well, with 8 feet total I cut various lengths to accommodate different areas of the fretboard for spot leveling as well as full fretboard leveling.

    And of course you had people saying that they had been leveling frets for years with no problems so why change?

    Steve A.

    P.S. I really liked the author's suggestion of using a piece of glass for making the edges of the u-channel perfectly smooth. (If the glass wasn't completely flat it would look distorted.) I found a 18-1/2" diameter tempered glass table top at Goodwill and used self-stick sandpaper in various grits (320 from StewMac, 180, 220, 400 and 600 from Klingspor.)

    P.P.S. A notched straightedge is very helpful in making sure that you have the neck completely straight, which is important when doing full length neck leveling. For spot leveling using a 3 fret rocker you want the guitar under normal string tension for whatever gauge strings you will be using.

    P.P.S. I use an uncut nut blank to raise the strings high enough to fit the u-channel under them.

    Click image for larger version. 

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