A case for great fretwork.

Today I worked on a Gibson Les Paul that had already seen some heavy duty fretwork, insomuch as it had been completely refretted at another shop. Unfortunately, it was still buzzing and not playing very well. What gives? Upon closer inspection, it appears that the fretwork wasn’t done properly, and was causing problems. There were two major issues at work here: the fret tangs had not been filed away to clear the binding, and the frets weren’t leveled after they were pressed into the fingerboard.

It’s bit difficult to explain without using some guitar tech jargon, so perhaps a handy digram is in order. Viola!

Now, on to the issue: the biggest problem – when a guitar with a bound neck is being fretted, the fret tangs need to be undercut so the crown of the fret sits on top of the binding, and the tang doesn’t cut into the binding. It’s important that the tang is completely removed, or the fret won’t seat onto the fretboard properly. Too bad this detail was missed on this guitar:

bad fretwork

The remnant of the fret tang is pushing into the binding, causing the fret to lift out of the board.

The only fix for this problem is to refret the entire instrument, which my client didn’t want to do. Instead, we opted to level the frets, which is a perfectly reasonable option. Of course, I glued all the frets down before I started – the frets were already not properly seated, so it makes good sense to make sure they don’t move any more. I strapped the guitar into my neck jeck, adjusted the truss rod to get the neck dead straight, and ran my leveling beam over the frets. As I suspected, the frets hadn’t been leveled during the previous refret, The beam hit the high frets first, and wasn’t touching the low frets. You can see this by seeing the fret dust build up here:

fret dust

Notice that there’s tons of fret dust building up in the upper area of the neck, yet almost none in the middle on the bass side. That reveals that the frets in the upper reaches – the prime string bending area – were uneven. No good.

This guitar was buzzing all over the place, after a rather expensive refret, which is unacceptable. If a guitar has had fretwork done to it, it should be buzz free – isn’t that the point of getting fretwork done? Fortunately, this guitar wasn’t ruined – it just needed the previous work finished properly. Now it plays great, buzz free! Huzzah!

Permanent link to this article: https://www.strangeguitarworks.com/a-case-for-great-fretwork/