Anatomy of a refret

[NOTE: We no longer use the neck jig, and have moved on to using a PLEK machine for all of our fretwork. Read about it here:]

Today I took on a refret project on an old Danelectro bass that was in need of some major help. Early Danos don’t have truss rods, and over the years many of them warp to a point of no return, and subsequently they have way too much relief and the action is sky high. This particular bass when it came in had .22mm of relief, and the action was 7mm at the 12th fret! Yikes! This bass was taken to a prominent NYC bass tech, who pronounced it dead on arrival, so it languished in the closet for years. René brought this to me in hopes of a miracle – when all it really needed was a good old fashioned refret. So with René’s preferred specs in mind, I got to work.

First, since the neck had a ton of relief and no truss rod, I opted to heat press the neck. (See how a heat press works by checking out Dec 13th’s blog post.) To counteract the pull of the strings, I added some backbow to the neck with the heat press process, which worked out beautifully. Once I got the neck into reasonable shape, I pulled the frets, loaded the bass into my neck jig, and leveled and trued the radius of the fretboard:

pulling frets

Pulling the frets.

leveling the board

Leveling the fretboard.


You can see how uneven the fingerboard was from the erratic wear pattern produced by the leveling beam.

Once the board was leveled and the radius trued to a perfect 50cm, I prepped the fret slots using a dremel, followed by a three corner file. Then I pressed the frets using my favorite Jescar fretwire:

pressing frets

Pressing frets.

An important step I take that is often overlooked is that I glue all my frets in place. What good is it to do a great fret job if the frets don’t stay in place? To do this, I wax the board around the fret, and wick in some water thin super glue. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to take a picture of this, as the glue dries fast and there’s no time to waste.

Once the fret ends have been filed and beveled, it’s back to the jig again, to make sure that each fret is level. This is very important, and is another step that many overlook. Fretwire might vary slightly, or perhaps some frets pushed into the wood differently than others – you can’t just leave this to chance, so I level the frets on EVERY refret. Once this is done, it’s back to the bench to dress the fret ends and crown the frets:

dressing fret ends

Dressing the fret ends.

fret crowning

Crowning the frets.

Now it’s time for the most tedious part: polishing the frets. There’s no substitute for hard work and loads of elbow grease here, but I think the results speak for themselves:

polished frets

Ooh! Shiny!

With a great refret, you can set the action just about anywhere you want and it will play clean. I set this one up for a medium-ish action, with the neck almost dead straight, and the action reading at 2mm – 1.75mm (bass to treble). This bass plays and sounds fantastic! I don’t understand why the previous tech gave up on it – this came out great!

I would rock this bass if it were mine. This just might be one of the coolest instruments to ever cross my bench. Dig the Rat Fink sticker, and the Richard Nixon stamp! Badass!

Dano bass

That’s one badass Danelectro.

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