Fretting a maple fretboard

Every  guitar is different, and each have their own unique set of challenges. This week I refretted a guitar with a maple fretboard, and it tried to fight me every step of the way. First of all, the maple in this particular board was very soft, giving the frets nothing to hang on to; second, it was a very round radius (18.4cm, or 7.25″) with a steep fall off at the edges; thirdly, the frets being installed were stainless steel, which are not very forgiving. The frets didn’t want to seat properly, nor did they want to stay seated – they kept popping up out of the neck! I had to follow a few extra steps to make sure this job was done right.

The first step was to introduce a radius that matches the fingerboard. Typically I slightly over-radius the wire, but with stainless frets I shoot for an exact match – the frets are so tough that they don’t conform to the board when pressed in. I run a section of fretwire through a Stewmac fret bending tool, carefully setting the radiusing wheel to match an 18.4cm radius:

fret benderradiused wire

Now that the wire was curved to match the fingerboard, I needed to make sure that the frets would stay put once pressed into the board. Since the maple was so soft, I opted for a two-pronged approach: a mechanical and glue bond. The Jescar fretwire I use has many more barbs on the fret tang than most other manufacturers, which helps hold it in place pretty well in most cases. But this time, I knew I needed something stronger, so I treated the ends of the fret tangs with a special fret tang crimper, which widens the tang and gives the fret a bit of teeth to dig into the fret slot:

untreated fret tang

Untreated fret tang.

fret crimper

Crimping the fret tang.

crimped fret tang

Crimped fret tang.

Next I wicked in a bit of glue into the fret slots, right before pressing the frets with a matching 18.4cm radius caul. These frets aren’t going to move!

glueing fret slots

Glueing the fret slot.

pressing frets

Pressing the frets.

This job took a lot of extra work, but anything worth doing is worth doing well. Fortunately, stainless steel frets just about last forever, so this will most likely be the last fret job this guitar ever needs. Putting an extra hour into something that’s going to last a lifetime ain’t so bad of a return, no?

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