Refretting a bound fingerboard

A few days ago,  I posted a blog about what not do to when refretting a bound fingerboard (see A Case For Great Fretwork). Today, I’m going to show how to do it correctly.

A client recently brought in a 1979 Gibson ES335 guitar, which was in dire need of a refret. I pulled the frets, and applied a heat press to the neck to straighten out a massive kink, and prepared the fret slots. Now, here’s the issue with refretting bound fingerboards:

fret slots

You can see here that the fret slot doesn’t pass all the way across the neck – it stops at the binding. The fret tang needs to be cut back, so it can clear the binding, while the crown of the fret sits on top of the binding. I use a fret tang nipper to undercut the fretwire, like so:

fret tang nipper

The nipper doesn’t quite get all of the offending fret tang – it leaves a little bit of metal remaining, which needs to come off, otherwise the fret won’t seat properly (as was the case in the previous blog post). You can see the offending bit of metal flash here:

fret tang flash

I’ve scored a piece of wood to hold the fret in place, and then I file the remaining bit of fret tang off:

filing fret tangs

And here’s the fret with the tang cleanly filed off:

fret tang filed off

This process doesn’t take long – perhaps a half hour for the entire mess of frets. It’s a very important step, otherwise the entire fret job is botched. Now that the fret slots are prepared, the frets can be pressed into the board. You can see here that the fret tang filts in the fret slot, while the fret crown rests on top of the binding:

seated fret

Once all the frets are perfectly seated and glued, I cut off the excess fret flush with the neck, and then file it down and bevel it to a 30° angle:

fret bevel

You can see in the above picture that the fret rests directly on the board, and there’s no remaining fret tang to cut into the binding. This process, coupled with a proper fret leveling and polishing will guarantee that this guitar will play great. Every little step counts!

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