This guitar has to be one of the nicest models I have had the chance to work on. Look at the top on this thing! The maple is amazing!...... It's a reissue of a guitar that was originally made in the 60's. It's in great condition overall, but the frets are in bad condition.
The customer who owns this has really played it a lot. So much that he has worn out most of the frets to the point that they need to be replaced. This time I will will be installing stainless steel frets. Stainless frets will wear slower allowing for a lot more playing time before they need to be replaced or dressed again. When frets are in this condition it can cause all sorts of playability issues. Often you will get fret buzz, and bad intonation. It has makes it hard to bent strings effectively. This guitar was certainly in need of new frets.
First step was to remove the original frets. This is done by heating the frets and coaxing them out with some modified tools. The key is to take it slow, or you get into chipping of the wood. You will also notice some little tabs of binding sticking up. These little tabs will be removed during the next process when I sand the fingerboard.
In these photos you can see the fingerboard being sanded. This will help to level everything out and assure that we have a flat plane to work with.
This photo shows the board prepped for fret installation. The slots have all been cleaned out and the edges beveled to accept the stainless frets.
Each fret must be cut to length and prepped as in the photo above. It's a long tedious process, but very important to prep each one.
This photo shows every other fret installed. I like to do it this way to gauge whats going on with the neck as these frets are installed. Sometimes the frets will cause the neck to backbow if they are fitting a little tight in the slots. Fortunately these went in very smooth. Good prep to the fingerboard is key to getting the frets to seat well.
This is a specially made to tool that presses the frets in. Traditionally frets were hammered in, but pressing is very easy and effective way of installing frets. I was able to press most of the frets, but over they body I had to hammer in about 8 frets or so. So I was able to experience both ways on one guitar.
Once the frets have been installed. There is some extra material overhanging the edges that need to be taken care of. You can see them protruding over the binding in this pic.
Here's a shot with the fret ends mostly shaped. They will get their final shaping and polishing in the next step.
The next step is to level all the frets. I tape of the fingerboard so it does not get all the little metal shavings in it. It also makes it easier to polish the frets.
When leveling I use a combination of a radius block and a long straight beam. All the frets must be level to assure that there will be no fret buzzing, and that it can be adjusted to whatever string action we need. You will also notice in the pics that the frets are blue. This is done with a marker. It will allow me to see the process as I go.
Once they have all been leveled, the fret tops are left flat. In the next step I will re-round, or crown the tops so they once again have a domed shape.
Once again, I mark the tops of the frets and start crowning. This is accomplished with a special diamond coated file.
In this pic you will notice just a sliver of blue left on top of each fret. This is when I stop and move on the polishing and buffing the frets.
Here is the final step before installing strings and setting the guitar up. I start with sand paper and progress through many grits, and finally buff the frets.
Here's a few shots of the frets all polished and the fingerboard oiled.
Once it was all strung and setup, this guitar played and sounded like a dream. With it's new stainless steel frets, this guitar player will have many years of playing. What a sweet guitar this was to work on!