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After playing for a long time, frets on a guitar wear out, and
have dents where the strings touch them. This causes fret
buzz and chocked notes so low action setup becomes
impossible. Another cause of fret buzz are high frets, either
from popping out from their slots or poor craftsmanship and quality control in the factory.
If you have these issues, it's time for a fret leveling job.
Before you start you should tape your magnetic pickups
with masking tape, so the filings and metal dust from the
frets will not stick to the pickups. The most important fact to remember when doing any fret leveling is to do it on a perfectly straight neck. As necks are setup with relief for playing, they need to be straightened using a truss rod adjustment before a leveling job. Using a long ruler preferably a noched one like in the picture) check against a
light source, to make sure the neck is straight before starting the actual leveling. Some people go as far as putting the guitar in a jig that straightens the neck with simulated string tension, but since you're gonna adjust the truss rod for neck relief during every setup, We feel this is totally unnecessary. Once the neck without
strings is as flat as possible, it's time to start. With a permanent felt marker, color the frets so you can see what you are doing once you start sanding. If any of the frets are loose, you will need to fix the fret ends before you dress the frets.
There are several options of what to use for leveling the frets. There are expensive luthier tools out there to buy, but chances are this is a job you will do only once or twice so be carefull with the price. Good choice is a radiused sanding block you can buy online, but you must know the radius of your guitar. Most common tool is a steel bar from any hardware store with a piece of 320-grit adhesive sandpaper glued to a straight edge. We've also found that a diamond knife sharpener does a great job and even has 4 grits from 200 to 600.
The longer the tool is, the easier it is to make them perfectly leveled. Be sure not to take off too much, because you need to leave enough material for fret rounding and fret dressing. Usually it takes very little sanding to be finished. Once all the marker is gone from the tops of all frets, re-mark the frets the same way you did it the first time. Lightly sand the frets again with the leveling bar just to make sure all the frets are level and it's time for fret dressing.
Checking the straightness
Radius sanding blocks
Steel sanding bar
Diamond knife sharpener
Frets after leveling
Rounding fret ends
After leveling the frets, you are left with flat tops of the frets, which is not good for intonation, as the frets are not all the same, notes will be flat or sharp. This is why it's necessary to round them off with a fret file.
Mark the frets with a marker one more time.
This job can easily damage your fretboard if you slip off the fret, so it is necessary to tape of the fretboard using painters tape, leaving only the frets exposed. We recommend 2 layers of tape just to be sure.
Also when you file the frets round, don't use excessive pressure, so if you do slip onto the tape, you wont cause damage.
Fit the file against the edge of each fret and sand back and forth until the fret's shape begins to round.
Watch the markings you made and when they are hair thin on top of the fret, you are done, you don't need to take the marking entirely off for now, this will be done during fret polishing. If you are left with sharp fret ends, take a small triangular file and in round motions, smooth the edges out. be very careful not to file the fretboard edge while doing this.
Filing the frets round leaves little knicks and dents on the fret tops, which would be audible when bending strings. This is why it's necessary to polish the frets.
Start with sanding the knicks out with 600 grit sandpaper. When the frets are smooth, polish them with extra fine steelwool. Now you can take the tape off, and admire your shiny frets. If you are not sure you can do this you are safer leaving the process to a professional, as over-sanding the frets will leave your instrument nearly unplayable. However, you can learn how to dress frets yourself by assembling a few tools and following the steps
Points where the string touches the body are very important. A simple nut change can make a huge difference in your tone, feel of the instrument, string binding (catching) and most importantly tuning stability. We highly reccomend the TUSQ nut for any instrument, cheap or expensive. It's an easy job and any one can do it.
A guitar nut is at the headstock end of the fretboard and it controls the strings spacing, and string height above the first fret. It can be made from a variety of materials and sometimes requires adjustment or replacement when wear and tear creates problems like open string buzz, string binding, high action at the first fret or poor intonation.
Removing a guitar nut is very easy as they are usually glued with watered down wood glue for easy removal. When you put in a new one you should also use watered down wood glues so it can be replaced again if needed.. Using a block of wood to distribute the impact, a small tap of the hammer will pop them loose if they sit with only one side against wood (the fingerboard).
However, it the nut sits in a channel trying to tap it forward could damage the peghead veneer and nut. Tapping the nut sideways loosens to the point that it can be removed by hand or blunt end nippers.
To avoid chipping of the finish you should score the paint around the sides of the nut and across the peghead with a fresh x-acto blade.
Since you need expensive nut files to make a new custom nut out of a blank one, we recommend buying a pre-slotted and shaped nut made for your type of guitar. We recommend Tusq nuts as they have graphite in the material so they're self lubricated and prevent string binding which greatly improve tuning stability.
The nut comes slightly larger then needed so it can fit most guitars so there is a little sandind needed to get the basic height, width and exact angle of the base. Use your old nut as a template. Be carefull not to sand away too much as you can't go back once the material has been taken off. For correct string height at the first fret refer to your guitar manual or manufacturer.
For making new nuts out of bone blanks, we recommend you take your instrument to a professional.
Getting a dead signal? Most common cause is a detached wire somewhere in your guitar circutry.. A common place this happens is the output jack. It's under a lot of physical stress through the years from constant unplugging of your instrument, and in case of some guitars where the jack becomes loos and you keep tightening it, sometimes the wires detach if the jack turns a lot. Another common problem is that the jack doesn't hold the cable firmly anymore so you keep losing the signal or the guitar gets intermittent buzzing while you're moving around. After you've made sure that the problem is the actual jack, it's time to determine if you need to replace it, or simply solder any loose wires. If you have loose wiring it's usually not necessary to replace it, a little soldering will solve your problem, no need to cut the other wire off, just simply use your wire strippers to get enough exposed wire to be able to solder a solid connection on the jack. If you need to replace the entire jack, it’s a good idea to remove and solder one wire at a time so that you won’t get the connections mixed up and have to re-solder the whole thing later. The wires come in two different colors, usually black and red. The black is always the ground while the other is the hot output. Before you go and put your guitar back together, test it out to make sure the connections are all working. You can connect the cable to the input jack while the jack is still free, but remember to hold down the base of the jack while you insert the cable so that you don’t accidently pull any of the wires loose. Hook the guitar to and amp and test it out.
Soldering the leads
Black wire is ground
Test before reassembly
After removing the pickguard screws, to remove the pickup, unscrew the 2 screws just outside the pickup you want to change. lift up the pickguard and carefuly turn it over, but place a hand towel between the body and pickguard to protect the finish( in the video the guitar used does not have a new finish so this step isn't necessary). Follow the wires leading from the pickup. The hot wire usually goes to the switch and the ground wire to the back of the volume pot. Write down or take a snapshot ofwhere they are connected and unsolder or cut the wires. Remove the old pickup and screw in the new one. Solder it exactly like the old one or in some cases as directed with the manual that came with it. For example, humbuckers sometimes have 4 wires and can be soldered in a way to switch between coil splitting/series/paralell etc. You only need basic soldering skills for this job, but you do need a soldering iron powerfull enough to heat up the vol pot casing enough that the solder will stick to it. Be carefull not to hold it hot for too long because components can be damaged if being soldered for too long. Before you screw the pickguard back on, connect the guitar to an amp to check if everything works as expected by tapping the magnet poles with a screwdriver. If the magnet makes a sound only when the switch is in the position where that particular pickup should work (in this case position 4 and 5), turn the amp off and screw everything back in place. All that is left now is to adjust the pickup height to balance the new pickup output with the rest of the pickups on the guitar. Below is a video showing this process.
Strat style jack
Gibson style jack
All repair and setup articles on this website are provided 'as is' without warranty of any kind.. The entire risk as to the results and the performance of the information is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Bluesmannus be liable for any consequential, incidental or direct damages suffered in the course of using the information on this site. If you are not sure you can do this you are safer leaving the process to a professional. - Bluesmannus Team