Fret leveling, crowning and dressing

The frets on the Squier neck were fairly worn in a couple of places and I knew it could do with a fret dress. I also found out that it is advised that a new neck can benefit from a fret dress so, before I tackle the two recent project guitars, I thought I’d have a go on the Squier’s neck.

There is a superb thread on fret levelling over at TDPRI and I based my approach on the advice I found there. First step was to adjust the truss rod until the neck is dead flat, checking it with a good straight edge.

Then I attached emery cloth to a totally flat block. Go and read the thread for suggestions for things that you can use, but I noticed, in the trash outside my local glazer, a 300x100mm chunk of 25mm plate glass. A quick word and the piece was mine (although I left them enough for a couple of pints to say thanks). I stuck the 120 grit paper, to the glass with double-sided sticky tape and I had myself a fret leveling tool. The recommendation is to use 180 grit, but the 120 was all I had.

I taped up the fretboard with masking tape and used a permanent marker to cover each of the frets so I could see exactly where I was removing metal.

After a couple of passes with the leveling tool you can really see where the low spots are.

And here’s as far as I dared take it. You can see, in the close up on the 2nd fret that there is still one tiny flat spot but I decided to leave it at this and see what I could do to polish it out. If that doesn’t work I can always do it again.

Once the top of the frets are level you need to put the curve back on them again, known as “crowning”, so that the last point where the string touches the fret is right in the centre. All of the advice says that this is the one job where you need the proper tool – a crowning file. The cheapest of these I could find was over £30, so being a cheapskate I decided to see if I could make something myself. I routed a narrow slot into MDF and glued in a small curved strip of the same emery cloth I used for the leveling tool. I then trimmed it down to a convenient size.

And I certainly proved that you really do need a crowning file! It worked, but took ages and ages, and was very tough on my fingers. I’ll be ordering a crowning file this evening and will consider it £30 well spent. I’ll only have to use it a couple of times to have more than paid for itself in guitar tech fees.

Overall I’m very happy with the result and I’ve ticked off another guitar job that I never thought I’d have the cohones to tackle.

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