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.


Next guitar project underway – Rejuvenated Strat

Over recent weeks I was bequeathed a rather decent 1989 Korean made Squier Strat. Nothing exotic or fancy about that, but there is something about the workman-like simplicity of it that appeals.

It is not without faults. It had been crudely converted into a left-hander. The movement of the upper bout strap button down on to the lower bout is an easy fix.

More difficult is the attempt to get the jack socket out of the way of a left-hander’s forearm. The previous owner’s well-meaning neighbour, had drilled through to the original jack socket, and then hammered in one of the sealed unit jack sockets. This was an awkward one to get out.

Once everything was stripped off, it was interesting to see the original paint colour under the pickguard. A pretty vivd red, compared to the faded terracotta it had become.

I just love the deepening amber from the neck and fingerboard lacquer though. This is going to remain unchanged apart from a good clean up.

It was then that I got thinking about the body… there’s a sh*tload of thick paint on there that will take hours to get off, to leave me with a rather shoddy plywood body underneath (it is easy to see where Fender cut the corners) that is going to need a fair amount of repair before the long refinish job. That’s when I remembered that a certain Mr Noise, blogger and Six String Bliss forum regular, bought a couple of Strat bodies on eBay a few months ago. I’d only ever heard him mention one of those bodies. A quick email confirmed that the other was still free, and for a very reasonable sum will be heading Wirral-wards as fast as my wee postie’s legs can carry it.

So it looks like this is going to turn into a rather fine looking amber necked, vintage sunburst Strat.

There are some decisions yet to take. This one is going to be done on a minimal budget and so will be ending up as a home for whatever spare hardware I happen to have knocking about. I’ve been thinking long and hard about reusing the original pickguard, pickups and controls. Whilst that classic aged ivory/white looks fantastic against the sunburst, one of the things I’ve never really liked about Strats is the middle pickup, which is exactly where I’m most comfortable striking the strings. I happen to have a couple of spare black Seymour Duncan P-Rails knocking about. I’m now searching for an “interesting” low-cost alternative material for making a scratchplate. Leather? An old numberplate? Hardwood veneer? If you have any bright ideas, please don’t keep them to yourself!

Option 1 – Original

Option 2 – P-Rails white

Option 3 – P-Rails and black