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  1. #1
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    Fret end filing

    My friend's guitar neck has shrunk, leaving the fret ends proud enough to cut his finger tips.

    Do you have recommendations on a fret-end file and a technique for doing this without damaging the fret board or neck?

  2. #2
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    Prashun,
    I'm a total amateur at this, but until an expert chimes in, here is what I made to file fret ends. I bought several of these Nicholson files after seeing a discussion on the quality of Mexican made files some time ago. Then I scored the file with an angle grinder, broke off the handle, slotted a piece of wood at the appropriate angle and made a press fit holder for the file. My thought would be too tape off the side of the neck for protection and run the 90 degree file along the frets until you get to the tape, then use the angled file to redo the angle. Using a slotted fret protector and a fine file, carefully hand finish the edge of each fret. I don't see how it's posible to get them perfectly flush on the sides without having to redo the finish.

    Guitar 009 (Medium).JPGGuitar 012 (Medium).JPG
    Last edited by Ted Calver; 12-27-2016 at 3:53 PM.

  3. #3
    My first and best recommendation would be to take it to an experienced guitar repair person, someone with the tools to do a decent fret job. That person can file the ends down in no time for a small fee. Your friend might as well get a decent fret dressing while there.

    If you really want to do this yourself (which I don't think you should), you need a fine file. Turn the guitar on its side so that one edge of the fretboard is parallel with the floor. Gently run the file along the whole fretboard edge, but only let it touch the tangs that are sticking out. It is the tangs that are hurting your friend's hand. go slowly and try hard not to tip the file. Stop when the tangs are flush with the edge of the fretboard. This will probably cause the fret ends (the actual frets, not the tangs) to not be as rounded any more. You might have to take a very small file and round the edges of each fret so that they are not sharp.

    Like I said, I would take it somewhere. You can do some real damage if this is your first time doing fretwork.

  4. #4
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    I have fret files that I use. But for overhanging fret ends, i use a couple smaller fine files. It is important not to overly file the fret top or you will create a larger problem. Go slowly, and tape off surfaces that should be damaged. If not confident, take it to a luthier.

    The larger issue is why are the fret ends protuding? If things are still shrinking / drying, then professional help is definately needed. I have never experienced this particular problem (though I have seen a lot of improperly fit frets, but never shrinkage).
    Shawn

    "no trees were harmed in the creation of this message, however some electrons were temporarily inconvenienced."

    "I resent having to use my brain to do your thinking"

  5. #5
    It is a common enough problem this time of year, so I would not worry that there is something fundamentally wrong with the guitar. I mean, it is a sign that the guitar is living in an environment that is too dry for the guitar, but that is a common winter problem. Keeping the guitar in a case with a guitar humidifier, and only taking it out to play it, is probably the best thing to do.

    This is the time of year when we learn that all of those warranty warnings about relative humidity are not just legalese. If you let a guitar live where the relative humidity drops too low, cracks in the top and/or fingerboard can easily be the result. If all that happens is that the fret tangs stick out, that's not too bad.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Parker View Post
    It is a common enough problem this time of year, so I would not worry that there is something fundamentally wrong with the guitar. I mean, it is a sign that the guitar is living in an environment that is too dry for the guitar, but that is a common winter problem. Keeping the guitar in a case with a guitar humidifier, and only taking it out to play it, is probably the best thing to do.

    This is the time of year when we learn that all of those warranty warnings about relative humidity are not just legalese. If you let a guitar live where the relative humidity drops too low, cracks in the top and/or fingerboard can easily be the result. If all that happens is that the fret tangs stick out, that's not too bad.
    I have never experienced this. Having played literally thousands of guitars around the world, I'll opine that the fretboards / necks were insufficiently dry at manufacture. When you look carefully at many modern guitars, you can see very poor work on neck edges / fret ends especially in cheaper to mid-range guitars. This exacerbated on guitars that have bound necks and unfinished fretboards. I get a lot of younger players bringing me guitars asking me to help the guitar play better. Nearly always, the problems are inherent in the manufacture.

    I certainly know about the effects of humidity on wood. Most of my guitars are in my humidity controlled guitar cabinet. Though I had one out over the last several weeks. The humidity here dropped from its standard 70-90% rh at 72 degree F. To <20% rh (Santa Ana winds) for a ~ 2 week period. No fret ends pop out.
    Shawn

    "no trees were harmed in the creation of this message, however some electrons were temporarily inconvenienced."

    "I resent having to use my brain to do your thinking"

  7. #7

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Parker View Post
    Yes, I have read the Stew Mac articles too. Remember their purpose is to sell things. My point is that I haven't seen it. I still maintain that it is more a problem of improper drying in cheaper guitars as part of their manufacturing process. Anytime I have seen exposed fret ends, I have seen other manufacturing issues such as poorly adjusted truss rods, improper alignment of neck and bridge, rough edges, etc...

    I seriously doubt that a Collings, Lowden, higher end Martin or Taylor, custom shop Fenders or Gibsons experience this problem. The quality differences between the commodity guitars of say Gibson / Epiphone differ in quality substantially from their "better" guitars. I have had to repair many manufacturing issues from lower end guitars. And to reiterate, having played thousands of guitars in various climates all around the world, if this were a more common issue, I really think it would show up more commonly in various forums or I would have experienced it.

    If common, this would make so many guitars around the world unplayable. Remember we are talking expansion across a usually maple or rosewood fretboard of between 1-5/8" and 2-1/2". Using online calculator, I get less than 7/1000" expansion/contraction across a 2-1/2" fretboard. To put in context, a 24" (a fret board is less than 10% of that dimension) table top expands 1/8" due to humidity.

    In any case, our collective advise to Prashun is accurate, regardless of cause.
    Last edited by Shawn Pixley; 12-30-2016 at 5:09 PM.
    Shawn

    "no trees were harmed in the creation of this message, however some electrons were temporarily inconvenienced."

    "I resent having to use my brain to do your thinking"

  9. #9
    Please see the attached links:

    https://www.taylorguitars.com/sites/...aDryGuitar.pdf

    http://www.collingsguitars.com/care/

    http://www.lowdenguitars.com/maintenance

    http://www.premierguitar.com/article...harp-fret-ends

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_ru_0DY4iQ

    That was with 10 minutes of lazy Google time. I could dig up a lot more if I put effort into it.

    I'm not trying to fight with you, Shawn. I'm just pointing out that, on this particular question of whether exposed fret ends are a common problem, you are mistaken. They are, in fact, a common problem, as shown by the information in the links above. Count yourself lucky that you have not had to deal with it. Lots of owners of guitars at all ends of the quality spectrum certainly have.

  10. #10
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    I am not entering into a into a "yes it is" "no it isn't" with you no matter how hard you try.

    This is not a common problem in my over 40 years of experience. If someone can't get their fret ends tight to less than 1/100" in manufacturing (the expansion across a fretboard), then that is a defect not a result of humidity. Have I seen a lot of rough fret ends on comodity guitars - Absolutely! That doesn't make it a humidity problem.
    Shawn

    "no trees were harmed in the creation of this message, however some electrons were temporarily inconvenienced."

    "I resent having to use my brain to do your thinking"

  11. #11
    You should believe what you want to believe, Shawn.

    For others reading, I hope the links I have included in the above posts are useful this winter.

  12. #12
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    Thank you for all the responses. I have learned a good deal. I have passed on all the info to my friend. He's trying to find a professional to do this now.

  13. #13
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    My edge file looks a lot like Teds. You have to be careful about the bevel side depending on how close the strings are to the edge. I also have standard fret files with a concave surface to round tops and ends. The one I use most is a very fine file that I ground the sides smooth and slighted rounded the edges on one side for rounding fret edges without digging into either the wood or the binding. If the tops of the frets need dressing, do that before you bevel the edges.

    Depending on where he lives, your friend might consider a humidifier in the case too. sh

  14. #14
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    I just read through this thread and it compelled me to see how my guitars have held up with humidity changes over the years. We still have the two Strats and one Ric bass. All were built in the relatively stable humidity of my basement back in Chicago and all are now in Florida where the A/C is on all summer and the house is opened up all winter. Today the humidity is 93% with temps in the 70s and it feels sticky inside.

    On one of the Strats (curly maple neck with cocobolo fretboard) I cut back the tangs and filled the tang cut in with cocobolo dust and CA glue. No measurable sign of changes due to humidity on that guitar.

    The frets on the other Strat (curly maple neck with Macassar ebony fretboard) were filed smooth and I could see the tangs are recessed a bit. The cocobolo has swelled. But the frets are still snug against the fretboard. I don't have an instrument that can accurately read the fretboard swelling but it's too small to measure with a steel ruler that reads to 64ths.

    On the bass, which has a laminated maple & Koa neck with a Macassar ebony fretboard, the same thing has occurred as above, with the frets still snug.

    I don't know how dry the air would need to be for the frets to protrude but I can see that without humidity control, the fretboard wood could eventually shrink enough to expose the ends of the fretwire. The humidity in my shop back north was around 35% when the guitars were being built, if the dehumidifier reading was accurate.

    As for filing down the protruding fretwire, I start with a file and finish with sandpaper glued to a straight edge. But that takes off some wood, too. That's not a problem for a rosewood, ebony or dark wood fretboard glued to a maple neck. But it does present a problem with a solid maple neck in that you will need to finish the newly bared wood and that may mean matching the tone of old lacquer or toned poly. If you don't apply a finish, in time the bare maple will darken with dirt and oil as it is played.

    I did a Google search for videos and found some luthiers put tape over the fretboard but I can't see how that would work. If you file down to the tape, once you take the tape off, the frets would protrude the thickness of the tape.
    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." - Mark Twain

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