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Thread: Fret end filing

  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 2:53 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 4:09 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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    Coincidently, yesterday I was brought two guitars with protuding fret ends. The first was an I****** midrange seven string guitar with a bound neck. The second was a lower end E** six string also with a bound neck. Both electric obviously. Each were indoor guitars that were stored where the lowest humidity was about 50% rH at ~70 degrees F. The normal humidity here varies between 70-90% year round. Both had unfinished ftretboards. Both the guitars were midrange guitars (500-800$).

    The fret ends protruded inconsistantly from 0.025" to 0.010" beyond the fretboard and binding. Not all had torn through the binding (more on that in a minute). The worst frets were #'s 4,5,7,9,18,&24. This was first measured with my Starrett caliper then with my Micrometer (calibrated in September).

    Examining the guitars closely, you could see that some fret ends had penetrated the binding and others were still completely covered up. This gives clues about how these guitars were constructed (others use different sequences) that impact how the fret ends penetrate (or not) the binding. A careful examination, gives the conclusion that the fretboard with fret slots is set on the neck and then the binding ledge is cut.

    This is where the problems begin. It appears that the frets are then set. What looks like it was supposed to happen is the fret ends are trimmed (either to the edge of the fretboard or just beyond). Clearly here they were trimmed unevenly (hence the variability in measurements above) and the inconsistant penetration of the fret ends ainto the binding.. I suspect also that the fretboard and neck were not fully kiln dry when assembling and have shrunk. The binding was then set and a crown, trim, and end shape was performed. The workmanship was pretty poor (inconsistant shaped ends, poor filing /sandinding, etc). This left me to mask off and trim / file the offending ends. I also had to re-set a few frets that were proud of the fretboard.

    From both of these examples, I found that the work of trimming the fret ends prior to setting the binding was poor. They weren't trimmed to the end of the fretboard. Some were still proud. The binding when settting is set with a glue that softens the plastic are part of the adhesion process. This softened binding allows the protruding fret end to penetrate the binding.

    What do I conclude from this:

    1.) In these cases, the Humidity had nothing to do with the expansion / contraction issues and fret end roughness. (Sorry, I don't see 70% at 70 degrees as low humidity). It is also beyond reason that a humidity change would have a fret end protruding 0.025" across 2.125" (widest dimension of this fretboard). The other 20 guitars kept in the same rooms and cases were unaffected.
    2.) There is a clear lack of workmanship and precision in the manufacture of these particular instruments (inconsistant protrusion of the fret ends. I believe this to be the result of bad trimming after setting the frets.
    3.) The fret work was poorly done (frets needing to be re-set, poor trimming, and inconsistant fret end shaping).
    4.) Given that all frets protruded to at least some degree and frets had "popped", I think it likely that the fretboard was not as dry as it should have been when assembled. I believe the fretboard continued to dry and shrink after construction. The manufacturers tried to address this by sanding the neck edge after (you can see where the binding had been half cut down by sanding). Obviously, I cannot prove this as I have no assembly MC nor do I want to damage anothers' guitar to get a current MC. Still, I think it probable.
    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"

  13. #13
    I'm sure there are lots of guitars out there with less than ideal fret jobs, and from his description of his work, I am sure Shawn can improve those guitars.

    However, as I tried to demonstrate with the links I posted above, the question of protruding fret ends is not limited to guitars with bad initial fret installations or guitars built with fingerboards that have not been properly dried. It happens to lots of great and not so great guitars, due to two main factors: (1) how they are built, and (2) where they live.

    Leaving aside bound fingerboards, most fingerboards are fretted in a pretty standard way. The fret slots are cut, the fingerboard is tapered, the fingerboard is arched, the slots are deepened again (if needed, due to arching), then overly long segments of fret wire are either hammered or pressed into the fret slots. A set of end nippers is used to snip off the fret ends to be as close to flush to the fingerboard as possible. But, some excess remains sticking out. Then a pair of files just like Ted Calver's files shown above are used in sequence. the 90 degree file first grinds the fret ends flush with the side of the fingerboard, and then the angled file grinds a bevel into the top of the frets, right at the ends. If the manufacturer does good work, they also hand file each fret end to make it smooth and rounded. All of this happens before a finish is applied to the guitar. So, when the guitar leaves the manufacturer, the fret ends are flush with the fingerboard edge, and there is some finish on top of that combined (wood and metal) edge.

    Most manufacturers (the responsible ones, anyway) try very hard to control the relative humidity in their factories. Most shoot for something in the 40-45% range. Then the guitars go to live somewhere. If they go to live in places that have a winter, and where people use heaters to heat the air in their homes during the winter, then this creates the possibility that the air in that home is too dry for the guitar in the winter. Why? Because in the winter, the outside air is already less humid to begin with, and when we take that air and heat it inside our homes, we significantly lower the relative humidity level of that air. So, instead of the 40-45% relative humidity of the air at the factory, the relative humidity of the air in a heated home in the winter can get down to the teens. Prashun (our original poster) lives in New Jersey, a place with a winter, and where folks heat their homes in the winter. It is a safe bet that Prashun's friend's guitar lives in an environment that is drier than what is ideal for the guitar.
    When guitars that are built in 40-45% relative humidity go live in 10-20% relative humidity, the wood predictably reacts to the drop in relative humidity. It shrinks across the grain a little bit. It only takes a little bit for the fret ends to protrude a bit and feel sharp. Hence, all of the manufacturer warnings and other care guides out there that talk about keeping your guitar properly humidified. Many of those guides talk specifically about protruding fret ends as being one of the consequences of letting the guitar live in too dry of an environment.

    I am sorry that Shawn and I are talking past each other, and as I said, I am sure there are guitars out there with the problems he describes. I just think it is important, particularly now that it is winter, that folks understand that Proshun's friend's guitar is not the only one that is at risk from air that is too dry. If you have an acoustic guitar, there are bigger problems that can occur than mere jagged fret ends: The top and/or the fingerboard can crack. So, please, for the sake of the guitars you love, keep them humidified in the winter months.

  14. #14
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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.

  15. #15
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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

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