If you have buzzing frets, it’s likely that the heights of the frets are not even. This can be solved by a fret leveling or fret dressing job.
It’s normally a task only done by experienced luthiers but in fact it is not that difficult to do. So follow the instructions below and you can get some amazing results. Only, don’t try this on a valuable guitar. A guitar kit is an excellent object to practice on.
Another thing, I love to combine a fret level with a nut replacement for even better. And after the fret leveling you need to do a proper set-up.
Well, what do we need?
- A long straight edge
- Masking tape
- Self adhesive sand paper
- A leveling block
- A quarter round fret file
- Sand paper in grids 240, 600, 1000 and 1500 or comparable values
- Scratch remover and rubbing compound
First step is to remove the neck from the body so you need to remove the strings and unscrew the neck. If the neck is glued in, remove the strings and cover the pick ups with masking tape. The pick ups contain magnets and the magnets will attract the dust from frets when you are leveling them.
When you want to replace the nut as well, this is the best moment to remove the nut. Most of the time it’s enough to hit the nut from the fret board side with the leveling block. It will come off easily. Another way is to saw the nut in half over the length and then use a plier to crack the nut.
Next step is most important, you have to make the neck dead straight. By adjusting the truss rod you can make the neck straight. Use a straight edge to check. It’s very important that the neck becomes 100% straight otherwise you can ruin your neck and the only way to fix it is doing a re-fret. Sometimes I even let the neck rest for a day because the wood needs time to settle.
So your neck is straight. Now we have to put masking tape between the frets. This is a super boring job. By sticking a big piece of masking tape on a metal ruler and cut it with an xacto knife and another ruler to retrieve the correct width.
Make sure that the tape fits well, you must not be able to see any fret board.
Now the real work starts. Put the self adhesive sanding paper on the levelling block. Put the levelling block on the frets and move he block up and downwards the neck without pushing. Please don’t push, the levelling block is already heavy enough to apply enough pressure. Just go up and downwards and when you have done an up/downwards stroke move to the left or right.
The idea is that you make all frets the same height. Some frets will be more sanded off, some less. But every fret needs to be touched by the sandpaper. So continue going up/down and left/right until every fret has been touched over the length of the fret.
It looks scary sometimes to see how some frets are sanded away, they really become ‘square’ but it’s normal.
After you are finished, the frets all have the same height and need to be put back in shape. For this you need the quarter fret file. The idea is that you file the fret back into shape but leave the top of the fret untouched. By doing this you are sure all the frets keep the same height.
By looking at the frets from the top you can see if the top of the frets is untouched.
So the fret sides are in shape, now you need to round the top of the fret. Get some 600 grid sandpaper and rub it over the frets over the whole lenght of the fretboard. Really use some pressure to get a nice rounded top.
Continue this sanding with higher grids. Make sure that you remove all scratches by sanding. If a scratch won’t go away go back to a lower grid of sandpaper.
After sanding with 1500 grid you must use the polishing and rubbing compounds to remove the last scratches. To speed this up I like to use a dremel with a brush.
Now you can remove the masking tape from the neck and your fret job is done!
One thing, I found out that after installing the neck and doing a set-up, I hardly had to adjust the neck. Or in fact, I almost never do a truss rod adjustment after a levelling job. The necks I treated are the best playable necks I’ve ever had. The action is super low, no buzz and perfect sustain.