View Full Version : Dressing the Frets

09-10-2010, 03:20 PM
Who here has done it?

I saw a Youtube video about how a guitar shop does it and it only seemed to cause me more questions.

What are the objectives?
1) straight edges across all the frets?
2) making the fret and fret spacing smooth and clean?
3) putting a shape on a fret?
4) cleaning off the fret?
5) putting a gliding "waxy" film on the fret and board?

Hey, I am new to strings so if anything I post is wrong, let me know.

Is there a ukulele dress the frets video?

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
09-10-2010, 04:02 PM
Uneven frets are one of the most common sources of trouble and frustration with any stringed instrument. The main reasons for re dressing the frets are to level any uneven fret height and to reduce any sharp fret ends. Both of these will dramatically affect comfort and playability. Fret dressing usually involves filing the height of all the frets evenly, followed by re crowning of the tops of the frets. The ends of the frets often need to be filed flush with the sides of the fret board and the very ends of the frets themselves need to be rounded off. Finally, the frets are polished and the wooden finger board is treated with a dressing of some sort to prevent the wood from drying out.
At the end of the fret dressing, the action is often reset to suit the player's preference. This may involve adjusting the nut and/or saddle. Often, the action on an ukulele is set uncomfortably high in order to compensate for poor fret leveling and dressing.
Done right, fret work is an acquired skill. You can easily screw things up if you don't know what you're doing! A video would certainly help but it won't take the place of experience. Practice on a clunker if you want to attempt it yourself.
Good luck.

09-10-2010, 04:40 PM
Thanks Chuck,

I have lots of clunkers because I do like to tinker around on the cheapies and that makes it easier for me to have confidence on my midlevel ukes.

I've seen where the fretboard is taped and I've taped fretboard to paint some of the clunkers and pangers. In the video, the guy says the frets have to be devoid of tape adhesive that traps dirt and dust and can put oily finish on the fret. That requires a solvents. Do solvents possibly damage the wood on the fretboard if its used to clean the frets.

To check the level, they used a steel plate of about 6 inches length and he would tap it at the end of checking multiple frets. It seems to me 3 frets is what would be used to check the eveness and you'd want to check it at all the string positions

In the video, he doesn't check the eveness of each fret. With harmonicas, I can look into the spacing with a bright light behind it and check the offset and straightness. It seems like a plate test ACROSS the length of the fret would be important too. Or am I mistaken.

I've never worked with frets. I don't know how they can be deformed during the manufacturing process or from temperature and playing effects.

His other dressing tools included sand paper of various sizing, files, and steel wool and a razor blade.

so linseed oil is used on the fretboard?

THen that waxy coating is used on the fret and the strings (and on top the fret space too as it doesn't hurt it)?

I ask these questions now so that when I finally might have the playing skills to buy high end ukes, then I might know how to talk to the luthier or company rep.

Lastly, Do companies have a "blue card" of quality checks during manufacture such as might be required by ISO standards?

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
09-10-2010, 05:18 PM
I can't comment on the video since I don't know who you are referring to. Just because someone put a video on the Internet on how they dress frets doesn't mean it's the only way or even a good way of doing it. It's the Internet after all, believe what you will. If you are serious about the subject, invest (it's expensive) in the Stewart McDonald video. It's a double video that covers just about every aspect of fretting and dressing. It'll give you an idea of how wide the scope of this subject is. I can't imagine trying to show someone how to do it in just a few minutes. maybe that's only my shortcoming.
But to answer your questions, I check height clearance using two precision straight edges from Stewart McDonald. One is a small rocker that spans three frets or so, the other is 18" long. As you might guess, these are expensive as well--$45 or so. But credit cards and drug store rulers just don't cut it when doing a fret job; they don't have the precision required. I also use a commercially prepared finger board dressing but Howard's Wax and Feed (from Home depot) works well too. It's only function is to clean and preserve the wood and to keep it changes in it to a minimum (drying out, cracking, warping, etc.) Oh, and it makes it look purdy too.
Just my opinion. Good luck.

09-10-2010, 07:39 PM
Excellent. Thanks.

I'll look into the video(s).

Some people might say. "just concentrate on the music" but... I guess I'm not built that way. haha.

09-13-2010, 08:23 AM
Unless the instrument is badly fretted when it is bought, I cant see why you would ever need to dress frets on a uke. Fret dressing is needed on guitars every so often because of the wear that steel strings cause- uneven wear can lead to intonation probs and buzzing.

For a uke that already works well, I very much doubt loose tension nylon strings are gonna cause any wear on metal frets.

09-13-2010, 08:35 AM
Stay well clear my friend

09-13-2010, 08:52 AM
Spooke, Are you saying that dressing the frets would only lead to the dark side?

I have this sneaking suspicion that a ukulele build is in my future. haha.

But another aspect is: Some companies have services to check the builds before they sell it. I guess I am curious about what is part of that service.