View Full Version : Having trouble installing frets

07-23-2014, 04:28 AM
So, I've been making a uke. It's gone really well, up until this fret installation. I got a stewmac fret saw and fretwire. Tried sawing and hammering them in. On a practice piece of pine, they went in great, really deep. However, on my oak fretboard, they really didn't want to seat properly, and I had to end up gluing several in.

I finally got them all in, and they are so tall it throws the intonation off!

What have I done wrong, you think? I think the frets just didn't go far enough in. But why? There's a little curve on the fretobard, but I tried overbending the fretwire before hammering in.

Thanks in advance. It's just really frustrating.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
07-23-2014, 04:40 AM
No fret wire is high enough to totally ruin intonation, assuming they are in correctly.

Let me guess, is it a soprano size?

Id say you didn't allow for enough compensation.

Or your fret sawing was off, which is very easy to do.

or both

07-23-2014, 05:40 AM
I'm thinking I didn't get them in correctly. Is installing frets something that's easy to mess up, especially the first time? The reason I think they are in wrong is because i can "bend" a note by pressing down harder in between frets.

07-23-2014, 05:42 AM
What about leveling the frets to the proper radius of the board then crowning them. I am new to this but what I learned is after they are in you need to level them and then re-crown them so all frets are the same height down the board. Great videos on the Stew Mac site and the You Tube

07-23-2014, 06:17 AM
I WAS hammering in with a plastic/rubber mallet directly on the frets. Should I be using a block of wood, like people show in youtube videos? Will that seat them more evenly/better?

07-23-2014, 06:30 AM
There are presses, blocks and just tapping them in. Heres a video that gave me the confidence to do them. Dixie is low budget and laid back.

07-23-2014, 06:54 AM
Ok. Thanks! I'm going to take off the old fretboard and start anew.

07-23-2014, 07:09 AM

This forum is done but there are still a couple of good things here like this beveling file, easy to make and works.

Bruce Sexauer
07-23-2014, 07:14 AM
I tap my frets in and have done so for 45 years. I use the standard supply house mallet with a plastic face and a brass face. I use only the brass face. I back the neck up with a chunk of lead wrapped in tape to protect me from pollution.

If you are sharpening your notes you are pushing too hard. There are frets with a variety of crown heights and .040 is the max for those with average left hand control. .030 is pretty much the lower limit.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
07-23-2014, 03:22 PM
The reason I think they are in wrong is because i can "bend" a note by pressing down harder in between frets.

You didn't mention what kind of fret wire you're using but it sounds like it might be tot big/high for ukulele. Many of us are happy with StewMac #764 wire. Are the frets seated flush with the top of the board? Are your slots deep enough for the size tang you are using?

07-23-2014, 05:11 PM
They are the stewmac Narrow/Low (the smallest size they have). Ok, when the fret is flush, do you mean the bottom of the circle part is touching the fretboard, or the middle? Does the crown get embedded halfway through the fretboard?

Oh, I think part of the problem was an uneven (belt-sanded) fretboard and not bending the fretwire.

Thanks for all the help.

07-25-2014, 09:35 PM
IME, the StewMac uke wire has really oversize tang/barbs. I use their slotting saw, and have to grind down the barbs on all fretwires to some extent. Evo gold guitar wire requires the least grinding, and SM uke requires the most. Actually, I had to grind INVERSE barbs on my last uke. The bare tang was a nice snug fit for the slots, and any amount of barb sticking up was requiring excessive force with the hammer. So I used a dremel cutoff wheel to create little divots where each barb was, after which I could tap them in with gentle force. Fill the slot with hide glue and rub some along the tang to lock into the divots.

07-26-2014, 05:29 AM
Sounds like your fret slots were too narrow for the wire. I've had that happen to me with different saws or different woods. The tang should go into the slot with a light tap and a good blow after to fully seat it. If you really have to pound on it or they bounce out of the slot, then you're too tight. Take another pass through the slots with the saw to open them up some or thin your fret wire somehow.

07-27-2014, 03:50 AM
Ok, I got the frets in successfully. Here's my current problem now: the frets are pretty well in tune with one another, but they are all slightly sharp when compared to the open string.

Does this have to do with "compensation"?

07-27-2014, 04:31 AM
Perhaps. If all the frets are in tune with eachother, and only the open string is flat, that would mean the nut-to-1st fret distance is too long. Did you slot the board yourself? There's actually a small amount of nut compensation built into most fingerboards, created by marking a zero fret and sawing all the way through the board there. Effectively shortens the nut-to-1st distance by half the slot width, thus sharpening the open note just a touch.

Try gluing an additional piece of bone/wood/whatever to the front of the nut while it's in place, creating a sort of ledge that reaches over the fingerboard, moving the string ends closer to the 1st fret. Then you can file it back individually for each string to really dial it in. Fatter strings need more shortening than thinner strings (opposite of saddle compensation, where fatter strings need more lengthening). But the difference is small enough that most stringed instruments just use a straight nut and call it close enough.

07-27-2014, 05:16 AM
Ok, I got the frets in successfully. Here's my current problem now: the frets are pretty well in tune with one another, but they are all slightly sharp when compared to the open string.

Does this have to do with "compensation"?
It sounds like you have an intonation problem. It may be that the saddle is not in the correct location. It may need to be further from the neck, increasing the vibrating length of string.

Another possibility is that the action is too high at the nut, causing you to pull all the notes sharp because you have to press down so far to fret notes. An easy way to check the action at the nut is to fret each string at the third fret. The space between the string and the first fret should be minuscule while the string is fretted higher up. You should just barely be able to comfortably slip a sheet of paper between the string and the fret. If the string is sitting high off the first fret when fretted at the third, the action is too high at the nut. If all strings are high and the slots are already appropriately deep, the base of the nut can be sanded down to accomplish this. Otherwise, you can deepen the slots as needed with appropriately sized files.

I'd check the nut action first, then address the saddle if there's still a problem.

07-27-2014, 06:16 AM
Maybe i have a similar problems before when installing the frets. There are some solution i found..
1. The fret slots (saw) are not wide enough, so i change my saw with a lil but wider one, so it fits.
2. I have used a rubber mallet, and its not a good idea i think. It bounce back, but the fret didn't drop to the narrow slots. You need a harder mallet, use a plastic or a brass maybe. For me, i'm using a regular iron mallet, and use a piece of hard wood (rosewood/ebony)between the fret and the mallet. Its works well for me.

About the intonation, ther is maybe some problems in distance of every frets, or maybe the sadle position are in the wrong place alittle bit..