There are many different styles of electric guitar fretboards, frets, and necks. Each style of electric guitar will have a slightly different process for fretting the neck. Obviously before you fret an electric guitar, you will need to remove the frets in the fretboard. For instructions on how to remove electric guitar frets, see the electric guitar fret removal page.
As discussed on the fretboard binding page and the fret removal page, binding is a strip of material that lines the outside of the fretboard. The fretboard binding hides the fret ends and creates a decorative border around the fretboard. Here are the steps to fretting an electric guitar with a bound fretboard.
After the frets have been removed from the fretboard, you will need to clean the frets slots. Take a fret slot saw like the one shown below (picture coming soon) and lightly saw out the glue that is left in the fret slot. Notice that the saw has a gap in between the two saw blades. This gap is left in the saw for the binding on the fretboard. A traditional saw would cut straight through the binding. As I said, lightly saw out the dried glue. You don't want to make the slot any deeper; you just want to clean it out. Once you have cleaned the slot with the saw, you can take a curved X-acto knife and scrape out the sawdust. Be careful not to saw or scrape into the fretboard binding. If the glue is extremely tough, you can use a dremel tool with a small .023" bit to route out the excess dried glue.
Once you have the fret slots cleaned out, you will need to figure out what style of frets you want to install. Choosing electric guitar fret wire can be kind of complicated. If you are installing frets for the first time, you probably want to install the same style of frets that you just removed from your guitar. You may also want to change the fret wire that is on your guitar to better suit your playing style. Either way, you will need to know a little background on fret wire and what is the best size and style to use. I have written an entire article of choosing fret wire. Please see the how to choose electric guitar fret wire page for more details.
First, you will need to measure the radius of your fretboard. You can do this by taking a radius gauge and placing it on you fretboard. The correct radius gauge will sit flush on the top of the fretboard and not allow light through the gap between the gauge and the fretboard. Second, take a fret wire bender and bend the fret wire to a radius slightly tighter than the radius of the fretboard. If you make the radius of the frets a little tighter than the radius of the fretboard, the frets will be able to dig into the fret slots better. Run the fret wire through the fret wire bender and check the fret wire with the same radius gauge you used to check the radius of the fretboard. Slightly bend the fret wire with each pass through the fret wire bender until it has a slightly tighter radius than your fretboard. You don't want to bend the fret wire too much. It is difficult to unbend. For more information about how to bend fret wire, please see the how to bend fret wire page.
Using your end nippers, cut each piece of fret wire to about 1/4" bigger than the fretboard where it is to be installed. You want the fret wire to have about 1/8" extra on both sides of the fretboard when you install it. After you cut a piece of fret wire for a particular fret, label it. You want to cut the fret wire for specific frets. Each piece of fret wire will be a little different from the rest. I like to use a numbered fret block. Please see the example below (picture coming soon). I have drilled and numbered holes in a block of wood for the fret wire to sit in. The fret block helps me keep my custom fret wire in order easily.
The fret tang needs to be cut off on the edges of the fret wire to leave room for the fretboard binding. Unlike the fret bead or crown that covers the entire distance of the fretboard, the fret tang only covers the distance of the fret slot. There are several ways to nip the tang off of your fret wire. The easiest way is to buy a set of fret tang nippers. You can easily place the fret wire in the tang nippers and the nippers shear off the tang perfectly. If you do not want to spend $50.00 on a set of fret tang nippers, you can just file off the tang with a safe file. Personally, I would just buy the tang nippers. They are a good investment. If you plan on doing any work on frets, they will pay for themselves with the time that you save using them. Learn more about fret tang nippers on the fret tang nipper page.
Nip the tang off of one end on each of the pieces of fret wire about 1/8" in from the edge of the fret wire. Then place the fret wire back in the fret block keeping the fret wire in order. Start fitting the frets that are closest to the body with their fret slots. To fit the fret wire to the fret slot, take a piece of fret wire and place the side of the fret wire that has the tang removed into its fret slot. Push it snuggly up against the fretboard binding. Mark the other end of the fret tang where it needs to be nipped. You can use the studs on the sides of the fret tangs as a guide for how much tang needs to be removed. There should only be between .025" - .050" gap from the end of the fret tang to the inside of the fretboard binding. DO NOT cut the tang too short. This will cause loose fret ends in the future. If you accidentally cut the tangs too short, use that fret for a smaller fret closer to the nut. Once you have nipped the fret tangs to the appropriate length, place them back in the fret block, keeping them in order.
Whether you use a pair of fret tang nippers or you file the fret tangs down with a safe file, make sure that all of the fret tang is gone on parts that you nipped off. You want the bottom of the fret bead or crown to be smooth and fit flush on the top of the fretboard binding.
Now you are ready to install the frets on your guitar. For instructions on how to install the frets on your electric guitar, see the how to install frets on an electric guitar page.