How to Fret an Electric Guitar.

Now that you have removed the frets, chosen a new fret wire, and prepped the new frets, you are ready to install the new frets in your electric guitar. If you don't already have your guitar clamped down, you should do so now. You can clamp it down the same way I discussed in my article about fret dressing. It is very important that you have your neck supported in several different places once your guitar is clamped down. I like to have the whole neck supported by an underlying board. The supports help absorb the pressure of pressing or hammering the frets into the fretboard. You do not want the neck joint, neck, or body to absorb all of that impact. That is why the supports underneath the neck are so important. After you get your guitar properly clamped and your neck properly supported, you are ready to install the frets. Here are some basic steps to installing new frets on your electric guitar.

Wax the Fretboard.

Before you start installing the new frets, you will want to rub wax on the fretboard. I use Dark Minwax Paste Finishing Wax. The wax prevents the glue from drying and hardening on the fretboard. Put some wax on a paper towel and rub it on the fretboard. Try to get as little wax in the fret slots as possible. After you have applied the wax on the fretboard, clean the fret slots with a curved X-acto knife. Try to get as much of the wax out of the fret slots as possible. Note: You only need to wax unfinished fretboards.

Apply the Glue.

Unfinished Fretboards.

On an unfinished fretboard, usually made of ebony or rosewood, run a bead of cyanoacrylate glue or super-glue into the fret slot. It does not take a large amount of super glue to hold a fret in place--just run a bead across the top of the fret slot. The glue will seep down into the slot. I like to use Satellite City Super Glue. Do not let this glue sit in the fret slot for very long before you start pressing in the fret. Only put the glue on one fret slot at a time. Press the fret into the slot immediately after you have applied the glue.

Finished Fretboards.

On fretboards finished with lacquer, usually made out of maple, run a bead of wood glue or white glue into the fret slot. Use a damp paper towel to push the glue into the fret slot and wipe off the excess wood glue. I like to use Tite bond, but any wood glue will work. DO NOT use super glue on a finished fret board. Super glue can cause problems with the finish and be difficult to remove. Again, do not let this glue sit in the fret slot for very long before you start pressing in the fret. Only put the glue on one fret slot at a time. Press the fret into the slot immediately after you have applied the glue.

Press the Fret in the Slot.

Next, grab the fret out of the numbered fret block and place it in the fret slot. You can buy a fret press to press your frets into the fretboard or you can use a fret hammer. With a fret press, take a fretting hammer and lightly hammer in both sides of the fret into the fret slot. You can then press the fret in with the fret press. If you don't have a fret press, you can just use a fret hammer. The same concept applies. Start both edges of the fret in the slot and tap your way across the fret. You will need to hit the fret hard enough to make sure it is seated in the slot properly. The bottom of the fret crown should be touching the fretboard all the way across. Do not hit the fret too hard with your hammer though. You can dent or bend the fret and it will need to be replaced.

Repeat this process for each Fret.

Repeat all of these steps until all of the frets are installed. After you have the frets installed, you can slightly hammer down the edges of the frets that are hanging off the fretboard. This will help the frets to grab the fretboard easier.

Remove Excess Glue.

On both unfinished and finished fretboards, you can take a dull chisel and scrape the excess glue off of the fretboard before it dries. Once all the frets are installed on an unfinished fretboard, you can spray the fretboard with an accelerator to speed up the cure time of the super glue. You can also use a razor blade to scrape the wax off of the unfinished fretboard.

Nip the Fret Ends.

After you have removed the excess glue, you can grab a different guitar and sit down to play for a while. The glue on the recently installed frets should dry for approximately two to three hours. After the glue has dried, you can take your end nippers and cut the ends of the frets that are hanging over the edge of the fretboard.

File the Fret Ends.

Once the fret ends have been cut, you can file in the edges, so they are level with the edge of the fretboard or fretboard binding. File downward if you are using a standard file. Filing upward can cause the fret ends to come loose. I like to use a fret end file. This special file is simply a file glued onto the side of a piece of wood. You can make one yourself or buy one from Stew Mac or Luthier Mercantile, Inc. See the picture below (picture coming soon). I run this file against the fret ends parallel with the fretboard. Every one or two passes I stop and feel the fret ends to see if they are flush with the fretboard or fretboard binding. See the fret end file page for instructions on how to make your own fret end file.

Bevel the Fret Ends.

Now that the frets are filed in smooth against the side of the fretboard, you can bevel the edges of the frets. Use a fret beveling file to place a uniform 35-degree bevel on the edges of the fret ends. The bevel takes the sharp edge off the frets and makes the guitar more comfortable to play. A fret bevel file is a file that is placed in the edge of a piece of wood or plastic at a 35-degree angle. Half of the file sticks out of the wood or plastic and half of the file is secured in the wood or plastic. Simply take the fret bevel file and place the wood or plastic flat on top of the frets with the file up against the fret ends. Run the file along the fretboard until all the frets have a uniform 35-degree bevel. You can make a fret beveling file yourself or purchase one from Stew Mac or Luthier Mercantile, Inc. Fret beveling files are fairly easy to make. I prefer to make mine rather than buying one. See the fret beveling file page for instructions on how to make your own fret beveling file.

Remove the Burr on the Beveled Fret Ends.

The fret beveling file usually leaves a burr around the bevel of the frets. Use a three corner file to remove the burr on the edge of the bevels. File the burr lightly. There is no need to take off more material than necessary. Next, sand the fret ends with sandpaper. Use 320-grit, 600-grit, 800-grit, and 1,000-grit sandpaper.

Dress the Frets.

Now that the frets are fully installed in the fretboard, you can level and dress the frets. For step-by-step instructions on how to dress the frets on your electric guitar, see the electric guitar fret dressing page.

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