Removing the frets on an electric guitar is a fairly easy and common repair. Before I explain how to remove the frets from you guitar, I think it is important to discuss some reasons why frets need to be removed.
There are many reasons why you will need to remove or replace your guitar frets. Over time frets get worn down from the constant friction of the strings. You can tell that your frets are worn down when you pull the strings off to the side and you can see divots in the frets where the strings usually are. The divots can be leveled out and your frets will play like new again; however, you can only level and dress your frets so many times until there isn't enought material left on the frets. In this instance, the frets are so worn down that they need to be replaced.
Another reason to replace a fret is because it might be damaged. Dropping a guitar on the ground or on another guitar can hit a fret and put a large dent in it. It will be easier to replace this fret than to try to level all the frets down to the dented fret's height.
One reason a fret might need to be removed is that the fret is improperly seated in the fret slot. Usually, an improperly seated fret causes string buzzing. You can tell whether your fret is not seated properly by looking at the base of the crown and the fretboard. There should be no space between the two. The base of the crown should sit flat against the fretboard. Usually, improperly seated frets are caused by faulty installation. The fret slot might not be deep enough for the fret tang or the fret might not be pressed in the fret slot far enough. Regardless the cause of the improperly seated fret, it needs to be removed and seated in the fret slot properly.
Guitar frets are usually glued into the fret slot. Some manufacturer have made their fret slots so tight that the fret does not need glue to stay in the slot, but the vast majority of manufacturers use some kind of glue to hold the frets in place. It is important to know what kind of guitar you are removing the frets on. Different guitar manufacturers have installed frets differently over the years. For instance, early Fender guitars had their frets slid in the fretboard side ways rather than pressing the frets straight down into the slot. This is important to know because if you try to pull a sideways Fender guitar fret straight out, you will probably take some of the fretboard off with the fret. I will go through the basic steps to removing different styles of frets on the following electric guitars:
As I stated previously, early Fender guitars had their frets pushed in from the side of the fretboard. Most likely, Fender did this because he didn't have to use glue to hold the frets in place. Sliding the frets in from the side creates notches in the fret slot that make it almost impossible to pull straight out of the fretboard with normal wear. The only problem with installing frets this way is that it is a pain to remove the frets for repairs. Modern Fender frets are pressed straight into the fretboard. So if you have a modern Fender guitar, you will not need to slide the frets out of the fretboard sideways. Here are a few steps to removing frets from an early Fender guitar.
Modern Fender guitars have their frets pressed straight into the fretboard. You do not have to worry about driving the frets out sideways. Also, modern Fender guitars usually use glue to hold their frets in place, so you will have to heat up the glue. Here are the steps to removing the frets on a modern Fender guitar.
Gibson guitars can be more complicated to remove and replace frets than Fender guitars. Many Gibson guitars have had bound fretboards over the years. In addition, many Gibson guitars have had nips on their fretboard binding. For more information about nips on fretboard binding, see the fretboard binding nips page. Bound fretboards look nicer, but they also create much more work when it comes to re-fretting the guitar. Here are a few basic steps on how to remove frets from a fretboard with binding.
Usually on bound fretboards, the fret tangs are cut just shy of the binding and the fret crowns are laid on top of the fretboard binding. To remove a fret like this, follow the same steps as the modern Fender guitars only do not use a soldering gun. Since most Gibson guitars have set necks or glued necks, you cannot remove the neck to repair the frets. You do not want to use a soldering gun to heat the frets on an electric guitar neck that is still attached to the electric guitar body. It can damage the pickups. Here are the steps to removing frets from a Gibson guitar with a bound fretboard.
Many vintage and modern Gibson guitars have "nips" on their fretboard binding. These nips are raised portions of the binding that mimic the edge of the fret lying on top of the binding. Needless to say, it is a pain to deal with these nips. You should keep them on your guitar. Do not file them down or cut them off; it will destroy the value of your guitar. Removing a fret with nips on the fretboard binding follows the same set of instructions as a Gibson guitar with a bound fretboard. Just be careful not to damage the nips as you pull the fret out of the slot with the flush ground end nippers.
Many times electric guitars will have lacquer sprayed on their fretboards. Most often, these fretboards are made out of maple. The frets are usually installed before the lacquer is sprayed on the fretboard. This means the frets will also be strayed with lacquer. If you follow the same steps that I mentioned above to remove these frets, the lacquer will chip and crack on both the fretboard and the neck. In order to remove these frets, take an X-acto knife and score the lacquer all around the base of the fret. Scoring the lacquer will help prevent chipping when the frets are removed. Follow the same instructions that I mentioned above after you score the lacquer. Be careful with the flush ground end nippers, as you can still chip the lacquer with these. For more instructions on how to install guitar frets on a maple fretboard, see the installing frets on a maple fretboard page.