Neck (Pt. 5)
Now I am ready to install the frets. In cross-section, fret wire is T-shaped. The vertical part of the T has nubs sticking out from it and these serve to hold the fret wire firmly in the slot that was sawn into the fretboard. I get fretwire by the pound, which is enough for 15 or 20 guitars. It comes in straight, 2 foot lengths. After cleaning it, I roll a length through a press to induce a curve which has a tighter radius than the curve on the fretboard. This makes the installation a bit easier.
Then the frets are cut to a few millimeters longer than each of the fret slots. I arrange them in a very high-tech scrap of wood with numbered holes.
The frets are then pounded into the fretboard with a brass hammer. It doesn’t take too much effort to seat them properly, especially into a rosewood board. The brass hammer head is soft, so there is less danger of it denting the surface of the fretwire than if I were using a steel hammer.
After all of the frets are seated, their edges are filed flush with the sides of the fretboard. I use both a free-standing file and a file that I inserted into a 45 degree slot in a block of wood.
Next the top surfaces of the frets are scraped with a very flat, very fine stone. This eliminates any small high spots and ensures that all of the frets are perfectly level–an essential feature for playing without fret buzzes.
After leveling, some of the frets can have a more broad and flat face than I or any player would want, so each fret is carefully re-crowned with a file. A protective strip of sheet metal ensures that the fretboard won’t be damaged in this process.
Next, the corners of the frets are rounded off with a quarter-round file. This makes the fretboard feel much more comfortable than if the corners were left sharp.
The last part of the fret installation is polishing the frets and fretboard. This is done with a series of progressively more fine sandpaper-320, 400 and 600 grit-followed by 0000 steel wool.
Good fret work is essential to having a good guitar. I have followed this exact same process on almost 300 of my own instruments, plus a lot of others than needed refretting. This is a time-consuming part of the construction, but it is time well spent. The best looking guitar in the world is nothing more than a piece of art if it doesn’t play properly.