Installing frets on a guitar can be a complicated and time-consuming project. Whether you are putting frets into a new guitar or replacing old frets, you must work very carefully to avoid damaging your instrument. You might need to replace frets if they are worn out, uneven or causing problems like string buzzing or poor intonation. Use step-by-step instructions with clear pictures if you are planning on installing frets on your guitar.
There are a few simple tools you'll need when installing frets; you may need some specialized tools as well. You will need wire cutters, sandpaper and a small hammer. Safety goggles are a must for protecting yourself. You can pick up specialized tools, such as flush-cutting wire nippers (instead of plain wire cutters), at a luthier supply store. You may also want to consider picking up a tool blade or air hose to clean out the fret spaces, and feeler gauges are used to measure the space between the frets.
One of the most important decisions you need to make when installing frets is which kind of fret wire to use. Most luthiers will use fret wire from a roll so they can cut the length they need for each fret. You need to get fret wire that is not too small, which can loosen from the spot and lift; also avoid fret wire that is too large, which adds too much compression of the neck. Your fret wire should have a bead or crown at the top and a thinner shank, called the "tang," that has some barbs, or studs, on it to keep the wire from slipping. Measure each piece of fret wire for the length you need, but cut about an extra 1/2-inch. You will make the wire flush with the fretboard after installation. You will also need to straighten the pieces with a fret wire-straightener or pliers.
Before installation, you should clean your fret board, sand it if necessary and wax or condition it. Put each cut piece of fret wire in the spaces and tap it into place with a small hammer; rarely will you need to use glue to hold the wires in place. Be careful not to ding the fret board as you hammer. If your fret board does not have binding, it is much easier to install frets. If it does have binding, you need to first nip a bit of the tang on each side of the wire so the binding can slip into place. You should put in one fret wire at a time.
File or snip the ends of the fret wire to be flush with the fretboard. Bevel the edges, but do not go too far; to bevel the edges, simply file them at a slight angle. When filing the edges of the fret wire, be very careful not to file the fretboard. If the fret slots were filed too deeply and the fret wire does not extend all the way down to fill the slot, you will need to use some putty to fill the hole. Match the color of the putty to that of your fretboard as closely as possible.
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