Homemade Frets for a Guitar

by Chip Marsden

The frets on a guitar are the strips of wire spaced out down the length of the fretboard. Holding down a string between two frets is how players create specific notes. The closer the fret you're holding the string down on, the lower the note will be. Installing frets in a guitar fretboard is a time-consuming process that requires some experience and expertise to do well.

Fretwire

Frets begin as long strips of fretwire, which can be purchased from specialty luthier shops. Fretwire is usually a rounded dome-shaped metal wire with a thin "tang" underneath. The rounded part of the wire sits on top of the fretboard, and the tang snugly sits down in the fret slot and holds the fret in place. No glues are needed if your frets are seated securely.

Hammering Frets

The fretwire is cut down to approximate size with simple wire cutters, with a little bit of extra length left to prevent having frets that are too short. The frets can either be hammered into the fret slots using a small hammer or pressed into place using a specialty fret press tool.

Smoothing Edges

Once the frets are seated securely, the fret edges have to be trimmed down to be smooth and level with the fretboard edges. This prevents players from snagging their hands on excess fretwire. A pair of rounded flat-top wire cutters can get the fretwire close to the edges, but the final smoothing must be done with a file or sandpaper.

Fret Leveling

The tops of the frets are gauged to see if they're level. Level frets are important parts of an instrument's overall playability. If they're not level, they can be sanded level using a long sanding block. If they are sanded in this fashion, though, they will lose their rounded tops, but can be re-crowned using a special crowning file. Once the frets are level and have a nice crown, the ends are usually beveled inward. There are special files for this job, but basic sanding sponges can be used by skilled hands to similar effect.

About the Author

Based in Virginia, Chip Marsden has been a writer for more than eight years. He has covered film, politics and culture for regional newspapers and online publications. Marsden holds a B.A. in theater arts with a concentration in performance.

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