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  1. #1
    Les Paul Forum Member Soulweb's Avatar
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    Maple fretboard refret for noob

    Hey all. I know this is the Les Paul tech area, but I figured I might get some good advice in here. Here is my quandry...

    I have an opportunity to acquire a guitar. It's a hodge-podge strat. Body may or may not be Fender. All electronics and pickups were installed by Seymour Duncan back in the 80's. The neck is custom built non-Fender maple fretboard neck. I want to say it's Glendale (same manufacturer of the hardware) but I forget.

    Why am I enamored with this guitar? It belongs to a very good friend/mentor of mine. The guitar has toured the world with a fairly well known blues band. Has shared the stage with everyone from Hubert Sumlin, to BB King, to Albert King, Albert Collins, ...the list of roots blues luminaries is quite long. So I really want to keep the neck if possible.

    The owner of the guitar played this guitar until the frets were nearly flat. It frets out on bends. It buzzes. Simply put, the frets are gone. Was played well longer one would imagine it could have been.

    These days the strat that's on album covers and videos is just banging around a house. Never in a case. Never played.

    A year ago, when the owner needed money, he offered it to me. I told him I could never take it away from him. ...Now that I'm moving half a country away and won't have my weekly jams with him I'm getting sentimental. I know that the strat would mean far more to me than it does to him.

    So...

    I want to refret the neck. I have never refret a guitar, but I have built all but the neck of a couple of teles. I have been doing set up work for everyone from friends and family to some practicing musicians who somehow know me. I have built a few chessboards, clocks, music boxes, etc. Not that it's at all similar, but it does say that I can read and follow instructions. I have patience and I know how to measure 6 times to cut once.

    I have always wanted to learn how to refret a guitar.

    I have read that maple fretboards in particular are a real pain in the ass. Not that they are more difficult, but they are far more labor intensive due in large part to the finished fretboard (vs. unfinished rosewood or ebony). I am willing to refinish the whole neck to avoid the chipping issues involved with removing the frets.

    That's it. I know this is a really open-ended question. Is this something I can try myself without too much risk beyond a considerable investment in time? Is it true that maple necks really shouldn't be refret and instead, a new neck is best? Are there people out there that are competent and capable of refretting maple necks or is it just something only done for professional musicians?

    Any and all advice is welcome. I don't know if it's just stupid to attempt this job on my own. Or if it's even worth sending out to have someone else refret it. The guitar itself has seen the world and been on stage with most of my guitar heroes. I'd hate to have to replace the most intimate part of the guitar (the neck) as it just wouldn't be the same.

  2. #2
    Les Paul Forum Member latestarter's Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    My experience, in less than a minute;
    - If the neck is a Fender from the 70's push the frets out from the side. Lots on the web about this.
    - If the frets were compressed or hammered in, take them out from the top carefully using proper ground down pliers.
    - Clean the slots using a proper width saw. Maple is hard and less forgiving if the tangs are wider than the slots.
    - Some fret boards chip, no matter how careful you are.
    - Undercut each tang and fill the end in with supa glue (add maple dust if you want).
    - The refin side is easy (mask off at the side edge of the fretboard), but use very thin masking tape over each fret top to save you time when the final crown and polish happens.
    - Buff the finish carefully once done.
    Otherwise known as Grant.

  3. #3
    Les Paul Forum Member CDTGuitar's Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    I am a huge advocate of DIY; however,

    to do a refret on your own just once would require more $$$ spent on tools (pliers, files, press), fretwire, time, and potential damage than the average price of a refret with a good luthier. Also, a refret almost always requires a new nut, especially if you said this one has been played down to nil. So factor that in as well.

    (That being said, in terms of speed, unbound Fender necks are-in my experience-the easiest to refret.)

    My $0.02.
    Last edited by CDTGuitar; 07-14-15 at 07:41 PM. Reason: Clarify point

    Full Disclosure: Part-time tech and photographer at Glaser Instruments, Nashville, TN
    Experience with repair, modifications, guitar history, Telecasters, and of course Les Pauls!

  4. #4
    Les Paul Forum Member J.D.'s Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    Refrets without nibs aren't too hard. I would suggest you read up and do a little research on tools and techniques. I've corrected enough "pro" refrets and bad fretwork I could write a book. Not saying a good pro can't do this, they certainly can, but that might require sending it out and/or shelling out a good chunk of dough.

  5. #5
    All Access/Backstage Pass Wilko's Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    I find these to be very simple to do. I've done a few without refinishing and had zero trouble. This to save the "mojo" on guitars that were well bonded to their owners.

    I made some my own tools that do the bulk of the work:

    Small end snips ground flat and sharp work well to remove frets and trim fret ends.

    triangle file with the edges ground off for fret end and crowning by hand.

    Heat the frets well with a soldering iron and they lift right out.

  6. #6
    Les Paul Forum Member Soulweb's Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    Thanks for all the truly great advice.

    First, the neck isn't a Fender. it's a custom made neck. By whom? I'm not sure. The name is on the headstock, but the guitar isn't in my possession and may never be if the original owner won't let it go. The neck is identical to a Fender however. Looking anyway.

    I have read a LOT on refrets. I even have a crappy old Mighty Mite neck from a long past project that I could practice on, though the fretboard is rosewood. So I wouldn't be dealing with any fingerboard finish or maple.

    From what I have read, and as has been reiterated in this thread, maple fretboards aren't necessarily more difficult than rosewood, rather they are far, far more labor intensive as extra care must be taken with maple. Not to mention the finish cracking.

    I reached out to a luthier who is very well respected and relatively well known in the guitar world (who wishes to remain anonymous so he is not inundated with the kind of questions he has been so kind to answer for me over the years) that refretting a maple neck is a "pain in the ass." That it can be done and is done often, but the extra labor involved makes it cost prohibitive unless you really want the neck for some reason. He said that if you were to take a casual approach to refretting a maple neck that chipping is almost inevitable and would consequently leave the neck looking "uglier than rosie o'donne' nekkid" (his words not mine). As such, he said he does not have the time to take on such a project for me.

    And to answer an above question, yes the nut is garbage. Being a blues player and the strings got plenty of 1.5 step bends which seemed to really route those slots. I don't even think the low E string was proud of the nut at all.

    I suppose that if I can get this guitar I'll likely buy a new neck and then in my own time make an effort to refret it. I figure the tools would be about 300-400 dollars. But the parts would be maybe 20.00. So if I did make the investment I would have the tools to do it again if I wanted.

    I'm confident that I could do it - if I knew what I was doing. I have Dan Erlewine's video on refretting and I'll have to watch it. Wish I had a luthier close to me that I could learn from. But damn, don't we all?

    Thanks again for the well thought out opinions and advice. I belong to a number of guitar forums, but this one always seems to have the most knowledgeable and reliable answers. Not sure why, but it just does.


  7. #7
    All Access/Backstage Pass Wilko's Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    They aren't that hard to do, specially if you don't mind the "mojo".

    heating the frets stops them from chipping anything and/or you can cut the finish along the frets with an exacto. If that neck is as rough as you say, that just makes it easier to do. You don't a shiny new finish anyway. Just pull out the old frets and clear out the slots with that exacto. The new frets will lay right in the old slots onto the bare wood like they should. You can use super glue to fill out the gaps and patch the finish.

    I just did one on a well worn Nocaster reissue and it turned out great. Here it is after leveling, before finish work:




    A hell of a lot easier than a bound neck (nibs or not).

    Tools are cheap. You can buy the snips, file, and a bench grinder to shape them for 40-50 bucks at home depot.

    Some sandpaper and scotchbrite for a few more bucks.

    Oh... You'll need a big bastard file for leveling and edging. Has to be a real one. The chinese crap won't be straight and will bend in your hand.
    Last edited by Wilko; 07-15-15 at 06:54 PM.

  8. #8
    Les Paul Forum Member J.D.'s Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    You have to understand pulling frets is always going to chip out a little wood. The trick is to do it so it is not very obvious when the new frets are seated. If the slot width and fret are correctly matched, and you pull them gently after heating them, more times than not they come out pretty clean. I found learning to do a quality fret job was scarier in my mind than it actually was to execute - once I had really done my research and had a good step by step plan with the corresponding professional quality tools. Only real difference is a pro can do it 10x as fast, and will be able to better identify and get around problems.

  9. #9
    All Access/Backstage Pass Wilko's Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    Ain't that the truth.

    For minimizing wood chips, the heat, and the use of end snips to lift the fret, holds the wood down while pulling the fret. I start at on end gradually lift, then scoot the cutter/plyer over and lift a bit more, working my way across the fret. There is always pressure down on the wood while the cutter does the work of lifting the fret.


  10. #10
    Les Paul Forum Member Big Al's Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    I heat them up with a solder iron and score the edges with an exact. I have a special set of pullers made by grinding a flat edge on the face of the cutters. I grab the fret at an edge of the fingerboard and GENTLY rock the fret until it just stars to pull loose. I then move on to the next section and repeat till I reach the opposite edge of the fret board.

    Then I start over, slowly and carefully until the fret is pulled free.
    The older I get, the better I was.

  11. #11
    Les Paul Forum Member J.D.'s Avatar
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    Re: Maple fretboard refret for noob

    Exactly.

    I made my pullers. Bought a $2 mini end cutter then worked the working face down on a belt sander until it was much thinner with very sharp edges. Perfect to gently walk out those frets after a good heating.

    I saw a tutorial where a guy uses a grinder and hits the frets to heat them before pulling them instead of using a soldering iron. Looks fast and easy but man one small error and things could go bad quickly!

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