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How difficult is it to do a fret dressing?

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I have a bass that needs a fret dressing and was wondering how difficult this is to do, is this something that can easily be done with the right tools or is it best left to a luthier to do ?

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It is easy enough to do (and fairly rewarding) with some basic tools. It is worth learning if you are interested 

 

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I would imagine doing it is the easy part. Knowing what to do and why and how gets a little more tricky. Making adjustments would be simple. But I'd be nervous of filing and shaving stuff off the bass. Are you going to learn on your gigging bass?

I took my Sadowsky Jazz to the Gallery for a set up and fret work. It was pretty good going in and came back in excellent shape. The bill was £80. I'm happy to pay for someone else's expertise. I just want to play 'em.  IMO that was money well spent.

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I set all my basses up and I’ve stripped down , upgraded, and put a few together but I wouldn’t be confident enough to do a fret dress, I’m happy to pay for that one 🙂

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8 hours ago, chris_b said:

But I'd be nervous of filing and shaving stuff off the bass. Are you going to learn on your gigging bass?

I wish I had. A few of us in the south west did a course with the guy in the video after he was at one of our bass bashes, it was a one day bass neck dressing thing. I took my harley benton because 'was I going to learn on my gigging bass?'. At the end of the day, my harley benton had the best frets and action of any bass I owned :D

The whole course was £80 and since then I have done most of my bass work myself (and guitar).

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It's not very difficult if you have the right tools, but it needs practice to get the feel for it. There are loads of youtube videos demonstrating the process, but it is not as easy as a skilled person makes it look.

If you have a cheap bass to learn on and don't mind investing in the basic tools (notched straight edge, levelling beam, assorted abrasives, crowning file(s), fret rocker, masking tape etc.) then it's do-able. It's very satisfying being able to buy an instrument that is a bit rough and totally transform it into a great player.

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You can also buid your own house, or your car, or whatever you want thanks to YouPuke and Monkeypedia.

Why bother asking specialists ?

Ok, I'm a bit harsh, but doing a perfect fret dressing job will take a lot of time and knowing that a professional tool like the Gurian fret file (aka the Dunlop fret file for older people) will cost you half the price (or maybe the full price) a luthier will ask you, put it in balance...

https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Types_of_Tools/Files/Three-in-one_Fret_File.html

Edited by Hellzero
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Thanks for the replies, I have had a look at a few YouTube videos to see what is involved and fairly sure it is well outside of my skills so I'm going to let a pro do the work 

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3 hours ago, Hellzero said:

You can also buid your own house, or your car, or whatever you want thanks to YouPuke and Monkeypedia.

Why bother asking specialists ?

I couldn't build my own house or car, not that I would want to, they are far outside my abilities or project size.

3 hours ago, Hellzero said:

Ok, I'm a bit harsh, but doing a perfect fret dressing job will take a lot of time and knowing that a professional tool like the Gurian fret file (aka the Dunlop fret file for older people) will cost you half the price (or maybe the full price) a luthier will ask you, put it in balance...

🙄

Yeh, or you could do what I do, take an afternoon when you are not doing anything else, a file that costs £5, a straight edge which you can get anywhere, a rocker plate that you can get for 3 or 4 quid, a coloured sharpie, a fivers worth of sandpaper and frog tape and do the job as well as most people that you are going to pay for will do it for a lot less money and a lot more reward.

If you can put a shelf up mostly straight, or bake a cake from a recipe you are at the right skill level to do this.

 

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Yep, you can do it that way. But what about the strings you use and their tension, what about the radius of the fretboard, what about a radiused sanding block, what about the different relief needed on the bass side as opposed to the treble side, what about the stainless steel frets that will destroy your cheap file within minutes, what about moving frets needed to be fixed, what about leveling the frets end, what about reshaping the nut height, what about the hours you'll spend doing this, what about taking more time re-levelling the frets badly levelled that you'll only notice when having restrung your instrument, ...

Have you ever seen a real luthier doing this : he has a bench jig and will adjust the neck at many different points to simulate your string tension so you'll end up with a perfectly playable instrument.

In fact, once your neck or full instrument, in case of a non removable neck, has been fully adjusted on the bench jig, it takes around 30 minutes to finish the job perfectly including perfect crowning (no flat frets), repolishing of the frets and complete set up.

On a perfectly levelled frets neck you can have an action so low that you'll be amazed how easy it is to play the instrument. Have you ever played an instrument that has been in the Plek machine ? That's the exact same feeling.

I can do it as I have the necessary skill and tools. And I've been doing it on hundreds of instruments as it used to be my job long ago.

I've seen enough very badly levelled frets to tell you that it's not such an easy job...

Following YouPuke video will end up with a disaster if you're not aware of what you're doing.

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3 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

Yep, you can do it that way. But what about the strings you use and their tension, what about the radius of the fretboard, what about a radiused sanding block, what about the different relief needed on the bass side as opposed to the treble side, what about the stainless steel frets that will destroy your cheap file within minutes, what about moving frets needed to be fixed, what about leveling the frets end, what about reshaping the nut height, what about the hours you'll spend doing this, what about taking more time re-levelling the frets badly levelled that you'll only notice when having restrung your instrument, ...

Apart from the last one which just meant you didn't do what you set out to do what you wanted to do, I am talking of fret dressing, not refretting a whole neck.  Certainly if you want to make the job so complicated you can't possibly do it, there are ways.

 

3 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

Have you ever seen a real luthier doing this

Clearly I have, i was taught by one as I said right at the top of the thread.

 

3 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

: he has a bench jig and will adjust the neck at many different points to simulate your string tension so you'll end up with a perfectly playable instrument.

I am not sure what job you were discussing, but no, you don't need a bench jig to dress frets or change your string tension. And you end up with a perfectly playable instrument.

3 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

In fact, once your neck or full instrument, in case of a non removable neck, has been fully adjusted on the bench jig, it takes around 30 minutes to finish the job perfectly including perfect crowning (no flat frets), repolishing of the frets and complete set up.

Well, obviously if you do it a lot you can do it a lot faster, but that still doesn't make it hugely hard if you are going to take your time and be careful.

3 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

On a perfectly levelled frets neck you can have an action so low that you'll be amazed how easy it is to play the instrument. Have you ever played an instrument that has been in the Plek machine ? That's the exact same feeling.

Yep - A gibson dark fire, it was distinctly average. So much so I had to look up to see if a plek machine did what I thought it did. Turns out it did and put in the 'don't pay extra for something that has Plek as a selling point'!

And yes, I ended up the first time I did it with a harley benton with amazingly low action. In fact the best frets on any instrument I had. But it still weighed a ton, wish I had taken one of the expensive ones!

3 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

I can do it as I have the necessary skill and tools. And I've been doing it on hundreds of instruments as it used to be my job long ago.

I've seen enough very badly levelled frets to tell you that it's not such an easy job...

Following YouPuke video will end up with a disaster if you're not aware of what you're doing.

Well, I have done it many times, and I have no real skill. As I said it takes me a lot longer than half an hour because I have to be careful and check and recheck that I am going to do it well and obviously like pretty well everything in life if you don't take care you can mess it up badly but my success in doing it with my combined lack of skill tells me it really isn't that hard.

 

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You can do a perfect fret job à la MacGyver, that's a good thing. Congratulations, really, and I mean it.

In fact, it's even more complicated than what I've written, but I'll leave it here and won't take the responsibility for the slaughtered instruments.

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I'm still too scared to try it, even on my pretty much worthless test bass!

I can't get the neck to be anything like the same shape when it's without tension vs with string tension.

Plus, when it is under string tension, the slightest tweaks on the TR can make the highest frets appear in different places on the neck!

It looks easy on video clips, but I reckon there's a good chance of a DIY job making things worse rather that better.

And once you've taken fret material away - you can't put it back! 😬

Edited by Ricky 4000
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I do one or two a week and therefore know how to proceed. I'm sure that if you are confident with tools and have some ability to control said tools, then you will be capable. It might be an idea to watch some videos on the subject and then have a trial run on a donor neck. 

If you want any specific instructions, happy to help.

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Well, it's not that much rocket science IMO - assuming some practice and care.

(watch some of "Daves World of Fun Stuff" channel - there are loads of examples of him doing various degrees of fret dressing with different tools and techniques over the years)

 

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I needed to find this back, here you have all explanations about the correct use of a bench jig (mentioned by the guy of Crimson guitars at 3:40, that said) and why using this for a PROFESSIONAL fret dressing. Watch until the end. It's no rocket science, it's precise work done by a real luthier, not self proclaimed luthier.

You can make one of this on your own too. No need to buy one. Just watch this:

In a few minutes, I'll create another thread with 11 lessons to do a real PROFESSIONAL levelling, recrowning and setup...

And it's not just setting your neck dead straight without strings, bad placing the neck support and flat levelling the frets without taking into account the radius of the neck...

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It's not a difficult job, it just needs a bit of care and patience.  You don't need any jigs but you do need a few tools including:

A notched straight edge and an allen key to adjust the truss rod
A fret rocker and a levelling beam or fret levelling file - a beam is probably easier though.
A fret end dressing file if it's a new fret job or the ends are uncomfortable
A fret crowning file and a sharpie to mark the top of the fret wire
Progressively finer abrasives to polish the fret wires

If you want tutorials, you could do a lot worse than Crimson Guitar's YouTube channel.  The advice given there is excellent plus you can see actual builds to see how it's done. They also sell high quality luthier tools.

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