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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 5:00 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:04 am
Posts: 2060
I'm curious to see how much time others here invest in fret dressing,
particularly in dressing worn or uneven frets as opposed to dressing a
new instrument or a refret.

For a new fret job of course, if the board is well prepared and the frets
are well installed, there should be little leveling and as much as no re-
crowning involved. This of course makes the polishing rather simple. If
you have to take .010" off the top however of course re-crowning will be
needed, leaving the sides in need of polishing.

In the thousands of fret dresses I've done, I've tried and seen a plethora
of different tools and techniques. If I really want that jeweler's mirror
finish on the top and sides however, I've yet to find any method short of
getting in there with your thumb, fingers, and sandpaper, and bringing
them up to a polish grit by grit. While the leveling and recrowning may
take as little as 10-15 minutes sometimes, I can often find myself
spending twice as long or more on the final polishing.

I'm essentially trying to justify my investment in a new idea for fret
polishing that I stumbled in to while I was contemplating some old
Gibson tooling marks. So far I've invested about $400 in tooling for this
polishing system, and it may be promising with a bit more refinement. As
of yet however, I haven't been able to get that perfect polish but I'm still
hopeful. It's 90% there, to a point were probably 95% of the players
wouldn't notice any difference without a jewelers loupe.

Going through sandpaper, masking tape, steel wool, dry skin from
compulsively washing my hands when polishing metals. I'd just like to get
an idea how much of a thorn this is in other people's sides before I sink
any more in to this project. Right now I can get that 90% quality in about
30 seconds without dirtying my hands, and am trying to figure out how
much farther I can afford to go right now on this project that has already
exceeded it's budget. Either that or if I should just get back in the
trenches and keep sanding.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 5:38 am 
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Koa
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David, maybe you've tried this at some point but the time saver I'm fond of is the thin 3M sanding sponges.  Because they conform nicely to the fret, the first grit will actually recrown all but the seriously flattened tops. I start with the "superfine" grit sanding perpendicular to the frets for light re-crowning. This also does a good job of taking off any sharp corners on the fret ends. I then do a pass with the same grit parallel to the frets, then move on to the "ultrafine" and "microfine". Then to the buffer. Although I've never timed myself, I'm guessing 10 minutes, maybe 15.


The sponges are a bit spendy (between $1.00-$1.50 apiece) but it only takes 1/4 to 1/2 sheet of each grit per fret job.


What's the system you are working on?


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:08 am 
Its always been one of those things I just can't get up the level of quality I would like--I think I'm too impatient? I'd like to hear more about your system.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:41 am 
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Koa
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Location: Issaquah, Washington USA
David, I use a polishing wheel on a Dremel.  I use a product called GS27 Scratch Remover, a product intended for fixing scratches in auto paint.  It takes scratches out of metal.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 7:16 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2060
Kent, I haven't used the 3M sanding sponges, but I will do essentially the
same thing with double folded sandpaper on minor leveling and truing.
The thing is that the vast majority of dresses I do are for moderate to
heavily worn frets that will require a proper re-crowning and shaping
after leveling. It's the parallel to fret, grit by grit, individual fret sanding
to get the scratches toward the base of the side that has always been the
big time soak.

There's nothing complicated to what I'm doing - just some buffing
arbors. My goal, and the tricky part is simply to find the right
combination of wheels in the right order to be able to polish the board as
a whole rather than fret by fret, preferably without having to mask the
board.

Rich, I've used a number of different wheels for the Dremel or Foredom,
but have had a few issues. The main problem with many is that most
wheels do not conform well enough to attack the sides of the fret without
moving a disproportionate amount of material on the top, thus potentially
effecting the level. That, plus I'd rather use a system with 6 or 8 inch
wheels that allow me to run across the whole board rather than one fret
at a time. I've not tried the Scratch remover you mention, but I've gone
through a number of other compounds and wheels.

I was hoping to perfect the system or at least refine it a bit more before
posting it here, but I'll try to get some pics and details posted later this
weekend with hopes of helpful tips via peer revue. I'm just really trying to
streamline and simplify this procedure as much as possible. It may not be
that big a deal to most, but for me polishing out a few dozen fret dresses
a month can get tiring, and the time adds up pretty quickly.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 7:49 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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As a repair person, I used to flat rate a "fret job" (level, crown, polish, restring, adjust nut and truss rod) at 2 hours. My methods haven't changed much in 35 years. I never watch the clock to time any of my processes, but two hours is probably still a fair estimate. I level with a 10" smooth mill file with the tang removed and ends ground soft. I used to then bevel the sides with a 10" cantsaw file ground safe on its corner and to one side of the 120? angle (for right handed use only). I now do this with one of the Gurian crowning files. I round the ends with a smaller (6") cantsaw file, similarly ground safe. I sand to complete the shaping and polishing. The sanding is tedious and gives me sore sides on my thumbs. Then buff after I get to 600 grit (CAMI). I'm now doing two buffs, first tripoli and then white rouge. I keep the board masked until the buffing.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 8:30 am 
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Koa
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David, the main benefit of the sponges is that I've found that they do conform and polish the sides of the frets much better than paper. But I can't imagine doing it without masking.


I get them by the box to get the price down. I'll send you one of each grit if you want to give them a try. Send me a pm with your address if you're interested.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 2:32 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2060
Thanks Kent. I may pick some of those up to try, but at this point I'm still
pretty enthusiastic about making this system work. I've gotten pretty
fluent and developed a fairly natural grip for good results with folded
sandpapers at this point, but I'm always open to trying new tools. I
appreciate the offer to send me some very much, but it would probably
be just as easy for me to pick some up at the hardware or Grainger.
Thanks again.

And Howard, your technique and time doesn't vary too far from mine. I've
tried plenty of shortcuts, but have yet to find a technique that delivers the
same quality of result - until now that is .
Well, that's not entirely true of course, but I'm still a bit optimistic that I
can improve on this method and make it work. It's closer so far than any
thing else I've tried anyway, and even if it doesn't become a 30 second
full polish I know at this point that I should be able to cut a fair amount
of time.

I'll try to get some photos tonight and post a bit more later.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 4:33 pm 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Wed Aug 22, 2007 11:58 am
Posts: 1667
I can't imagine life without the StewMac fret polishing wheels. Those little suckers, once you grind them to the shape of a fret top, bring them up to a great polish in no time. Only caveat is that they will also heat up the frets very quickly, so I move quickly over the fret, moving to the next one within the second, and even wait between "passes". Rolling off the ends also takes care of that bit...

 No way I spend near 30 minutes polishing...


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 4:35 pm 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Wed Aug 22, 2007 11:58 am
Posts: 1667
Arghh.. December... still no f*#%*ng edit button...

I should ad that if your system can beat theirs, I'll get in line for one.

There's always room for improvement....


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 5:01 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:04 am
Posts: 2060
I agree that StewMac's polishing wheels are excellent. It's always been the
heating you mention that's worried me though, for risk of moving too much
metal. They're great, but they definitely take a knowing and qualified hand
to operate to avoid ruining the level of the frets or rolling the ends as you
mentioned.

I just went over to the shop to take some photos and try another neck, and
think I worked out some of the bugs.

Now bear with me while I shamelessly write one of my Ken Burns-length
documentaries on the development of my favorite new toy. I'll start a
new topic.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 5:34 pm 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2005 11:13 am
Posts: 1398
Location: United States
I'm right in there with Kent and Howard on stuff other than my "unpatented" under string fret leveler "L" system that takes care of anything short of major 100,000 miles past due levels which is where I go for the smooth mill file.

By the way, do not trust the flatness of any commercial files. You have to go through a box of 20 of them to find two or three that are truly flat. Don't even bother buying mill basard or mill smooth files mail order; they're all cattywhumpus.   You're better off using a precision ground length of steel or plate glass with sand paper stuck to it.

The 3M stuff is miraculous, and it lasts a long time. There are grits that seem to go up the the equivalent of about 800.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:20 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2060
So here I go again with a very drawn out narrative of development of my
favorite new tool. Have fun. I'll have to split this up in to several posts, so
bear with me.

I’ve always been conscious of the tooling marks left on Gibson fret boards
from the teens through at least the 60’s, and been careful to preserve
them in fret dresses for some sentimental reason. I had always assumed
that they were from the machining of the board, though the direction of
the markings seemed counterintuitive.

It wasn’t until a recent 30’s Gibson refret that I really noticed how
markedly high the plateaus were that the frets rested on were, beneath
which the board was clear of markings. I tried thinking of several ways of
sanding, filing, etc., that the markings could have been made post
fretting, but none made sense at all to be a Gibson factory procedure.

Finally it occurred to me that they had to have buffed the frets and
unprotected board with a very course wheel in what little dressing
process they used. I went through a few different wheels trying to mimic
it, and finally settled on a fine (.008”) crimped wire wheel. Following this
with an aggressive buffing on a wheel with tripoli compound was enough
to polish the wire markings from the frets, leaving the board looking
perfect vintage Gibson.

Duh. Crude, quick, effective. “Good enough” in a nutshell for the period
Gibson factory instruments.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:22 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2060
Here's a few examples

10's


20's


30's

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:24 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:04 am
Posts: 2060
40's


50's


60's

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:26 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2060
And it wasn't limited to Gibson. And of course even more crude would be the
Chicago instruments.

Here's a Supertone


And a Harmony, from the same factory I'm sure.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:27 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:04 am
Posts: 2060
So while browsing Grainger for a decent 6”-8” wheel to put on a grinder
to mimic this on occasion, I stumble across 3M’s “radial bristle” wheels.
Thanks to being introduced to these by the goldsmiths upstairs, I’ve been
using the tiny Foredom sized ones for metal polishing for a few years, but
never realized they were made in 6” and 8” sizes. The beauty of these
tools is their flexibility, and ability to conform to the shape of a fret
without putting any disproportionate pressure directly on the top.

These were only introduced about 6 years ago, but with the little
experience I had with them I thought it worth a shot to see if they could
perform a Gibson-style fret polishing with less damage to the
fingerboard. So to save space I picked up some good shafts and bearings
and set up a stacked arbor. Not the most ergonomic, but you do what you
have to when space is limited. It’s still temporarily screwed to an old
bench in the “under construction” section of the shop, so don’t hold the
mess against me.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:31 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:04 am
Posts: 2060


So here's most of my fret dressing tools.



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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:34 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2060
I use the files for course leveling, but really like the float glass planes for
final truing. Since I can level the glass on my surface plate I have a lot more
control over their quality than with files, and like being able to choose grits.
In this example I’ll show the long plane was fit with 120 grit for course
leveling. Then 300 grit diamond file crowing, then the shorter plane with
220 for a second tighter truing. In the spirit of plate leveling from machinist
days, I will sometimes repeat this procedure several times at lighter grits
and pressure to reach tighter tolerances with each round. Here’s the leveled
and crowned fret. My apologies, but I don’t have the camera, lighting, or
skill to get a good macro shot of metals, so take these photos for what they
are.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:35 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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In experimenting with the buffing system I tried the 120, 220, 400, and 6
micron radial bristle wheels, along with cloth wheels with jewelers rouge
and with tripoli. The 220 wheel (spinning at around 2800rpm) was not
aggressive enough to easily get out the 220 grit from the final leveling
plane. Maybe some CAMI / FEPA conflict, I don’t know. I could get it out if
I really hogged in to the wheel, bet it ended up leaving a slightly stippled
look to both the wood and the frets, which the 400 would not get out.

The 120 wheel would take out the 220 leveling scratches, but grooved
the fingerboard noticeably. So what I’ve ended up doing is quickly kissing
the tops with a bit of 320 sandpaper before approaching the 220 wheel.

I run the board along the wheels from the center to off the edge, tilting
the neck to hit the frets at a slight angle one way, and then shifting to the
other to get both sides well enough. Then I flip the neck around to roll off
the opposite side, as in bass or treble sides.

I initially had problems with each successive wheel fully removing marks
from the previous grit, as though there were too big a gap between grits.
Finally I started taking a series of lighter passes on each wheel before
moving to the next grit. 220 heavy, 220 light, 400 heavy, 400 light, 6
micron heavy, 6 micron light. 0000 Steel wool, then wax. So far this
seems to work beautifully.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:36 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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This neck photographed didn’t really need a dressing, but it was one of the
few expendable necks I had left around which hadn’t already had the board
ravaged in other experiments. Here’s the before board.



And here's the after.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:43 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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No tooling marks, no notable rolling of the edges, no rolling of the fret
ends at all. From finishing of the filing to the waxing of the board takes
under a minute. There may be a bit of a learning curve with these wheels
as well, but so far it seems like a system with potential. At $50+ per
wheel, they’re not terribly cheap, but if you do any amount of fret dresses
they can pay for themselves in saved time pretty quickly.

This may very well be old news, I don’t know if some factories are already
doing something similar. Rick may also know something about the old
Gibson fret dresses that I don’t know as well. In any case, I’m pretty
damned geeked about this as it’s going to save me oodles of time.

Just make sure if anyone comes up with any improvements or refinements
(of which I'm sure there are several to be had), let me and everyone else
here know about it. I've only played with this in my "spare time" over the
last few days as of yet, so it certainly may change.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:48 pm 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2005 11:13 am
Posts: 1398
Location: United States
Well, in the first place, Gibson fingerboards and fret work has traditionally been among the worst ever in the guitar industry. If any company consistently got it wrong decade after decade, it was them. I'll take a run of the mill 1962 Harmony fingerboard over most Gibbies any day.

Then, if you want that high shine on the frets, just mask off the 'board between the frets and do your level and crown and 3M sanding sponge work, and then put it on a 10" wheel buffer with emery and then Tripoli buffing compound. Somehow, I've managed to collect more double arbor buffers here than we know what to do with, so having one just for frets isn't an issue.

The 'board should never ever show evidence of cross grain sanding, buffing, scratching, scraping or anything once the job is done.

We Waterlox our fingerboards at least a day before we fret them. It makes for a really nice surface that you just don't want to screw up, so masking between frets is just normal for us.



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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:52 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Another nice thing is that these wheels won't tear through masking tape
unless you really bear in to them. I'm hoping this means they will still be
useful for finished and maple boards.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:59 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2060
Oh, and Rick, I definitely agree with you about the quality of Gibson's fret
work over the years. The main reason I ever wanted a way to replicate it was
simply out of curiousity. Also for the occasional vintage fanatic customer
who wants everything down to the shameless flaws replicated. I try not to
cater too much to folks who put frivolous and counterproductive details
priority over function, but I always at least like to know I could do it
accurately if I wanted to.

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