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1935 Martin 000-28
Refretting Technique
© Frank Ford, 5/13/00; Photos by FF, 5/5/00

This is the second half of the neck reset article and is the procedure I generally follow after resetting. Resetting the neck on most flat top guitars results in a slight "hump" or uneven section of the fingerboard where the neck joins the body. Also, most guitars old enough to need neck resetting also show a fair bit of fret wear, making it logical to refret rather than to try to level the existing frets. So, to achieve the best overall playability, I usually level the fingerboard and refret after resetting the neck.

Take a look at the reset article if you'd like to see a full picture of this fine 1935 Martin 000-28. Don't forget to check out When Frets Go Wrong, for details on various difficulties that can occur when fret work doesn't go just right. I've written other articles on refretting, and I suggest them for further reading, too. Mandolin Refretting, and Martin D-35 Refretting both cover some extra topics that I haven't included here.

By the way, in some of the pictures, the ebony fingerboard looks very light, and the pores show clearly. That's just an artifact of my digital photography. In fact, this is a very black fingerboard.

Older instruments like this one may have pressed-in tuner bushings which can come loose and get lost during the process. A simple rubber band eliminates this concern.

I'll make a little .010" cut behind the nut, to the depth of the nut to allow it to be dislodged without damaging either the finish or the peghead veneer.

A quick tap with a hammer will break loose even the most solidly glued nut. If I hadn't made that little cut behind, I might crack the base of the nut itself.

This is a good opportunity to check out the tuners, and lubricate them, so I don't forget that important step later. I'll remove and lubricate the truss rod adjusting nut, if it's possible.

I also like to tighten or check the mounting screws and troubleshoot any other tuner difficulties before I start. If the guitar has an adjustable rod, I'll loosen it all the way, then tighten it slightly, so I'll have a bit of adjustment in either direction after the job is done.

I like this wide low tack sign makers "transfer tape" for protecting the finish. It lies right on the finish and doesn't lift any finish when I remove it.

Over that wide tape, I'll tape on a couple of .005" thick guards I've cut from steel shim stock. That's so I won't scar the top if I slip with a saw or other sharpie.

Before sanding, I'll also cover the soundhole to keep the dust out.

I like this 80 watt Weller soldering iron for fret removal. I have the tip filed to a chisel point with a groove in it so it won't slip off the fret.

Using my flush cutting fret puller, I keep the heat on the fret as I pull it out. I'm not pulling so much as "biting" under the fret, wedging it upward as the jaws slide under the fret crown.

This is the way it should look. All the frets came out without chipping the fingerboard.

Time to sand the fingerboard to level and clean it up. Notice how I'm supporting the neck. I have my forearm and elbow on the bench and I'm holding the neck as broadly underneath as I can, raising the peghead off the bench. That way I won't tend to bend the neck as I sand.

Here's my favorite, and only, neck sanding block. It is a Stanley #5 jack plane with all the guts removed. I's solid, flat, heavy and relentless as it glides along, cutting off anything that sticks up too high!

As I sand the fingerboard, I'm careful to "rock" from side to side a bit to preserve the original radius. I've tried using a radius sanding block, but I find it too hard to keep the block perfectly aligned, so I tend to get a slight unevenness at the edges of the fingerboard.

It's easy to see where I haven't sanded yet. The deepest of those fingernail wear divots will remain after the job is done. I don't want to compromise the thickness of the fingerboard just to sand through a bit of cosmetic wear. Some folks prefer to fill these spots, but I think they look better just left as they are.

As I'm sanding along, I try to keep the sanding block parallel to the neck, but, as you can see in this photo, even if I do hold it at an angle, it will always still track a straight line.

Between grits, I brush out the slots. I'll generally start with 100 grit and proceed through all the available grades to 320 for the finest shine on ebony, and to about 220 for rosewood.

As I sand, the clean slots give me an easy view of where I'm cutting.
My goal is to get the fingerboard straight and level from the nut to the body. I'll check that with a straightedge, of course.
Once the surface of the fingerboard is perfectly straight, I'll place 5 layers of masking tape at the 6th fret.
Then, sanding with 1/2 sheets, I can guide the long plane body against the tape platform to create a drop-off over the body. I'd like the end of the fingerboard to drop .015-.020" lower at the 20th fret. That will help compensate for the natural tendency of the neck to pull forward under string tension.
Here, you can see that my sanding is only from the 12th fret up to the end of the fingerboard.
And, when I'm finished, the drop-off starts about two frets outboard from the body. I find it helps to avoid that little hump at the body as the guitar ages and the neck inevitably pulls forward a little.
This is a little triangular file. I think it's called something like "double extra slim." Anyway, it's the narrowest taper I could find in a 6" file. I ground one whole face flat and safe, so the resulting corners would be extra sharp.
That way, when I lay the file in a fret slot to bevel the corners, it doesn't tend to slip out. I can only file one side at a time, but it takes almost no time at all, with one quick stroke on each slot.
See? Two nice little bevels. They may help the fret go in and seat nicely, and will reduce the tendency to chip when the fret is pulled out next time.
Next, a quick trip through the fret slots to clean them and deepen just a bit, if necessary.
I bend a little dogleg on a piece of fret wire to try it for size. I don't find it all that easy to measure frets and slots, so I just try my various fret candidates until I get a good fit.
My ideal fit is when the fret is relatively easy to tap in, and when I lift it like this, it just barely holds the weight of the neck.
I want to have my fret wire coiled in a slightly tighter radius than the radius of the fingerboard, so I'll run it through the Stewart MacDonald fret radius adjusting rollers.



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