​​​     After the fretboard, nut and saddle are installed, the tuners are temporarily installed and the guitar is strung up for the first time.  The truss rod can now be used to set the proper relief in the neck.  Since the guitar strings vibrate in an arc, the line along the tops of the frets should actually arc upward toward the nut in the first three or four frets. This allows the lowest and smoothest set up of the strings without buzzing. Light guage strings may need the truss rod to push the nut end of the neck forward_to achieve the proper relief.  The same is true for light-guage electric guitar necks. When correctly done, the tops of the frets are in a straight line with no tension on the truss rod. After stringing up, the truss rod pulls or pushes the neck to achieve proper relief.

     The five guitars in the pictured below are now ready for final sanding, sealing and finishing. Last year at this time the wood in these instruments was stacked on the shelves at Woody Strings.  We will see how spraying nitrocellulose lacquer goes next month.

Joe Lenzi

dba Woody Strings

​​​     Large manufacturers of fretted instrument cannot take the time to set up each individual guitar. They do a great job, however, of consistently manufacturing instruments that are reasonably well set up right off the line. The procedures and tolerances that are required to manufacture a fretboard that does not need leveling are generally tighter than an individual luthier in a small shop can maintain by hand.

   August 2016

  • Install, Level and Dress the Frets


​​​​​​     To get the optimal set up for their customers, retail music shops depend on in-house repair technicians who can set up and dress fretboards. Briefly, these are the steps in dressing out a new fretboard while it is on the guitar.

  • Loosen the truss rod to a 'slack' position (i.e. not pulling or pushing the neck)

  • Carefully draw a flat file down the length of the fretboard edge to ensure that all fret ends are flush and smooth, and filed back to 45 degrees.

  • With the guitar secured and laying on its back, place a wide, flat mill file on top of the frets. Gently slide the file up and down the fretboard on top of the frets.

  • Notice where the fret filings are accumulating next to the frets_these filings (or lack of them) indicate the high and low frets. The first half dozen strokes of the file will tell you how you will need to dress the fretboard. Very low frets could need replacing.

  • Mask the frets that need dressing. 

  • The flats on top of the frets are rounded out with a 3-corner file that has had one corner milled smooth and flat.  Some prefer to use a concave fret file for this rounding of the fret tops. "Touch" is involved either way. I prefer the 3-corner file method. The stroke of the 3-corner file has to be forward and rolling at the same time so it may not be for beginners.

  • Buff the frets with 320 to 600 sandpaper.  I also like 000 steel wool...but it makes a mess.

​​​     Building several guitarsat a time can be quite a tedious challenge at set-up time. Up until now we've been building a wooden box with a stick attached. The box and stick should now be ready for final sanding.  The goal in August, therefore, was to finish dressing out five new necks, nuts, saddles, and fretboards, and install strings for the first time. In short, to set-up the guitars for playing as musical instruments.  

     Set-ups require installing and dressing the frets; carving the nut and the saddle...and temporarily installing the tuners, bridge pins and strings...all the parts needed for the box to perform as a musical instrument in the player's hands.


Install, Level and Dress the Frets

     In previous months we have discussed installing frets. Woody likes to flood the last 5mm of the fret slot with CA glueto secure the fret end. Then, while the Super Glue is still wet, tap in the fret about half way. Then press the fret home with the fret press.

     This does not mean that the tops of the frets will be perfectly aligned by the time the fretboard is attached to the neck and body of the guitar. Invariably, leveling of the fret tops is still required with a flat file or stone. 

​​       The journal for this month is a little late due to a short vacation for Woody. Below are some photos and text that attempt to explain a little about the happenings at Woody Strings in August.  Mostly, that involved the last stages of setting up several new guitars.