ADDRESSING SHARP FRET ENDS


Part of the DBG setup is that we always check for and address sharp fret ends and high frets.  Our warehouse is near the ocean and the humidity is at an ideal 50% to 60% most of the year.  However, we ship all over the country and no wood instrument likes the low humidity brought on by dry winters and heating units.  Wood is like a sponge and it will dry out in dry environments.  Don’t let this happen to your babies!  Get a room humidifier and don’t store instruments in your car.  It is bad for the health of your instrument and attracts thieves.

Often we hear “but my xxxxxxx instrument doesn’t have sharp frets” – the MTD Kingston fretboards and frets do not have a resin coating on them – they are not encased in plastic.  The wood can breathe – which means the wood will expand and contract with changes in humidity and temperature (Relative Humidity).

There are two ways to keep sharp fret ends from ever happening:  1) Build the instrument in less than 10% Relative Humidity so that the fingerboard is a small as it can be; or 2) Always keep the instrument in 50-60% relative humidity.  The first option causes a bunch of other problems when the instrument is kept in “normal” humidity.  The second option isn’t practical in the real world.  Therefore, it’s better to know how to deal with sharp frets when they happen.  The good news is that if you take care of it once when the humidity is low and fingerboard is dry, it rarely happens again unless the fingerboard gets even drier one day.

If the fret tangs themselves are sticking out of the side of the fingerboard, humidify the instrument first.  It is way too dry.  Usually the part that is sharp is the very end of the fret where it tapers down to the fingerboard. Below are a couple of images featuring a fingernail file, which most stringed instrument players have in their go kit.  The synthetic diamond ones work well.



A high fret often has the same cause (low humidity/dry fingerboard).  The wood shrinks and can push a fret(s) up.  It is better to let the bass absorb some moisture before trying to tap it back down.  DBG uses a small brass-faced hammer (or a specialized brass tool with a groove in it) and a metal straightedge to get it level with the surrounding frets.  The right tools make it easy and quick.  Pressing a fret down and/or gluing it without the correct tools can take some McGyvering.  Try the Stewart MacDonald website.  http://www.stewmac.com/

PS – Keep your acoustic instruments humidified!  If it is dry enough for sharp frets, you can be sure it is dry enough for cracked tops on your beloved acoustics.  There are lots of nifty products out there that address this issue.