Fret and Neck

Don't let your frets slow you down when you're racing round the fingerboard... UG give you the lowdown on getting your axe into perfect order.

Ultimate Guitar

Easy fret care Mask the fingerboard around the fret with low-tack masking tape. Use a fine file to remove any obvious cuts and marks in fret bead. It's important not to remove too much material because the height of the fret needs to remain uniform with the others - or overall stoning will be necessary. Gently remove the mark with a fine file and polish out with fine grade paper. Profile the fret with a triangular file then finish with steel wool or an abrasive pad.

Neck care Support the neck by placing the guitar face down on a soft surface. Place thin card between strings and frets to avoid marking frets. Use automotive colour restorer (T Cut) to remove heavy dirt and small scratches. Avoid getting the restorer on unfinished fingerboards by applying to a cloth first. Use a circular motion to polish the restorer out and remove all traces with the shirt material. Use guitar polish or household silicone based polish to buff and create a smooth neck.

What's fret buzz? Fret buzz is the sound of a string 'choking' on the fret as it vibrates. If fret buzz appears at just one point on the neck it means that the fret is raised above the other frets and needs levelling. A simple tap with a light hammer may remove the buzz. If no fret is obviously high (this can be checked with a straight edge), then the entire board must be stoned.

A badly-cut nut may cause fret buzz at the first fret, causing an open string to buzz. In this case the nut will have to be replaced. Incorrect truss rod adjustment may also cause fret buzz between the fifth and seventh frets. This is due to too little neck relief. To fix this, tune the guitar to concert pitch and use a ruler to measure the gap between the low E and the top of the sixth fret. You should see a gap of around 0.010 and 0.013. If not, loosen the truss rod to increase the amount of neck relief.

Tools of the trade All of these adjustments can be made using simple non-specialist tools. Control cavities, scratchplates, pickups and other fittings require small and medium Philips and flat-head screwdrivers. Machineheads require a very small Philips head screwdriver. Intonation adjustments on Fender guitars require medium Philips head screwdrivers with a long stem to clear the body. Gibson guitars require a small flat-head screwdriver. Bridge height adjustments are made with hexagonal Allen keys, usually supplied with the guitar. Allen keys are also needed for freeing and adjusting locking nuts and floating tremolo units, so it's worth keeping a couple of sets around - metric and imperial.

Fingerboard maintenance usually just requires an abrasive 'wet and dry' pad. This can be used on boards and for polishing frets. Fret stoning and levelling can be done with a fine draw file and triangular file although it's worth investing in a fret plane and some pulling pliers.

Nut work requires a small Exacto saw, varying grades of sandpaper and some model-maker's files. A fine steel rule is essential for measurements and as a straight edge. Truss rod adjustments require perhaps the only specialist tool - a 5/16" hex wrench for Gibson guitars, 9/32" and 1/4" hex wrench for other models. Fenders require a 3/16" or 1/8" Allen key. If you want to go into this further my book, The Electric Guitar Handbook from PC Publishing, is a good place to start.

-Richard Riley []

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    A truss rod is the rod running through the neck. It supports it so it won't break or bend easily. -.o
    dont forget to take that factor 'bow' out of your neck by tightening truss rod, but not too tight tho..
    That kind of fret work is usually better left to the luthiers/solid body experts, i just finished putting deep scallops in my neck and boy did i not feel like giving my guitar a whole nother crown job, lol. More because of the hassle, but if you are willing to put ALOT of time and patience into it, it will definately pay off.