Every guitarist loves a well-worn axe, but a massive amount of string buzz could mean that it’s time to learn how to dress your guitar’s frets. Fret dressing is a term describing the process of sanding and filing frets to a uniform height along your guitar’s fretboard. Take a look at your guitar. Are the frets even across the board or do they have divots where the string hits the metal? If the latter is the case, you need to dress your frets!
But before you go out and play luthier with your $5,000 music maker, keep in mind that fret work is one of the most serious tasks to undertake on your guitar. If you don’t already know how to dress frets, chances are you should leave this task up to a skilled professional or at least practice on a $10 beater from the local thrift store.
To dress frets, you’re going need a few simple tools:
- Masking tape
- A piece of cardboard cut to protect your guitar’s body
- A fret file or a homemade wood block with a steel file attached to it
- 400 grit sandpaper
- A small toothed triangle file
- 0000 steel wool
- Buff and polish
- Preparation before you begin. Before you start dressing your frets, you first need to make sure your guitar is propped up evenly with a sturdy block of wood supporting the neck. Make sure it's placed in such a way that isn't going to ding up your guitar once a little pressure is applied.
- Cover the parts of the guitar you're not working on. Using the masking tape, completely cover the wood on your fingerboard to prevent it from getting scratched. Take a piece of tape and cut it to fit the contour of your guitar's body.
- Begin dressing the frets. Once everything is masked, take the fret file and stroke the neck long ways (toward the nut and bridge) from the first to the last fret. Be sure to use long, even strokes, as the overall goal here is to make every fret uniform.
- Sand out the file marks. After the divots are filed out, use the 400 grit sandpaper to sand out any heavy marks the file may have made on your frets. You can do this by attaching it to the bottom of the fret file and going over the frets again with lighter pressure.
- Round the fret edges. Using the small toothed triangle file, go over each of the fret’s corners until they’re perfectly rounded. This step generally takes the longest, but it’s important not to skimp over it, as rounded frets greatly assist ease of movement over the fret board.
- Smooth the rounded fret. Take your steel wool and lightly smooth over the surface of each individual fret, again working out any marks that the file may have left. Count your strokes to ensure maximum uniformity.
Once your frets are even and smooth, all you have to do to complete the job is lightly buff and polish your frets to a desired shine. Remove the masking tape and cardboard and there you have it, perfectly dressed frets! Re-string your axe and let ‘er rip! You’ll have the same tone and playability of a worn-in favorite without the nasty string buzz that comes with age!