Trade Secrets!

Fixing fret ends that stick out in dry weather

Issue 13 January 18, 2007

Photo: Erick Coleman

Dry weather blues
File back those pesky fret ends!

When the weather gets dry, our customers call me crying, “OUCH! The frets are sticking out on the sides of my guitar neck!”

So this is what I tell ’em...
Erick Coleman signature Erick Coleman, January, 2007
Illustration: Ouch!
Taming unruly fret ends is quick and easy

Too Dry?
When the humidity gets too low, a room humidifier is a great idea. You can get one in a discount store for under $40.

Photo: 0386 Acoustic GuitarHumidifier

A soundhole humidifier is a good idea (keep your guitar in a case to keep it humidified).
Photo: Fret before filing
Yep, dry weather does strange things to guitars. Their wood contracts, so they crack and warp. They even shrink: when the fingerboard dries out, it shrinks back so the metal fret ends stick out. Sometimes they’re sharp enough to tear up your hands.
Photo: Protect the body
Protect the body
With bolt-on necks, it’s a good idea to take the neck off before filing. That way, you can’t slip and nick the body with your file. If the neck’s staying on, protect the body by masking it with index cards and low-tack tape.
Photo: File the frets back
File the frets back
Carefully file the fret ends so they’re flush with the fingerboard edge. I use my large three-corner file (also called a cant saw file). Be careful to file the metal only, stopping just as the file comes in contact with the finish. A fret leveling file is also good for this job; I just happen to prefer the finer cut of the three-corner file.

Use a file cleaning brush frequently, to get rid of gritty filings that could scratch the fret ends or finish.
Photo: Round the ends

Round the ends
A light touch with a fret end dressing file removes any remaining sharp edges, leaving smooth and rounded fret ends that won’t slice your fingers.

Photo: Fret after polishing
Last step: polish to shine
If you want to show off, buff the fret ends with micro-mesh pads! You can get a mirror finish with these. Minor file scratches on the fingerboard will disappear, too.

You’re ready to start playing again — as soon as your cuts heal from those fret ends!

Erick Coleman signature

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