Trade Secrets!

Super glue your frets for better tone!

Issue 43 September 06, 2007

Surprise tone tip

Gluing a fret

Super glue your frets to improve your tone!

Before working on those frets, make sure they’re sitting solidly in their slots. (Try this tone test too!)

Factory fret jobs are often too loose.

The fix is easy, with a nice payoff in tone.

Most guitars needing fret work still have their original frets. When I get ’em into the neck jig, I find that those frets were pressed in at the factory, without any adhesive to hold them down.

This no-glue technique is good if the frets and slots are perfectly paired, but often the slots are too big: lots of air and not much coupling. The frets are only held in by their barbs. This leads to fret troubles, and it saps the guitar’s tone.

Illustration: slot too deep
Neck Jig

Here how to get these frets to sit tight and sound right:

1. I’ll jig the guitar and use a Fret Rocker to seek out any proud frets (frets that sit up a little higher than their neighbors). They cause buzzes and trouble, but the Fret Rocker makes them easy to identify.

Fret Rocker

2. When I find these proud frets, I press ‘em right back down into their slots where they belong. Jaws is the tool I use for this.

Jaws Handheld Fret Press

3. To prep for gluing, I wipe paste wax onto the wooden fingerboard with a Q-tip. While the glue's wet, the excess will wipe right off the waxed wood with a paper towel. Move fast to remove the excess — this is super glue we're talking about!

When you're all done with the gluing process, just wipe away any leftover wax.

wipe paste wax onto the wooden fingerboard with a Q-tip

4. Okay, time for the glue. Use a pipette to run a thin bead of glue down the length of the fret. “Wicking” action will suck it right down into the slot. Sometimes I actually see it come up from below on the other side of the fret! Quickly wipe the fret clean with a paper towel and hit it with a drop or two of accelerator.

Gluing the fret using Pipette

Try this yourself:

tap a bone nut blank

Glue a fret or two, then tap a bone nut blank on one of them. Listen to the sound. Now tap an unglued fret. The glued frets create a fuller sound that actually vibrates through the neck. You can see how this translates to better overall tone.

5. Done, and ready to finish the fret job! With all the frets glued, this guitar is now ready for me to level the tops of the frets.

Done, and ready to finish

If you need to remove these super-glued frets later, that's easy: heat them with a soldering iron, and the glue will release them. (Use good ventilation, so you don't breath any fumes from the heated cyanoacrylate glue.)

Don't miss an issue!

Get Trade Secrets delivered to your inbox. Only from StewMac.