Trade Secrets!

Super glue your frets for better tone!

Issue 43 September 06, 2007

photo: gluing a fret
Surprise tone tip

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!)

Erick Coleman signature Erick Coleman, September 6, 2007
Photo: Erick Coleman
illustration: slot too deep Factory fret jobs are often too loose.
The fix is easy, with a nice payoff in tone.

Super Glue
illustration: slot too deep

photo: Neck Jig
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.

Here how to get these frets to sit tight and sound right:
photo: Fret Rocker
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
photo: Jaws Handheld Fret Press
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.

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.

Super Glue Accelerator
Try this yourself: 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.

Vintage Bone Nuts

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.

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.)

Erick Coleman signature

Fret Leveler

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