Yuck! Cleaning fret slot gunk from the Mike Bloomfield Tele

youtube _1hDZ_SNZ6w

Issue 257 March 10, 2016

There was a load of glue and grunge under these frets. With scrapers, wipers and heat from an alcohol lamp, it’s amazing how much gunk Dan Erlewine extracted from Mike Bloomfield’s old fretboard!

About the guitar in this video: This is the 1963 Tele that Mike Bloomfield used to record iconic guitar solos with Bob Dylan and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1965.

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • Really funky fret slots
  • Flame-heating the fret slot cleaning tool
  • Using a syringe to inject De-Glue Goo
  • Amazing how much crud builds up under frets...

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: Stewart-MacDonald - Trade Secrets!]

Cleaning glue out of fret slots

Dan Erlewine: Today, I'm smelling glue, not the kind you might be thinking of [on-screen text reads: Dan Erlewine - Guitar Repairman, Author]. But I'm smelling Super Glue, I think, and Titebond. It's down in these slots from previous fret jobs. Maybe this guitar was fretted twice before with two different glues, or else both glues were used on the fret job. All I know is the frets came out really hard and I want to get all that glue out of these slots. I want them clean so the frets will stay in. There's a lot of grease and sludgy grimy stuff done in these slots also, and that has to be removed before I can do a good fret job.

I've already cleaned two frets in the middle here and you can see how clean they are and how dirty they are on each side. I can see right down to the maple at the bottom of those slots. That's how shallow they are. The frets were put in sideways, if you know about the sideways fretting method. The operator shoved them through the slot with a sharpened end so the tang and its barbs were below the surface of the wood. You actually had a slot that's kind of shaped like a cross. But when a refretter comes along years later with nippers and pulls the frets upward, every place there's a barb, there's a little chip in the wood because, otherwise, it couldn't get out.

And then, I figured out why the frets were coming out so tough because, with that cross, the glue's going in the side slot too and there's so much glue holding these up, it took a long time to get each one out. I'm cleaning that glue out real well this time so my fret job will go perfectly.

The perfect tools for the job

Make sure your tools are sharp. You want it to scrape, not just drag along like a piece of steel [on-screen text reads: Diamond Fret Leveler - stewmac.com]. That's a coarse diamond stone and that's how I sharpen these little knives, on the flat sides. I've also sharpened this with my Dremel tool [on-screen text reads: Dremel 4000 Rotary Tool - stewmac.com]. On the inside, I rolled it out and I came down the backside. That scraper wants to be sharp so it doesn't just drag a dull blade of steel through these slots [on-screen text reads: Fret Slot Cleaning Tool - stewmac.com]. You want to work towards the center. I'll never come off an end. I might scrape out close to it, but if a chunk of glue let's loose at the last second and you pop off the end, then you'll drop down and scar the neck.

This finds stubborn glue. Right there. I can come across and it doesn't want to budge. That makes me nervous because if you force it, it'll pop out of there and scratch the board. I come on there with my Refret Saw. It's teeth, they're grabbing the glue and pulling it out. Sometimes they tilt it and just use the back edge of the blade like a scraper.

Using a syringe to inject De-Glue Goo

In the old days, I would just stand here for hours and scraping clean if I had to. Today, I've got this De-Glue Goo, which is new to me in the last couple years. It dissolves water based glues and it's cool stuff. I've got it in a syringe [on-screen text reads: Glue Syringe - stewmac.com] so I can put it down on those slots and leave it sit for a little while, while I go clean a couple more slots up at the top, come back and see if it doesn't loosen up that glue for me. It doesn't hurt finishes so it's pretty safe to do this, and you might be surprised what this will pull out of there. It cuts right to the chase. De-glue Goo. It's a hard one to say.

Flame-heating the fret slot cleaning tool

There's a lot of glue here. This is a tough one. This is the kind I could slip on and I don't want to. For that, I'd use the lamp. I'd get a little heat in there. It doesn't have to be red hot but hot. All fret jobs aren't like this. This is a lot of glue and it's in that crisscross slot. I'm going to check, see how my De-glue stuff's working for me down here. It's working great.

This guitar once belonged to a hero of mine [on-screen text reads: Mike Bloomfield, #22 all-time great guitarist - Rolling Stone]. I never would've thought I'd be actually fretting that guitar 40 years later or whatever. That's all out of one slot. It just keeps coming. It's pouring out of those sidewalls.

I remember when I got my first alcohol lamp. I thought it looked cool and looked important and it made me look like an alchemist or something. Actually, the first alcohol lamp I ever got was with my older brother, Michael, and we got the Gilbert chemistry set [on-screen text reads: 1950s Gilbert Chemistry Set]. That was back in the '50s. It had an alcohol lamp, but I wasn't allowed to use it. Michael was.

Final fret slot cleaning

When you know you're starting to get close and you've done a lot of removal, you start checking with your little depth gauge. That first line is about the size of the tang on this guitar. That fret is not ready. I want that first line to sink down below the surface for sure, or approach the next line. On most guitars, you go to the second line. These slots are pretty shallow. I want to see that first line go in there, like this. This one's definitely ready. The line disappears. I haven't hit the maple. I'm happy with that. This one, no, it's got to be scraped [on-screen text reads: Fret Slot Depth Gauge - stewmac.com]. This one, nope. That's an important tool.

Let's face it, I don't plan to get every bit of crud out of there, just as good as I can get it. In all honesty, this would be at least probably a four hour job. I'm not even keeping track. We're shooting a video of course, and that slows you down, but really you'd have to be committed to do this and it's not all about money. I'm going to remove the tape and finish up.

I'm going to use my mirror [on-screen text reads: Inspection Mirror - stewmac.com] and final scrape and deepen every slot, watching from the outside so I don't go into the maple. Slides right through like a drawer. This is a piece of paper towel wedged down into the fret slot with a 12 thousandths Geeler Gauge. I measured that at 18 thouandths and then I put a little bit of denatured alcohol on it and get it wet, and mush it around a bit. Woohoo. It's really getting the juice out of there, man. I think we're done. If you look down the slots, I'm seeing a lot of maple. It's real clean. This is ready to fret and these slots are going to hold frets like crazy.



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

Related items