Fret Work: Level Crown and Polish

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Fret Work: Level, Crown, And Polish

What Is A Level Crown and Polish?

This procedure is often interchangeably referred to as: “fret leveling”, “level, crown, and polish”, “grind and Polish”, a “G and P”, or simply a “fret dressing”. All of these terms generally refer to the same task and concern the playing surface of the frets. The fret ends may be addressed separately or at the same time via a fret end dressing.

Before a proper setup can be performed on a guitar or bass, it is crucial that the instruments fretwork be in good shape.

If the frets are not level relative to one another, with a nice rounded profile and smooth surface, the guitar may be difficult to play. 

This is especially important for players that prefer the action set very low. A higher action may mask fret problems that become glaringly apparent once the string height is lowered. 

Poorly Executed or Badly Worn Fret Work Can Lead To:

What Causes Uneven Fretwork?

New Instruments Often Need Fret Levels

During instrument assembly, frets are installed into slots that are cut into a wooden fingerboard. Even in expert hands, it is virtually impossible to press or hammering 20 or more of them in a perfect plane. Due to demanding production quotas, many instrument manufacturers do only a cursory job of fret leveling after installationOn student grade instruments, this crucial step is often seemingly overlooked altogether!  

After these instruments leave the factory, they are placed in shipping containers and trucks to travel across states, often entire continents, before reaching an instrument retailer for sale. Once at the dealer, guitars may spend several seasons on a wall or in a warehouse before purchase. While all this is taking place, changes in climate and humidity can cause the wooden fretboard to swell and contract, potentially loosening and unseating the metal frets in the process, throwing the frets out of level.

Even with the frets in less than perfect condition, guitars may play somewhat acceptably with the comparatively high action that most instruments have at the time of purchase. However, since many discerning players demand a higher degree of playability from their instrument, and prefer string action below manufacturers spec., a fret leveling is the best way to remove these inconsistencies and allow the instrument to reach its full potential.

Levelling Worn Frets On Used Guitars

Besides all of the conditions outlined above, used instruments are further subjected to the wear and tear of use. In addition to pronounced fret movement that can occur from prolonged exposure to humidity fluctuations,  Over time, the friction of pressing down metal strings against metal fret wire and can create flat spots and grooved impressions where the strings make contact.  Fortunately, many times this damage can be removed through a level crown and polish. However, in extreme cases, the frets become so worn down that they require replacement.

Loose Fretwork

Loose fretwork is a common problem regardless of the model or age of the instrument. Since the frets are press fit into the wooden fingerboard, the quality of the fit is extremely important.

While the video shown is an extreme example, even micro movements of the frets in the slot can have a profound impact on the instruments playability.

Before the frets can be leveled, it is extremely important that they be well seated in the slot. The severity of mismatch determines the process necessary to correct it; slightly loose frets can often be secured in position while extremely loose fretwork may require a refret for best playability.

Performing A Fret Level, Crown, and Polish

Flat / pitted frets on a used guitar

The picture at left shows a Fender Stratocaster with frets in need of repair.

Notice that they show some pitting and are just generally flat. In order to get the best playability out of the instrument, the customer elected to have them dressed.

Leveling The Frets

After inspecting that all of the frets are well seated in the fretboard, a flat steel block and sandpaper are one of our go-to tools for leveling the frets. 

Filing with even strokes across the neck, the high spots are hit first and low spots will remain untouched. 

Using a trained eye and straight edges as a guide, we carefully remove material until all of the frets on the guitar neck are the same height.

Crowning The Frets

Once the frets are level, they are left flat, scratched, dull, and in short: unplayable.  

To remedy this, we begin the time consuming process of “re-crowning”. Though there are several specialty tools available for this job, we have found that the traditional triangle file works best in most cases.

Working carefully, we re-shape the profile of each fret individually until it achieves a “crowned” profile.

Polishing The Frets

With the frets now leveled and crowned, we use  a series of fine sandpapers, followed by extra fine steel wool, and polishing compound to bring the frets to a high shine.  

After re-checking the work to ensure that it is true, the guitar is now ready for setup.  With the frets in order, we should have no problem getting a nice low action, with proper intonation, and buzz free bending on this guitar!

About Guitar Repair Long Island

Guitar Repair Long Island is the area’s premier destination for fretted musical instrument care and maintenance. Led by owner/head technician Erik Salomon, the shop is dedicated to providing quick, honest, and reliable service. Our vast experience in all aspects of instrument repair ensures that we can help with whatever your needs are. Contact us with any questions or book your appointment today.

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