Installing the frets

by Chris Bewick

Before I could install the frets I needed to resaw all the fret slots that I sanded out whilst radiusing the fretboard. As a precaution to stop the sanded fretboard from getting scratched by the saw I masked off either side of the existing slot before carefully extending the cut with my japanese cabinet-making saw.

Masking off the fretboard

I continued this process along the neck and generally things were going really well. I considered reusing the sawing jig from when I first cut the slots but as the neck is now tapered the right-angled fence would have been no use at all.

Re-sawing the fret slots

Generally speaking the masking tape did its job although there were a couple of places were the fretboard did get slightly damaged when the saw blade jumped out of its groove. Thankfully the damage was superficial and was easily sanded out.

A slightly damaged fret slot

At this point I decided to do a repair job on the paua shell inlay on the third fret which had chipped slightly whilst I was radiusing the fretboard. To fill the missing part of the inlay I applied a bead of super glue.

A bead of superglue drying on the third fret

Once dry I then polished the glue with increasingly fine sandpaper grits and finally wire wool. Although the result wasn’t nearly as colourful and iridescent as the shell it was at least smooth and was almost impossible to notice without getting very close.

The repaired inlay

An essential tool for installing frets is a plastic/rubber hammer. Unfortunately this is not something I own so I improvised. Using a stanley knife I cut a suitably shaped piece of pencil eraser which I then super glued to one of my existing hammers.

A rubber hammer in the making

At this point I turned my attention to the fret wire. Thankfully the fret wire I got from David Dyke came from a big roll so it was already evenly radiused and ready to install.

The pre-radiused fret wire

The fret wire has a thick, bell-shaped top and a thinner stem lined on either side with tangs. The underlying principle for the tangs is the same as a fishing hook barb and theoretically once a fret is pushed into a fret slot it should grip into the wood and not come out.

Close up shot of some fret wire

I cut 21 pieces of fret wire to length, grabbed my recently crafted rubber fretting hammer and set to work.

Rubber hammer, frets and super glue

The technique that worked for me was to bang in one end first, then the other and then work from the middle outwards. Earlier on when I was resawing the fret slots I was a little paranoid about the slots being too shallow but it seems I more than over compensated. The slots were probably approaching twice as deep as they needed to be but better that than not deep enough.

A neck half installed with frets

Once I had installed all the frets I went along both sides of the neck and dripped a little super glue into each slot to ensure a secure and permanent fitting. At this point I was actually quite appreciative of the extra slot depth as it helped to suck in the glue via capillary action.

Gluing the frets into the slots

Mission accomplished, the Telecastle neck now has frets!

The freshly fretted neck