Yikes! Sharp Fret Edges on Guitars - SOLVED...

Sharp Fret Edges on Affordable Guitars are common. But, hey - buying affordable guitars is fun! So, when you get a guitar with sharp fret edges, (even it may be frustrating), there are solutions that you can do yourself. 

If you have a guitar with sharp frets - read on for a number of quick and easy solutions...

OK, so you just purchased a beautiful used Epiphone or Squier Strat, (or similar quality/value/priced used guitar)... I'm sure it's amazing, the finish is to be admired, and the modern electronics on most affordable guitars are quite good, and the price was right...

BUT...the edges of the frets may feel like little razor blades......why?......quite simply it's the old "Time value of Money", or the cost of a factory spending additional production money/time on any finished good, especially affordable guitars from quality makers often times does not fit their final cost detail goals. Hand finished fret work adds significantly to the cost of production of many guitars.

Here's an animation video of an automated fret press used at the China guitar plants. It frets an entire guitar in 3 min. flat. Yes, that fast!

Unlike many high end guitars, (which commonly cost up to 10 times above a mass production guitar), a lot of the higher cost involved with the more costly guitars is the quality of the hand finished work on the frets, thus the savings on the lower value guitars can come from the lack of final finish work, especially in the fret edge department.

This does not mean your affordable Epi or Sq-fender or similar quality/value guitar can't have nice finished frets.

Here's a hand fret dressing in action, (very time consuming)...

When frets are installed using an automated fret press and dressed by a machine the detail for inconsistencies in the wood cannot be addressed. In the China plants, automation is a quality standardized method of fret installation and fret dressing.

Now, if you look closely at your similar style affordable guitar, you'll see that the sharp edges, are not addressed with the fret dress template from the China factory. This is the common reason for the concern, as the sharp edges in most cases are still there after the guitar leaves the factory and are not noticed until you slide the inside of your fingers or thumb up and down the fret-board.

Take a common household paper towel, and fold it into a square, hold it in the palm of your hand and move up and down the edge of the fret-board.....if you don't have sharp edges....the paper towel will not tear.

The paper towel will show signs of wear and tear if you do have sharp frets. While it may be minor, it takes away from the enjoyment of your new guitar, and the feeling of discomfort over time will drive you to play less or look for another guitar.

Common solutions:
(1) Take it to a qualified luthier, or guitar repair person, and pay for a fret edge dressing. A good fret edge person will have the frets looking like guitar jewelry, and that's all well and good....until you get the bill..... and now your affordable guitar has just become an overpriced guitar.......so this option is the last option for most on a budget.

(2) Purchase an ultimate fret end file, these are really really nice and if you've got the bucks required to purchase, it's a fine investment. Once you get the file, get a roll of blue painters tape and get ready for the next rainy Sunday afternoon you have free. There are few kits on the internet similar that offer just what you need and instructions to do a nice job for yourself.

If you have the time, it's not a difficult job to do. The job just requires removal of strings, time spent to 'painter tape off' the fret-board and neck (to avoid cosmetic damage). And, a few hours of fun. This is the best choice if your guitar has a maple fret-board and or creme or gloss binding. Best choice for an expensive guitar that needs fret edge work.

Ultimate Fret End File, is well worth the money and is the best I've seen for high quality fretboard work "done yourself."

Here's a great video breaking the filing process down:

Use a balanced concentration of pressure. Go evenly only on the fret-board edge, with even strokes, and over all areas as equal as possible. Only work the edge of the fret and fret board edge, not fret tops or fret board top. You'll find not only will the fret edge start to round out, and the sharp corners will round away, but also the sharp 90 degree wood edge of most fret-boards will round out also, (which gives it a nice worn vintage feel).

Advice Summary:
Only use on fret board edge, use conservatively until you develop a feel for it, never buff the play area on the frets, slow steady strokes with even pressure are best, don't over do it, use blue painters tape to protect all areas you don't want buffed.

A great way to finish off your fret-job is with a nail polishing block.

You can pick-up a package of these handy little items anywhere women's beauty products are sold. They're super cheap to purchase, (so don't go off and swipe your wife's or your girlfriends from her night-stand drawer). 

These well-made little women's nail blocks work like magic for an absolutely fantastic final polishing of your fret-edge job in the home guitar workshop. Pick up a pack today, you won't be disappointed.

If the nail polishing blocks are not doing the trick on some of your tougher fret areas, you can also try stepping things up a notch by using a, "3 Way Emery Block."  The 3-way emery block is a little more gritty and wears faster, but can add that extra shine and polish to your frets if needed.

Hope this bit of info was helpful. Over my years teaching I've sure noticed that a lot of guitar players have a hobby in affordable guitars, and I'm sure this fret-dress technique will really come in handy for a lot of my readers.



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