Fret Leveling Pictorial
The goal of fret leveling
is to get the fret tops perfectly level with one another. The frets are then
recrowned and polished to an incredible shine. The end result is that you can
get the action quite low with minimal buzz and a guitar that plays and
bends like a dream!
Here is a list of tools I used for this pictorial, all of which are available from Stewart MacDonald.
Total Cost of Tools = $263.42
- this isn't meant as a comprehensive tutorial. Not all the detailed steps are
shown. If you plan on trying this procedure on one of your own guitars, I recommend
trying it for the first time on an inexpensive guitar as opposed to your main
The customer complained of buzzing and "noting out" at certain frets in his PRS unless the action was set super high. Upon evaluation, several high frets were discovered as well as some with "divots" so my recommendation was to level the frets.
Before starting, It is absolutely critical to get the neck as straight as possible before leveling. If the fingerboard isn't dead straight you will only be leveling some of the frets and the result will be disastrous. I use a a Stewmac notched straight edge to read read the fingerboard.
The fingerboard is taped up neatly. You also want to tape up the pickups. The small metal dust you get from leveling frets will wreak havoc with pickups. You will notice I changed from blue tape to white tape in the upper register. This isn't because I ran out of tape!! I use the white tape because it comes in a very narrow width which is perfect for the upper register.
The frets tops are marked with black magic marker so I can see what is getting removed. A Stewmac leveler is then used with 320 grit paper. The Stewmac leveler is "surface ground" and therefore perfectly level. It is also pretty heavy and is my favorite tool for leveling frets. It is important to support the neck when leveling, so I am using a Stewmac Rock-n-Roller Neck Rest.
This is what the frets look like after getting leveled. The tops are flat, so they will need to get rounded or crowned.
A Stewmac Fret Rocker is used to validate that frets are level. You check the frets in groups of 3 both on the bass and treble side. If the fret rocker rocks, then the frets aren't level. At this point, the frets are in fact perfectly level.
You will notice I put 4 pieces of tape on the 12th fret. I will then go over this with a few strokes of the fret leveler to create a small amount of Fallawy in the very upper register. A small amount of fall-away in the top few frets helps with playing and bending in the upper register and allows you to get very low action.
It is now time to put the radius back into the frets to match the fingerboard radius. This PRS has a 9 1/2 radius, so I go over the frets with a 9 1/2 Stewmac radius block.
Next I use a Stewmac Diamond Crowning File to round over the fret tops. The diamond files are great because they don't leave much in the way of chatter marks. They run about $80 from Stewmac. This will actually just get the rounding started, I will have to finish the rounding process by using sandpaper in the next picture below.
I then progressively use 400 to 2000 grit paper. From 400 - 1000 I will do two things. First I will go over the fret board with a flapping motion from the 1st fret to the 22nd. The flapping motion continues to round the frets. Next, I will go over each fret individually to polish and get out scratches. From 1200 - 2000 I just polish.
Next, I use a polishing compound, to bring the frets to a high shine. The pictures don't do this justice! In person these frets light up the room!!
You The fret board is cleaned with naphtha to remove any dirt and gumminess from the masking tape followed by a light coat of Weiman's lemon oil to condition the fret board.
The guitar is now ready to be setup.