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Too often guitars (and basses) are re-fretted, when a fret dress would be more appropriate. Worn frets often look worse than they really are, as the fret tends to squash out sideways rather than wear away.
It’s not only well used guitars that can benefit from a fret dress. Often, brand new guitars (even some well known USA made instruments!!!) can have poorly finished or uneven frets. A fret dress can also be used to correct minor defects in a guitar neck that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive to put right. A selective fret dressing can, to some extent, compensate for a neck that has a slight twist or ‘S’ bend.
The procedure for a fret dress is typically as follows:
Assess the guitar as a whole and the frets in particular, taking measurements for later use. The old strings are removed and if possible the neck is removed from the guitar. On a set neck guitar the pickups and body would be carefully masked before any work is done and on maple finger boards the entire neck is masked such that only the frets are visible.
Each fret will be examined and any that are loose will be reseated. The truss rod will be reset with reference to a precision straight edge, which can take some time on twisted necks. The frets are then filed using a special single cut file. Progress is constantly checked against the straight edge. The frets are then profiled using a diamond particle file. This is the most time consuming part of the job.
Once the desired profile has been achieved on all the frets, the fret ends are dressed. This can be awkward on bound necks such as Gibson. The trick here is to mimic the fret shape by filing the binding itself. The next step is to polish the frets with progressively finer abrasive paper, finishing with 4000 grit. The final step is to unmask and clean the finger board and follow up with a full set-up.