Fret wear - Advice/experiences

Hey Guys,

I broke 4 high E strings while playing in the last week on my Tele clone, alerting me that something was obviously amiss. All breaking in the same spot - around 10-12th fret. Been delving heavily into the blues these last few months, so lots of bending, playing sections repeatedly from solos etc . Inspection revealed something that had escaped my attention, despite being very meticulous in looking after my instruments. Frets are levelling, some indents, and likely some assoiciated burring, causing the string breakage. Fortunately, I’ve had no intonation, or buzzing issues. I realise frets are essentially a consumable item, but it took me by surprise. My Les Paul has similar levelling, but no issues yet.

When I started with Justin just over 2 years ago, my plan was to have 2 good quality entry level electrics. One Tele, and one Les Paul. I figured that if I could get 4 years out of them, while learning and developing, then I’d look at something more substantial, most likely with stainless steel frets, or similar. The 2 guitars I have are great instruments, both from a local Aussie maunfacturer, highly regarded by musos much more experienced than I. Together, they cost me about $AUS900. Both great guitars for me, and very happy with them.

This fret problem has however, given me a reality check, given the relative expense of repair. I took my Tele to the guys at my local guitar shop, who I’ve gotten to know pretty well in the last couple of years. They are going to help me out a bit by fixing any frets, and doing a full setup for $100, which I appreciate very much.
I suppose what I’m seeking here is some advice/ related experiences on how I can extend the life of these guitars for the next couple of years fretwise , given that any further fretwork is going to likely start running into hundreds of dollars, and of course, would be prohibitive given the cost of the guitars. Not being a rich man, new purchases have to be justified and budgetted for.
The guys at the shop gave me a few tips, and I’ve been doing a bit of research. Things like;

  1. Switch to 9s, ( from 10’s), and/ or use something like Daddario XT/XS strings, coated strings etc. Been thinking about doing this anyway, as the blues has me hooked, and probably will for the forseeable future.
  2. Keep working on playing with a lighter touch, which has been getting progressively better over time.
  3. Keep the drills a bit shorter.

Be interested in any other tips or related experiences, as I imagine it wouldn’t exactly be an uncommon occurence.

Cheers, Shane

Shane

Can’t say I have spotted any fret defects in the stable but when I started to really focus on the blues and bending, like you I went through a shed load of e strings, probably half a dozen. I ordered a job lot of e’s from Thomann and then funnily enough they stopped breaking. So I think this was mainly due to technique and touch. Now you watch having said that, I 'll be back to regular breaking. :rofl:

Cheers

Toby
:sunglasses:

Shane, I experienced similar and it turned out I had worn an edge onto one of the frets.

I used wet and dry to smooth them off which solved the string snapping problem but I guess I need to get it in for a fret dress at some point.

There is visible wear on mine up where you hold a D or A chord they look ‘squashed’ in.

Put tape in your frets to protect the wood if you are having a go yourself. I just did the edges. Again I think there is one of the setup videos where this is addressed, I’ll have a look….

Hi @sclay

It would be a shame if you would feel like you have to hold back just to save your frets.

Working on a lighter touch is always a good idea. (I found out only years after playing, I was applying a lot of force in everything I did. Playing on a guitar with higher frets and me pushing all my notes sharp made me realize that :D)
Nevertheless, that should hold you from doing just as much playing, bends and bluezy stuff!

You could get a “fret dress”
some ocpy paste:
To describe the process, first, make sure the neck is straight as possible, then a file or woodworkers’ level with sandpaper attached to it may used to sand down the tops of the frets, taking only the minimum amount needed to make all fret tops the same height. The frets are re-crowned using a fret crowning file and then polished to a mirror-smooth surface.

Just a bit of work could cut it for you and fret dresses shouldn’t be too expensive.

Remember that this is mostly the result of a GOOD thing, you playing a lot and enjoying it
You are a musician and you have a diligent process going on.

As you figured out, stainless steel frets will not easily start wearing out and refrets would be a hefty investment versus the purchase value of the guitars. They might even be better off with some affordable replacement necks in the future (with stainless steel frets ;))

My advice is to check this “fret dress” scenario first!

Thanks for the reply Lievan, and some reassuring words and advice. It is much appreciated.

The guys at the guitar shop are going to basically recrown and polish the frets on the cheap for me, for which I’m very grateful. I’ll likely get my next guitar from them anyway in a couple of years. They’ve got a Plek machine too which all new guitars go through.
I suppose the whole experience has taught me that no matter how well I look after the guitars, if the frets go, I’m stuffed. And with finances going south at a rapid rate in recent years, its made me feel pretty uneasy. Really affected my practice session tonight, as I felt pretty hesitant. Anyway, I’ll just have to get over it. Plenty of people in the world with more problems than frets on guitars.
Thanks again.
Cheers, Shane

2 Likes

Hey Toby,

Yep, I ordered some single e strings yesterday, to replace the ones I took out of my sets, plus a few spare :wink:

Hey Dave,

Thanks for the info mate. I was going to have a go myself. Have learnt to do a bit of maintenance/setup on the guitar, but was a bit hesitant with the fretwork. Its in the shop now, and the guys are helpin me out, so hopefully all will be Ok.

Cheers, Shane

1 Like

The weight may be less an issue than the string material itself, if you are using a hard material (relative to the fret material) then wear will occur more rapidly than if using a softer material.

This is a great idea anyway, I got a set-up and fret redress done on my acoustic guitar late last summer because… the frets were getting worn, the difference was night and day.

Some people just have a heavy touch or like thicker strings etc, you can get different fret sizes too.

Changing to lighter strings might help it’ll also show up any heavy fingering as you’re more likely to play out of tune a bit.

Ultimately playing relaxed and light is the best solution I think, its very easy for us learners to be way too stiff and forceful, I know I am and I know its much better not to be

If finances make it difficult to fix your guitar, do keep in mind that it is pretty easy, although fastidious, to do this yourself. Even replacing all the frets can be done on the cheap, if you are willing to invest the time. Not that I would recommend this routinely, but if your guitar doesn’t work and you can’t afford the help, you are not lost.

1 Like

Yeah thanks Joshua. If it came to that, I’d certainly have a crack at it myself.

Another vote for stainless steel frets. I have a guitar that is 18 years old with no fret work ever done on it. Had a reissue Fender Strat whose thin frets wore out in 2 years and I didn’t play that much.

This guitar ( a Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Telecaster) was bought new last September, I did not notice anything at the time so think I must have a really heavy touch on the low E and A strings, the wound string’s seem to have worn little groove’s while at certain frets on other strings there is a tiny dip…

Is this normal for someone with a heavy touch?

Or are these very soft frets…

Those look like really tall frets, so my guess is you are pressing a bit hard. you don’t need to press to the wood, just enough to sound right. The taller the fret the easier to pull the note sharp with too much pressure.

I put on thw D’Addario coated strings, very different feeling. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. And they are much brighter.

Perhaps an idea would be to get some tools over time and try to get the skills to do a refret on your own. If you can find a scrap piece of wood you can experiment on that bit by bit.
Keep in mind that tools branded for luthiers are much move expensive than the same tool bramded for anything else. For example “fret pullers” or “fret end cutters” can set you back tens of pounds/dollars but you can just buy any regular cutter and grind ot flat and you have your fret pullers or fret end cutters. Another example is “luthier’s feeler gauge”…
Long story short, you can get the basic tools on the cheap.
Another thing to note is that stainless steel is harder on the tools so if you practice with those, don’t practice too much :joy:

Will try not to press so hard… May be difficult.

Always thought you pressed to the wood…

These are “Narrow Tall” frets so apparently correct for a 50’s Telecaster,

Edit: started to loosen the death grip, not sounding good as yet, but improving. I had to grip very hard to get a C or an F on the first guitar with badly cut nut…