Spot-fixing frets – a little shift, big problemo!

Often, when the season changes you develop a cold and a cough. In much the same manner, your acoustic instrument is likely to develop a string buzz.

The reason for this is that wood being a dynamic material, expands and contracts under the effect of temperature and humidity changes of the environment. The wood expands and contracts at a certain rate but the metal fretwire does so at vastly different rate. This uneven expansion or contraction of the wood and frets results in the very irritating fret buzz.

However, the above statements are true only of solid wood guitars (those that have single pieces of wood as their top, back and sides, and are not made of laminated wood – plywood). And that is why changing seasons are deadly for solid wood guitars. So, why make them? Why buy them?

For their sound! You have to sit down with a solid wood guitar and play it to understand the pleasure of it.

You would remember me working on this beautifully constructed all-wood guitar. This came in again, recently, afflicted by the ‘seasonal fret buzz’.

Trying to find the errant fret(s), I went over the fretboard with a fretrocker (a five-sided steel piece milled absolutely flat on each side), three frets at a time. Finally, I managed to locate the ‘popped up’ frets and marked them.

When one levels, radiuses and re-crowns the fretboard, one is tackling all the frets, but during spot-fixing, one only needs to focus on two or three frets (which are, more often than not, in succession). Thus, not taking off the strings to work on the frets is often possible, though I took off the strings on this one, as I had to change them in any case.

Otherwise, introducing two small wooden blocks between the strings and the fretboard, raises the strings and gives you enough room in between, to work on the frets.

The painter’s tape that I used was to protect the fretboard from the various files and grits of sandpaper used in getting the truant frets, first in line and then, in shape.

As I went about stringing her up, I found the action was high too. That demanded the saddle to be taken down.

The contraption I am using is sandpaper super-glued to painter’s tape, which is stuck to a piece of scrap MDF. The flatness of the MDF helps sand the saddle (or the nut) very straight, without there being any possibility of it tilting.

Finally, as I was tuning up the instrument, I was really pleased to notice that there was still an excellent break angle being created at the saddle. The steeper the angle at which a string ‘breaks’ over the saddle or nut, the more downward pressure it applies to that saddle or nut. That downward pressure helps in the transfer of sound, and thus, a fuller, richer sound.

Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *