Precision Bass Fret Job: Maple Neck
Here’s a 2-minute look at refretting a maple neck P bass that came through the Galloup Guitars repair shop.
Refretting a Maple-Neck Fender Precision Bass
Refretting a maple neck Fender is something many repair shops shy away from, for good reason. It’s not something you should get into unless you’re equipped for the possibility of refinishing the neck. (Applying finish around the frets is tricky, so when this is required I price accordingly.)
Sometimes refinishing isn’t required, especially on older Fender necks. Up until sometime in the late 1960s, Fenders were fretted in a way that allows the frets to be removed without disturbing the lacquer. Once you’re able to recognize these finishes by eye, you’ll know when you have a Fender that will allow the “sideways” refret method I’m going to show you here.This is a late-sixties Precision bass. The original nut has been replaced with an aftermarket brass nut, and it has a new set of tuners. Otherwise, from a repair standpoint the bass is in original condition.
The first step is to remove the strings and take off the neck. This way, I can work on the neck with no chance of damaging the body.
I can see that the finish on this neck is thinner than on necks made in the 1970s and later. When this neck was made, the frets were driven into the fret slot from the side of the fingerboard rather than pressed down in. If I were to try to remove these frets by pulling them up, not only would the maple fretboard chip excessively, but I’d damage the finish bond repair. That would mean the fingerboard would need refinishing, which is something to avoid.
Instead of pulling the frets up, I’m driving them out the same way they went in—from the side. I’m using a nail set to make a small divot in the end of the fret to get a purchase on it. Then I slowly tap the frets out cleanly.
I prep the new frets by curving the fretwire to match the radius of the neck. Then I cut the wire to length: wide enough to span the neck with a little extra sticking off each side.
I have had a fret press made from an arbor press that I’ve been using for 20 years. I bolt the neck to the custom platform and press the frets in.
I fill the slot with white glue…
…and set the fret ends into the slot using a hammer. This keeps them from tipping during the pressing process.
Then I press the fret into place. I glue and press the frets into place 4 or 5 at a time to make the job go faster.
After about two hours the frets have set and they are ready for dressing. I start by nipping of the excess fret and bevel the ends to a 30-degree angle.
Next I round the fret ends but I have extra carfull not to disterb the finish on the fret board.
Now I sand the fret ends to a 600-grit sheen. Again I have to be careful as not to remove any finish.
To dress the frets I bolt the neck to a maple plank, which serves as a stand-in for the actual guitar body (below).
Then I adjust the truss rod until the neck is as true as possible, and blue the tops of the frets with a magic marker in preparation for leveling.
To level the frets use my leveling bar with 220 then 329 grit sandpaper [fig 21].
To finish the dress I round the frets then sand up to a 600-grit paper and finish with 0000 steel wool.
The customer wanted replacing the brass nut with a bone one. It was not fit well and it just fell out.
There was some excess glue that had to removed prepping the slot to accept the new nut.
I sand the bone blank to thickness and place it in the slot.On Fender guitars the bottom of the slot mimics the raidus of the fingerboard, so I trace this contour onto the blank. Then I sand the bottom into the curved shape so it will fit the bottom of the slot.
After putting the neck back on the body, and with the nut fitted into place, I file the string slots…
…and set the bass to Fender factory specs.