A Martin refret, with a bit of binding and purfling repair too.
Martin D-45 Refret
This Martin D-45 from the early ’80s is in pretty good shape. The owner brought it in with some fret buzz complaints, but otherwise she was happy with its performance. Inspecting the guitar showed that the buzz was due to fret wear, and the fretboard wasn’t true. This guitar has a non-adjustable O-beam truss rod, so straightening the neck with a truss rod adjustment isn’t an option. The fret work will give me the opportunity to flatten the fretboard.
I also noticed this loose binding, that will be repaired along the way.
In preparation for the fret job I remove the strap button or any other after market items.
A Martin’s non-adjustable truss rod has unique issues to overcome when refretting. For example, I can’t adjust the rod to true the neck once the strings are removed. I use a string simulation jig that supports the neck once the strings are removed. With the guitar strapped onto the jig, I can take the strings of and repair the fretboard with the neck held straight as if it were under string pressure.I tilt the whole jig/guitar assembly onto its side — putting it into the playing position to relieve the pull of gravity on the neck.
I raise neck supports into position from behind, to hold the neck firmly, then remove the strings. Now I’m free to deal with the neck issues accurately.
To remove the frets, I heat them with a soldering gun.
The neck had a little more relief (up-curve) than I would like to see. So I place a notched straightedge on the fret board to check the amount of relief. The notches avoid the frets, so their unevenness doesn’t interfere with the reading.
I want to decrease the amount of relief by about 30 to 40%. To do this I lower the support under the nut and monitor the movement on the measuring dial.
I watch the straightedge to make sure I’m happy with the decrease in relief. Once I leveled the fret board the relief is decreased by the amount shown on the dial caliper.
To level the fretboard, I first cover it with white pencil marks then sand it flat with my leveling bar. The leveling bar is covered with both 120 and 180 grit sand paper. I stop sanding when the pencil marks have been eliminated (below).
I next clean the fret slots and fill any chips with a little ebony dust and thin cyanoacrylate. Then I cut the fretwire to length.
In this case I will have to remove some of the tang from under the fret, so it won’t disturb the binding on the sides of the neck. To do this, I use my StewMac tang nippers, removing enough tang to clear the binding on both ends.
With the frets and slots prepped, I start the fretting process. To absorb the blows of the fretting hammer, I use a fret buck under the tongue (the part of the fretboard extending over the body). A leather-covered metal block supports the neck.
I cover the fret board with Minwax, and fill the slot with a little cynoacrolate (super glue).
The frets are installed with a brass hammer.
As I was hammering the frets in a small section of pearl bounced out of the purfling next to the tongue. Once I cut away excess fret ends, I’ll glue this back into place with a bit of white glue.
With the frets glued in place, I accelerate the excess glue to firm it up and peel away the excess with a dull chisel.
With the frets secure I trim the excess tang off and file the ends to a 30-degree angle.
I round the ends with a file and sand them up to an 800-grit sheen.
Once the excess glue is removed I clean the fret board by scraping it with razor blade. Now the board’s ready for fret dressing.
I place the guitar back into the fretting jig for fret leveling and adjust the support rods until the neck is straight using the notched straight edge.
I use a blue marker to cover the tops of the frets to assist me in the leveling process (when the blue is completely removed, I know the frets are level). I use the same type of leveling bar to level the tops of the frets but with but with a less aggressive 320-grit paper.
The next step is to mask off the fret board and round and polish the frets. I use a diamond rounding file to crown the frets and then sand and polish them to a mirror sheen.
There were some small areas around the pickguard that had some wear in the finish. I used a small brush to apply some reduced lacquer onto these spots.
I did the same on the outside of the pickguard. The completed touchup has a good look that will last for years.
I found a loose section of binding at the waist of the guitar. I masked off the area and lightly heated it, loosening the plastic binding enough to be pressed into position.
I work some white glue into the binding slot and tap it into place until the glue dries.
That’s it. Once the glue’s dry, all that’s left is the final setup and this guitar is ready to go.