If you end up playing your guitar for some time, it might eventually have the frets start wearing out on it. That’s when it’ll need to go through a refretting process to restore its functionality.
Although a complete refret is an uncommon repair request, it is something that does occasionally happen when an instrument gets played daily over several years.
Only high-end guitars go through a refret, although an instrument with sentimental value sometimes goes to the workshop. The reason why cheaper, entry-level units don’t get this work done is because of the cost.
You can typically buy a new entry-level guitar for the price it would cost to refret an older one.
How Much Does It Cost to Refret a Guitar?
It typically costs at least $200 to refret a guitar, with the price sometimes reaching as high as $400 for specialty models. If you have an instrument that you love playing with a retail value of $1,500 or more, it is almost always worth the investment.
The precise cost to refret a guitar depends on the size and style of your instrument. If you’re trying to repair a full-size design, the price will be more than a half-size or three-quarter product.
Your neck design will also influence the eventual quote you receive for the refretting work. The price is usually different for set-in necks compared to the ones that bolt onto the guitar. Even the wood plays a role in the eventual repair cost, especially if there is a binding on it.
If you have a rosewood neck on your guitar, the refretting cost might be less than it is for maple. When your design is a bolt-on, the price should go down even further. That’s why a Strat with a rosewood fret is often one of the cheaper repairs out there in this category.
On the other end of the equation are the fragile, expensive products that some vintage guitars use. The cost always rises when the luthier or repair specialist must take more time to complete the work.
When Should I Consider Refretting a Guitar?
The only time you shouldn’t consider refretting a guitar is when the repair price is higher than a new instrument of similar quality.
If you have an entry-level Fender that you picked up for $250 and the repair price for refretting is $350, the value of keeping the original instrument becomes questionable. If you can get a similar product that meets your playing needs new for that price, it’s often better to update your investment.
The one exception to that rule involves sentimentality. If your father gave you the guitar and that’s the only thing you have to remember him by, it is worth almost any price to refret the instrument.
When you have a vintage guitar that requires work, the refret maintenance is an expected expense. It might not need to be finished right away, but you’ll need to address the problem eventually. If you find yourself in these circumstances, it helps to save a little back each month until you need to take the instrument into the shop.
If you have a custom guitar, a high-value piece, or something from a signature collection that would cost several thousand dollars to replace, it’s worth talking with a repair specialist to see about getting those frets redone.
Does My Guitar Need to Have New Frets?
When you play the instrument, the guitar strings get pressed against the fret each time you play something other than an open note or chord. Every time your fingers impact this surface, it leaves a fractional dent.
This issue doesn’t bother most musicians until several years of regular playing occur. If you play without vibrato, you’ll notice the cumulative nature of the impacts can start affecting your playing style.
The first step to take when determining if your guitar needs new frets is to check the instrument thoroughly. If you don’t see any visual differences that indicate one section or area is more worn than others, the guitar is likely playable.
When the notes aren’t shared when you play, if you lose sustain, or you’ve noticed that some chords or tones are always problematic, a refret is likely necessary.
If you only have one section that creates problems, the luthier will typically file down the other frets to restore their evenness. This technique often eliminates the problem without needing to replace them all.
Are you worried about your frets wearing out? If you’re like most average players, it often takes 10+ years before you’ll need to start thinking about this task. When you play multiple guitars, it might not be necessary at all!
If you play with lots of vibrato and bending, you’ll experience more wear and tear than standard playing. Even when your finger impacts have strength, it takes about five hours of playing daily to put your guitar into a place where you’d need to consider bringing it into the shop for a repair.
How Many Times Can a Guitar Get Refretted?
Most guitars can get refretted about 3-5 times before a complete neck replacement becomes necessary to continue using the instrument.
As with most issues, the guitar’s quality plays a role in the eventual number of restorations that are possible with this technique.
The only time you’ll need to worry about encountering this problem is if you tour consistently for a long, long time.
One of the best examples of this issue comes from Stevie Ray Vaughan. One of his favorite instruments was “Number One,” which was a Stratocaster. When he was touring all of the time, especially during the early years, the guitar was with him at almost every show.
As the instrument got older, Vaughan had it refretted several times until it was no longer usable in the same style and structure. The repair professionals eventually had to replace the entire guitar neck so that it was still functional.
The good news for musicians is that the work doesn’t take long to complete. An experienced luthier can finish the job in a couple of hours. That means your wait time is based on the customer requests that have already come into the shop when you want to have your frets replaced.
In most situations, you shouldn’t be without your instrument for more than a week.
What If I Want to Refret My Guitar?
It is possible to refret a guitar using DIY methodologies. As long as you have the proper tools at home and don’t mind taking the time to get things right, the job will cost more in time than supplies.
Since most guitarists don’t have the tools or supplies at home to work on this job, you’ll need to invest in a few things before getting started. The good news is that once you secure all of the items, you’ll have enough stuff to refret multiple guitars when the need arises.
■ Items Needed to Refret a Guitar
|Fret Wires||• If the frets are worn to the point where they’re no longer usable, you’ll need to perform a complete replacement of the wires. |
• Some products are universally compatible, while others will only work with specific instruments or brands, such as these Holmer stainless steel options for Fender electric or bass guitars.
|Crowning File||• When you need to have your frets become more even, the fastest way to get the job finished is to file the high sections down. |
• If you have a product like the FretGuru Crowning File Dagger 2.0, you can contour the wires to have the specific shape and sizing you want.
• The best options should have beveling included to prevent damage to your fingerboard.
|Cleaning Kits||• When you have clean strings, they’ll play faster and stay stronger for a longer time. |
• With regular maintenance, you can reduce finger noises as you slide into each note and chord.
• It also helps to have the MusicNomad String Care Kit for your refretting work to ensure you receive an accurate measure of the action after completing the restoration work.
You’ll need some wood glue, sandpaper, a fret-tang nipper, and pulling pliers to work on the frets.
It also helps to have painter’s tape, lemon oil, feeler gauges, and clamps available to create a secure installation.
Steps to Follow When Completing a DIY Refret
Once you’ve gathered the supplies, you’ll be ready to tackle the steps needed to refret your guitar.
- Start by supporting the guitar’s neck with an excellent caul or some shot bags. You’ll also need to protect the instrument and have it set with the desired tuning and string gauge.
- Once secured, you can begin to remove the frets. It helps to use lemon oil on ebony and rosewood fingerboards to reduce chipping and cracking. If the instrument feels dry, the liquid might need to stay on overnight. Then spray some water on the fingerboard, and heat it to produce steam.
- Nip the corners with pliers, slowly working the tool underneath and across the fret crown bottom until the wire comes out of its slot. Continue heating and removing as needed until you’ve taken the offending items out.
- You are now ready to level your fretboard. You’ll need to remove the nut and possibly the machine heads. Any hardware above or below could get struck by the sandpaper, which is why it is useful to remove the components.
- Scrape out the old debris and glue left behind in the slot.
- Fill the space ends with contrasting or matching wood ends, gluing the strips to give you a clean finish.
- Sand the fretboards fall of by building tape to about 10 layers at the fifth fret. You’ll need to plane the tongue and cover about one-third of the bar’s edge to achieve the preferred radius. Once finished, continue to sand the rest of the fretboard.
- Reslot and bevel the gaps and edges before laying the new wire into the slots. It helps to cut about 3/4-inch off each end to work the wrap-around technique. Hammer them into place, work in the glue, and clamp until dry.
■ What Happens If the Frets Aren’t Even?
Although the steps for completing a guitar refret are relatively straightforward, some errors can creep into the work when taking the DIY approach.
The most common issue involves fret equalization. If you have one taller, shorter, or rougher than the rest, you can get a lot of buzzing and feedback from the instrument. Some guitars might not play the correct tone from the impacted area, and wire burrs are known to cause injuries at times.
You can also damage the fingerboard when removing or installing frets. This issue often happens when cutting or filing the ends to meet the neck, which is why an excellent crowning file is a must-have option.
If an accident occurs, you’d also be on the hook for damage repairs since DIY maintenance with this work would likely fall outside of your warranty.
A Final Thought on Replacing Your Guitar Frets
Although most guitarists never need to give this issue a second thought, there might be times when new frets are useful on a favorite instrument. When you hear buzzing or experience less sustain, the first step is to replace your strings.
If your new strings are still buzzing, humming, or having sustain problems, the pickups might require a closer inspection.
Once you checked those items, the frets could be unbalanced or worn.
Unless you’ve played the guitar for several years, the issue is likely one of the first two solutions instead of a fret replacement need.
The price for the new frets is inconsequential. Even if you buy the wire at retail, you’ll likely spend less than $20. It’s the labor that causes the price to go up to $400 or more for some repairs since each fret must be removed and a new one cut and inserted in its place.
If the quote you receive is more than you paid for the instrument, your best option is to invest in a new guitar.