By John M. Gilben
After fretting an instrument a fret file is commonly used to dress the frets, and it works O.K. A more accurate way is to use stones made to suit the radius of your fretwire and stone the frets to a level condition.
One method is to obtain stones 1/8" thick x 1/2" wide x 6" long in various grits and make your own fret stones from them.
First cut the stone into 1.2" lengths. This is done by either scoring around the stone with a tungsten carbide scriber and snapping it off at the score line, or holding it at 1.2" long in a vise and hitting it at the grip line with a sharp piece of steel.
Next, obtain a piece of steel, 3/32" thick x 1/2" wide x 4" long and file or belt sand a radius on one edge. (See sketch #1) Score the edge about every 1/4" using the corner of a file. Hold the piece of steel in a vise, with the radius up.
To form a radius on the stone (see sketch #2), dip the stone in paint thinner then dip it into the silicon carbide grit (I use #100). Now rub the stone on the steel radius using the fingers of both hands to center it. While moving the stone back and forth along the steel you also want to rock it from side to side. The grit will dress the stone to the desired radius (see sketch #2 again). Remember to keep plenty of grit and thinner between the steel and the stone because this does the shaping. Notice that the grooves filed into the steel are for the grit to roll into and out of. The end result is a stone that will put a perfect radius on your frets.
Dive To Bottom
To use the stones, set up the instrument in whatever fashion you're used to, and start leveling the frets. I use an 18" hardened combination square blade and rub the edge of it on the frets. The high frets get a shiny line on them. I then stone off the line. By repeating this process you can end up with a perfectly level set of frets. Perhaps this method is slower than filing but it is more accurate and it doesn't heat the frets.
Several things to do for a more perfect job:
1. When stoning the frets, rock
the stone from side to side. This helps to keep the
Additionally, the black silicon carbide grit is perfect for running vibration patterns on guitar faces. Also, it's the proper material to use to dress bench and tool sharpening stones. Sprinkle it liberally on a steel plate (dry) and rub the stones on the grit. Do coarse stones on the fresh grit, and as it breaks down, use it for finer stones.
SOURCES OF MATERIAL
The stones can be purchased from Paul H. Gesswein Co., P.O. Box 3998, Bridgeport, CT. I use #EDM 6123 and #EDM 6303.
The silicon carbide grit can be purchased from any lapidary supply store. I use 60 to 90 grit but any grit from 60 to 150 should be O.K.
The steel can be purchased as flat ground stock at most machinery supply companies. Look in your yellow pages.
John also shared with us a method he uses of keeping the fretwire properly seated. Using a small pair of needle-nose pliers he grinds them to the configuration shown. With these he squeezes a couple of 'S' crimps into the tang and then presses them into the fingerboard.
John Gilbert, is a well known builder of classic guitars. There are probably more Gilbert guitars in the hands of the "stars," than those of any other makers.) John has offered us many informative tips over the years, most of which you'll find throughout this catalog. We often send him interesting but lesser known species of wood to run through his tests. (According to some preliminary data, we might have something with a sustainable yield wood from Peru.)
Chief tool engineer for Hewlett-Packard for many years, and self-taught, John lives in Woodside, California. He recently began making guitars with his son, Bill, a history and chemistry graduate from UC Berkely.
Text From The Luthiers' Mercantile Catalog - 1993
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