Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Fret Wear

Congratulations Ray! Wearing your frets down is a real good thing because that means that you are playing a bunch. Well done! To add a bit more to the conversation from above. Yes, as Dave said, capos can accelerate fret wear. Dave also mentioned pressure… the harder you play, the more the frets wear, but, I come back to this… fret wear is a good thing. Keep playing!

Obi Clark Kenobi is (of course) correct. When I was playing a ton of grass, I used to dress and level as often as a couple times a year. I started doing this myself, and if it was done before the wear got too bad, it was very quick and easy. Leveling and dressing does take ALL your frets down to the plane of the lowest spots. So in essence, you are moving fret height to the most worn spots. Once the lowest frets were down about to about a half or two-thirds of original height (4 or 5 years), it was time for some new frets. However, over the last few years, I have come to a different personal approach and Archie hit on it as well. Once I get some noticeable wear, I have the bottom frets (I generally do about 11) replaced with stainless. Stainless frets wear so slow that I think of them as a permanent fix. Stainless is very tough to work with, so when you do dress, it is more work. Also some people think the tone is too pingy. All that said, I am happy with stainless, and have moved the 3 instruments I most often play over to stainless.

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Hi @Mike_R I replaced all 22 frets with SS not just the bottom 11. I couldn’t find a Luthier to do it so I did it myself. It wasn’t easy. As for the tone being too pingy. I personally don’t think that SS frets change the tone. Others may disagree.

The biggest issue I had was cutting and filing the edges of the fret wires. I used a Dremel Tool. Regular cutting pliers just broke.

I think I’ve had SS frets for 5 years now, 4 -5 hours of daily practice. No wear.

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Wow, thanks for the replies, and advise, I REALLY appreciate it. I have to admit, I was freaking out a little, I know frets are a expendable component, but had not reference to how long they should last.

I’m in Northern California, and not a lot of Banjo’s around or luthiers. I’ll have to research dressing the frets myself, I don’t think I want to experiment on replacing the frets myself just yet.

Being a newbie to the banjo, I know I apply too much pressure, seems once I get more familiar with the piece, I lighten up on the strings. I gauge my progress with the callous on my fingers, they seem to be loosing the thickness from 6 months ago…but then again, I’m getting more familiar with the pieces I’ve been working on…

So, worn frets is a sign of passage, huh, I’m walking a little taller today!!!

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Drop an email to Bill Evans. bill@billevansbanjo.com He recently got married and has moved away from California but I am sure he could furnish you with an address for a luthier. I do believe Bill Knopf also lives in California.

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Thanks Archie, I’ll give Bill a shout…

Is it worth shipping my Banjo out to someone? Would a Guitar luthier be able to re-fret a Banjo?

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I have shipped instruments, but that is because there a specific person I want working on it. Yes, any decent luthier can refret a banjo. I bet you have a suitable luthier closer than you think.

Ray, I think you have a ways to go before you need to worry about a refret. If you have a micrometer, measure the height of an unworn spot and compare it to a worn spot. Most people don’t have them replaced until there is significant wear (I’ve gone down to just under 50% before). In the mean time, you mentioned willingness to learn to level and dress. That is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require significant tools. In fact it can be done with simple files, but I would recommend a crowning file and if your fretboard is radiused, I’d recommend a radius block to match. If your fretboard is flat, a plain old file or flat sanding block will allow you to level. You may have more work to do the first time, but once you get it back to level, periodic touch ups will keep it in top notch shape. When the frets are getting close to too low for your preferences, then I’d worry about refretting,

Just my two cents…

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I agree with @Mike_R

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There is a list of luthiers on the California Bluegrass Association webpage. https://www.cbaweb.org/Resources/Luthiers

You can see, they are spread out all over. The Hendricks Boys do excellent work. They also make Hendricks Banjos and they are a thing (and sound) of beauty.

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Mike, I agree, your two cents is worth a lot to me, just like having a plan. I certainly will look into level and dressing the frets myself. Something I should know anyway I would think. I love all aspects of the banjo, including its construction. But I have enough respect to know that all parts work together.

The Hendricks is just down the road from me, I’ll check them out.

I tried posting a picture of it, seems my file is too large…

hi @rharrell Ray

You can resize your picture online for free. https://picresize.com/ then upload it to the site

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Hope this worked!?

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Hey it worked, thanks Archie, you’re awesome!!!

This is the 2nd and 3rd fret…

:shushing_face::shushing_face::shushing_face:Shush don’t tell everyone Ray

Those frets don’t look too bad to me, still a little bit of mileage left. Might be worth getting them dressed though.

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Are you putting the capo directly on the fret or behind them? That looks like a lot of wear to me.

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Also, you do not need any more pressure on the capo than it takes to make a clean note.

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Thanks Archie, I’m reading and watching everything I can find on dressing/leveling/crowning frets myself. Trying to put together a list of tools I need verses what I already have or could use as a substitute.

Question, will I need to readjust my action after leveling or is it so minimal of material being removed that I shouldn’t have to?

JoeB, no, I place the capo behind the fret, and adjust the pressure to get a clean note. I’ve been very careful not to put excessive pressure on the strings. I’ve experimented with location to the fret and pressure.

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It is not a must to adjust action after leveling. However, the nut action is affected by fret wear, so if you were trying to get everything perfect, you would often bring the nut slots down a bit with the level. I would level, dress, and then check the nut action to make sure it is still acceptable. My guess is that it won’t be enough off to bother you.

You can use a triangle file for shaping the crowns. However, I find a crowning file is much quicker and easier to get consistent results. As I mentioned before, if you have a flat fretboard, a file or a flat sanding block will work for leveling.

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Shoot, my GoldStar is way worse than that and still plays fine. If you’re not having any issues, keep on picking! :slight_smile:

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I’ve been putting off doing mine while it still plays OK. But I am beginning to notice a bit of string buzz on some pulloffs now and then. As you say Archie, SS is something we have to do ourselves as Luthiers over here in the UK dont want to know. They will only replace nickel.

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Hi Jon, You may find a Guitar Luthier willing to do a SS re-fret. Apparently SS is used on many electric guitars. So these Luthiers are more likely to have appropriate tools. Regular tools wear out too quickly because SS is so hard.

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