Do Guitars Need Fret Leveling and Why Is It Important?
Fret leveling allows the strings to vibrate freely, more easily and clearly across the entire length of the neck. This helps sound, sustain and playability. We level frets when they are worn down or uneven due to normal use and even when NEW guitars come into the shop for a setup. Hand fret leveling is similar to the new high-tech method called Plekking. It is however, in my opinion and older, better method with great results.
Fret leveling improves the playability and sound quality of a guitar. When “NEW” or even over time frets from become too high or too low relative to each other. The difference in fret heights can cause buzzing, dead spots, intonation problems, action issues and uneven wear on strings. As well it is a distraction for the guitar player.
Humidity as well as poor installation complicate things a lot. Generally, when a guitar is new, and frets are first installed they go in at a set pressure with a pneumatic machine. The typical range is between 100 and 300 pounds per square inch (psi) per fret. Pressure used also depends on several factors, such as the type of fret wire, the size and shape of the fret slot, the radius of the fingerboard.
Being organic wood density is uneven…
What is generally not taken into account by guitar companies and guitar techs is the fact that wood is organic. No one talks about this. The reason it’s important is because the density throughout the fretboard changes during the entire board length.
Why does this matter? It’s simply physics. When a fret is pressed in at say, 150 psi on the first fret then the process reaches the 7th fret, the wood may be a completely different density at that position negating the use of so much/little pressure to install that fret. While there is no definitive amount of pressure recommended when installing frets, the installation pressure relative to the next fret can change dramatically with wood density.
What does this mean? Simply that from the beginning when the guitar is new it needs a fret level. Period. It’s a step almost never included in the final steps of setup on a new guitar.
Why? It takes time. The guitar companies are more interested in quantity, mass production and getting guitars out to the stores for sale rather than a guitar players happiness. So, they downplay the importance of “leveling frets”.
When it comes to low action it cannot be achieved without this fret leveling process. So, Gibson, Fender, Martin and all of you other companies, listen up and do a better job! On second thought, keep doing the same old job you’re doing so I’ll always have a job doing for players what you consistently don’t do.
It’s not always what you do when building and setting up a guitar…
Good fret leveling involves filing the tops of the frets until finally they are all at the same height. After that they need to be crowned to bring the round shape back to the top of the frets.
Finally, polishing them to leave them looking good but most importantly, smooth for bending strings. Fret leveling is a skilled and precise job that I do always without fail on every guitar build.
It’s not always what you do when building and setting up a guitar to perfection, but what you don’t do that players notice.
Cost Of Fret Leveling
For as little as $65 in The Haywire Custom Guitars Shop, it’s well worth the money to have all frets leveled on your guitar.