View Full Version : Do Mandolin Frets wear out over time?

Jun-12-2009, 6:55pm
I know this sounds like a stupid question, but I am thinking that due to the fact you do not really bend the strings when playing the Mandolin (I am assuming this due to being a total beginner), the frets would never really wear out over time.

Is this true?

I need to know because I am in the process of cutting the depth of the string slots in my newly installed hand cut and fitted (By me) genuine bone nut ... And I am not sure if I want to cut the slots in my new nut deep enough to play comfortably with the newly leveled frets being at only .021 thousands in height, when if I was to do a re-fret job the newly installed frets would be somewhere around .030 thousands in height (Assuming that I would have to sand off .006 thousands to level the frets after installation (New fret wire = .037 - .006 = .030 thousands)).

So, the real question becomes:

Do I cut the string slots in my new nut to play comfortably with the frets being at .021 thousands as it is now, or do I wait to cut the nut slots any lower than I have them now (.046 thousands at the G strings) until after I perform a re-fret job?

Thank you for your time.

Jun-12-2009, 7:47pm
I was wearing through a set of standard frets in about two years, much faster than the guitar. I now have stainless frets on my main mandolin and they barely have a mark after over 3 years. So yes they do wear.

Jun-12-2009, 8:02pm
Well, froggie, you're kinda green, aren't ya? Yep, the strings will wear ruts in the frets, but you don't need to concern yourself with that now. Take the notches down to comfort zone, and play the heck out of it. It'll be a while before you have to do address any problems. Hopefully you attached your new nut to the fretboard(endgrain) with a single drop of glue; if so, it'll come off with a single tap(block of wood).
You can make the nut taller by gluing a very thin piece of wood to the bottom of the nut, or you can make the notches taller by sanding up some bone dust, filling the notch and adding a drop of ca glue(careful). Or you can make a new bone nut. The second one takes just as much time, but the results are usually better.

Best of luck, benny

Lefty Luthier
Jun-12-2009, 8:07pm
If your frets are not too badly grooved, you may be able to re-crown them and raise the bridge to compensate. I would try that first before refretting. But if you do refret, use stainless frets but be aware that they must be smoothed on the end edges very carefully or you will get a cut finger.

Jim Broyles
Jun-12-2009, 8:38pm
If you don't make the nut slots deep enough you are highly liable to have first position intonation problems. I recommend cutting the nut to fit the mandolin you have now, not the one you may have in the future.

John Ritchhart
Jun-12-2009, 9:02pm

Jun-12-2009, 9:27pm
Thanks for the input/opinions, folks.

I shall cut the nut to be comfortable to play now, and deal with worn frets when they actually wear out someday.

Jun-14-2009, 4:23am
After about 8 years, I finally took the Old Girl (Mid Missouri) in for frets. Nine were replaced, this was in January. Now there is some nice grooving happening there on the new frets. I think I may be a Clamper...............anyway, frets are soft, Stainless Steel ones are probably what I need.

Jeff E
Jun-14-2009, 12:25pm
Benny mentioned that you can build up notches that are too deep with bone dust and super glue. Recently I learned that you can use baking soda and ca glue with good results. I can't say whether one method is better than the other, but it worked well for me.

Bob DeVellis
Jun-14-2009, 6:38pm
I've built up nut slots with baking soda and it works great. It looks fine and it doesn't seem to wear prematurely. On a vintage instrument with a pearl nut, I crushed up a broken pearl tuner button and glued the powder in with CA. That also looks and works great. Of course, the fact that the glued-in material is under the string goes a long way to obviate any appearance issues. But, to be honest, I can't even remember which mandolins I did and I certainly don't notice anything when I'm changing strings.

Jun-16-2009, 11:38am
BE VERY CAREFUL WITH PEARL DUST! People who cut, grind, or file pearl or abalone (any shell), can inhale small particles which are like glass. Too much, and you can develop a terrible situation in your lungs, which is much like silicosis that miners suffer, and die from. People who do inlay work, cut pearl on a water table, so that the pearl and the cutting tools, are beneath a thin layer of water, which eliminates the dust.
Gene Warner

Ed Lee
Aug-22-2009, 8:54am
Frets of stainless steel ??? A squared / rectangular band at that ??? Methinks its time to view under 1000x microscope and observe corners. Experience as a gunsmith found burr (tang) edge on manufactured stainless steel semi-automatic sidearms such as was causal of irregular slide movement and trigger pull significant enough for FBI to reject 10 mm S&W.

Thus, wouldn't at least top edge of fret have to super smooth possibly with a minute convex radius? I would fear stainless steel would chew mando strings unless there was a process of honing on this surface edge.

Nickel silver has one characteristic that is very favorable ... a stable co-efficent of expansion and contraction ... my measuring meter bar and Theo. Alteneder technical drawing instruments are made of this as is the same material as is used in calibrated plates of other precision instruments.

Ed Lee

David Thompson
Aug-26-2009, 9:30am
I built my mandolin in the spring of 2003 and it just now got its 3rd set of frets
which by the way are the biggest thigs found in the stew mac catolog and I love the feel of it.

Sep-03-2009, 9:21pm
Has anyone had any experience, good or bad, using the newer EVO fret wire which supposedly has longer life than conventional yet mills easily with conventional fret tools?

I am about a year and a half into a new mando and have some slight gouging to the the fret wire, especially A and D courses, up to about the 5th or 6th fret. I use med lights GHS. 0000 brass wool seems to have smoothed out the worst of it for the moment. Sound does not seem compromised so far.

It's basically an entry level instrument so I might undertake learning how to re-fret. To those in the know, any advantage to removing the neck in order to undertake any required re-planing and then the re-fret? It's a bolt on with two surfaces that simply butt up one against the other (Breedlove).

Likely this will be next spring or summer, so plenty of time to read up........
Perhaps larger fret wire also than OEM will be my choice.
Thxz in advance for any insights on this.


Sep-04-2009, 10:16am
As somebody who did my first refret on one of my mandos, I advise you strongly to practice on a super cheap Ebay special first. Just the practice in pulling a few frets will repay your time and money.

Sep-04-2009, 10:24am
I pulled a smashed up cheapo classical from the trash.....the neck has painted on fret markers but real frets.....so I'll go to town on that.
Thanks for the suggestion.

From these posts, it seems as if the existing fret removal is the toughest part.......


Dale Ludewig
Sep-06-2009, 8:41am
Everything wears out. Including us.
The main mandolin I play I've played for 5 years and it doesn't need refretting yet. And I play it a lot. Sure, there's wear, but not enough to cause any problems. When that happens I'll take it to the shop and do it. A light touch, just enough, with the left hand is what is called for. It also allows for a bit better on the speed end of things.