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Thread: Refret Considerations

  1. #1
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    Default Refret Considerations

    Hello all. I've been away for a long while. Not just from the site, but from playing regularly also.

    Anyway... I've been piddling around with the ol' Johnson MF-370 lately, and replaced the strings last night. Surprisingly, even with my lack of playing, there is some pretty substantial wear on the frets.

    Those frets are pretty small to begin with, and I'm curious about a total refret, and going with larger ones this time. I'm pretty sure I'll need to redo the nut also, but that is cool by me. The strings are also wearing heavily into the saddle, so I am thinking of just doing a major overhaul. New nut, new ebony bridge, and refret.

    It's paid for you know... an old and relatively inexpensive café classifieds purchase to begin with, but it's a solid carved top, f style, top of the line Johnson, player that I want to keep a good while longer, I think.

    Back to the frets, I'm thinking taller frets may improve playability. Easier fretting. Not sure how changing width affects things. Would love some input here...

    I know it wasn't JUST the frets that made the one Collings that I played so easy, but I imagine it had a part... along with a better neck shape and (for me) that compound radius. What size are theirs on an MT?

    I guess I'm just looking for comments and suggestions about the effects of various fret sizes and playability.

    I think I want to go stainless (the gold of EVO would clash with the other hardware on this one).

    Thanks all...

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    I think I paid $ 300 last time I had mine done, so that is a consideration. Stainless would have been a good bit more.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    I am not a fan of large frets, I took the large frets out of a new mandolin after a week, just couldn't get used to them. I like to feel the fretboard. With taller or most larger frets a lighter touch is necessary to not push the string out of tune. Even with my old hands and arthritis and I do play light, I just couldn't get used to it. You may want to play a mandolin with larger frets before committing. Then it may be just me, some like them some don't. You can always shim the nut as opposed to getting a new one if the one you have is still good.
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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Those of us who prefer taller frets will never go back to low wire.

    That said and done, even though the mandolin is paid for, I would not advise sinking that kind of money into a Johnson. I recommend putting the money into a fund for a better mandolin.

    In my shop, the cost for a refret, new nut, and a good ebony bridge would be somewhere between $450 and $500, assuming that the mandolin does not need any other work. For that amount of money, you can get a used Eastman 515, which is likely to be a much better mandolin. Or, you would be a quarter of the way to a good used Collings.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Those of us who prefer taller frets will never go back to low wire.

    That said and done, even though the mandolin is paid for, I would not advise sinking that kind of money into a Johnson. I recommend putting the money into a fund for a better mandolin.

    In my shop, the cost for a refret, new nut, and a good ebony bridge would be somewhere between $450 and $500, assuming that the mandolin does not need any other work. For that amount of money, you can get a used Eastman 515, which is likely to be a much better mandolin. Or, you would be a quarter of the way to a good used Collings.
    Thanks, I do understand what you are saying about the value.

    I do believe I can do the nut myself. I kind of prefer it that way, as after I bought the Johnson I had one carved to my specs. It had to be done several times to actually get what I asked for in string spacing. Next time, I'll give it a go myself.

    I'm also confident I can fit and notch a new bridge correctly.

    The frets are another story though. I bet I could do it, but it's just more than I "want" to do myself.

    I know the Johnsons don't get raving reviews around here, but it is a fine mandolin overall. It's still in very good shape with no real damage, just wear and a lone ding that was there when I bought it off the classifieds here. The neck is still straight. It is fine for me now, and even if I had that sweet Collings I would likely keep this one.

    I guess what I'm saying is that although it may not be a Ferrari, or Vette, heck it may not even be a Camaro, but it is a reliable and fine Cherokee or Toyota. No need to dump it really. Just throw on some new tires, replace the shocks and maybe a valve cover gasket.... and it'll be good for another 100k miles.

    And while I know Eastman gets a lot of love around here, and likely rightfully so (I've played a few), I would view it as a lateral move at best. Maybe not against the lower grade pressed board Johnsons, but this solid model (I checked, it's actually ALL solid carved)... I think I'll come out ahead spending a bit on some well deserved maintenance.

    As far as being a quarter of the way to a used Collings. You are talking about an A model (I'll hold out til I can get an F like I want), and it's not really even a 1/4 of the way anymore. Those things are raising in price faster than I can save. It seems every year I think I've saved enough, but nope... they just went up. Not just Collings. How long ago was it you could get a Pava NEW for about 2k? Not anymore...

    Good for them though, if that is what they can sell them for. No hate here. More power to 'em. But I'm just not keeping up with the increase. Can't buy a new truck either... the inflation rate on those are nearly what it seems to be on mandos. Anyway, I digress... (as I shop for a used motorcycle). :-D

    It looks like it'll be a long while before I get a heavily compounded radius F style.... so talk to me about pros and cons of wider frets vs thinner. I'm confident I'll go a bit taller, not sure how much though. How tall are those Collings frets?

    By the way, it's good to be back on the site. It's a very friendly bunch here...

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Fret wear doesn't mean you need a re-fret. If you are not having and problems playing, its just wear. If there are issues you may just need a level and crown rather than a re-fret.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    [In answer to OP's question]

    I have a Collings MT and asked them what the fret size was on it. Got the following response:

    Our standard fretwire dimensions are as follows:
    crown width: 2 mm (0.079 in)
    crown height: 1.10 mm (0.043 in)
    Total height 2.60 mm (0.10 in)
    Tang width: 0.80 mm (0.031 in)
    Ralph
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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by HogTime View Post
    [In answer to OP's question]

    I have a Collings MT and asked them what the fret size was on it. Got the following response:

    Our standard fretwire dimensions are as follows:
    crown width: 2 mm (0.079 in)
    crown height: 1.10 mm (0.043 in)
    Total height 2.60 mm (0.10 in)
    Tang width: 0.80 mm (0.031 in)
    Thank you, HogTime!!

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    rcc56 is familiar with me -- because I showed him my no-name pressed top mandolin that I did exactly this same thing to. I went from small, beat-up, uneven frets and flat board to a 12" radius, with taller + wider EVO frets. I also made a new new from a bone blank, and fitted a new bridge.

    Doing the job myself was my only choice because of obvious economic considerations, but also because I believed it'd be a valuable learning experience. If I messed up? Just do it again. The fretwire itself is cheaper than the beer I drink. If I didn't like the bigger frets? Good -- I'd know for the next time my main instrument needed it.

    Now, after actually playing it for ~2 months, I love it. It's impossible to separate all the variables (ebony bridge vs rosewood, bone nut vs plastic, bigger and harder frets, tension on the fretboard from the stiffer fret tang) -- but the instrument gives me more volume, more zing in the trebles, and more midrange. The low end is a bit better, but still what you'd expect from a non-carved instrument. It breaks up a little with hard chopping, but ehhhhh.

    (interestingly, the body is about 3/16 deeper than my Eastman 515, which may help with the bass, but that's a different thread)

    I find the playability to be much improved. Regarding height, it seems like I can use a lighter touch, and I'm not tempted to try to press until I can "feel" the fingerboard. That's just not something I do.

    The width of the wire is slightly more noticeable, especially concerning adjacent fingers on adjacent string courses. The spread is ever so slightly less, but you adjust.

    rcc56 pointed out the things I could have done better, but he also pointed out the things I did well. And I find myself playing this mando a lot more frequently because of the new connection I have with it. So whatever you decide, good luck!

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Last summer I had my 2002 F-9 re-fretted. I'm the 2nd owner and the old thin frets were well worn, they had been re-dressed as far as they could be and were deeply grooved again. I also had the neck's V profile softened to a D profile, the neck speed necked and french-polished, the nut replaced and the instrument given a pro setup. The new frets are "banjo width" Evo Gold frets (I don't know the dimensions but they are generally comparable to my '82 RB-800's stock frets). This was expertly done for me by builder Austin Clark one day while he was working in the luthier's barn at the Grass Valley Fathers' Day festival.

    Like you I was a little concerned about the color of the Evo Gold frets given that my mandolin has nickle plated hardware, but they really look great. The Gold color does darken a little over time. They work and feel great too.

    I've done re-frets and neck work myself before, but over the years I've come to the conclusion that for my main playing instruments I'd rather have this kind of work done for me by a professional who does it all the time. To me it was well worth the cost on this nicer instrument, but we all have to draw that line ourselves.
    -- Don

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    PS I went with the "Medium / Higher" fretwire:

    http://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and..._Fretwire.html

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Streip View Post
    PS I went with the "Medium / Higher" fretwire:

    http://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and..._Fretwire.html
    While those are taller, they are not what I think of as a large fret wire. Something much wider is what i did not like. I like Stu Mac medium guitar/small banjo wire. Both are larger than the old Gibson wire.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Streip View Post
    rcc56 is familiar with me -- because I showed him my no-name pressed top mandolin that I did exactly this same thing to. I went from small, beat-up, uneven frets and flat board to a 12" radius, with taller + wider EVO frets. I also made a new new from a bone blank, and fitted a new bridge.

    Doing the job myself was my only choice because of obvious economic considerations, but also because I believed it'd be a valuable learning experience. If I messed up? Just do it again. The fretwire itself is cheaper than the beer I drink. If I didn't like the bigger frets? Good -- I'd know for the next time my main instrument needed it.

    Now, after actually playing it for ~2 months, I love it. It's impossible to separate all the variables (ebony bridge vs rosewood, bone nut vs plastic, bigger and harder frets, tension on the fretboard from the stiffer fret tang) -- but the instrument gives me more volume, more zing in the trebles, and more midrange. The low end is a bit better, but still what you'd expect from a non-carved instrument. It breaks up a little with hard chopping, but ehhhhh.

    (interestingly, the body is about 3/16 deeper than my Eastman 515, which may help with the bass, but that's a different thread)

    I find the playability to be much improved. Regarding height, it seems like I can use a lighter touch, and I'm not tempted to try to press until I can "feel" the fingerboard. That's just not something I do.

    The width of the wire is slightly more noticeable, especially concerning adjacent fingers on adjacent string courses. The spread is ever so slightly less, but you adjust.

    rcc56 pointed out the things I could have done better, but he also pointed out the things I did well. And I find myself playing this mando a lot more frequently because of the new connection I have with it. So whatever you decide, good luck!
    Hey, Drew! Thanks for the input.

    A while back, I looked for someone to put a radius (compounded though) board on this one, but couldn't even get anyone to give an estimate around here. There aren't a lot of people with that skill set in these parts. Couldn't even get anyone to look at it or give an estimate. Sad...

    I'm glad you found someone to do yours like you wanted. And yes, it does make it a very personal instrument.

    How many times did you end up tackling that nut?

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Last summer I had my 2002 F-9 re-fretted. I'm the 2nd owner and the old thin frets were well worn, they had been re-dressed as far as they could be and were deeply grooved again. I also had the neck's V profile softened to a D profile, the neck speed necked and french-polished, the nut replaced and the instrument given a pro setup. The new frets are "banjo width" Evo Gold frets (I don't know the dimensions but they are generally comparable to my '82 RB-800's stock frets). This was expertly done for me by builder Austin Clark one day while he was working in the luthier's barn at the Grass Valley Fathers' Day festival.

    Like you I was a little concerned about the color of the Evo Gold frets given that my mandolin has nickle plated hardware, but they really look great. The Gold color does darken a little over time. They work and feel great too.

    I've done re-frets and neck work myself before, but over the years I've come to the conclusion that for my main playing instruments I'd rather have this kind of work done for me by a professional who does it all the time. To me it was well worth the cost on this nicer instrument, but we all have to draw that line ourselves.
    Sounds like a lot of work for one day. And reshaping the neck!! I would personally never attempt to do something like that myself, and agree finding a well qualified pro to do it is the way to go.

    Am glad to know others are happy with the outcomes from mods.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Believe it or not, it only took one try.* I just worked slowly and copied the old one for dimension. Is it beautiful? No. There are things I'd do differently: I expected to keep shaping the nut after I installed it, but I just started playing and never stopped. So it's not shaped as elegantly as I'd like. But functionally, there are no sharp corners, no bad slots, and it's sanded to ~1000 grit paper (a satin-type finish).

    *I did have to set it twice after an unfortunate glue incident resulted in it being placed 1/8" off-center, and me losing some skin off my thumb.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    While those are taller, they are not what I think of as a large fret wire. Something much wider is what i did not like. I like Stu Mac medium guitar/small banjo wire. Both are larger than the old Gibson wire.
    Yeah -- the true "jumbo" size is best left for guitars. I can't even imagine how little fretboard would be showing up around the 15th fret.

    These medium width/high crown frets are still significantly bigger and harder than the stock frets on my 2-year-old Eastman, which have some sizable divots.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    The mandolin I posted about above had the wide jumbo sized frets, way too big.
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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    All of my mandolins have and will have medium EVO frets.
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I was also a little worried about the color clash, but it's a non-issue for me.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    I'd say the color of the Evo Gold frets is just about the same as phosphor-bronze wound strings... Maybe a little more yellowish, but not much. Evo Gold are a copper alloy.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
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    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)

    [About how I tune my mandolins]

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    +1 on EVO gold wire, most luthiers report 4x the lifespan of common nickel silver. I've had the standard medium (0.080 wide) on two mandos now for a couple of years and there is NO sign of wear whatsoever. I play medium strings and hit hard with a CT 55 pick. I wouldn't think of using any other kind of wire. You get used to the color change, it does blend in with the strings. EVO is available in the traditional narrow gauge (0.050 wide) as well, Luthier's Merchantile carries it. Stainless steel is really long lasting but murder on luthier's tools so there's an additional up charge in most shops. A straight 12 inch radius on the fretboard is a good compromise and easily doable while refretting. A good Cumberland Acoustics bridge, properly fitted, also makes a big difference in sound. You just need to consider if your instrument warrants a $600 reinvestment.

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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Roy View Post
    +1 on EVO gold wire, most luthiers report 4x the lifespan of common nickel silver. I've had the standard medium (0.080 wide) on two mandos now for a couple of years and there is NO sign of wear whatsoever. I play medium strings and hit hard with a CT 55 pick. I wouldn't think of using any other kind of wire. You get used to the color change, it does blend in with the strings. EVO is available in the traditional narrow gauge (0.050 wide) as well, Luthier's Merchantile carries it. Stainless steel is really long lasting but murder on luthier's tools so there's an additional up charge in most shops. A straight 12 inch radius on the fretboard is a good compromise and easily doable while refretting. A good Cumberland Acoustics bridge, properly fitted, also makes a big difference in sound. You just need to consider if your instrument warrants a $600 reinvestment.
    Thanks, Rob Roy.

    I didn't find a couple of quoted upcharges for Stainless to be overly objectionable. And you are right, that Gold of the EVO does look fine. Still... I'm leaning towards stainless.

    On the radius though, I "personally" disagree, although I am sure many others wouldn't. I've played a 12" straight radius, and I found it gave me no discernable advantage. A compound though... heavily radiused... OH YA (think the Kool Aid man busting thru the wall)!!! Oh, so Sweet!!!

    I agree it's time for a new bridge too. The E and A courses have worn into the original rosewood one, and I wonder if that contributes to the harshness of the A course. It is my understanding that strings are supposed to set about halfway above the top of the saddle. Am not sure if that is a tonal thing, or aesthetic though. I understand the same for the nut.

  38. #23
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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Last summer I had my 2002 F-9 re-fretted. I'm the 2nd owner and the old thin frets were well worn, they had been re-dressed as far as they could be and were deeply grooved again. I also had the neck's V profile softened to a D profile, the neck speed necked and french-polished, the nut replaced and the instrument given a pro setup. The new frets are "banjo width" Evo Gold frets (I don't know the dimensions but they are generally comparable to my '82 RB-800's stock frets). This was expertly done for me by builder Austin Clark one day while he was working in the luthier's barn at the Grass Valley Fathers' Day festival.

    Like you I was a little concerned about the color of the Evo Gold frets given that my mandolin has nickle plated hardware, but they really look great. The Gold color does darken a little over time. They work and feel great too.

    I've done re-frets and neck work myself before, but over the years I've come to the conclusion that for my main playing instruments I'd rather have this kind of work done for me by a professional who does it all the time. To me it was well worth the cost on this nicer instrument, but we all have to draw that line ourselves.
    Sort of dredging up an old thread, but just wanted to mention that I've enjoyed the work Austin Clark did on my F-9 so much that this year at the Grass Valley Fathers' Day festival I have had him re-fret my banjo, and my wife had had him re-fret her guitar, all with Gold Evo frets. Austin did amazing work just like before, and the new fretwork plays like butter. Many thanks Austin!
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)

    [About how I tune my mandolins]

  39. #24

    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    The Ike Bacon mandolin I just got has some notched frets. Gold colored and 1mm tall by 2mm wide it appears to match EVO Gold fretwire which I see on ebay:https://www.ebay.com/itm/Jescar-FL37...ss!98382!US!-1

    Since all the wear is on the first five frets and I seem to have a match for the existing fret wire, is there any reason I shouldn't just replace the first five frets and leave the rest alone?
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  40. #25
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    Default Re: Refret Considerations

    Yes, it should only be necessary to replace the first five if the rest are in good shape and a good match for the wire can be found.

    We do it all the time. I've done 2 partial refrets in the last month or so, and will do another one next week.

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