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Thread: Fret Dressing?

  1. #1

    Default Fret Dressing?

    Getting close on a 20's Gibson A. Looks like the Frets may need a Dressing. Not sure how bad these are & if they are playable.
    Curious how much this may cost in So. Cal.
    Thanks in advance
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Those grooves are quite deep. If the frets are dressed down to the point where the grooves are gone, there won't be much fret height left. The mandolin may then be harder to play, because your fingers will be pushing against the fingerboard before the string is in firm contact with the fret.

    I would instead recommend that you have the worn frets replaced, and leave the good ones alone [unless they need to be levelled]. The mandolin will probably play much better if you do it that way.

    In my neck of the woods, I generally charge $20 per fret for a partial re-fret. If the nut needs to be shimmed and re-cut, add $25 to the bill. I do not know what the cost is in So. Cal.

    On the old oval hole Gibsons, I will sometimes replace the first 12 frets with modern wire for players who want to get the best from the mandolin, but are on a modest budget and don't play way up the neck. I usually charge $225 for that job, including the work on the nut. I charge $300 for a complete re-fret, plus $25 for the work on the nut.

    You will benefit from using a seasoned repairman on a job like this. I recommend having the work done by someone who has re-fretted at least 40 or 50 instruments. There is a learning curve on this sort of repair. Avoid shade-tree fix-it men and Guitar Center "techs."
    Last edited by rcc56; Apr-18-2019 at 10:21pm.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Thanks! My concerns are valid and I need to keep this in mind on the purchase.
    How playable do you consider one in this condition? or will the repair need to be completed right away

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    If it's not buzzing, you can play it as is. The grooved frets may have a negative effect on the intonation and action.

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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    If you play it and it doesn't buzz then you can wait to find a repair person to refret. I agree with rcc56 about a partial refret, no sense filing down good frets for a couple of worn ones.

    You type faster than I do Bob
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  9. #6
    Registered User Brian560's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    I am in the same situation. Old mandolin with bar frets , the grooves on the first 5 frets are like yours. I had the frets dressed once, and suspect the nut needs replacing. I would like to keep bar frets. Do I go for a partial or complete refret.

  10. #7

    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Fretwork is my forte. I'm really good at fretwork says I who is a guy with 20 years of doing lots and lots of fretwork mainly on guitars. A nice 1920s mandolin should be addressed by someone with experience with these and not me. I wouldn't be confident of knowing exactly where to get the proper fret wire to match the original and if I was someone whose focus on making money, Id say sure I could do that. Be careful about who you take it to.

    The divots do look a little deep for a fret dressing and that is going to typically necessitate the lowering of the adjacent frets to maintain a level field with maximum playability. You might find that the instrument plays delightfully with those frets left alone but understand that there is tendency for the wear to accelerate slightly when there is a divot. A circumstance like this is a bit of a conundrum and really can't be evaluated by anything less than a hands-on inspection. For a 1920s Gibson purchase, it would be worth taking it to a reputable person for evaluation and an estimate and I'd put a reasonable cost for that at about $50 to $75 in SoCal. The cost of the evaluation/estimate is worth it for the investment you are about to make and then you'd have a standing to negotiate the purchase price.

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  12. #8

    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Thanks guys
    I am going to back away from this one at this time, I just cannot justify the costs involved with the purchase/shipping and then the repairs.
    Good learning curve though!
    Steve

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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian560 View Post
    I am in the same situation. Old mandolin with bar frets , the grooves on the first 5 frets are like yours. I had the frets dressed once, and suspect the nut needs replacing. I would like to keep bar frets. Do I go for a partial or complete refret.
    Bar frets are a different beast altogether. I can find various bar frets for guitar and they would be the same for the mandolin, but I haven't found them as thin as what is in an old Martin mandolin. You can try taking out the dented frets and turn them upside down and put them back in.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Bar frets are a different beast altogether. I can find various bar frets for guitar and they would be the same for the mandolin, but I haven't found them as thin as what is in an old Martin mandolin. You can try taking out the dented frets and turn them upside down and put them back in.
    All the bar frets that I have pulled out of mandolins are considerably narrower than those used in guitars.
    I do not know of anyone who sells bar fret wire any narrower than .045", which is much too large to be used in mandolins.

    If the original wire is still tall enough, Pops1's technique is one way to handle it. Another way is to shim the frets higher with ebony strips, which is time-consuming and difficult to do.

    Another alternative is to find someone who can roll some bar fret stock to the width that is suitable for your mandolin. To do this, the worn frets must be pulled and measured. They may vary in width by several thousandths of an inch.

    I have successfully replaced bar frets with T frets on several Martin and Vega mandolins. In brief, the technique is to purchase T fret wire with an oversize tang [if possible], crimp the heck out of the tang with Stew-mac's crimping tool, and seat the frets with Titebond liquid hide glue. Since it has become difficult to find wire with an oversize tang, I have found that this technique will also work with standard wire, but it requires extra attention. I recommend fret wire with a crown width of .080" for this technique. I do not recommend this technique for guitars.

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  17. #11

    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Another reason I bought my 1913 A 1, the frets were replaced and in fine shape.
    Silverangel A
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    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Another reason I bought my 1913 A 1, the frets were replaced and in fine shape.
    I don't think Gibson ever used bar frets in mandolins. At least not in the teen's and later.
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  21. #13
    Registered User O. Apitius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    The frets in the photo look like tang frets to me.
    https://www.instagram.com/apitiusmandolins/
    What is good Phaedrus? and what is not good? need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

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  23. #14
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian560 View Post
    I am in the same situation. Old mandolin with bar frets , the grooves on the first 5 frets are like yours. I had the frets dressed once, and suspect the nut needs replacing. I would like to keep bar frets. Do I go for a partial or complete refret.
    If the rest of the frets are of sufficient height and in good shape, a partial refret would be the most sensible approach if the grooved frets can be re-used by either turning them over or shimming them, or some replacement wire can be found.

    It will be necessary for your repairman to remove the grooved frets and measure the height, width, and length.
    The used bar frets I have pulled out of mandolins measure approximately .032" and .038" in width. If your repairman will pm with the measurements of the old frets, I will see if I have 5 pieces that will be suitable for the job. If not, he will have to have some new stock rolled to the correct width[s]. T.J. Thompson might be able to roll you some if you give him correct dimensions.


    To Prairieschooner, most old Gibson oval holes are going to need at least some work to get them into top playing condition unless you can find one that has already been serviced. You might want to figure that into your budget.

    And yes, Gibson always used T frets. Brian is apparently looking for help with his 20's Martin mandolin, which was built with bar frets.

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  25. #15

    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    thanks rcc56
    I did not expect to get an older Gibson and it not needing something. Just the seller was sure of the value and I as well need to make sure that I can get the Mandolin in good condition. I am sure that he is a "good guy" from our conversations but then I need to be happy with the purchase.
    Whatever I get will be treated with respect and maintained to the highest degree, even if I need to eat a hot dog or two!
    Last edited by prairieschooner; Apr-19-2019 at 8:48pm.

  26. #16
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Remember, you can find a 'teens plain A in very nice condition for $1200 to $1500. The money you save as compared to a 1922 or later mandolin will pay for a really nice setup and a good set of frets.

    Snakeheads, truss rods, and Loar period manufacturing dates are things that add to the cost but don't guarantee any better sound. Interesting colors, inlays, and extra binding are nice too, but we don't play the binding or inlays.

    I wish you the best of luck in finding something you like soon.

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  28. #17
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Quote Originally Posted by O. Apitius View Post
    The frets in the photo look like tang frets to me.
    You are right Oliver, I was referring to Brian's post #6 about a mandolin with bar frets.
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  30. #18
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    You are right Oliver, I was referring to Brian's post #6 about a mandolin with bar frets.
    Oh, I missed that one.
    https://www.instagram.com/apitiusmandolins/
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  31. #19

    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    rcc56
    Just a heads up on the cost East/West. Just heard back from a recommended Luthier and his estimate was the same as yours for a complete re-fret.

  32. #20
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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    That's good to know. It's the same amount of work on either coast. Gas and real estate are cheaper here, but supplies cost the same.

    If you decide to get the mandolin, I hope you will enjoy it. As a player, I've never regretted the results when I've set up a good sounding oval hole Gibson with good modern frets. They are a lot of fun to play.

  33. #21

    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    That's good to know. It's the same amount of work on either coast. Gas and real estate are cheaper here, but supplies cost the same.

    If you decide to get the mandolin, I hope you will enjoy it. As a player, I've never regretted the results when I've set up a good sounding oval hole Gibson with good modern frets. They are a lot of fun to play.
    Thanks! if I decide to move forward I may need your services

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    Default Re: Fret Dressing?

    You are welcome to pm me.

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