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Thread: New Frets!

  1. #1
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default New Frets!

    I just got back my 1923 Gibson A2 with new stainless steel frets installed by the ever amazing Lou Stiver. We put in the narrow gauge, period correct sized frets. Lou has such a fine touch and eagle eye with the action perfect everywhere.

    This mandolin is the best sounding oval Lou's heard, (he's 83) and I agree. Not a trace of tubbiness, just bright clear very full ancient wood tone.

    Now, if I could only find a F hole with that ancient wood tone I'd stop looking.

    Billy

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  3. #2
    Registered User EvanElk's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Nice Billy. How great to get to work with Mr. Stiver
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  5. #3
    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Good to hear - my '21 A2 needs a refret and I was wondering if SS fretwire came in that teeny size.

    I was also wondering if I should stick to that size or go with "normal" size SS frets. I don't think this is a particularly collectable instrument, I just want it to be as functional as possible. My best guess is those teeny frets are just as functional as "normal" ones when they're new, except maybe it would be a tad easier to slide over the bigger ones.

    I do love the tone of this old mandolin.
    Clark Beavans

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  7. #4

    Default Re: New Frets!

    I have a 23 A2 with the wire frets. Just had Frank Ford at Gryphon refret about half of them, it sounds and feels great. I think they slide just fine (I also have modern instruments with big frets)

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    Default Re: New Frets!

    I want to replace the frets on my 21 A at some point. My other modern mandolins have the larger fret wire but I think that would be unnatural looking on the vintage mandolin. Do they make a fret wire that is in-between the larger “banjo” wire and the tiny vintage size?
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Yes. Stew-mac #0764, with a crown width of .053" and a crown height of .037". It is standard nickel/silver wire.
    I've installed their larger #0147 [.080" x .040"] wire on dozens of old Gibson oval holes, and to me it looks fine and plays very well.

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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Now, if I could only find a F hole with that ancient wood tone I'd stop looking.

    There's a Loar in the classifieds. NFI

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  13. #8

    Default Re: New Frets!

    It's amazing what a nice new set of polished frets will do for your old mandolin.

    Years ago I had Don MacRostie replace the fingerboard on my A-1 snakehead with a radiuses one, and install somewhat beefier frets. It was like a whole new instrument. Well,he replaced the nut and bridge too. The intonation was very much improved. Perfect set-up.

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  15. #9
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Paul Hostetter put Evo frets in my Mix A5 , after leveling the fingerboard ..

    Portland fretworks re fretted my '22 A4 , fingerboard got needed leveling too.
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  16. #10
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    I am a full on devotee of stainless steel frets. I just can't wear them out. Only Jescar makes them and in only a few sizes, most meant for guitar. The two sizes for mandolin are the larger so-called banjo size and the thiner period correct size. I stayed with the narrow ones because the A2 plays and sounds so fine I didn't want to change anything. Another BIG thing for me is the space/room between frets in the higher registers. It makes fingering easier. I can't quite bring myself to change out the other mandolins I play but I have thought of just changing those above the 10th fret or so. Lou Stiver told me Frank Wakefield did that.

    Call me crazy but in a perfect world each fret would get narrower going up the neck. Frank Ford thinks I'm nuts when I ask about 3-4 size variations going up the neck. Again the problem is SS only come in two mandolin friendly sizes.

    Oh, it doesn't drag going up and down the neck at all. What I don't like is the pointy back of the neck, it hurts my thumb. Maybe I'll have that modified...What do y'all think?

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  17. #11
    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    My Hamlett A has regular size frets 1 - 14 and narrow frets 15 - 22. I don't remember noticing the difference until after I had owned it for awhile, probably because I don't routinely play up that high - it requires such a different touch up there, especially with big fingers. But I have to say, the Hamlett is the best made mandolin of the 3 I own. It would be my desert island mandolin.

    I'll probably go with the period correct narrow frets when I do get my '21 A2 refretted.
    Clark Beavans

  18. #12
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    I once made a mandolin with three sizes of stainless steel frets. Wider from 1 to 7 or so, medium from 8 to 15 or so, and narrow the rest of the way up. I owned that mandolin for a few years and got lots of players to play it. Almost no one noticed the graduated fret sizes unless I pointed it out. I decided that it seemed like a good idea, and it did no harm, but it was of no apparent advantage either. I've since done a few with 2 fret sizes, like Clark's, but I consider it more for looks than anything else. It helps keep the upper frets from looking as crowded, but if players don't even notice it there must not be any particular benefit for the player.

  19. #13
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Packard View Post
    ... What I don't like is the pointy back of the neck, it hurts my thumb. Maybe I'll have that modified...What do y'all think? ...
    About 3 years ago I had Austin Clark re-fret my F-9 with Gold Evo, had it setup, and at that time I also had the back of the neck gently re-profiled, speed necked and french polished. I had worn through many of the frets and had worn though much of the finish on the back of the neck anyway, so the re-fret, re-profile and the speed neck were well earned upgrades in my mind.

    The re-profile in particular was a necessity, if I hadn't been able to have that done I would have had to find another home for my F-9 because it was destroying my thumb for playing other instruments. Within a day after it was all done I realized how much better the mandolin felt in my hands and how much easier it was to play. Almost overnight it had become a lifetime instrument for me. If your thumb hurts from playing your mandolin, I'd say the re-profile is for you.
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  21. #14
    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    John, I think you might find that a better player who has put it the time to develop their touch above the 14th fret might actually appreciate the narrower fretwire up there. I certainly appreciate the look.
    Clark Beavans

  22. #15

    Default Re: New Frets!

    Quote Originally Posted by tree View Post
    John, I think you might find that a better player who has put it the time to develop their touch above the 14th fret might actually appreciate the narrower fretwire up there. I certainly appreciate the look.
    I agree with tree. Can't appreciate it if ya don't use it.

    Makes me really want to play a Hamlett with skinnier frets at the dusty end.

    Heck I'd like to play any Hamlett mandolin.

  23. #16
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Quote Originally Posted by V70416 View Post
    ... the dusty end...


    Lots of very good, developed players played the one I put 3 sizes in, and I don't remember anyone claiming a better feel if they noticed it at all. I didn't point the frets out before they played the mando.

  24. #17
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    It's amazing what new frets can do. Tom Haywood put a new set on my Breedlove Legacy a few months ago and it's like a new instrument.
    David Hopkins

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  25. #18

    Default Re: New Frets!

    Quote Originally Posted by V70416 View Post
    I agree with tree. Can't appreciate it if ya don't use it.

    Makes me really want to play a Hamlett with skinnier frets at the dusty end.

    Heck I'd like to play any Hamlett mandolin.
    I'm playing my Hamlett now and its sublime, way out of my league as far as the talent to quality ratio goes but the best purchase I've made in the mandolin world. Mine is fretted all with Evo gold, same size and the same wire I had John refret my 24 Snakehead A-Jr with. Same size at the 'dusty end'. Build quality is right on par with my Collings MT2-O and I'm dead nuts positive Bill Collings would agree.
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    a timely thread for me and it holds a tremendous amount of information and thought. a recent grab is an excellent mandolin, I wouldn't change a thing. this is very different in any other mandolin I have owned as it has a flat FB and really small tiny frets(I have not measured them but will one of these days). it needed two frets ever so slightly leveled and I dressed everybody. it plays extremely easy, slides are fine, and the tone and projection are clear, rounded, loud.

    I have thought that one day if I replace the frets, would I go larger. I like how it sounds and feels and I thought to stay the same. the idea of using different sizes going up the board makes a lot of sense to me as well.

    the tang on these tiny frets I assume are really thin(could be wrong, do tiny frets usually come with smaller width tangs ?) if they are thin and a person went with larger frets I assume you would be very careful and just saw to enlarge the fret slots to the width you needed?

    I've enclosed a few pics of the FB although these were not taken for this thread and may not yield good info to you. these may not be the small vintage style as the mandolin was a prototype made approx. 2006 or so and is a Flatiron. I'll try to remember to measure one when I get home later and post that info. compared to the Collings and Webers inhouse, these are really small.

    thank you
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  27. #20
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    The tang on most modern fret wire is designed for slots between .020" and .023" wide. This includes all the wire sold by Stew-mac, and the Jescar wire, including the small stainless wire and the EVO. A few of the Jim Dunlop wire sizes have an .024" tang, but most are .020" to .022".

    The slots on your Flatiron FB were almost surely sawn for wire with a modern tang.

    The slots in antique Gibson and Lyon and Healy mandolins were indeed narrower than those on most modern mandolins. I just measured several samples of antique wire, but while the barbs are much less prominent, the tangs to not seem to be much narrower than modern wire. Now I know why it sometimes takes me extra time, patience, and care to pull the wire on these old instruments. They must have really driven the stuff hard in the factory. It also might explain why I do not see many loose frets on the old-timers.

    There are a couple of different techniques for cleaning, deepening, and otherwise enlarging fret slots. On unbound boards, I often use a rather ancient miniature back saw for which I unfortunately can no longer get replacement blades. On bound boards, I use a Dremel in a router base with a narrow burr. For those who want a larger choice of burrs than what the luthiers' supply houses offer, go to a jeweler's supplier. My local supplier offers dozens of burrs in many shapes and sizes.

  28. #21
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    The tang on most modern fret wire is designed for slots between .020" and .023" wide. This includes all the wire sold by Stew-mac, and the Jescar wire, including the small stainless wire and the EVO. A few of the Jim Dunlop wire sizes have an .024" tang, but most are .020" to .022".

    The slots on your Flatiron FB were almost surely sawn for wire with a modern tang.

    The slots in antique Gibson and Lyon and Healy mandolins were indeed narrower than those on most modern mandolins. I just measured several samples of antique wire, but while the barbs are much less prominent, the tangs to not seem to be much narrower than modern wire. Now I know why it sometimes takes me extra time, patience, and care to pull the wire on these old instruments. They must have really driven the stuff hard in the factory. It also might explain why I do not see many loose frets on the old-timers.

    There are a couple of different techniques for cleaning, deepening, and otherwise enlarging fret slots. On unbound boards, I often use a rather ancient miniature back saw for which I unfortunately can no longer get replacement blades. On bound boards, I use a Dremel in a router base with a narrow burr. For those who want a larger choice of burrs than what the luthiers' supply houses offer, go to a jeweler's supplier. My local supplier offers dozens of burrs in many shapes and sizes.
    thanks again rcc
    that answers a lot of my questions/thoughts about this small gauge FW. i knew i would measure the tang when i begin the job, but I've wondered about all that since this one came into the house.
    I've got 3 tools that i use for cleaning the slots and they have worked great for me.
    i picked this set up and i use them for every fret job i do
    https://www.stewmac.com/luthier-tool...-tool-set.html

  29. #22
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    I bought just the replacement blade for the cleaning tool, and use it in an X-acto handle. It is useful, and I use it some, but often I prefer a saw or Dremel in a router base. For me, they are easier to control and faster.

    I haven't tried the refret saw with the 2 short blades. I have wondered if it would work to cut a new slot on a bound board that has a mis-located fret slot, but I haven't wanted to take the risk, since that's not what it was designed for.
    Last edited by rcc56; May-19-2020 at 2:13am.

  30. #23
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Frets!

    The new stainless frets in the A2 are Jescar #39040-s and here is a link that show the various measurements,

    https://www.jescarguitar.com/shop/je...et-wire-39040/

    I'm not a gear head but they seem to be just like the originals which is what I wanted.

    Now that Ive been playing it for a week I must say I love the skinny frets. Since I have already replaced frets in all my mandolins with the more standard sized #43080-s I won't NEED to replace any in the future but... If after more time on the A2 I decide the skinny 39040S fret is superior for my needs I may go ahead and change out one of the F holes.
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