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Thread: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

  1. #1

    Default Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    A question for luthiers and repair people:

    I find my mandolin sounds best at the lowest possible string height, as close to buzzing as possible without letting it buzz, but I get a problem at the 12th fret, where, at least on a few strings (E, A, sometimes D or even G), one of the string pair "skips" over to the next fret, that is, sounds the next higher half step. Exactly only one string on each pair.

    This is remedied by increasing the string height sufficiently, but then the best sound/tension is not achieved.

    I have struggled with this for about a year since I was not familiar with my new mandolin, but now that I have adjusted the height multiple times and tried to get used to the higher tension, I think a better solution might be to increase the fret height at the 12th fret.

    Is that feasible, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

    Before you ask, as an instrument made just last year, I see no real signs of wear on the frets, maybe the issue is the neck, which would be much harder to address, but I see nothing unusual, just the problem described above.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    If you have a small straight edge that will only cover 3 frets see if it rocks on the 13th fret. sounds like it is high. A fret level may be in order, or maybe a tap on the 13th fret to seat it if it is high.
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Just some ancillary thoughts:

    1- It's not uncommon for fretboards to develop a hump near where the neck joins the body (meaning w/in 2 frets or so), often being the 12th to 15th fret on mandolin. Usual cause would be the body and/or neck expanding and/or contracting with temperature and/or humidity. So yeah, several things can go wrong and/or bad!

    2- Besides the straight-edge or fret rocker (per Pops1, above), you can sometimes sight down the length of the fretboard, from nut to saddle, and notice any "discontinuity" in the frets based on the consistency of light reflected off their tops. Any brighter or darker spot is either a problematic fret or is adjacent to a problematic fret. At minimum, it often shows you where to apply that small straight-edge.

    On the Stew-Mac website, look up their "Fret Rocker" and the instructions for using it. (Hint: For us amateurs, a credit card can work almost as well.)
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  4. #4

    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    If you have a small straight edge that will only cover 3 frets see if it rocks on the 13th fret. sounds like it is high. A fret level may be in order, or maybe a tap on the 13th fret to seat it if it is high.
    Only 3 frets? That could prove a challenge, but with my small metal ruler, my untrained eyes observe no issues, but I would wonder if this test wouldn't reveal a problem across a bunch of strings? Most often it happens on the inner E and the outer A, single strings. never across all 4 (EE-AA).

  5. #5
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    For the lowest action you need perfectly leveled fret tops. You can just remove strings, check releief of neck and paint tops of all frets with black marker and lightly sand with new fine grit 400-800 paper glued on perfectly flat bar (good spirit level or such), just few light passes . You will see if all tops are scuffed uniformly...
    if the anomaly happens only on one string of a pair it can be poor notch in bridge. One notch deeper than the other. But I suspect there are problems with frets as well, otherwise you would get buzz and not next semitone.
    Adrian

  6. #6

    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Dv View Post
    Only 3 frets? That could prove a challenge .... Most often it happens on the inner E and the outer A, single strings. never across all 4 (EE-AA).
    The short edge of a credit card works well enough around the 12th fret to span three frets.

    Try it across the full width (i.e. along all the string paths) - it's quite common that a fret is only high in spots.

    My preferred solution would be to level from fret 13 upwards to solve this kind of problem, to make sure that levelling the 13th doesn't then give you problems on the 14th and upwards.

  7. #7
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by ProfChris View Post
    My preferred solution would be to level from fret 13 upwards to solve this kind of problem, to make sure that levelling the 13th doesn't then give you problems on the 14th and upwards.
    I don't understand this solution of "targeted levelling" - the only leveling I understand is as Adrian (Hogo) mentioned in the previous post: Make sure neck itself is fine, then level with a long, flat block to ensure all frets are level on the same plane.

    Can someone please explain how targeted level is done and why it should work?

    From what the OP posts, as an amateur luthier, I'd first check the neck, then level the frets, crown the frets, then check the slots at bridge and nut.
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    While the 12th fret may have been pressed in deeper than the other frets, it's impossible to tell what needs to be done without sighting down the fretboard. It could be that pulling and replacing the 12th fret (and subsequent re-leveling) will take care of it, it may be necessary to bring the level of frets 13 and up into the proper plane.

    Either way, this is a job for a seasoned luthier, preferably one with mandolin experience. Being off by a few thousandths can really screw things up. Actually, one year in is a good time for a checkup. By now, the instrument has really settled into being a mandolin and can be dialed in by a pro for your playing style and preferred string gauge.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    The 12th fret may be low. Or the 13th fret may be high. Or several frets may be out of level, or one or more might be loose.
    To accurately diagnose your problem, I would have to have the instrument in hand.
    Precision fretwork requires training and experience, and is best left to a professional.

    I have seen many fret jobs messed up by people trying to solve problems themselves without knowing enough about doing the work. If you do not know what you are doing, you may end up having to replace multiple frets, when the original problem was confined to one or two frets.

    The best on-line information on fretwork is on the frets.com website. If you are set on doing the work yourself, it would be a good idea to go to the website and read every article on fretwork before you pick up a tool.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Thanks for all the replies so far. Any recommendations on who could do this kind of work in the southern Ohio area near Cincinnati/Dayton?

    Since I paid some serious money for this mandolin, I am hoping to find somebody who understand this is not an american mandolin, and doesn't need to be modified to fit american standards, like I have been told in the past.

  11. #11
    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    I would suggest that properly leveled and crowned frets are not an "American standard", but rather a "Musician's standard".

    Find an experienced Luthier, have a diagnosis and then set-up with all the detail needed to get consistent response across the neck. Making sure the entire string "drive train", from tuners to tailpiece, is perfectly adjusted, should be your quest.

    Steve

  12. #12

    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Sorensen View Post
    I would suggest that properly leveled and crowned frets are not an "American standard", but rather a "Musician's standard".
    Steve
    Not what I meant at all.

    Whenever I ask mandolin repair questions on different sites, I seem to attract people who insist on telling me what I should be asking and doing, has happened multiple times on different sites.

    While not directly related to the fret discussion here, I ended up being told on another site why my brazilian mandolin needed some kind of major surgery, because the nut did not meet american standards.

    And on this site I stopped following a discussion over the same thing, what I supposedly should be asking.

    So I am leery of trusting any luthier who insists on telling me what I should do instead of listening to what I am asking.

    Kinda like going in for gallbladder surgery and coming out with a heart transplant, if you follow what I mean.

    During my less experienced years, a luthier took a knife to my viola in front of me, without my consent, while I was still asking questions, I guess to sort of seal the deal on the repair.

  13. #13
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Dv View Post
    Kinda like going in for gallbladder surgery and coming out with a heart transplant, if you follow what I mean.
    What I see here is, something like you need critical heart surgery and you insist to have just one worst vein "repaired". No good doc would do that for you.
    No serious repairman will stand behind some random fret filing.
    Noone here suggested to bring the instrument to any US standard (I'm in EU faaaaar away from US BTW). There is set of simple principles by which fretted instrument work (and fail) regardless of exact type, guitar, bassguitar, ukulele or mandolin or bandolim. Many folks on this forum appreciate other kinds of instruments and are well aware of any differences in setup required by various styles of playing.
    I did similar job few weeks ago for a friend. His chords buzzed on bass string on 12th fret. What I did? Looked down fretboard for any bad spots. I glued some loose fret ends and dressed the whole fretboard with fine grit (the SS wire was not worn just not installed very carefully) and rounded/ polished them. That took me probably 30 minutes. Chasing a "low fret" is futile and wasted time in 99 cases out of 100. You will only move the problem elsewhere, or it will reappear in the future.

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Dv View Post
    During my less experienced years, a luthier took a knife to my viola in front of me, without my consent, while I was still asking questions, I guess to sort of seal the deal on the repair.
    Don't let your sour experience obscure your view.
    Adrian

  14. #14

    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    What I see here is, something like you need critical heart surgery and you insist to have just one worst vein "repaired". No good doc would do that for you.
    No serious repairman will stand behind some random fret filing.
    Don't let your sour experience obscure your view.
    Thanks for your thoughts. I see no clear relationship between the question I posed and what you claim I am insisting on. I already said I am interested in a luthier, I qualified the kind I would prefer, you cannot quote a single line where I said I insist on doing it myself.

    That would be one example of not listening, IMHO.

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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    The closest fellow I know of who might be able to fix your instrument is John Hamlett in Kentucky. Or you can contact me and make the 6 hour drive to Chattanooga. But that's a pretty long haul for what I hope would be minor fretwork. I do not know of anyone in Ohio.

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    Dan Scullin dscullin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    I donít know if he is stil active but Harry Sparks has been in the Cincinnati area and written up in Cincinnati Magazine in 2013:

    https://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/columns/fret-master/

    The article also mentions Brad Meinerding as a local repair person who is much younger than Harry.
    Last edited by dscullin; May-18-2021 at 5:36pm.
    Dan Scullin
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Not local in OH, but you may want to reach out to Bruce Weber in MT to get his input, and consider shipping your mando to him for a setup. I recently sent my mandolin to him, and he completely transformed it from an instrument that I really had to struggle with, to one that is a complete joy to play.

    https://www.montanalutherie.com/

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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Clement Barrera-Ng View Post
    Not local in OH, but you may want to reach out to Bruce Weber in MT to get his input, and consider shipping your mando to him for a setup. I recently sent my mandolin to him, and he completely transformed it from an instrument that I really had to struggle with, to one that is a complete joy to play.

    https://www.montanalutherie.com/

    Thanks for this suggestion. My main doubt about shipping my mandolin is that it is luthier instrument made just last year, so I am guessing it shouldn't need anything too major, hopefully. I would ship it back to Brazil if it wasn't so impractical and expensive to do.

  22. #19
    Curious Observer MB-Octo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Is your mandolin the fan-fret 10-string pictured in your Avatar?
    Monte

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  23. #20
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Dv View Post
    Thanks for your thoughts. I see no clear relationship between the question I posed and what you claim I am insisting on. I already said I am interested in a luthier, I qualified the kind I would prefer, you cannot quote a single line where I said I insist on doing it myself.

    That would be one example of not listening, IMHO.
    I never insisted on doing it yourself. :-)
    I just described the general procedure your instrument needs.
    Of course professional serviceman is recommended, he's got all the tools and experience, though there are several musicians handy enough to do it themselves.
    Adrian

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    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    It is not usually practical to raise the height of a single fret. More usually it is a matter of lowering the others so the tops of the frets are in a plane along the lines of the strings. Don MacRostie of Red Diamond mandolins in Athens, Ohio might well be a good person to consult with about your fret problems. The mechanics/geometry/functions of a mandolin fretboard are essentially the same, whatever the origin of your instrument and Don is a very skilled and knowledgeable mandolin builder and repairer, as are several of the folks who have already commented on your post.

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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Dv View Post
    Only 3 frets? That could prove a challenge, but with my small metal ruler, my untrained eyes observe no issues, but I would wonder if this test wouldn't reveal a problem across a bunch of strings? Most often it happens on the inner E and the outer A, single strings. never across all 4 (EE-AA).
    The 13th fret could be high in just a small spot where it wasn't seated properly. That is the place I would check with the fret rocker, where the problem is,
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  26. #23
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    The 13th fret could be high in just a small spot where it wasn't seated properly. That is the place I would check with the fret rocker, where the problem is,
    Very unlikely. Perhaps on instrument one week after full setup. And it is never just one tiny spot, frets are quite stiff.
    Adrian

  27. #24
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    Actually, I see it quite often. Especially near the fret ends.

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  29. #25
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    Default Re: Raising 12th fret, worth it?

    I have also seen this this happen fairly often. The fret may have lifted slightly, and was not quite level in a one spot. The slight lift made the spot more pronounced where it wasn't noticed before.
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