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Guitar Fretwork

What's Involved in Fretwork?

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Fretwork is an art, there are few people who have the fortitude, patience, level of concentration and a steady enough hand to do fretwork. Personally I consider myself a lousy fret installer. My level of concentration is strained at best and the constant phone interruptions make it impossible to remember what I was doing before and after the phone call. Over the years I have had consistent problems with one company because the guy that does the fretwork answers the phone. (Ouch)

Actually ultra-fine detail work has never been my strong suit: I am more of a designer than I am a luthier. I have people who work for me that are far better than me at fretwork. Plus fretwork requires a tremendous amount of concentration. I believe that Heritage guitars have sloppy fretwork because the man who does them is the one that answers the phone. (Not real bright}.

I do however have a good understanding of what a good fret job requires, and why one will feel better than another.

1. Cutting the Fret Tangs:

The tang of the fret is the part that sticks down into the wood. Gluing in the tang determines how good your fret job is.

On a first class fret job I recommend cutting the tang of 1/16th of an inch at each end. If this is properly done the fret will not protrude from the side of the neck during a slightly dry spell.

Have you ever seen a Gibson Les Paul or a Heritage with cracks in the binding at each fret. It is an extremely common problem on Gibsons. If Gibson cut their fret tangs that would/could not happen. But that might cost them an additional $3.00 per guitar thats about $1,500.00 a day on 500 guitars $7,500.00 a week 0r $390,000.00 if you calculate it by the year. (Bean-Counters always do)

 Centurion   Quicksilver & Abstract guitars are examples of a guitar with precut fret tangs.


2. Hand Installing Frets:

I believe that each fret should be hand installed,  I for one am a strong proponent of ebony fingerboards. It bothers me that some very expensive guitars like PRS for example do not come with ebony fingerboards.

I like the look of ebony, the smooth feel of ebony and the tight grain gives me a nice sharp attack when I strike the fingerboard with my finger. Maple is a tad too bright for me.

Ok, so why am I talking about Ebony fingerboards in a fretwork article?

The correlation is that almost every large guitar company today, including PRS, will not use ebony because, it costs more, is harder to get and most importantly will crack easily when installed by automation. All companies today are installing their frets all at once in one fell swoop with a preloading fret press.

The only exception to the rule in a major company is Jackson Guitars. They have developed a different type of fret material and and I have witnessed the installation operation.

They actually have a machine that was custom designed by Mike Shannon and Tim Wilson that chatters the frets in place in such a way that the ebony remains stable. coupled with the fact that they are using a thicker slab of ebony. They have managed to achieve success where other companies have failed time & time again.


Jackson guitars are one of the best quality guitars I have seen, They utterly decimate the ESP, Schecter, Ernie Ball, and other guitars that are their competitors.

Jackson had been for sale for several years, It is my belief that they kept the price down to lure potential buyers with strong sales. Most people know that Fender has purchased Jackson more than a year ago. At this time I believe that Fender has actually improved Jackson's quality and I have seen no price increases. This has surprised me because I was not sure what would happen to Jackson after the Fender sale. I am waiting to see what will happen....

...to be continued,

Ed Roman

One year later and Jackson is still going strong and the quality is better than ever.........


Read About Stainless Steel Frets and why Ed Roman thinks they are a bad idea !!!

If you press this link above this line, and continue to read all the way to the end, you will be caught in an endless loop of spewing verbiage by Ed Roman himself....




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