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Refret or fret dressing?

LesterLester Posts: 1,503Member, Moderator
I had lunch with a friend today and he said that his guitar needs completely refretting. I asked how he knew it needed that rather than just fret dressing and looked bemused as he hadn't heard of fret dressing before.

I would not volunteer to do my first ever refretting on a top-end Takamine acoustic but I could be persuaded to do a fret check and, if necessary, dress the frets and set the action as I have the tools and a bit of experience.

How would one determine which is required or best: refret or fret dressing?


  • MegiMegi Posts: 6,703Member
    Hi Lester, I'll say what I can - as you know, I've done a fair few fret re-level/dressing jobs now, including some where there was quite visible fret wear in places. I've not tackled a re-fret though, which I do admit I find a bit more intimidating.

    One thing I have found is that frets can look really worn, with obvious pitting where there's been a lot of use, and still the guitar is nowhere near needing a re-fret. If your friend's guitar is still possible to be played OK, in that good contact between the string and frets can be made with normal finger pressure, then my feeling is it probably doesn't need a re-fret. Yes there may be some string buzz/clatter happening as a result of string contact with less worn frets higher up the neck, but it should be possible to bring the height of all the frets down a bit, getting rid of the pitting where it has happened, in the process - and then the guitar can be set up to play nicely again.

    I have a friend who's Tokai Strat really could do with a re-fret. On that one, it is a bit hard to fret the notes cleanly, because the pads of the fingers make too much contact with the fingerboard wood, before enough string pressure against the fret has been achieved. It's also a bit harder to bend strings, because the finger pad does not get enough purchase against the string, and touches the fretboard wood. That's just to give an example of a guitar that does need a re-fret.

    I'll temper what I've said above slightly, because I know acoustic guitars can often get much more fret wear on the lower frets than the higher ones - if the guitar has been used for open string chord strumming for example. In a case like that, then perhaps it would be a bit overkill to bring down the height of all the frets quite a lot, just to remove limited, but appreciable, wear on the lower frets. So in such a case, if the wear is significant, it might be better to go for a partial re-fret i.e. just replacing the lower frets with similar fret wire, and then just a light overall fret dress. But I'm not really sure about that one to be honest - I wish I had the experience to give a firm opinion on that kind of situation, but really I don't.

    Perhaps your friend would be best to take the guitar to a reputable guitar technician or luthier for an opinion, as a first step - I'm sure such a person would wish to find the best and least "invasive" route getting the guitar back to top playing condition.
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