Installing Frets with Epoxy

In 1989 when I built my first of seven guitars for Bill Kanengiser, I got myself into a pickle. Bill found the original frets were too low. When I removed those frets to install higher replacements, I somehow managed to get the slots bollixed up; they ended up too wide for any frets. What now?

The only solution I could think of, other than replacing the fingerboard, was to make the slots even wider and install the frets with epoxy. That outcome proved to be serendipitous; since then, I’ve never installed frets any other way. Over the years I’ve tweaked the strategy to the point where today it works perfectly every time it’s tried. The purpose of this post and the linked article on my website is to detail that experience.

Why fret with epoxy? There are some really big advantages to this method and no insurmountable disadvantages—

  • The tang of the fret is embedded in a solid casting of epoxy instead of clinging to the sides of the slot with a little bit of glue and a prayer. I’ve never had an epoxy-installed fret come loose.
  • The epoxy casting also eliminates any possibility of fingerboard back bow caused by “wedging” where the fret tang is slightly larger than the slot.
  • The frets are installed with equal compression, which keeps the level of the crowns near perfect and each fret even with the surface of the fingerboard. Final-dressing requires almost no crown removal to refine that level, so the frets retain maximum height.
  • When refret is needed, epoxied frets can be easily removed. Just apply high heat with a big soldering gun, and they pop right out using a pair of fret-removal snippers with minimal ebony chips from the slot sides.

This link provides technical details about my method. I’m hoping for questions/comments from any readers, but especially luthiers, that will lead to updates incorporating needed new information. In composing the article, I had to rely on my best guess as to what would be adequate in that respect, but I’ve had enough experience with “manuals” to know how frustrating it can be when a key link in the information chain is missing.

3 thoughts on “Installing Frets with Epoxy”

  1. Since visiting with you on this very subject some years back, I have not hammered a single fret.

    Since my fret saw blade is .028″, one pass using the smaller dental bit just for a bit of clean up works out perfect.

    I bought a piece of 3/4″ X 1/2″ cold rolled steel, checked with a straight edge, that runs the length of the fretboard, that is my clamping caul for the frets. Since there always seems to be plenty of other things to do while the glue is setting, I simply clamp it up and forget about it for a couple of days. If the wire was consistent to begin with, the crowns are level. A very few light swipes with a leveling file is all that I’ve ever had to do since adopting this approach.

    Since I had been elevating my necks, I glue on the fret board before installing the neck. Since I hate clipping and filing the frets above the 12th fret, I’m pretty much resolved to trying installing the frets before installing the neck.

  2. I have three Jacobson guitars and have found the frets on these guitars to be very good and reliable. Mike Macy. Derby, Kansas. God bless.

  3. I haven’t needed to put new crowns on my Jacobson guitars yet, but I imagine after extensive guitar playing, I may need to eventually have a luthier to recrown the guitars. God bless. Mike Macy. Derby Kansas.

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