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.