I’ll be the first to admit, I have the fine motor skills of a prehistoric alligator.
I was never good with my hands, even if they were the size of a girl’s. I was extremely impatient, I wanted to get to point B immediately without going through the process.
I remember as a young boy I broke down in tears when I couldn’t put my first Christmas lantern together.
So it’s kinda weird I enjoy being an amateur luthier if I didn’t have the skills or patience to do fine craftsmanship.
And boy, refretting was not easy.
I ordered pre-cut frets online, and when they came, what was one of the hardest and most time-consuming things to do was to get them sorted out from shortest to longest.
It was almost mind-numbing. Find the shortest one, then the longer one, but double-check if the longer one is the next shortest one or if there was an even shorter one in the pile.
Finally I had 22 frets arranged from shortest to longest. I started putting the frets in, using the combination of a large rubber mallet and a small hammer withe the head the size of my thumb.
I was doing this at night after a long day, and by the 19th fret I was starting to have double vision. I had to feel my way some, making sure the tines really fell into the slot, lest I be hammering a new burrow into the fingerboard.
The tip here was to hammer straight down. I would fit the fret into the burrow and start with gentle taps. I placed a couple of layers of electrical tape on the hammerhead so it wouldn’t ding the frets.
Once in, I’d hammer my way starting on one end and let the fret stretch towards the other end. The guys at YouTube recommended another method, but I was happy with mine.
It wasn’t a perfect job, with a few dents here and there when I forgot to hammer straight down, but I got them all in.
The following day I removed the excess nibs with a wire cutter. I levelled the frets with a sanding block like YouTube told me to.
Sanding down the sharp fret ends was a major production as I had expected, but I got it done. I didn’t sand it down until it was PRS smooth, but enough so I didn’t cut myself while playing.
When I put the strings on I wasn’t really sure I got the job right. The frets weren’t jumbo, in fact, they looked like the opposite of jumbo.
The metal nut I installed was too low. I cut a piece of old credit card and inserted it into the nut furrow to raise the nut a bit.
I tested by running the notes on every fret and every string. Of course if the notes weren’t complete then some frets were higher. Indeed, there were higher frets, which I whacked with the small hammer into submission. One really stubborn fret I whacked with a hammer and sanded down with a steel file.
It wasn’t pretty, but I got it right. No dead notes, there was some buzz on some notes but I left it as part of Jimi’s character.
It was hard, but I got it done. I couldn’t play it yet because I put on one more layer of sanding sealer.
The MVP tools were the small hammer and a small file with a handle. These really made success possible.
It works, actually better than the stock frets Jimi came with, but my is it ugly. I’m thankful I’m not one of those to obsess over looks.
If you paid my services to refret your vintage ’59 Les Paul, I’ll return your guitar and design you a 300-bed hospital instead.