This Gibson Les Paul had curves in the neck that couldn't be straightened with the truss rod. The frets had previously been filed, but they still weren't level, and there were places on the neck where they were now very low. Since the tops of the frets couldn't be lowered further, and because some had significant string wear, the only solution was to pull them out, level the wood of the fretboard, then put in new frets.
I remove the nut, clean it up and put it back unglued, then put the guitar in the Erlewine neck jig. This jig uses a strap and jack at the peg head to re-create the stresses of string tension after the strings have been removed. I adjust the truss rod to get the neck as straight as possible with the strings on. Then I set the dial indicators to zero, remove the strings, and adjust the strap and jack until the indicators read zero again. Now the neck is back in position with the truss rod still tightened. This neck of course wouldn't go straight, and ended up with a slight back bow on the bass side and up bow on the treble.
With the guitar still in the jig I use a 40 watt soldering pencil to get each fret hot as I pull it out with flush ground end nippers. The heat weakens any glue that may have been used when they were installed, and also releases oils in the wood that makes the frets come out with less chipping of the fingerboard. If there are any chips I crazy glue them back immediately, before they hit the floor never to be seen again. Some escape, in which case I use crazy glue mixed with sawdust from the fretboard sanding process.
A few passes with the flat sanding bar show the high and low spots in this curved neck.
Getting closer. Time to start with the radius block to maintain the original 12 inch radius.
At this point I use the radius block with 220 grit, then 320 grit to fine sand the rosewood. I further polish the inlays with 600 grit then micro-mesh. Now it's time for new frets.
First all the fret slots have to be cleaned thoroughly, to make sure there's nothing to keep the new frets from seating properly.
Choosing a fret wire is not always simple. The bottom "tang" has to fit the slots in the fingerboard just right. Often it fits as manufactured, but sometimes it all has to be sized in the shop, or only a few frets have to be sized.
In order to clear the binding I nip, then file, the tangs off the ends of the frets. Each fret has to be fit and kept in order.
Frets can be installed with a small hammer, or pressed in with clamps and cauls. Glue in the slots help them stay put, but is not always necessary.
If the neck can be removed from the body I can press in all the frets using a drill press with a special caul and brass inserts.
Once all the frets are in, it's back in the neck jig for the fret leveling process. You can read about all these steps on the page: Fret Level
After the fret ends are rounded and the frets are polished I use my favorite fretboard oil to bring out the color of the rosewood.
After a final set-up it plays great.
The owner wanted his SRV Strat modified closer to the actual specs of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Guitar called "Number One". Part of that modification involved redoing the frets and fretboard. We read all the lore we could find on the internet and picked one story that sounded plausable. The frets on this neck were too small and the radius of the fingerboard was 12 inches. Apparently Stevie's guitar's neck had a 7 1/4 inch radius that had been re-fretted and leveled so many times that the radius ended up somewhere between 9 and 10. We decided to change the radius to 9 1/2 inches and put in super jumbo fret wire.
The jig can be used with the neck removed from the body.
This neck was almost new, good and straight. Most of the sanding needed was to change the radius with the straight bar and radius caul and several grits of sandpaper.
A new 9 1/2 inch radius, and ready for new frets.