One thing that distinguishes a great guitar from an ordinary guitar is beautifully prepared frets – I’m talking about the metal wires here, not the wooden bits in between. (Although you can do a lot of simple things to these to make your Pacifica’s fretboard feel smooth and fast under your hand. See the page about ‘relicing’ for more on this.)
‘Dressing’ frets to be evenly flat and then ‘crowning’ them – to create a more triangular or domed profile that allows minimal contact with the string – are the time-consuming manual processes that budget or medium-priced guitar ranges simply can’t offer. But they can turn a cheap guitar into a wonderful guitar.
On this page we’re dealing with crowning, adding that finishing touch to frets that are already level but may have wide, flat tops that can buzz and affect intonation.
And without further ado I’d like to sincerely thank fellow Pacifica (and modding) nut, Neill Dodd from the UK, who has effectively written this page to share his wisdom and experience on the subject of crowning. So, Neill, over to you…
“My brand-new Pacifica 112 was bad right out of the box. The frets had been stoned level but not crowned. They were completely flat on top with quite a sharp break angle that juddered your finger as you did quick slides up the guitar. They were also still bearing the levelling stone scratches running in the direction of the strings so that string bends were really ‘grindy’ and I’m sure my lighter strings would have bust pretty quickly if I hadn’t polished those out. I only realised how bad they were when trying to play Dire Straits’ ‘Single Handed Sailor’ and found the frets acting as brakes to my sliding finger.
Took a bit of fettling to get them beautiful but it’s all part of bonding with your guitar.
So I crowned them myself – and without buying specialist tools or fret board guards.
And here’s the finished product.
You can really see the tapered shape in this photo…
Here’s how I did it
1. I taped masking tape between the frets, having first stuck each strip to the back of my hand a couple of times to reduce the stickiness, and followed with electrical tape on top so that everything was nice and protected.
2. Used the old red Sharpie pen (black can be hard to see) on top of each fret so there was a line that I new could get thinner and thinner as I filed but must not disappear.
3. Then I just used two files: one a standard DIY store file, the other a diamond-encrusted nail file…
Here’s a close-up of the metal file…
…and the nail file.
I finished up with wire wool and sink cream cleaner to buff out all the filing marks and get a mirror shine before taking off the tape protection.
I didn’t take any work in progress pics, I was enjoying myself too much, but this video shows a German guy who does it my way:
It wasn’t as slow as I imagined it was going to be but has made a huge difference. And the nice part is that you can get everything just the way YOU want it.
I guess a fret file with smooth edges would have made life a little less troublesome and more risk free, and if I was doing several guitars I’d definitely get one, but I wouldn’t bother with one of those crowning files that seem to cost the earth as I think they would give less control and would dictate the crowning profile too much.
The taping was perfectly adequate in protecting the board and I’d have no fear about doing it again.
Unless you are the kind of person for whom even separating tea bags is a calamity zone, you CAN do it. Just think ahead and prepare well. Give yourself some good lighting and in little over an hour and a half you will have the finest-feeling frets this side of Fretfordshire. Can’t guarantee ‘Single Handed Sailor’ will become instantly playable though!” ND.
Can’t thank Neill enough. And he’s totally inspired me to have a go at this for myself. Although I’m going to start on one of my Pacificas whose frets are well-worn and need dressing before crowning. Might as well learn two new skills for the price of one!
More (hopefully) helpful pointers on the topic of fret dressing and crowning:
Neill and I independently discovered Dan Erlewine‘s books and You Tube vids. A real guru eg his book ‘How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great’ is well worth having for the set up tips alone. Search You Tube for loads of stuff by Dan.
Neill says: “here’s a really useful ‘make your own fret crowning tool’ video too which would be more suitable for gentle re-crowning if everything’s gone a bit worn rather than for the job that I had to do which was a first crowning.
I’m not sure I’d like to use that tool though because I would suspect any Sharpie pen line would quickly get rubbed off and then you would be in danger of making things worse.”
I’ve recently discovered a chap on You Tube who goes under the name of WillsEasyGuitar. He’s hilarious as well as hugely informative (as long as you don’t find non-stop swearing offensive). He’s a real authority on the science behind why there’s no such thing as (cringe) tonewoods and why, therefore, the wood you use for an electric guitar is utterly irrelevant. Here’s one on fret dressing (ie the levelling process before crowning featured on this page):
Crimson Guitars does great vids too (and sell tools very cheaply on their website):
Well worth a look! If you decide to do some Pacifica fretwork, let me know and we’ll post your stories like Neill’s above.
Well, decided to try this for myself after Neill’s inspiring work! Bought a sanding beam from Crimson Guitars as featured in the video, above. 320 grit sandpaper, followed by crowning with a little crowning file I got on ebay for about a tenner (nice flat sides and rounded edges). Then 600 grit and wire wool, and finally Brasso for a nice smooth finish! Worked brilliantly. So if, like me, you’ve been too scared to attempt this stuff, don’t be. It’s actually a lot easier than it looks if you take your time and the results are extremely pleasing.