Refretting a maple fretboard

Over the years I have refretted hundreds of guitars. But I still find that refretting a maple fretboard is the most challenging fretwork to do. Why is that?

In this post I thought I will explain some of the challenges associated with this type of work. This may help you if you are considering tackling this type of refret yourself. It is also useful information if you are considering asking me to refret a guitars of yours that has a maple fretboard and why I charge more than a equivalent guitar with a rosewood fretboard.

To aid this discussion I have made a video that explains some of the issues associated with this type of refret. If you want to jump straight to that video click on the LINK. This video also shows how to remove frets from vintage Fenders and why the frets have to be tapped out sideways.

When it comes to refretting a maple fretboard I am mostly working on Fender guitars. Of course there are other manufacturers other than Fender that use a lacquered maple fretboard. But Fender is most associated with this type of fretboard and so I will concentrate on Fender guitars in this post.

So what are the main issues for me when I come to refreting a Fender that has a maple fretboard?

  1. Roll up of the finish on the sides of the frets
  2. Removing frets that are less than 1mm tall.
  3. Chipping of the finish as the frets are removed.
  4. Poor adhesion of the original finish to the fretboard.
  5. Impact of the finish on good seating of the new frets.
  6. Deciding whether or not the remove and refinish the fretboard.
  7. Rounded over fretboard edges
  8. Dressing fret ends

As I write this I realise afresh the importance for me of having a clear apprechiation of all these issues when looking at a guitar with a maple fretboard that has come in for a refret. With that early appreciation I can better advise the customer as to the best way forward. So lets look at items 1 to 8 in more detail.

  • Roll up of the finish on the sides of the frets

Really, items 1 to 3 are interlinked. Fender install the frets and then spray the neck. This means that the finish rolls up the side of the frets. On some Fender guitars this issue is hardly noticable, but on others it is quite significant. Why is this important? If the finish is thick, removing the frets without chipping the finish can be quite difficult. If the frets are below 1mm in height, and there is significant roll up of the finish on the sides of the frets, then getting pincers under the frets to lift them can be impossible.

Before removing frets, I score along the sides of the frets with a scaple blade to separate the finish from the fret. If the finish is thick and brittle, and dispite how much time and care I take, it can be very hard to lift the fret without chipping the finish that is alongside the fret.

  • Poor adhesion of the original finish to the fretboard.

In my experience this is more of an issue with 90’s Fenders. Here is an extreme example. Removing the frets without chipping or flaking off the finish is near impossible. It may be best to remove the finish and respray the fretboard once the new frets are installed.

  • Impact of the finish on good seating of the new frets.

When I am refretting a rosewood or ebony fretboard I always thoroughly prep’ the fretboard before installing new frets. This ensures that the frets seat well and as little as possible fret levelling is needed. That good preparation of the fretboard is not possible with a maple fretboard. (unless the finish is removed prior to being refinishd)

Having scored along the side of the fret prior to fret removal, it is generally more desirable to install frets that are slightly wider than the original. The wider frets hide the score line. The problem with that approach is that the new frets sit on top of the finish and not on the maple itsself, and more fret levelling may be needed once all the frets are installed.

  • Deciding whether or not the remove and refinish the fretboard.

When the frets are very low or the finish is cracked and flaking off the surface, it is better to make an early assessment with the customer about the desirablity or otherwise of refinishing the fretboard. Sometimes a customer is not bothered about the finish chipping when the frets are removed. But for most, how the fretboard looks is important.

  • Rounded over fretboard edges

This is quite a difficult issue to explain in words. In the video I discuss this issue in some detail. In short, the more rounded over the fretboard is, the less likely it is that tall frets (1.3 or 1.4mm) will work with that fretboard. But an early assessment of this is important when discussing fretwire options with the customer.

  • Dressing fret ends

Dressing fret ends is an important part of any refret. No customer want to feel sharp fret ends on their guitar. But getting this part of the refret right on a maple board is quite challenging. Achieving smooth, nicely shapped and dressed fret ends without cutting into the existing finish is not easy. Over the years I have tried various techniques to get this right. It takes a lot longer to dress fret ends on a maple fretboard than on a rosewqood equivalent. I am happy with how I do this now, but I am always thinking about how I can improve on my technique, primarily to reduce the time I take on this part of the refret process.

I hope you have found this post useful. Feel free to CONTACT me should you have any questions about refretting a maple fretboard.