Does My Guitar Need a Refret? Ultimate Guide to Understanding Fret Wear (2023)

If you’re worried and asking, does my guitar need a refret, don’t fret. We’ve got the answer and it’s… maybe.

does my guitar need a refret

If you’re worried and asking, does my guitar need a refret, don’t fret. We’ve got the answer and it’sā€¦ maybe.

For guitarist, a well-maintained guitar is as vital as a well-maintained car is to a driver. Among the issues that may plague a guitarist over time is fret wear, which can lead to questions like, “Does my guitar need a refret?” In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of a guitar refret: what it is, why it might be necessary, and how to know if your guitar is a candidate.

I’ve played guitar for over 25 years and have done three refrets on guitars that I’ve owned, and one guitar is due one. So I know what to look out for and the best ways of going about it.

So let’s dive into the question: does my guitar need a refret?

What is Refretting?

Before we dig into the signs that your favorite guitar might need a complete refret, it’s essential to understand what refretting means.

A fret is a raised metal strip inserted along the fretboard on a stringed instrument. Refretting involves removing the old, worn frets and installing new ones. This can be a time-consuming and costly process, needing fret dressing tools, that should ideally be done by professional luthiers.

What affects the question, does my guitar need a refret?

Types of Frets

There are several types of frets: nickel-silver, stainless steel, and Evo gold are some of the most commonly used materials to get a guitar refretted.

The type of fret used will impact both the feel and longevity of the frets. For example, stainless steel frets are harder and therefore tend to last longer but may have a different tactile feel under the fingers compared to nickel-silver.

Signs Your Guitar May Need a Refret

Guitarists often underestimate the wear and tear their frets undergo over time. Even if you’re not a touring musician, hours of practice and playing can gradually wear down your frets. Here’s how to know if your guitar might be due for a refret so you can answer: Does My Guitar Need a Refret?

Fret Wear

Fret wear is the most obvious sign that you might need a refret. This usually occurs under the strings where you often fret notes and can be observed as flat spots, dents, or divots on the frets. A guitar with worn frets could affect your guitar playing, may buzz when you play, sustain notes poorly, or have incorrect intonation.

Uneven Frets

Uneven frets can also indicate the need for a refret job. If your guitar fretboard looks like rolling hills with some frets higher than others, then you might be experiencing uneven fret wear. This can result in dead notes or buzzing, which affects the playability of your guitar.

Sharp Edges

Sharp edges or “fret sprouts” are often the result of the wood of the neck shrinking due to changes in humidity. While not necessarily an immediate sign that a complete refret is needed, sharp edges do indicate that your guitar requires attention. Ignoring this problem can result in an uncomfortable playing experience and may even cause minor injuries. Solutions range from a simple fret dress to control the sharpness, to more comprehensive actions like a full refret, particularly if the issue is accompanied by additional fret wear or buzzing.

Intonation Issues

Intonation issues can be very frustrating for a guitarist. This is when tuning isn’t accurate up the length of your strings. If you’ve tried adjusting the bridge saddle, the nut, and changing strings and your guitar still won’t stay in tune as you move up the fretboard, fret wear may be the problem.

Buzzing Noises

While buzzing noises and unpleasant tones could be due to various factors like a warped neck, low-quality strings, or an improperly cut nut, it could also indicate fret wear, especially if you’ve ruled out these other possibilities.

Frequent Fret Dressing

If you find that you need frequent fret dresses (the leveling, crowning, and polishing of frets), this could be a sign that a more permanent solution like a full refret is necessary.

Advantages of Refretting

So what do you gain from going through this arduous process? Here are some advantages.

1. Restores Playability: One of the most significant benefits of a refret is that it restores your guitar’s playability and the feel of your guitar neck and fingerboard. If your instrument feels like a new guitar, you’re more likely to play it.

2. Improved Sound: Worn frets can sap the life out of your tone and guitar strings. A refret can restore lost sustain and correct poor intonation, breathing new life into your guitar’s sound, and making your chords ring out.

3. Increased Longevity: New frets can make an old guitar play like a new one, thereby increasing its lifespan and saving you money in the long run.

4. Customization: When refretting, you can choose the kind of fret wire that best matches your playing style, thereby customizing your instrument further.

When Refretting is Not Necessary

While it’s crucial to be aware of the signs of fret wear, refretting is not always the solution. Here are a few instances where a full refret may not be necessary:

1. Minimal Wear: If the wear on your frets is minimal and does not impact playability or tone, then you can probably hold off on a refret.

2. Newer Guitars: Most new guitars will have new frets and shouldn’t require a total refret unless you’ve been using them very heavily.

3. Limited Use: If your guitar sits in its case more than it gets played, the frets are likely in good condition.

4. Skill levels: If you’re a beginner guitarist, playing a beat up older guitar with horrible frets isn’t going to hurt too badly. But if you’re a professional musician playing regular gigs, then it’s not unhead of to refret a guitar once a year (although this is extreme).

Costs and Alternatives to Full Refretting

Refretting your guitar is not a cheap endeavor. A full refret can cost anywhere from $200 to $600 or more. Prices can vary depending on factors such as the type of guitar, the luthier’s fees, and geographical location. Sometimes a “partial refret” can suffice, where only the most worn guitar frets are replaced. This can reduce the refretting cost and be a more affordable option if only part of the fretboard shows significant wear.

Alternatively, consider a fret dress. This is a less invasive and less costly procedure involving leveling, crowning, and polishing the frets. However, it might only serve as a temporary fix for severely worn frets.

The Role of Wood Type in Refretting

The type of wood used for the guitar neck and fretboard of a guitar can have a significant impact on the refretting process and its cost. Hardwoods like maple and ebony are more durable and less prone to wear and tear, potentially prolonging the time between refrets. Softer woods like a rosewood fretboard on a rosewood neck may wear more quickly and might require more frequent maintenance. Additionally, the type of wood can affect how easy or difficult it is to remove the old frets and install new ones.

For instance, ebony is very hard and requires extra care during the refretting process to avoid chipping or cracking – not so much for a maple neck. Rosewood necks are more porous and might require additional steps like grain-filling to achieve a seamless finish. Finally, certain woods are more sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature, which could affect the longevity of the frets post-refret. It’s important to consult a luthier familiar with the specific type of wood your guitar’s neck is made from for a more accurate assessment and quote.

Videos – does my guitar need a refret?

This is worth a watch to find out: does my guitar need a refret? (Although the sound isn’t great, we’ll forgive the dude.)

This is a great video on the whole process of a guitar refret if you have a spare hour:

Conclusion – does my guitar need a refret?

Deciding to refret your guitar is not to be taken lightly. It’s a significant investment both in terms of time and money. However, if you find that your playing is affected by fret wear, and you’ve ruled out other potential problems, a refret might just bring your beloved guitar back to life.

So if you’re questioning whether your guitar needs a refret, consult a qualified luthier. They can give you professional advice and an estimate tailored to your guitar’s condition. Whether or not a refret is necessary, taking good care of your guitar will ensure that it remains a treasured companion for many years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions – Does My Guitar Need a Refret?

What is a refret?

A refret is the process of removing old, worn-out guitar frets from a guitar’s fretboard and installing new ones. This is done to restore playability, improve sound quality, and extend the life of the instrument.

How often does a guitar need a refret?

The frequency with which a guitar needs a refret depends on several factors, such as how often it is played, the technique of the player, and the type of strings used. Professional musicians who play every day may need a refret every few years, while casual players might never need one at all.

How much does a refret cost?

The cost of a refret can vary significantly depending on the type of guitar, the luthier’s rates, and your geographic location. Prices can range anywhere from $200 to $600 or more.

Can I refret the guitar myself?

While it is technically possible to refret a guitar yourself, it is a complex and meticulous task that requires specialized tools and expertise. For most players, it’s recommended to consult a qualified luthier for this service.

I’ve been playing guitar for over 25 years and can do most setup jobs, but I wouldn’t risk doing my own refret. Attempting a fret dressing is more realistic.

What’s the difference between a fret dress and a refret?

A fret dressing involves fret leveling, crowning, and polishing existing frets but doesn’t replace them. Fret dressing is often a more affordable alternative to refretting but might only serve as a temporary fix for severely worn frets.

Can only part of the fretboard be refretted?

Yes, a “partial refret” is an option where only the most worn frets are replaced. This is usually less expensive than a full refret but is best suited for guitars with isolated fret wear.

What types of fret material are available?

Common fret materials include nickel-silver, stainless steel, and Evo gold. Stainless steel frets are harder and usually last longer, but they can feel different under the fingers compared to nickel-silver.

How long will my guitar be in the shop for a refret?

The time required for a refret can vary but expect your guitar to be in the shop for at least a few days. Some luthiers may require a week or more, especially if there is a backlog of work or if complications arise.

Will refretting change the tone of my guitar?

Refretting can restore lost sustain and improve intonation, which will likely enhance the tone of your guitar. However, the fundamental characteristics of the guitar’s tone, influenced by its body, neck, and pickups, should remain unchanged.

How do I know if my guitar needs a refret or just a setup?

If your guitar has issues like buzzing, poor intonation, or lack of sustain, it could either be a setup issue or a fret issue. A qualified luthier can assess the condition of your guitar and recommend whether a setup, fret dressing, or refret is the most appropriate solution.

We hope this article answered the question, Does My Guitar Need a Refret?