Refretting is one of my specialties. It’s one of the main reasons I started my business! In my opinion, stainless steel makes the best fret material because it lasts 5 times longer than alloy and if you do bends it is very smooth to play. If you are going to spend $240 to $350 dollars for a refret, stainless is your best investment. Unfortunately it is not available in all fret sizes. Some shops charge a very high premium to do a refret with stainless, but I do not. I have worked with stainless steel for over 15 years in various forms and once I became accustomed to it as a repair person, I found it is really no different from any other material, although it does have unique characteristics. It is harder, obviously, but it is not Kryptonite! And it does rust, i.e. “stain-less”, but it won’t rust on your guitar. It does not form as nickel silver alloys do so it will not conform as easily to a fingerboard radius when it is installed as nickel alloy will. What this means is that each fret must be perfectly formed for it’s position on the fingerboard before installation. You cannot beat this material into form or position with a hammer or a press for that matter. Since it is harder than nickel alloy, it is harder to file the fret ends to even them up with the fret board. So each fret must be cut to the closest length possible before installation, unlike alloys that can be clipped off once they are in the fret board. Shaping and rounding the fret ends is no harder to do than using nickel. So what does all this mean to you, the player? It just means that the refretting takes a little longer and the cost is slightly higher. I’ve seen repair shops charge ridiculous fees for stainless steel refretting, but at Aperio you will only get a slightly higher charge than you would for nickel, and your fret work will last 5 times longer. So, it’s an easy decision to spend the extra $50 to $100.
That being said, some people just don’t like stainless, so I also use nickel alloy if desired.
Here are the basics of what happens on a refret.
These are just the fundamentals. It takes anywhere from 8 to 12 hours of work to do a refret depending on problems that may or may not arise.
1. Evaluate the fret board for twists and divots.
2. Remove old frets.
3. Remove nut.
4. Level fretboard and repair if needed.
5. Clear and saw fret slots.
6. Form and cut fret wire.
7. Inject glue into fret slot.
8. Press and or hammer in new frets.
9. Level frets.
10. Make new nut or use old nut if possible and install.
11. If maple, spray poly on fret board and then clean poly off fret tops.
12. Restring and setup bridge saddles and adjust nut slots.
I currently stock the following sized fret wire:
Thousandths of an Inch
*** Stainless Fretwire: ***
FWSS110 Stainless Steel. A large crown wire in both height (.057) and width. The most popular fretwire size I install. Great for rock, metal or acoustic if you like large frets. My favorite! Between a 6105 (.055) and a 6100 (.058). Big stuff!
FWSS74 Stainless Steel. The most common fretwire size on older instruments, this wire is typically used for steel string instruments. Electric players have been moving to larger wire for a while now.
*** Nickel/Silver Fretwire: ***
FW110 The third largest fret wire I stock. If you want bigger than stock but not huge, this may be what you want. 18% nickel silver. (Dunlop #6110(.050)).
FW74 Hard, standard size long wearing fretwire. This is my most popular fretwire and is used mostly for steel string, but is often used on classical and electric guitars as well. 18% nickel silver. (VanGent. Like Dunlop #6230).
FW72 A softer, standard size, used mostly for nylon stringed instruments. 12% nickel silver. (VanGent.).
FW68 The smallest fretwire. Especially made for banjos, mandolins, dulcimers, and small instruments. 18% nickel silver. (VanGent.).
FW6000 The biggest wire (.058). Used on basses and rock guitars for those looking for a scalloped fingerboard feel. 18% nickel silver. (Dunlop #6000, Larger than MD110) .
You might ask, “How do I know what size fret wire I would like?” The only way is to try other guitars and see what feels good to you. Stock Asian and American guitars typically have .039 to .045 wire installed. Too small for me but a lot of people like that size. Big wire takes some getting used to and is not for everyone.
Keep in mind that whatever the size of the wire you want, a couple of thousandths may have to come off due to fret leveling and the shape of the fingerboard. For instance, if you select FW6000 you might end up with .055 to .058 in height. Again, it depends on your neck and it’s condition. In general, you are not going to notice a few thousandths.