Before upgrading a used bass, have this skill

Shopping for used basses is fun. Upgrading it is also fun. Of course, we have all the pickups, preamps, bridges, tuners and so on you could ever want. We also have open-box gear too for you bargain hunters out there.

But there’s one thing we can’t sell you, and that’s basic fret repair skills.

Many people sell used basses simply because the frets are slightly worn down

When shopping around for used basses, you’re going to see some amazing deals and ask yourself why some that are so good are selling for so cheap.

The answer is that more often than not, when the frets start showing wear and the instrument starts sounding bad, that’s when the owner puts it up for sale because he does not have basic fret repair knowledge.

Fret shaping (leveling, crowning, dressing)

When talking about fret leveling, fret crowning and/or fret dressing, this all refers to fret shaping. When repairing frets, you are shaping (or rather reshaping) the frets so that they are all level with no sharp edges.

Before getting more into that, there is also fret sprouting (which sometimes can be cured with simple fretboard moisturizer,) and fret lift where the fret needs to be reseated from raising out of its slot.

This is a video on how to identify and repair fret lift. Yes, it’s about banjos, but the same applies to electric guitar and electric bass fretted necks. It is 8 minutes long but absolutely worth your time to watch it:

Where fret shaping is concerned, StewMac does sell what they call the “Essential Fretting Tool Kit”:

This kit is not cheap (it’s almost $240 at the time of this writing,) but you do get all that you need to perform basic fret repair without having to run back to the hardware store ten times or overbuy tools you don’t need.

You can perform basic fret shaping with the kit. It is a kit you can buy and use without the need to have a large dedicated work area.

Is there one specific way to shape frets?

There are many arguments out there about which is the best way to shape frets. The only answer we can give here is this:

Watch many YouTube videos on the subject. It is suggested to start with this YouTube search, guitar fret repair. You will be spending several hours of your time going over videos, and will notice several different ways to do fret repairs.

Here is something that is absolutely true: There is really no such thing as a “quick fix” for frets. Yes, some fret repairs are shorter in time than others, but we are talking about metal shaping here so it’s not a 1-2-3 process.

In other words, expect to spend time not only learning but performing basic fret repair. Don’t rush it.

Is it worth it to perform your own basic fret repair?

Yes, absolutely. If the neck is straight (meaning not twisted, as straightening a neck is an advanced repair,) the nut is cut correctly and the only issue is a few buzzy frets, fix it yourself.

Important final note: It is strongly suggested that if you’ve never done basic fret repair before, try it on a throwaway neck first. If you have to buy a really cheap electric bass just to experiment on to get that throwaway neck, do so. Better to make mistakes while learning on a throwaway neck instead of your main instrument!

2 thoughts on “Before upgrading a used bass, have this skill

  1. I’ve been playing guitar and bass for 40 years, own 26 instruments and IMHO its almost as important to learn everything there is to know about the instrument you’re playing as is is to actually playing it. This means educating yourself on not only fret repair but also on how to properly setup the action & intonation, neck relief, bridge setup fingerboard care and how to replace or repair the electronics on a basic level. None of these things are particularly difficult and you don’t need a PhD to do it either. Doing so will not only help you keep your instrument in perfect playing condition but will also save you a bunch of money. The tools required are generally cheaper than a single trip to a luthier and you’ll have the skills to address any problems that may develop with your beloved instrument.

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