With the neck finished, it’s time to check it’s playable and in the best shape to do it’s job when it’s attached to the body. It’s a new neck, so I’d expect it to be at least level. I don’t have a straight edge made specifically for guitar fingerboards – so I check as best I can by sighting along the edges and checking where I can with a laser level. Ultimately, it’s the frets which will have to be level to eliminate fret buzz – so I check the neck over with a fret rocker. All in all, things seem to check out OK – but there are a couple of noticeable `bumps` – the most noticeable of which just happens to be around the 12th and 13th frets – right in the middle of the board.
So – it’s a light once over with the levelling beam. This is a dead straight aluminium, square section tube with abrasive paper firmly attached down the sides. The fingerboard is taped up to protect the finish, and then the frets are marked along the ridge with a permanent black marker. The levelling beam is then gently run along the length of the neck in a series of straight passes, and the tops of the frets are levelled. As the metal is eroded, the black marker is also removed – so you can see low spots in the frets, as they remain black. The idea is to gently and consistently remove fret material until every fret shows a clean silver stripe, and all the black on the very tops of the frets has been removed.
My levelling beam, (by Hellfire tools in Manchester), has two grades of grit – one on each side – so once the frets are level with the coarse grit, I turn the beam over and follow over with the finer grit edge. Each one of the frets now has a flat top, and each has to be reshaped to remove the hard edges, and restore the required, domed shape. A special file – triangular section with slightly curved faces and blunted edges – is used to work each fret back to a curve, and to remove any sharpness. It’s a lengthy job.
Once the frets are properly shaped – they need polishing. There are a lot of file marks and scratches, and these all need polishing out. I don’t have any wire wool handy, so I start with a good scrub using Mirka abrasive pads to get rid of the real rough stuff. After that, I run 400 grit paper up and down the neck over all the frets. I wrap a good amount around my fingers, and let the paper do the work. When it looks like things are polishing up, I switch to 600 and then onto 800 grits.
After that, I run 1200 grit paper along the length of each fret, and they’re beginning to look good and shiny. I then clean the fretboard off and then go over each fret with four grades of fret rubber. I don’t know if this is totally necessary – the polished frets already look good – but I don’t want to have to do this too often and, having put the best part of a day aside just for fret polishing and neck prep – I don’t want to have to do it again.
Once the frets are done – they shine like new. I run over the neck with cleaner and polish, (both Fender products for nitro finishes). I’m now ready to look at attaching the neck to the body.