You're here, so it must not have been so easy...
Let's go over common problems with FlexiFret Installations. Here's the list of problems I've encountered over the years:
- The fret is binding in the channel
- The fret is too loose in the channel
- The channel is in the wrong place; the fret is sharp or flat
- The FlexiFret is buzzing:
- the fretwire is not straight, and has a slight bow, making it high in the center, or at both ends. (The cure for that is to bend it back to straightness, using your fingers, pliers, etc.)
- the channel was installed too high
- the fretwire is riding too high in the channel
- surrounding frets are so worn that their height varies across the fret. If the next higher pitch fret buzzes, the FlexiFret was installed too low and must be removed.
- there is a slight curvature in the fingerboard itself.
First, let's check to see that the channel is flush with the surface of the fingerboard (We can easily fix that by removing it, correcting the problem, and re-installing it.) :
- First test that the channel is too low. Run your finger or a small straight-edge over the fret channel, feeling for any step down from the fingerboard to the channel.
- Next, lay a straight-edge across the fretboard to make sure it is flat. If it isn't, the FlexiFret will be high at one or both ends. If the curvature is slight, you might be able to dress the ends down, if the middle is well flush. If the curvature is too extreme to dress the FlexiFret channel flush to the curve, make a template of the curvature. I can supply a curved channel and curved frets. In this case, Contact me.
- Then check to see if the channel is too high: Try very lightly filing the top of the channel with the fine machinist's flat file. If you can feel the file flat against the fingerboard after just putting a shine on the channel, try the fret again. If this isn't enough to get the channel flat with the fingerboard surface, the channel will have to be removed and the slot deepened. Removal can be easily done using the internal channel yoke and a 140-watt soldering iron:
- Fully insert the 1/16" square channel (the "internal channel yoke") into the channel, leaving the extra length protruding on the side next to you.
- Using the hot soldering iron (make sure the tip is free of any solder!) lift gently up on the protuding yoke, heating the channel (note how the Weller solder gun's wire heating element is just right for slipping under the yoke). In a minute or two, the epoxy should be warm enough to softe, allowing the channel to raise above the fingerboard. Do not rush the process with excessive pressure; simply continue heating until the channel is complete free, and gently grasp it with a pair of tweezers or small pliers.
- Once the epoxy has cooled and become non-adhesive, carefully clean up the slot and the channel with the fine file. Adjust the slot as necessary for a better installation, then repeat the installation process.
- Once again, try very lightly filing the top of the channel with the fine machinist's flat file. That should put a very light, fine shine on the channel, and the file should not be able to rock as you do. If that's not the case, you still have the channel too high. Remove again and repeat the installation. (Successive removals and installations should cause no problem, as long as care is taken not to over-heat the wood, and no solder is transferred from the iron to the brass channel. You might find that your file gets clogged after a lot of cleaning away of the epoxy, if it is still at all tacky or soft when you file it away. Can't help you there!)
The buzz may be caused by the fretwire riding high in the channel. Three reasons for this:
- The fret is not seated. It is possible for the fret to ride high in the channel. Press the fretwire down if this is happening. You should hear a satisfying click when it seats, and that can take care of the buzz.
- Burrs on the fret ends, under the fret crown. Use a fine machinists file to trim any burrs at the ends under the bottom of the crown and retry.
- A small filet in the joint between the fret crown and the tang. To adjust for that, use a small square needle file to put a bevel on the top edges of the slot in the channel. This will give clearance for the radius of the tang/crown fillet, allowing the fret to sit firmly and flush with the channel top. Do not over-do this bevel, as you don't want to widen the slot itself. Slip the fret in from time to time to check progress. (this bevel is not made in the channel as supplied, as sometimes it is helpful to have the fret riding high by a thousandth of an inch or so. Therefore, it is left as a final dressing matter, to give the installer the option.)
- The neighboring fret lower (in pitch) than the FlexiFret may be worn or grooved across its length. This can lead to the FlexiFret buzzing on one string but not others. To adjust for this, use the fine machinsts file to reduce the height of the FlexiFret to match that of the lower fret. End-cutting pliers are a fine tool for holding the fret tang while you file. If you have to individually file fret a fret to fit, be sure to cut a little notch in its tang with the file, to remind you which one it is. If you have to adjust more than one fret, cut notches in some code you will remember which one goes where.
The fretwire is binding in the channel or can't be inserted at all:
- This can have four causes:
- The ends of the fret tang are not properly dressed. To re-dress the ends of the tang, use your fine machinist's file. Using the safe edge against the bottom of the crown, narrow each side of the tang ends. Don't over-do this. With the safe edge against the face of the tang and file a slight bevel on the under side of the fret's crown, just at the end. Again, don't overdo.
- The wire is bent. Place the wire on a straight-edge and see if it is straight on both the crown and edges lengthwise. If not, you can actually remove a little curve in the fretwire by bending it in your fingers (it will take a lot of pressure to do this. If you have a small end-nipper pliers, you can grasp the fret tang, allowing you to straighten the fretwire more easily).
- The groove was installed in a slot that is too narrow. If the fret does not go in at all, review your memory of checking the fit of the channel in its slot. If there was any doubt that the channel had an easy, non-binding slip into its slot, you may have to remove it and widen the slot slightly. See Channel Removal, above.
- The groove in the channel itself has gotten narrow somehow. If it is thoroughly jammed, carefully remove it with the supplied fret insert/removal tool. If you can work it partly in, testing both ends of the channel against both ends of the fretwire, you can slightly widen the groove with a .016" nut file. First grind and polish a small radius on one corner (a "safe corner") of the file to avoid damaging the bottom of the channel (or your instrument top, if the file suddenly releases and comes flying out of the end of the channel). Insert the nut file into the channel's groove (with the safe corner down, resting on the channel's bottom) at about 30 degrees from horizontal, and gently work the nut file back and forth in the brass groove, slightly angling it left and right, and rotating it clockwise then counterclockwise, removing small amounts of material from the lips of the brass groove. Test frequently to see if the fret will slip in. Don't forget to approach this work from both ends of the channel groove.
- If none these don't solve the problem, the channel slot was too narrow, and did not have an easy slip fit for the channel. In such cases, the channel's groove will be pinched during gluing. Go back and remove the channel (see Channel removal, above), widen the slot, and then re-install
The fret is too loose in the channel groove. Taking care of this is easy: grasp the fret in your fingers and bend it slightly, putting a slight curve in it sideways (don't bend it up and down or you'll create a buzz in the middle of the fret!). Reinsert the fretwire and check for a nice push fit.
The channel is in the wrong position, causing the fret to be flat or sharp. If this is the case, you will need to do the following:
- Remove the channel (see Channel Removal above)
- Create a 3/32"x3/32" wooden plug of cross-grain wood that resembles your fingerboard, glue it into place, and refinish the fretboard. (Contact me if you need me to help by making a suitable plug.)
- Carefully review the instructions for measuring the correct placement of the FlexiFret, then repeat the measurement and continue with cutting the slot and installing the channel.
This completes troubleshooting the installation. You can re-string, tune-up and test your FlexiFrets after the epoxy in the channels has set. Congratulations! If there are questions about tools, techniques or other advice please feel free to Contact me.