How to Know When to Refret a Guitar?

There’s a sad reality every musician has to face: The more you play, the more prone you are to damage your guitar. 

I know, I know. This is not what you were expecting to read, but it is a fact. 

Strings break and finishes wear off. 

Fretboards too become worn out. 

Luckily, refretting comes as a solution. But how can you know when is the proper time to refret a guitar? 

Guitars need a refret whenever they present deep vents in their frets. These clear signs of wear are not only aesthetic but also have sound and feel implications. Frets that need replacing will generate buzz, intonation issues, and in more extreme cases repeated notes along the same string.

As usual, there’s a lot more to this topic. 

Keep reading to understand more about refrettings!  

What is refretting a guitar?

Refretting a guitar consists of replacing worn-out frets with newer ones. 

This is done when frets present vents that interfere with playing, and particularly with intonation.

A professional guitar tech or luthier will remove the old frets and replace them carefully.

Refrets are a procedure completely normal for vintage guitar or for those that have been played too much.

There’s nothing to worry about since this kind of work when done by an expert, has no risk of damaging the instrument or affecting its tone negatively.

3 signs that your guitar needs a refret

Great! Now you know refretting a guitar is legit and you should do it eventually. 

The question is: how can you know when is the proper time to refret a guitar? 

Well, here’s the answer:

1.     It feels uncomfortable

Dents on frets tend to get deeper and deeper. 

One day, you might pick up your guitar and realize the fret level is too low. 

Playing feels uncomfortable and out of place. 

If that happens, refret your guitar. 

2.     It doesn’t sound right!

Worn-out frets affect the sound. If you feel notes and chords don’t sound as lively as they used to, then you might consider refretting the guitar. 

Bear in mind that this is not always the norm, but rather a possibility that should not be ignored. 

However, if you notice fret buzz, or even in extreme cases, repeated notes in 2 consecutive frets, take your guitar to a professional.

3.     The guitar’s too old

Frets are never worn out from one night to the other. 

The process is slow, and might even take years. 

Therefore, you may need to refret a guitar if the instrument’s too old and beat up.   

Is there a way of preventing the need for a refret?

The reason why frets tend to wear out over time is because of strings. 

After all, dents are the result of pressing the strings against the fret. 

Over time, this leaves the guitar in tatters. 

So, if strings are the source of the problem, then get a pack of quality strings. 

Avoid rusty strings at all costs. They will wear down the frets rather fast. 

The other way you can prevent refretting is by getting a fret dress or fret stoning. 

Sometimes worn frets look worse than they actually are. This is because frets splay outward instead of wearing down. 

The solution is the previously mentioned fret dress. 

It consists of leveling and reshaping frets to eliminate buzzing. 

While this procedure seems similar to refretting, it is less time-consuming and cheaper. 

In other words, a fret dress could be a wise form of preventing a guitar refret.  

Can you refret your own guitar?

A good amount of people loves to do things on their own. 

Gear aficionados are part of those numbers as well. 

You can find tutorials on Youtube on how to refret your guitar, and you can definitely do it by yourself if that’s what you want. 

However, don’t forget that refretting a guitar is not as simple as changing strings. 

Even reconnecting a loose wire within its circuits is a simpler activity. 

The task of refretting a guitar involves considering plenty of things before starting. 

In other words, if you don’t know what you are doing (and how to do it), then do not try it at home. 

It is wiser to leave everything to professionals. 

Otherwise, it might be more expensive to ruin a guitar than to pay for a full refretting. 

Still, if you feel you can and are willing to take the risk, then take it. 

How much would a refret cost on average?

On average, refretting a guitar costs approximately $200, including materials. This price, however, could be up to $400 or even $500, depending on many reasons. 

The variations that affect price go from the type of guitar, neck, and wood, to the materials used for the work. 

For example, while nickel frets may cost more than $300, stainless steel frets, on the other hand, could cost $500 or more. 

A set of frets can cost $10, but the overall process of refretting costs even more. 

Interestingly enough, a fret dress will be much cheaper, costing between $60 and $100. 

Of course, this is because a whole refretting is a more demanding task. 

Lastly, a general rule to remember is that the more fragile the instrument, the more expensive it will be to repair. 

Can any guitar be refretted?

Indeed, any guitar can be refretted. 

After all, they are designed to work that way. 

It is nearly impossible to avoid damages to the fretboard. 

A guitar function is to create music by pressing strings against the fretboard, which means that dents on the fret are bound to happen. 

Can you change fret size or material in a refret?

As I mentioned before, it is possible to change material in a refret. 

The higher the quality of the material, the more expensive the refretting cost. 

Regarding the change of size, the process is different. 

No one can change size as if it were a change of strings. 

Plus, size affects the sound and overall playability. 

Now, you technically can change the size, but it is recommended only if the fret needs a total repair.  

Remember that since the fingerboard needs to be slotted to fit the frets, you can always go bigger in fret size by removing extra wood.

Going for a smaller fret size might be a trickier job, and could require some extra skills from the tech.

Is there such a thing as a partial refret?

Partial refrets do exist. 

For this particular job, only the most worn-out frets are replaced. The rest are left and remain unchanged. 

The thing is, this task is not as simple as you might believe it to be. 

Picture it this way. 

You replace just a few frets with newer ones. Therefore, you still need to level the new frets to the height of the older ones. 

In other words, by doing this, you are reducing the lifespan of the new set of frets! 

If anything, one could consider a fret dress as a partial refret as well, but this is just my opinion.

Conclusion

Now that you have read all this information, it is time to go and check your own guitar.

See if you spot some dents, or if the sound is not right as it used to be.

Maybe it is a time for a refretting.

If that’s the case, then I sincerely hope this article will help you fulfilling that job.