Rattling strings in any guitar can be a sign of worn frets. How can you tell whether your guitar has worn frets, and how much would it cost to get it fixed?
What are frets? What is a refret?
The frets are the raised metal wires on the neck of the guitar. As the guitar is played, the strings are pushed against the frets, which naturally wear over time. The wear shows as dents or flattened frets, which can lead to string buzzing, problems with intonation and playability, especially when string bending. Fret wear is a normal part of the life of a guitar, but some guitars will suffer more from wear than others: those regularly played with a capo, fitted with steel strings, or just subjected to heavy string pressure when played.
The process of replacing them is called a refret – though it can involve a considerable number of time-consuming steps to complete the job.
So how do you know when a refret is required?
The symptoms described above can arise for a number of reasons, and the fault may not lie with the frets. Often a good setup (new strings, truss rod and/or bridge adjustment) will solve such problems, but if in doubt it really is worth talking to a luthier, or guitar shop. Minor fretwear can often be corrected with a fret dress or even replacing a small number of frets.
So how much does it cost to refret a guitar? Well this actually depends on a number of factors. The fretwire itself is not expensive, but it can be a very time consuming job, especially when dealing with fragile vintage instruments. Working on maple fingerboards cost more than rosewood; set necks more than removeable necks; bound necks more than unbound. Steel frets are very hard wearing, but are considerably more expensive to fit. Typically a guitar refret will cost between $200 and $400. A fretdress, as part of a set-up typically costs between $50 and $100, and will solve most problems, without the need for a refret.
Many people are surprised when they get a quote for a refret; it isn’t cheap. But it does reflect the amount of work involved
Obviously, student guitars can be very inexpensive; on some occasions buying a whole new neck is cheaper than actually paying for the refretting work.
Can I refret my guitar myself?
Maybe… if you are a bit handy. You will need some tools, and it would certainly be a good idea to practise on a junk guitar first. Unless you plan to refret further guitars it may not be economical to do this though.