We do a LOT of Fret Levels in the shop. Each Fret Level requires the use of our precision ground leveling beam, which is filled with lead buckshot, and weighs around 8 pounds. During the leveling process, we slide the beam back and forth over the frets, taking the tiniest amount of metal off each fret with each pass. We keep at it until every fret has been touched all the way across the neck; once they’ve all been hit with the beam they’re ready for crowning (which sculpts the frets back to a nice, round shape).
This is pretty hard work even when the frets are almost level, but when the frets are WAY off, we find ourselves entering a world of pain. Every fret needs to be touched by the beam, which seems to get heavier with each pass, but we keep going (and going, and going…) until the job is done. When we deal with a neck that’s really uneven, we necessarily need to take more metal off the frets that are sitting too high, and sometimes have jobs end up looking like this:
You can see here that there’s quite a bit of fret dust buildup on the upper frets, and less in the lower areas of the neck. This neck had a significant rise towards the body, which was causing the higher notes to fret out and choke on bends. When a neck is this bad, the only options are to do a Fret Level or to Refret the whole thing (during which the fingerboard itself is leveled, fixing the root of the problem). Since this guitar had plenty of fret left, a Fret Level was the way to go.
Of course, when we take this much metal off the tops of the frets, the crowning process takes even longer. Once again quite a bit of work…