"I think it's beyond repair" - To having a new lease of life!
I recently had in for repair a Fender Stratocaster, which hadn't had the best refret. The frets had been glued to the top of the fretboard and not been pressed in properly. This meant the frets weren't level and had started to move.
Superglue covered the fretboard, the frets didn't sit correctly in their slots and consequently were not level. The fretboard had been sanded too much and unevenly. As you can see in the last picture (below) a fret tang was too tall for the much shallower fret slot.
If I had fretted this guitar like any other, the frets above the 14th fret would not lie on the fingerboard. This caused the original issue with frets being uneven and being able to pull them out with only my fingers. On the very last fret there is a slight neck overhang. The wood was so thin here that I had warned the owner it may not survive having a fret installed, this part was to be reinforced.
To start with, I addressed the splintering of the fingerboard. To remove the excess superglue, I used a fine 400 grit wet dry paper with a radius block. This grit took a good amount of passes to take off the residue, but it was precise. I was able to level the fretboard and radius it much better than hoped, it just took alot of time.
I then cleaned out each fret-slot, and recut each slot. I had to fill in and recut one slot further up the neck as it was far too wide for the fret tang.
The fret slots and the fretboard looked in much better shape after this. Although there was some chipping from the removal of the frets due to the superglue previously used, it was minimal. Compared to the image above the fretboard is vastly improved. Taking time and care, to remove the old frets, had meant the fingerboard stayed in a good condition and the chipping left was minor. It would be covered by the new frets. The fret would also sit perfectly in its slot and on the fretboard.
The frets were carefully fitted. Each one was left to settle, whilst the glue dried and as I moved onto the next fret, I would make sure the previous one was settling correctly. Each fret had to sit perfectly as the glue set.
At the higher end of the fretboard, where the tang would not allow the fret to sit properly in its slot, I cut the tang, similarly to how you refret a bound fretboard, to allow the frets to fit the guitar properly. Done correctly it allows the fret to settle, overdoing how much tang is cut means the fret has less support in the fret-slot. It was crucial to the guitar I got this correct!
I let the entire guitar settle and once I was happy with every single fret (I had to redo a few) I began the finishing process - fretdress, restring and setup.
Here was the end result of all this hard work! The frets sit perfectly on the fretboard and are secure. The fretboard is in great condition and is the correct radius. At the higher frets they are now playable. Strings do not choke and it is now playable all along the neck.
After the neck was screwed back into the body, and the guitar had been restrung and setup, I was able to inform the customer it was ready. The look on their face when it was seen was massively rewarding!
Re-fretting a guitar is very satisfying when completed but it must be carried out with the upmost skill and with the correct tools. I spent years researching this type of work, before carrying it out on customer guitars. I invested in only the best tools to make sure this job is completed to the highest standard. It is immensely rewarding when people get to play their beloved instrument once again, ready to go again for another lifetime!