Refretting guitar is a hard job, and while you might be able to pull it off on your own, it’s better to pay a professional to do the job. The first question that arises here is how much does it cost to refret a guitar?
Based on our experiences, a full refret can cost you anywhere between $180 to even $500 depending on a number of factors. It does require a good amount of tools and skill and can sometimes cost you more than the guitar is worth
Often it makes sense to go for fret dressing which typically costs between $60 and $100.
In this short guide, we’ll talk about the cost of refretting a guitar, when to do it and if it’s worth it at all. We’ll also be providing some alternatives you can try to save your money.
How do I Know if my Guitar Needs a Refret?
Frets are nothing but thick metal strips, and when you push the strings against them it naturally causes wear due to friction.
After a long time of playing, you will flatten the frets and it will lead to bad intonation. If you don’t do a lot of bends and vibrato, the frets might get notched by the strings and lead to formation of dents.
If you experience buzz on one or more notes or the dents become very noticeable, it’s probably time. You can file the notched frets with a fret file to round them off, but at some point or another you will need a refret.
In the end, it’ll depend on how much you actually care about buzzing, intonation and fret height, and the action you prefer – higher action equals less noticeable fret wear.
Don’t worry! Fret wear and dents are normal for any guitar, but heavy-handed players will experience it more often. Minor wear can be corrected by fret dress or just by replacing the affected frets and not all of them.
If you don’t have prior experience with this, it would be a good idea to visit a luthier or a local guitar service.
How Often Should you Refret Your Guitar?
There is no fixed answer to that question. It’s all about the amount of wear the frets are exposed to and varies from player to player.
We’ve seen some players with a death grip on the neck who needed to refret every year. On the other hand, players with a light touch can go on decades without any problem.
If you’re someone with a lot of guitars, you probably won’t require a guitar refret for decades. You might, however, need to replace nuts and saddles every once in a while or when buzzing becomes an issue.
Of course how often you need to refret depends upon the quality of the instrument, your playstyle, whether you regularly use a capo and if you use steel strings on your guitar.
Also, keep in mind that while you might be able to refret the guitar several times before having to replace the neck itself.
How Long Does a Refret Take and What Tools Will You Need?
Refretting is not as simple as changing strings on your guitar, and should not be done by a beginner. It’s possible, but there is a high risk of permanent damage to the guitar’s neck and finish.
Typically, rosewood fretboards are easier to refret as compared to maple ones which need to be refinished. If it has binding that can be hard too.
A full refret will take around 6-10 hrs of total labor, but luthiers usually work with tens of instruments at a time which means your guitar can take up to a week.
if you plan to DIY then you’ll probably need a bunch of tools including the fretwire, a fret puller, a fret tang nipper, a fretwire bender, fret leveling beam, a fret bevelling tool, and more.
The thing is, we won’t advise you to perform a refret on an expensive guitar, but if you take the cheapest one, the cost will exceed the price of the instrument itself.
The steps are simple enough – remove old frets, install new ones, snip the excess off, bevel and dress as required. However, these are extremely intricate steps and it’s easy to mess up at any point.
If you’re willing to take the risk or just doing it for fun on a cheap guitar, surely go for it. Now let’s find out how much does it cost to refret a guitar.
So, How Much Does a Refret Cost?
The total cost to refret a guitar depends on the quality of the guitar, its condition and what you are looking for.
The cheapest refrets will start at around $150 to $200, but that will only include basic stuff like re-crowning and a fresh wire set.
The type of neck and wood material also play a key role in deciding the overall refret cost.
An ebony or rosewood board with a bolt-on neck and no binding will cost the least. The price increases significantly in the case of maple necks or if the neck has binding.
A vintage guitar will cost a lot but if done correctly by a competent luthier, will make it very playable. However, we only suggest refretting a vintage guitar if a fret dress is no longer an option and if you really want to make music from it.
Fret wire will only cost you around $10 to $20, it’s the labor that’s expensive. If you have a cheap guitar, it won’t make much sense to invest in a refret as you can get a new guitar for the same price or just a new neck.
For example, a licensed Fender neck costs between $200 and $400, but it will have a different sound to the one your guitar has.
We would advise against finding someone with the cheapest price, as it’s generally someone using your guitar to practice on.
Even if you use stainless steel frets and include a full setup with nut replacement, we won’t suggest going beyond $400 or at a maximum of $500 for a fret job. If you’re able to find someone who charges per fret, then that’s better.
1. How long do guitar frets last?
Nickel silver frets may last around 1000 hours of play even for heavy-handed players, while stainless steel might last much longer than that.
2. Does Refretting a guitar damage it?
A bad fret job will totally destroy a guitar. This is why we always suggest visiting a professional for the job.
Keep in mind that even a skilled luthier can refret a guitar a limited number of times before the slots start to widen. If you’re worried about having to replace them often, we would suggest getting stainless steel frets.
3. What is fret dressing?
Fret dressing involves shaping, sanding, and leveling the worn-out frets that help solve buzz and intonation problems. Fret dress is a very common technique for new guitars or minor defects and can save you a lot of money.
If the dents are not noticeable or there aren’t any significant intonation problems, then it would make sense to just go for fret dressing.
4. Are stainless steel frets worth it?
If you have money, stainless steel frets are the way to go. These typically last way longer and generally feel and play better.
Putting steel frets is more time-consuming as well as expensive, but you’ll be free from any worries pretty much forever. Although, don’t be surprised if you hear a luthier quote $500 for a full stainless steel fret job.
5. Does Refretting a vintage guitar devalue it?
If it’s an expensive collectible that’s just going to be on your showcase, a refret will kill its worth simply because people want these things as original as possible.
However, if it’s supposed to be played like a regular guitar, a good fret job is absolutely worth it and will have little effect in its value.
You can choose to avoid doing a refret if you don’t want to, however, there’s no harm in having it done at some point.
Refretting guitars can have multiple benefits: You don’t have to worry about the sound of a new neck, and you can choose the fret size and material you like. If you love your guitar and don’t want to replace it or the neck, refretting is absolutely worth it.
Fret wires themselves don’t cost a lot, but the price you pay is for skilled labor and the elaborated work required, and a lot of tools if you’re doing it yourself. Having a professional do the job will ensure that the job is done quickly and effectively with minimal chance of messing anything up.
I’m Pranshu. I’ve been a passionate guitarist, keyboardist, and music producer ever since I got my hands on a keyboard as a small child.
With Harmonyvine, my goal is to share tips and knowledge about music and gear with you. I also enjoy recording music and guitar covers, which you can check out on my Instagram page.