Ever run your hand down the edge of a fretboard and feel the guitar fret ends sticking out? Here’s why and what to do about guitar fret sprouts.
What Are Guitar Fret Sprouts?
Fret sprouts happen when the wood of a guitar neck or fretboard shrinks from dryness leaving the ends of the frets sticking out.
So your guitar frets are sticking out of the side of your fretboard shredding your fingers – is that a bad thing?
Let’s just say, it’s not as good as it could be.
Northern winters can be nasty! As we roll into a cooler season at this time of writing, November in the Great White North to be specific, furnaces are coming to life spitting out all that warm dry air.
Being that a guitar fret is literally a metal wedge in the fretboard, you have two different elements reacting against each other with this seasonal change – guitar frets respond just a hair whereas wood is much more lively.
Did you know, a solid spruce top on an acoustic can expand and contract as much as an eighth of an inch over the course of a season?
Amazing, and no wonder we suffer “winter cracks”.
What does this mean for those “budget friendly” guitars coming in by the ship load?
And how does it affect your favourite axe that cost you a pretty penny?
Cheap Guitars and Fret Sprouts
Just a few short years ago we started seeing off-shore manufacturers flooding the market with very inexpensive GSO’s (guitar shaped objects) designed to capture the rising tide of interest generated by games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Very much akin to the wave of cheap Japanese imports we saw in the 60’s and 70’s capitalizing on the “new” rock and roll phenomenon with one big difference; the wood used during the first invasion was at least better seasoned and therefore less prone to the ravages of drastic changes in environment.
Within weeks of entering northern north America, the necks start shrinking back and frets start popping out.
A friend of mine liked to call these overly green flash-seasoned instruments – bologna slicers.
But This Is Supposed To Be A Good Guitar!
Even the best custom shop and hand-built boutique instruments aren’t immune the effects of excessive dryness. Their structural integrity can easily become compromised if exposed to overly dry, or humid, environments.
Instruments that have lost too much natural moisture, particularly acoustic guitars, can start to develop the following problems:
neck humps, bulges
uneven guitar frets
and… fret sprouts
On a bound neck Les Paul the nibs start to split as evidenced by hairline fractures that develop on the side of the binding. Sometimes if left unchecked, the protruding frets will push the binding clean off in chunks!
Other instruments without bound fret ends will show evidence in that the finish starts off where the fret ends meet the edge of the neck.
Does this mean the instrument is bad? No, not necessarily. But it will need attention.
Of course you could have avoided the whole problem of fret sprouts by buying an instrument such as a violin, fretless bass, or even a fretless guitar. But you love guitars, guitars with frets.
What can you do about it?
Let’s start with preventative measures, guitar humidifiers:
For acoustic instruments, purchase a good quality guitar humidifier such as a D’Addario Acoustic Guitar Humidifier to help combat seasonal dryness. These things are particularly necessary if you have a nice acoustic and want to see it survive the humidity swings.
For electric guitars, the best thing you can do is keep the instrument in a stable environment free from drastic changes in temperature and humidity. Rough attics and unfinished basements are a big no-no.
The best way to get these proud fret ends removed is to take your guitar to your local guitar service professional. It’s a pretty straight forward job for someone who knows what they’re doing.
Regardless of the grade of instrument, the fix is relatively easy, a variation of a fret levelling, and a nominal cost to you the owner. It usually doesn’t take much more than a half hour depending on finish polishing.
In a nutshell, a flat file is used with great care to gradually remove the offending fret ends down to the neck surface. The freshly squared off ends will then usually benefit from a nice rounding over or bull-nose treatment with a fret end file and then a fine polish to make them more comfortable under the players touch.
Then the next seasonal change comes and with the increased humidity, frets shrink back – they literally turtle up into the neck a bit. Not a problem though if you take good care of the instrument
Your fingers will thank you for it. (: