Fret levelling - creating a fall-away on the upper registers

Discussion in 'Luthiery, Modifications & Customizations' started by jonsick, Nov 14, 2017.

  1. jonsick

    jonsick SS.org Regular

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    I was chatting with a buddy of mine about guitar set ups recently. I'd certainly consider this guy more advanced than me when it comes to the art of guitar setups and he mentioned a trick that he does when levelling frets.

    My standard course of action is to level across the whole neck. However he came up with this prospect of creating an angle on the level as you do the higher registers (e.g. fret 14 upwards).

    That is you level of frets 1-13 as normal. Then when doing the rest of the neck, you add a couple of layers of tape between the levelling file and the top of fret 13, something for the file to glide over. That way you create a really shallow angle between the file and the neck and level that way. The result is frets 1-13 are flat as you expect, but as you progress upwards from 14, the fret height will fall away naturally. He reckons this is a little secret he's been using for years to stop things like choking off on the higher registers and creating a nice place to solo for us metal players.

    So basically, anyone ever heard of this? Anyone do this? Anyone feel like expanding on the technique? It sounds neat for sure and tempted to try it on one of my subjects in need of a fret dress. Just wondered about feedback?
     
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  2. Knarbens

    Knarbens Montag Custom Guitars

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    I also do a fall away after leveling frets. To me it really makes sence.
     
  3. jonsick

    jonsick SS.org Regular

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    Well, every day is a school day :D
     
  4. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    Long-winded rant to kill time at work:

    Because people are perpetually discovering fall-away leveling, they are perpetually posting fall-away speculation.

    It has a single purpose: If your neck tilts at a sufficient back-angle to make strings choke on the highest frets when the action is lowered to preference, then fall-away leveling is a solution.

    However, I’ve seen too many threads of amateurs showing off Dutch angle photos of a strat they unwittingly ruined with fall-away leveling that has only raised the action in a way that can’t be compensated for without a refret.

    To reiterate the obvious: Action is the distance between the bottom of the string and the tops of the frets. When you make a fret lower, the string is further away from it. Those who have performed fall-away-leveling surgery on the frets of a guitar that doesn’t need it, just because they thought they were hip to a Setup Hack, have only accomplished a labor-intensive way of raising your action in a way that makes uniformly-low action impossible. And, more often than not, in the name of achieving low action.

    If anyone reading this does happen to be one of those players who wants low action on the low frets, but a higher action in the upper registers for the sake of “digging in”, here are some alternatives to fall-away fretting:

    1. Raise the action. If your nut is at the proper height and your truss set to have your neck relief flat or at a sleight back-angle, then raising the strings at one end of the guitar won’t make them feel higher at the other end.

    2. Scalloping the fingerboard under the high-register frets. This way, you have low action and can get your fingers under the strings, if that happens to be your bending technique.

    3. If your neck is bolt-on, you can affect the back-angle with a shim made from anything.

    4. Use lighter or heavier gauge strings. “Digging in” for some means pressing the string into their finger, which thinner strings will do. Others dig in by putting more of the string in contact with their finger, which thicker strings are good for. Additionally, thicker strings allow for a lower action, whereas thinner strings can be easier to play after raising the action.

    5. Make sure your bridge saddle radius matches the fingerboard radius. This is commonly overlooked by both players and manufacturers.

    Those suggestions may be obvious, but they’re reasonable alternative to a leveling technique with pitfalls that aren’t as obvious.
     
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  5. Knarbens

    Knarbens Montag Custom Guitars

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    A fall-away doesn't mean to remove half the fret height.

    Since we're talking about a very slight additional removal of the fret crowns of the highest frets, a proper fall-away isn't noticable in looks and feel.
     
  6. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    It’s your guitar; Level it however you want. I’ve said my piece.
     
  7. Lemons

    Lemons SS.org Regular

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    @marcwormjim you make some interesting points. As far as I was aware it was to account for the larger amount of string travel up around that area of the neck?
     
  8. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    As in the elliptical vibration of the strings against the fret-tops? If so, that’s what the alternative suggestion of heavier gauge strings addresses.

    If you’re referring to fret-out, then that’s using “fall-away” to impart a conical (“compound”) radius in the frets; in which case using a flatter-radius block on the higher frets will achieve the result.

    Again; my post is about suggesting alternatives to those under the impression that fall-away leveling is the cure for ______, along the same lines as a BKP memebucker prescription to fix one’s sound.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
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  9. Lemonbaby

    Lemonbaby SS.org Regular

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    Fall-off/fall-away is solving a problem you shouldn't have in the first place with a perfect fret job and all components on the guitar 100.00% aligned. However, building guitars is not a Disney Movie and nothing's ever perfect: the neck can bend in sub-mm range due to humidity, your levelling bar might not be laser-straight and maybe you just want to be a little quicker with your build. I also use this method and see no real disadvantages. If you can't live with the string action increasing by 0.2mm on fret 24, you need to get a Plek machine...
     
  10. Lemons

    Lemons SS.org Regular

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    And that's what I get for skimming over your reply instead of reading it properly...

    What if I have small girlish hands though?
     
  11. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    I assure you, I will kiss your hand like a gentleman.

    That’s the point I’ve been skirting: If 0.2mm shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, then just raise your action by that much at the bridge. This is like the other guy who rebutted a point I didn’t make by saying (paraphrasing for sake of terseness) “Fall-away is harmless - You don’t even notice anything!”: The case made is self-defeating. We’re all entitled to level our frets the way we prefer, but trying to justifying it is rarely worth the typing.

    As I made a point of saying out the gate, fall-off/away is clever in some circumstances - But the enthusiasm I see pseudoanonymous “converts” expressing sometimes takes its prescription to levels of hyperbole along the lines of “Screw the appropriate tool - Just use a dremel!”
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
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  12. Knarbens

    Knarbens Montag Custom Guitars

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    @marcwormjim No offense meant. I totally got your point in your first reply.
     
  13. Lemonbaby

    Lemonbaby SS.org Regular

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    I assume that some guys simply leave the nut height at a "safe level" and set the bridge levels too low in return, which is why the fall-away appears to be a magic tool to make fretbuzz go away while it wouldn't be needed in the first place if everything else was set up correctly...
     
  14. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    I've been trying the fall away fret leveling recently (since last year or so). I find it useful for doing some trem pulls (Floyd Rose user here) at higher register (12th fret and beyond) without string choque on even higher frets. It also seems to do it's job well at avoiding 1+ tone bending choques also at higher register frets. These are my main reasons on the fall away leveling. In the end it also feels (keyword here) easier to play, but it's MY FEEL on MY GUITARS, may or may not be your on yours.

    As for the technique used for the fall away, I've been doing it a little differently than the one described. With a proper radius block (matching the fretboard, obviously), I sand only in one direction (from Nut to Bridge and never back'n'forward) and I gradually insist a bit more on higher frets, say 1 or 2 more passages every 5 frets. Then, when crowning the frets, I use the same principle with the crowning file, adding passages as I move up in the neck (again from nut to bridge), if you're going to try this, find your progression according to your tools for the task, some grind more than others.

    For far so good. The point for me is NOT to get low action, but to allow for some techniques (described earlier) to work better without buzz or choque. Low action comes as a plus in my guitars, may or may not be on yours, so take this as my 2 cents.

    Another KEYWORD here is not being brute with this thing, take it as a meditation with the guitar, it has to be a sensible job, so it will take its time. Doing it for the sake of "it has to be" or "I NEED THIS, because I saw it on the net and everyone +1 is doing it" is not the way to get it working properly. If in doubt, ask someone professional.
     
  15. ixlramp

    ixlramp SS.org Regular

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    This technique makes no sense, falling away on higher frets is no different to adjusting neck curvature to get a similar curvature to the fretting surface, just a labour intensive way to do the same thing, with more chances for mistakes and complications. Flatten the neck and raise the saddles instead.
    However advanced a tech may seem, they can still have crazy ideas.
     
  16. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    Setting up a guitar is a compromise between what one wants, needs and can be done with the tools one has. If it is more labor intensive, well, I guess it is up to each one to decide or not to use. As said before, what works for some may not work for others. To me this makes sense as it addresses levels of refinement I couldn't achieve before and I like those levels, so why shouldn't I do that? I've been achieving lower action than before in all my tested guitars.

    I got to do this not from reading "here'n'there", but from thinking about the problem and realizing this could be a way to get my action lower. I'm still testing, but so far so good.
     
  17. Durero

    Durero prototyping... Contributor

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  18. GunpointMetal

    GunpointMetal SS.org Regular

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    No, not really. With a fall away and the proper set-up you can set the neck up with almost ZERO curve and have a relatively flat playing surface, allowing for lower action. I had this done on several guitars when I was playing six strings and it absolutely is different then setting the relief a certain way.
     
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  19. Bobro

    Bobro SS.org Regular

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    Never heard of "fall-away" before, but reading through the thread, it sounds like a description of how I learned to fret a guitar in the first place: with a compound curvature. So you have three sanding blocks, the first one for nearer the nut with a more rounded radius, then kinda medium, then nearly flat, almost like a classical guitar, for the highest notes. It is my understanding that Carvin guitars are done this way. I think it's great, and certainly easier to get a low clean action- if the frets of the highest notes are strongly radiused, you have to really work with the truss rod to get it low and clean all the way up the neck.

    Personally I don't play fast enough to really be able to nitpick over very low action.
     
  20. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    Did every guitar neck have the same back-angle you were compensating for, or was it more just leveling the high frets until it “felt” right?
     
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