STōK Garage Electric Guitar DIY

Episode 6, Fret Markers & Fretting

by Rodney Bowman

STōK is here for your next great idea, and we’re here to help you along the way. The Electric Guitar DIY series is designed to teach you the basics of building an electric guitar. Starting with body design, we will cover wood selection and body shape, moving on to pickups, neck shaping, fretting, wiring, finishing and finally, sound setup.

Electric DIY - Episode 6, Fret Markers & Fretting

What you need to complete Episode 6

If you don’t have some of the items, feel free to get creative with what you do have or can easily obtain. Experiment and have fun. See complete Tool, Part and Material List

General Tools

– fret wire
– fret press or fret hammer
– forstner bit
– plug cutter
– flush cut saw
– CA glue – tape
– flush cut wire snips
– fret bevel block
– fret dressing file
– fret level or radius block or long sanding block
– fret crowning file
– high grit sand paper
– small buffing wheel


Let’s Get Started

In the last episode we shaped the neck. In this episode we are going to continue with the neck and do some fretwork.

We are going to make our own fret markers for this guitar. The fret markers indicate specific frets and make it easier to determine your positioning on the neck as you play. The fret markers traditionally go on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, two on the 12th, back to one on the 15th, 17th, 19, 21st, 23rd.

We used a 1/4 inch Forstner bit to make the hole and a 1/4 inch plug cutter to make the markers. I used CA glue or superglue to put them in place. Once they are dry you can cut off the excess with a flush cut saw.

On to fretting… To begin, it helps to bend the frets at the same radius of the fretboard. You can do this with a fret bender or gently bend a curve with your hands. The curve helps when setting the fret. We’re going to use a fret press to seat the frets. The fret press goes in your drill press or a fret press arbor. You can use a fret hammer or a dead blow hammer. Using a regular hammer could flatten the frets too much when pounding.

Before we press the frets into place we are going to add a small bit of glue. We need to place tape on both sides of the fret slot so the glue doesn’t get on the fret board. Next, add the glue and place the fret in the slot. Use the press or fret hammer to press the fret in to place. Hold it for a few seconds while it dries.

After all the frets are in place, we need to snip off the ends and file it flush. I use a filing block that has two files. The first file is 90 degrees the second file is 30 degrees. File the edge of the frets with the 90 degree file until it is flush and then bevel the frets at 30 degrees.

The ends of the fret might still be sharp. You can use a file to round over the edges. I use a fret-dressing file. This is a special file that has one side that is smooth and round so that you don’t mar the fretboard. You want to roll the file over the ends to smooth them out.

Once the fret ends are filed and smooth we’re going to level the frets. First, make sure the neck is flat. Adjust the truss rod if you need to flatten the neck. Next, take a marker and put a black mark across every fret. We’re going to use the ink as an indicator for what has been sanded and what hasn’t.

To level the frets you should use a uniform sanding block made of wood or metal. A flat block works, but if you have a radius block, it works better. The block needs to span as many frets as possible to make sure they are level.

I use high grit sandpaper and go slow. Sand the frets until the marker is gone. Then use a fret rocker or something similar to check the level. A fret rocker spans any given 3 frets. If the middle fret is still high the fret rocker will……well…rock. If it rocks, you need to work a bit more on that fret.

Leveling the frets leave them flat, so you’ll need to use a fret-crowning file to make them round again. Once they are round the last step is to polish them. Use high grit polishing pads to make the shine or even a small buffing wheel.

In the next episode we’ll attach the neck and prep the body for electronics.

What you need to complete the entire Electric DIY series

Don’t have some of the items on the list, experiment with alternatives and have fun.

General Tools

– clamps (lots o’ clamps)
– router and router table with appropriate bits
– drill press and/or electric drill with guide
– band saw or jigsaw
– hammer
– sandpaper, spindle sander or hand sander
– files and rasps
– tape measure
– soldering iron
– screwdrivers

Specialty Tools

– fretting tools (hammer, fret press, fret lever, fret files)
– radius cauls
– polishing wheel
– string gauge
– radius gauge
– fret rocker

Parts & Materials List

– wood for body (ash)
– wood for neck (walnut)
– pre-radius end fretboard (12-degree radius)
– truss rod
– double humbucker pickups
– volume and tone potentiometers
– 3-way switch
– input jack
– fret wire
– top-loading bridge
– TUSQ nut
– neck plate
– tuning machines (aka tuners)
– string trees
– control cavity cover
– strap buttons
– electronic wire
– guitar strings


About Rodney Bowman

Born south of Chicago, Rodney Bowman of Bowman Built Guitars was introduced to woodworking by his father straight out of the cradle. At his father’s side, he discovered his passion for wood — the grain, the smells, the colors and textures. Having a passionate desire to create, Rodney naturally decided to pair it with his love for guitars and music, where his creativity will sing long after he’s gone.