Month: August, 2013

How to… refret a guitar

How to… refret a guitar
Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard “Made in Japan” 1991

It’s done, it’s all over, I can retire and put my luthier’s tools on the shelf now. Everything I’ve been doing for the last year has been leading up to this moment, to refret my beloved Tokai Love Rock. I decided about a month ago to learn how to refret, crown, dress, polish and care for the frets of my guitars. A fairly wise decision I think since it turned out to not be as hard as everyone said and it has saved me ridiculous amounts of money since people charge 300-400€ for refretting guitars here. I did spend about 170€ on tools but hopefully they will last me a life time and if I refret a couple of more guitars it has soon paid for itself.

How to… refret a guitar
I decided to replace the humbucker rings as well since they were in such a bad state. When I got the Tokai I had to drill out the screws in order to replace them, so I could adjust the pickups, so the plastic rings was kind of super glued together and I have been meaning to replace them ever since. Now I did, with a fancy 3€ pair from China that I scratched with wire wool and then soaked over night in tea and later with coffee, to try to get them to look less new. The cat didn’t fully approve of my decision to spend 6 hours on Saturday refretting my Tokai when I could be rolling around on the floor with her instead. I tightened the pots too, I hate when the knobs feels wobbly, this is actually on my Westone Les Paul, I tightened the screws on quite a few guitars while I was at it. This is how bad the frets were before.

How to… refret a guitar
First step, removing the old frets. It went pretty easy, I was scared they would have been glued in so I would have to heat them with a soldering iron but the weren’t. I got a bit of chipping, I think it’s pretty hard to avoid on an old and well played rosewood fretboard. It wasn’t too bad and since the new frets will cover most of it I decided to just ignore it, sand the fretboard smooth like a babies bottom and the oil it up with lemon oil.

How to… refret a guitar
This was the part I was dreading the most, how to get the frets to fit without ruining the binding. You can get a fancy tool for doing this but I felt I didn’t want spend 85€ since I only have one guitar to refret with binding. I came up with the idea to take on fret at the time, match it to the old fret, cut it, then try to file down the under side so it wouldn’t cut in too much into the binding. I tried my best to file the edges and corners as well, since it would be hard to reach once the fret was in place. It took forever, it hurt my fingers and I hated it but it worked and I guess was worth the 85€ I saved on doing it by hand, fret by fret.

How to… refret a guitar
I made sure the neck was straight with my straight edge and then I marked the top of the frets with a black marker, just to see how much I was taking of when I later leveled the frets. Next step was to crown the frets, make sure everything was straight and even with a fret rocker, file the edges a bit more and then just polish the frets with sand paper and later wire wool.

How to… refret a guitar
How shiny, smooth and awesome is that? New Jescar FW47104 pre-radiused 12″ frets installed on a 1991 Japanese Tokai Love Rock LS-55. Just look at those freaking edges, I’m so proud I could burst. I doubt anyone could have done a better job, even if they would have charged me 400€.

How to… refret a guitar
I decided to go over my old Claescaster as well. This is the good part with having all the tools needed for taking care of your frets. It cost nothing to make sure that things are in a perfect state. I bought both Claescaster necks from the same guy in the UK, First Avenue Guitars. When I bought the first one it was pretty hard to find cheap necks with a vintage tint, especially with a logo fitted under the lacquer. I really like the profile of these too, it’s a normal C but it feels pretty fat and nice so I got a second one for the new Claescaster. The only problem, as with all cheap necks, is that the edges aren’t that smooth so I decided to level, crown, dress and polish them, with extra detail to the corners. Now it feels better than ever.

How to… refret a guitar
Looks pretty good. I decided to put a couple of drops of dry Teflon lubricate in the machine heads before I tightened all the screws and restrung the guitar. I read that these types of dry lubrication for bicycles are good because the attract less dust and crap than normal wet oils so for 4€ I thought it was worth a try. A quick adjustment of the Wilkinson brass saddles and then we are all set. Ready to play.

How to… refret a guitar

I finally did it, I refretted my first guitar, well I actually did it twice. First out was my old Morgan Telecaster neck, a leftover from my first Claescaster. I don’t use it so it felt like a perfect neck to practice on, especially since it doesn’t have any binding. It was actually less hard work than I expected it to be, well it took some time to get the old frets out but still, no major issues. I just had to get over that first fear that I would break something and eventually build up some confidence that I knew what I was doing.

How to refret a guitar
First I checked that the neck was straight with a straight edge and adjusted the trussrod until it was perfect. It was a lot easier to get the old frets out if you cut in a bit on each side with a sharp knife, it gave the pliers something to grip, but be careful so you don’t slip and scratch the fretboard, as I did. I used normal wood glue and then gently tapped the new Jescar FW43080 fretwire in place. When the fret edges were cut I taped the fretboard with masking tape and then filed down the edges, first straight and then angled the file 45°.

How to refret a guitar
I checked that all the frets were the same height with a fret rocker and since they were I didn’t bother to level the frets, maybe I should have. I crowned them with a Uo-Chikyu medium fret crowning file and then softened the edges with a Uo-Chikyu edge file. I went of the frets with 400 and 800 grit and then polished until I couldn’t feel my shoulder with wire wool.

How to refret a guitar
I’m pretty damn pleased and proud of my first refretted neck.

How to refret a guitar
I decided to change the frets on my EKO Ranger VI as well, even thought I had just crowned and polished them two days ago. I want to get as much practice as possible before I start with the Tokai and to get a feel for the difference between rosewood and maple fretboards. I made a deep cut on the side of the frets which made it really easy to get a grip and pull out the old frets. It was actually so easy that I forgot to be careful and just ripped them out and managed to chip the fretboard. Which in a way was good so I got the chance to glue the chip down, sand down and then polish the fretboard, now I know how to deal with that as well.

How to refret a guitar
Unfortunately I had bought some cheap non pre-radiused fretwire which meant that I had to try my best to get the correct radius by bending it which wasn’t that easy. I will never get that again, but at least now I know how annoying it is with fretwire that isn’t pre-radiused. I ended up with pretty rough edges, it felt like it was harder to cut than the Jescar, so I had to work a lot to file them smooth. Then I levelled the frets, crowned them, filed the corners and polished with 400, 800 grit and then wire wool.

How to refret a guitar
The final result, a refretted EKO Ranger VI. It used to have some dead spots around the 12th fret which disappeared straight away with the new frets.

Movie of the day

I'm with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie

Araceli and I spend the Saturday night watching two awesome groupie documentaries. We had both read Pamela’s book, I’m with the band, so we kind of knew what to expect. We also saw Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel but I can’t seem to find that on Youtube, I had to download it.

Hondo II P-bass

Hondo II P-bass

I just bought another Hondo II P-bass on eBay, this time for my work colleague Verushka from the Barcelona based punk band Sect. The listing stated that the bass was untested so hopefully it doesn’t work and I got a lot of work to do before it’s ready to be played. Dani is selling his Hondo II but Verushka and I decided that black was more her and then we found this beauty.

How to… crown and polish frets

Last week I got all the parts needed to try to refret my Tokai, Since I have never done any form of fret work before I thought it was a good idea to practice on some guitars before I got down to business on my beloved Les Paul. The first thing did was to crown and polish the frets on my EKO Ranger VI. It was a bit scary, like always when you do things for the first time, but I soon realised that it wasn’t harder than anything else I done in the past.

How to crown and polish frets
I masked the fretboard and then crowned the frets with my Uo-Chikyu medium fret crowning file. I read that was good to use 400, 600 and 1200 grit sandpaper to polish the frets but I could only find 400 and 800 here in Barcelona. Either way, it felt like the main difference was made by the last step, the wire wool.

How to crown and polish frets
Once the frets was shiny on smooth from the wire wool I went over them one last time with a cloth and some metal polish and the removed the masking tape and oiled up the fretboard with lemon oil. I decided to change the machine heads as well, I had a set of open back grover copies that seemed to suit fine. I think the neck almost looks like new now.

Movie of the day


I only have on friend that likes Warren Zevon as much as me, which probably says more about my friends than the quality of Warren’s work. Warren Zevon might have been a raging lunatic, a wife beater and an alcoholic but I still thinks that he was an amazing songwriter and a great performer. It’s also pretty impressive to manage to write a song like Keep me in your heart for a while as a farewell to the world when you are about to die.

♪ ♫ Warren Zevon – Keep Me In Your Heart For A While

How to… refret a guitar

Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard "Made in Japan" 1991Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard “Made in Japan” 1991

Today I did it, I decided to go all in and cross the final frontier when it comes to DIY guitar work and ordered everything needed for refretting my Tokai. It has really poor frets, well not only does the frets have big groves in it but it’s hardly any frets left. It’s such a nice guitar and she deserves to be brought back to her former 1991 glory. I have thought about this for a long time, well I’ve thought about refretting her since I bought her, but if I should pay someone 240-340€ to do it or if I should just learn how to do it myself. I have to say that my trust in the quality of any form of workmanship south of the Pyrenees is pretty low. I have seen too many people charge too much for things that I could have done better myself, hopefully I’m right this time to. I bought quite a lot of things from G.M.I. tools in Greece, a fret leveler, fret puller, hammer and then I got a neck support caul and a fret rocker from Guitars & Woods in Portugal. I always try to buy things from my Mediterranean neighbours if I can to help their economy out during the recession, even though I doubt that any of these eBay sellers pay tax.  I struggled a lot when it came to what type of crowning file I should get, I watched a lot of Youtube videos to see what people were using but everyone had a different opinion. In the end I went for two fancy Japan made Uo-Chikyu files from Japarts in Canada, mainly because they were made in Japan and I’m gay for Japanese guitar things, and they had a cute fish as their logo which made me happy. I read a lot of good things about Dunlop’s fret wire on European forums, they seem to be pretty standard here, and a lot of bad things about them on American forums so in the end I trusted the Yanks and bought Jescar fret wire instead from Philadelphia Luthier. All in all I spent 172.73€ for tools that hopefully will last me a lifetime, two sets of fret wire, one for my Tokai Les Paul and one for a Strat/Tele, I don’t think you can get Jescar here so I thought I might as well get an extra set. I also got a cheap set of fret wire to practice with, I was going to refret my old Morgan neck, the original neck to the first Claescaster, just to try to get used to pulling frets and hammering new ones in. If I would just refret one guitar I guess I could just have paid someone 300€ to do it for me, but the main thing for me is to be able to crown and polish the frets on all my guitars, before they get big groves in the frets so I can’t play them. I’ve also notice that I tend to not play some guitars just because they have a bit of fret wear, not because they are hard to play, just because I don’t want them to get worse. That’s a ridiculous excuse for not playing your favourite guitars. I prefer to learn how to do it myself so the cost of refretting a guitar is 12-14€ for the fret wire, and then of course a huge amount of my time but that’s not as precious as having to pay 300€ for someone else to do it for me. Wish me luck!

Here is a list of what I ordered:
Hiroshima Files Uo-Chikyu Medium Radius Fret Crowning File
Hiroshima Files Uo-Chikyu Fret End Dressing File
G.M.I. fret-fingerboard LEVELER 400mm(15.75”)
G.M.I. fret puller-luthier’s tool-MADE IN GERMANY     
G.M.I. fret hammer-luthier’s tool-MADE IN GERMANY
G.M.I. fretboard guards    
Bahco replacment files for G.M.I. fret bevel(3 different cuts)
Guitar Neck Support Caul
Stainless Steel Guitar Fret Rocker Laser Cut – Luthier
Set 2.5mm Wide Nickel Silver Fretwire
Jescar FW47104 Electric Medium/Jumbo Fretwire Pre-radiused 12″
Jescar FW43080 Electric Medium Fretwire Pre-radiused 9.5″


Goya GG-172 (1970), Levin Model 13 (1950), Goya Model 163 (1968), Levin Model 174 (1972), Levin Royal (1951), Levin LM-26 (1959), Levin Model 65 (1942), Goya T-18 (1966), Levin LT-14 (1965), Levin LT-16 (1966) The Levin family back in the days, from left to right: Goya GG-172 (1970), Levin Model 13 (1950), Goya Model 163 (1968), Levin Model 174 (1972), Levin Royal (1951), Levin LM-26 (1959), Levin Model 65 (1942), Goya T-18 (1966),  Levin LT-14 (1965), Levin LT-16 (1966)

Last week I managed to become the proud owner of two new, or rather very old, Levin guitars. With some persistence, a huge dose of luck and some money changing hands I managed to get them both here safe and I already love them. I have always been a huge fan of Hagström, also built in Sweden, but didn’t know how much I loved Levin until I figured out that my dad’s old guitar was actually a Levin. It doesn’t have any markings on it but you can read about my Levin epiphany here. The problem with old guitars is that they quite often forgot to mention the model anywhere, so you have to do a lot of detective work. Luckily for me there is an awesome guitar shop, Vintage Guitars Stockholm, that has more or less everything Levin has ever made listed on their Levin information pages. They also have some info on Hagström and the brands built by Bjärton, and the rest of the brands built by Levin: C. F. Martin & Co, Clangiton, El-Goya, Goya, Kay-Tone, Klangola, Torres, Zandelin, Nivello, Rondo. I managed to track mine down to a Levin LT-16, Levin Model 65 and the amazing Levin Model 13 Ambassadör. These Levin guitars are a bit thin sounding compared to other guitars, well I don’t have any other guitars that are 70 years old, but still. Then again they aren’t full sized so no wonder that they lack a bit of bass compared to a dreadnought, but they are very light and extremely resonant in the higher register so they are perfect for finger picking. Either way I’m super happy to have found four so old and amazing guitars that have been built in the country where I grew up, Sweden.

Maybe I should add a little disclaimer here, this was originally posted back in August 2013, the Levin collection and my appreciation and understanding of the brand has grown a bit since then.

Levin Model 2 Parlour Made in Sweden 1914Levin Model 2 Made in Sweden 1914

Levin Goya F-11 Made in Sweden by Levin 1963Goya F-11 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1963

Rondo Model 29 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1960Rondo Model 29 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1960

Levin LT-14 / Goya T-14 Made in Sweden 1965Levin LT-14 Made in Sweden 1965

Levin LT-16 Made in Sweden 1966Levin LT-16 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin Goya T-16 Made in Sweden 1965
Goya T-16 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1965

Goya T-16, made in Sweden by Levin in 1966
Goya T-16 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1966

Levin LS-16 Made in Sweden 1963Levin LS-16 Made in Sweden in 1963

Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1965

Levin LS/LT-18 Made in Sweden 1965

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968

Levin Goya T-18 Made in Sweden 1966Goya T-18 Made in Sweden by Levin 1966

Levin Goya T-23 Made in Sweden 1966
Levin Goya T-23 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin LM-26 1959Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1959

Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1959Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1959

Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1963Levin LM-26 Made in Sweden 1963

Levin Goya 172 Made in Sweden 1970Goya GG-172 Made in Sweden by Levin 1970

Goya Model 163 Made in Sweden 1968Goya Model 163 Made in Sweden by Levin 1968

Levin Model 174 Made in Sweden 1972Levin Model 174 Made in Sweden 1972

Levin Model 3 Royal Made in Sweden 1951Levin Model 3 Royal made in Sweden 1951

Levin Model 32 Made in Sweden 1946Levin Model 32 made in Sweden in 1946

These two Levin guitars used to be a part of my collection but I had to sell them to make space for other Levin guitars:

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942

Levin Model 13 Ambassadör Made in Sweden 1950Levin Model 13 Ambassadör Made in Sweden 1950

Herman Carlson Levin was a young furniture maker that moved from Gothenburg to America and got a job at a guitar manufacturer in 1888. He soon started his own company in New York building instruments and while he was back visiting Sweden he realised that the demand was even higher there. He moved back home and in 1895 started Herman Carlssons Instrumentfabrik in Gothenburg. They were only five instruments makers in 1903 when they built their 1000th guitar but they soon grew bigger and bigger. The factory was one of the best in Europe and between 1904 and 1912 Levin received many awards including the gold medal in Madrid in 1907 for best guitar as well as the exhibition’s Grand Prix price. By 1936 the 100,000th instrument had left the plant and Levin was marketing a successful line of archtop guitars, like the world famous Levin De Luxe 1938. Shortly before 1940 Levin employed a crew of 45 in facility of a 1000 m². In the 1950s, Levin launched a line of inexpensive guitars intended for schools and novice guitar players. These guitars were of lower quality than the rest of the Levin line up. In 1952 Jerome Hershman a guitar distributor from America noticed Levin guitars at a trade show in Germany and convinced the Levin company to let him market their guitars in America under the name Goya, Levin apparently sounded too Jewish. He also got Hagström to make some fine electric guitars for the US market as well. These nylon stringed Levin / Goya guitars got quite popular in the late 1950’s and especially with the folk singers in the 1960’s when they started to produce steel stringed guitars on a typical nylon stringed body. When Goya was sold in 1968 the Goya export was approximately 70% of Levin’s total production. They had a huge contract with Goya that they lost in this sale, something that took really hard on Levin and they had to close down the second factory they opened in Lessebo and let half of its work force go. A lot of companies got bought and sold over the next few years, Kustom bought Goya, Dude bought Kustom and in the end C. F. Martin & Co bought them all. In 1973 when Martin bought Levin, it became the headquarters for Martin Guitars and their Japan import brand Sigma Guitars in Europe, as well as actually producing a run of some 200 Martin D-18 acoustic guitars, which were labelled “LD-18 – Made In Gothenburg, Sweden. These are quite rare and expensive today. The last “real” Levin built in Sweden left the factory in 1979, they are still building nylon stringed Levin guitar in Sweden to this day. In 1982 Svensk Musik AB bought the name Levin and the remaining stock from C. F. Martin & Co and in 2000 they changed their name to Svenska Levin AB. They are now producing steel stringed guitars in the far east and have a small batch of nylon stringed guitars being built in Sweden. Here is the whole story about Levin together with some amazing photos, Levin History.

Django Reinhardt at the Aquarium, New York City, 1946
Django Reinhardt is playing Fred Guy’s Levin De Luxe backstage at the Aquarium in New York City 1946. © William Gottlieb

Nick Drake playing a Levin guitar

Hootenanny Singers
Hootenanny Singers sure liked their Levin guitars. Björn Ulvaeus, the guy on the far right got a bit famous later on with his next band, ABBA.

Levin was pretty much the main brand for acoustic instruments in Sweden back in the days. We also had Bjärton but they mainly made nylon stringed guitars and of course Hagström but they were more famous for their electric instruments, even though they built some really nice acoustic guitars together with Bjärton like the legendary Hagström J-45.

Levin guitar factory
I’m not sure if it was the handsome chap to the left that built my Levin Model 13 Ambassadör. The Levin guitar factory on Kvillegatan 9 in Gothenburg in the late 1940’s.

Levin catalogue 1968
Taken from the Levin catalogue 1968

In 1972 negotiations between the C. F. Martin & Co. and Levin results in that C. F. Martin & Co. purchases Levin in June 1973.
In 1972 negotiations between the C. F. Martin & Co. and Levin results in that C. F. Martin & Co. purchases Levin in June 1973 and Levin got to make some 200 Martin D-18 acoustic guitars, which were labelled “LD-18 – Made In Gothenburg

How to… fit a undersaddle pickup

IMG_7470 copyVintage V880N Parlour acoustic, newly fitted with a ARTEC PP-607 undersaddle Piezo pickup

I got the basic ARTEC PP-607 undersaddle Piezo pickup cheap of eBay, I think it was 15€ with the endpin jack including shipping. I got around to install it last night and I have to say that I’m well pleased with the result. I had read that Piezo’s without a preamp isn’t much but I have to say I disagree. This pickup is way louder than some magnetic soundhole pickups I’ve used in the past and sounds ten times more acoustic and natural. It’s without any doubt my favourite way to amplify an acoustic guitar, well I still haven’t tried fancy things like the LR Baggs M1, I have been thinking of investing in one of those. However, this is a cheap, discrete and really nice way of playing electric with an acoustic guitar.

Vintage V880N Parlour acoustic I just drilled a 2 mm hole through the bridge. I wish I wouldn’t have been so lazy and gone and bought a 3 mm drill because the 2 mm was too small and the next size up in my tool box was a 4 mm which would have been too big. I tried to widen the hole with a screw, which worked but it was still a bit tight so when I was fiddling with getting the plug through the hole the plug came off. I was so happy to have purchased a solder free pickup that you could just plug in to the endpin jack, but no, not this time. I had to take the soldering iron out and fix it. I managed to figure out that the thin wire in the middle, the one shielded with plastic, should be connected to the top of the plug and the wide braided wire should be soldered to the side. It worked.

Vintage V880N Parlour acoustic I start to get used to making holes in acoustic guitars now to fit the endpin jack, this was the third one I did. I normally use a round file first to make the hole big enough and then even it out with some sandpaper rolled up, just to get the hole perfectly round. It’s important to check all the time with the plug from the outside so you don’t make the hole too big. Next I had to file down the saddle to compensate the extra height from the pickup.

This guitar is for sale here, Vintage V880N Parlour acoustic

Here is a little sound clip

Hobbs Music P-bass

Hobbs Music
Dani has decided to put the Hobbit up for sale. It’s a really nice bass that I helped him to fix up, more about that here.