Repairing and maintaining a guitar is important if you want the instrument to be playable in the long term. For cheaper guitars that don’t have much monetary or sentimental value, the cost of repairs may not be worthwhile, but a good guitar is worth investing in.
Although there are some variables to consider, such as the specific design of a guitar, it is likely to cost between $200-$400 to refret it. A professional guitar technician will assess whether the instrument needs to be completely refretted or whether the repair will be simpler and less costly.
When a guitar needs a refret, you’ll notice that it has become less comfortable to play. There will be noticeable wear and tear to the fingerboard, which will affect the way it feels when you play a note or form a chord shape.
In this guide, we’ll provide you with a detailed breakdown of the costs of refretting your guitar and explain the process in detail.
The Cost of a Guitar Refret
Guitar technicians are likely to regularly refret acoustic, electric, and bass guitars. Particularly with older instruments, the frets can become worn out over time due to the consistent pressure that is applied to them when the guitar is played.
When your guitar needs a refret, you’ll notice that every aspect, from the playability to the tone, is compromised. The more worn a fretboard is, the harder it will be to form chord shapes or get your fingers in the correct fretting positions.
A refret involves replacing the whole fretboard so that the wood is consistent again. Commonly, a guitar technician will attempt fret dressing before performing a total refret if there is enough material left to do this.
The cost of refretting your guitar depends on a few things, such as:
- The type of guitar (acoustic, electric, classical)
- The tonewood of the fingerboard
- The age of the guitar
- The condition of the neck
With the cost of labor and materials increasing in the past few years, you can expect a refret to cost somewhere in the region of $200-$400.
The exact amount will depend on the difficulty of the job, the time it will take, and the materials that will need to be used. A good guitar technician will provide you with a breakdown of the costs before doing the work.
Fret & Fingerboard Materials
One of the key factors that will determine how much it will cost to refret a guitar is the materials that are used to construct the instrument. In particular, the type of metal used for the frets will have an impact, along with the tonewood used for the fingerboard.
The two metals that are used for almost all frets on acoustic and electric guitars are nickel and steel. The former is used on budget guitars, while steel is generally used on high-end models.
As you can probably guess, it will cost you more to get your guitar refretted if it has steel frets than it will if it has nickel frets. This simply comes down to the cost that the technician will have to pay for the new frets.
Steel is more expensive than nickel because it’s longer lasting, and many guitarists prefer its appearance. Some would argue that this improves the clarity of the guitar’s tone, too.
Nickel frets are great for affordable guitars or musicians who are not overly concerned with the finer details of how their instrument sounds. A nickel-fretted guitar will likely cost around $120 less than a steel-fretted guitar to refret.
Additionally, the fretboard material may also have an impact on how much it costs to refret a guitar. Some tonewoods used for the fingerboard are considerably more expensive than others.
The difference in cost may be down to the difficulty of sourcing the wood type or because it is considered to have a superior feel or sound. Some of the most common fingerboard materials are:
- Pau Ferro
Maple and ebony are two of the most expensive fingerboard materials, so if your guitar uses either of these, you can expect to have to pay more to get it refretted. The cost of these woods can change due to supply chain issues or an increase in demand for them.
Should You Refret Your Own Guitar?
One of the best ways to keep the cost of refretting a guitar down is by doing it yourself. While it may be tempting to get your toolkit out, you should err on the side of caution before attempting any modifications or repairs to your guitar.
The bulk of the costs involved in getting a guitar refretted is the labor. The actual parts are relatively inexpensive, so you can potentially save a lot of money by doing it yourself.
I would only recommend doing this if you have experience building and repairing guitars and feel confident that you can do the job properly. If you have any doubts, it’s best to at least seek advice from a seasoned professional who can give you pointers and help you to avoid messing up your guitar.
You’d also need the proper tools to complete the job, as it could involve removing some of the fingerboards and replacing them with different wood. The difficulty of the task depends largely on the current condition of your guitar’s frets.
How to Know When Your Guitar Needs a Refret
As guitarists, we’re very aware of the fact that certain components of our instruments need regular maintenance and replacement. The strings are often replaced every few weeks or months, and we can also replace the bridge, saddle, and even the pickups installed on the guitar.
The frets, on the other hand, are often forgotten about. Many guitarists don’t even realize that the frets can be replaced or repaired, and they just assume that they will stay in good condition throughout the lifespan of the guitar – unfortunately, this is not the case.
You’ll know that your guitar needs a refret when intonation problems start to plague the sound. This is where a note is out of tune further up the fretboard, even if the string is tuned to the correct pitch when played open.
Intonation problems can make a guitar unplayable, as chords start to sound dissonant when they are played in a certain position on the frets. Another indicator that you need to refret your guitar is if it is buzzing a lot when you press the strings against the fingerboard.
How often should you refret a guitar?
Guitar fret bars don’t need replacing too often, providing the instrument is kept in reasonable condition. On average, a guitar may need refretting after 15-20 years, but this depends on how often it is played.
Does Refretting a vintage guitar devalue it?
If you refret an old guitar, this will likely add value to the instrument rather than devalue it. Therefore, if you’re considering doing this, don’t worry; your guitar’s value won’t be affected.
What causes fret wear?
Fret wear is simply caused by the act of playing your guitar. Constantly pressing the strings and your fingers against the frets over and over causes the wood and the metal to become worn.