Inventables Community Forum

Has anyone ever used their XC for fret dressing?

First post, but I’ve been lurking for a long time now. I wasn’t sure if this was the right forum for this post, but it seemed right.

I’m a computer programmer by trade, but I’ve played guitar for 30 years and in thinking about my retirement, I would love to do something with my time that I would consider rewarding. I decided it would be fun to make my own guitars in my old age, and so I began researching various schools which taught the trade, and one school offered a course that taught the students how to use a CNC router to carve out necks, bodies and fret boards, etc. Intrigued, I began to look into this “CNC” stuff - and in short time, I decided that this was something I really wanted to play around with.

So I began looking at various DIY CNC kits on ebay, which made me wonder about quality, which caused me to start researching which would be the best bang-for-the-buck, which let me to several forums, of which this is my favorite.

I’ve been reading here (daily) for weeks now, but today I had a question that I couldn’t find an answer for in the forums (at least not anywhere I was looking): Has anyone used their CNC to dress frets?

I understand that typical fret wire is harder than Aluminium or Brass, but not by much, and I’ve watched many videos already where people have stiffened their X-Carve, and used them to cut steel plate, etc. I’m thinking that a sufficiently “stiff” X-Carve, set up properly, would have no real issues (once it’s set up) doing fret work.

I mean, isn’t a Plek machine just a proprietary CNC router?

So I started looking to see who, if anyone has tried this yet. But I couldn’t find anything like that. Hence the post.

Plek machines are crazy expensive, but I’m guessing that has more to do with how they combine and automate a whole bunch of steps in the process, than how powerful or precise their router is. It seems to me (a know-nothin’-newbie without any CNC or Luthier chops) that a skilled Luthier with a sufficiently stiffened X-Carve, who is proficient with his mill, could do something like this in his shop.

So I thought I would put the question to people who can actually answer it. Is that even doable, or is it too daunting, or unfathomable? I don’t know enough about the ground floor stuff to even guess, but I do think that anyone capable of carving a compound radius neck from scratch could probably least dress frets and what not in the same way a Plek machine does given the right set up.

What do you people think? I’m guessing the cost of trial and error would be detrimental at first, but that once the kinks are worked out, it could have some pretty great dividends down the road.

Thanks for your consideration.

To be honest, I wouldn’t worry about it. Yes, you can spend the time and money to work it out, fixture it, and do it, or do it the old fashioned way with files, sanding sponges and dremel polishing wheels. I’ve played a guitar that had a Plek setup, and then played it again after a great tech got his hands on it, and guess what? Yes, the tech’s setup was better by far. There’s a very long history of guitar setups before Plek, and they couldn’t all have been flawed. In my opinion, the Plek thing is marketing, and the skill of a good tech is proven.

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Thanks Will, I agree with you that Plek technology is hyped. It’s a great tool, but it is still a tool and as such it requires skill and competence to produce the best results.

That aside, few Luthiers are so wealthy in their trade that they can afford to buy a Plek machine. But some, if not many have (or at least can afford) a CNC router. Since a Plek machine is just a glorified CNC router, it seemed to me an inevitable evolution from carving compound radius necks to fret dressing - since the machine is capable of both.

I was just wondering if anyone was doing that… .yet.

Thanks for the reply Robert.

From the feedback I’m getting, it seems like doing a setup on an existing neck would be more trouble than it’s worth. I can see that.

What about if you’re not setting up an existing neck, but cutting a new one? at the point where you cut the fret slots, your router should know enough about where the wood is, that if you immediately put in the fret wire, the router would know exactly where the frets are. It could cut them, angle them, polish them, etc. all in one go.

Does that seem as crazy? I haven’t got a CNC router, so I am just exploring what can be done.

With the cost, and amount of time it would take you to work out the programming, jigs and prototypes, you could fret dozens of necks by hand and buy the proper tools for the job. So unless you plan on churning out hundreds of guitars a year, I don’t see the point. And you’d have to re-do everything for each new neck design.
Fretwork looks like one of the more intimidating guitar building skills to learn, but it’s really not that hard.

Hey Daniel,

I have built jigs and done it.
Would love to share ideas.

Give me your email and i`ll reach out to you outside of this forum.

Talk to you soon

Sam