Guitar Refret: Fret Job Cost, How to Do It & When to Refret?

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

If you have been playing the same guitar for a few years or bought an old guitar, you might have noticed some noise issues.

You have done all the checks, replaced the strings, and straightened the neck, but there is still a buzzing when you fret notes. It might be time to replace those old, rusty frets.

But how much does a refret cost?

This guide is here to help answer that question, as well as when you should do it and if it is worth it.

When Should You Refret a Guitar?

Knowing when you need to refret your guitar is usually very simple. As you play, the strings will slowly wear away at the fret wire.

After a while, this wear will become clearly visible. You will notice small divots will start to form where the strings are pressed down against the frets.

If you start noticing these divots, it is definitely time for a refret. But sometimes you can hear when you need to refret.

The frets can be worn down enough to where it isn’t visible, but where you can start to hear a noise like a fret buzz. If you have put on fresh strings and check that your neck is straight, but there is still fret noise, you might need new frets.

Luckily, frets are quite durable. Unlike a regular setup that is done once or twice a year, you won’t need to refret nearly as often.

It will depend on how much you play, but even then, you will likely only need to refret maybe after 20 years. Most guitars will probably not need more than one refret in their lifetime, and many will go without ever getting one done.

In some rare cases, you might also need to refret a guitar if it has nickel frets. If you have a nickel allergy, you will probably find that playing isn’t very pleasant.

In this case, you can refret your guitar and replace the nickel frets with stainless steel. Stainless steel frets also play and sound a bit better, and many guitarists prefer them over nickel.

How Much Does Refretting Cost?

Refretting is quite an expensive thing to do. A refret can cost anywhere between $200 and $350, but it can easily be more. This price range applies to both electric and acoustic guitars.

The reason it is so expensive might not be for the reason you think. The frets themselves are quite cheap, with fret wire only costing around $10 or $20.

What is expensive is the labor. Refretting is a time-consuming process that requires a fair amount of knowledge and skill.

The type of guitar you have will also affect how much it costs to refret. Softer woods like rosewood are easier to work with than ebony, which means it will be easier to refret.

The number of frets and strings you have will also be taken into consideration. More frets and a wider neck mean that more fret wire will be needed and that it will take longer.

A 24-fret 6-string is going to cost more than a 21-fret. Likewise, an 8-string is going to be more than a 6-string. Two 6-string, 21-fret guitars might also be priced differently if one has a wider nut than the other.

Because refretting is so expensive, refretting a cheap guitar isn’t really worth it. The refret is likely going to cost more, or close to, what the guitar itself cost.

How Long Does a Refret Take?

This is going to depend on how busy the luthier is. If they have a lot of other customers, you could be looking at a few weeks. In most cases, however, you should be prepared to go about a week without your guitar.

But even if you are lucky and the luthier isn’t busy, or maybe you tell them that it is urgent, you will still be looking at at least two or three days.

DIY Refretting

Of course, just like any other bit of maintenance, you can refret your guitar by yourself. You will, however, need a number of tools, some spare time, and a lot of caution.

All refretting really is removing the old frets and putting new ones in their place. But you need to be careful not to damage your fretboard and make sure you have the right size fret wire.

But knowing how to do it can be a useful skill to have. This video explains the process quite well.

If you are going to attempt a refret, don’t do it on your most expensive guitar or if you only have one. Do it on a cheap guitar that you won’t mind if anything happens to it.

Ultimately, since you will probably only ever need to have a refret done once per guitar, it is better to go with a professional. They know what they are doing, and $200 is a small price to pay if you don’t want anything happening to your guitar.

Refretting VS Fret Dressing

You might have heard the term ‘fret dressing’. Fret dressing isn’t the same as refretting.

Where refretting is the process of entirely replacing the frets, fret dressing is a more standard form of maintenance. Fret dressing is simply when the frets get sanded down to make them smooth again.

As you play, your strings wear down the frets. But this wear isn’t necessarily visible.

Your strings are scraping the frets constantly, over time creating micro divots that you can’t see or feel. These micro divots make the surface of your frets rough and uneven. This can also cause fret buzz and other unwanted noise.

You will likely need to have a fret dressing done every few years. This is to ensure that all your frets are smooth and even.

Fret dressing is much less expensive and can sometimes be done as part of a full setup. A fret dressing is usually around $60 to $100.

Should You Refret a Vintage Guitar?

It depends on what you use the guitar for. If you still gig with it, you will want to make sure it keeps sounding as good as possible. This will mean making sure the frets are maintained.

If it is a collector’s item that you might want to sell one day, then no. Most collectors want the guitars they buy to be as close to the original as possible. Refretting a vintage guitar can seriously devalue it.

But if you don’t plan on selling it, and you don’t play it that often, a refret probably won’t be necessary. But if you do plan on getting it refretted, absolutely take it to a professional.

Wood decays over time. The fretboard on a vintage guitar is going to be much more delicate than that of a new guitar.

The risk of damage to the fretboard is much greater on a vintage guitar. It is better to have someone who knows how to work with vintage guitars do it for you.

Final Thoughts

Refretting a guitar might be expensive, but it is luckily something that most of us will very rarely need to have done.

Depending on how much you play, you will likely only need to do it once, maybe twice per guitar. And even if you play a lot, you are still looking at only every 10 years or so.

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About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

1 thought on “Guitar Refret: Fret Job Cost, How to Do It & When to Refret?”

  1. Hello, I recently purchased a Hohner 1989 Les Paul. It does not have a scratch on it.

    But, it needs a refret. The frets are so low all over the neck.
    Since it’s a bolt on neck I can easily take off the neck and mail it to you.
    The neck condition otherwise was in real good condition.

    Can you refret the neck for me?


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