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Thread: Refretting a Gibson A

  1. #1
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Refretting a Gibson A

    I've got a 1916 A0. I find the old-fashioned frets a chore to play, though I like the sound.

    Would refretting with bigger wire significantly lower the value, which in terms of money is not all that great to start with? (Not that I plan to sell, but it's had a longer lifetime than me so far, and is likely to outlast my playing of it.)

    Thanks!

    D.H.

    PS to mods: if this would fit better in the Vintage section, please move it on over.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    No loss of value from a re-fret. Frets are subject to wear and thus periodic replacement is expected. Because of that, the size of the replacement wire makes no difference; it can always be re-replaced with original style wire (if it is available).

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  4. #3
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    I have never found the tiny original wire to be comfortable.
    As far as any potential buyers who might want to complain about non-original wire on a 1910's A, my attitude is let them buy one with original wire instead and struggle.
    You can always save the old wire and put it in the case pocket.

    I've re-fretted at least 50 oval hole Gibsons over a period of 20 years, and I have not had one complaint.
    I also have not observed any significant loss of market value on an oval hole Gibson because it had a competently performed modern fret job.

    I generally recommend wire with a crown width of .080", and a height of .040". I have also used wire with a width of .053" and a height of .037". Personally, I find the 80 x 40 to be friendlier, but either size will work. Try and find a luthier who is skilled enough to leave the new frets as close as possible to their raw height.

    I've also used .095" wide by .045" twice, but only upon an owner's request. I do not recommend it. It looks very clumsy, and makes fingering difficult in the upper registers.

    I encourage you to go ahead with the work, and not worry about a future buyer who is insistent upon original frets.

    I'll also mention that I have a re-fret job on a Vega in progress, and another that I am about to start on an L & H style C. Both were brought to me specifically because the owners wanted me to install modern wire to make them play more comfortably.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jul-29-2021 at 7:28pm.

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    I was wondering what is the average cost to refret a teen oval Gibson A model these days. I know it varies quite a bit but my Gibson is approaching refret needs!

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  8. #5
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Thanks, John and rcc56.

    Of course, the next question is, what is a typical cost for a refret? I'm guessing it would be in the same range as a guitar refret, i.e. upwards of $300. Would a new bridge typically be needed, too?

    D.H.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Generally costs about the same as guitar frets. Unless the bridge is damaged there's usually no reason to replace it, but the nut is almost always too low after a re-fret so it usually has to be replaced.

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    Question Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    I got my 1922 A4 re-fretted at Portland Fretworks ..
    It got a fingerboard leveling while the frets were off. $400. + new strings.

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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Jus sayin'...I love the original size .040 fret wire and the version Jescar makes in stainless steel is my favorite. I've had my '23 A2 re-fretted with the Jescar and it is outstanding. I am having another mandolin re done in this wire also. I find the narrow wire to provide better options for articulation, tone as well as clarity, especially in the upper positions.

    Strokes for folks, right?!

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  16. #9
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    I have never found the tiny original wire to be comfortable.
    As far as any potential buyers who might want to complain about non-original wire on a 1910's A, my attitude is let them buy one with original wire instead and struggle.
    You can always save the old wire and put it in the case pocket.

    I've re-fretted at least 50 oval hole Gibsons over a period of 20 years, and I have not had one complaint.
    I also have not observed any significant loss of market value on an oval hole Gibson because it had a competently performed modern fret job.

    I generally recommend wire with a crown width of .080", and a height of .040". I have also used wire with a width of .053" and a height of .037". Personally, I find the 80 x 40 to be friendlier, but either size will work. Try and find a luthier who is skilled enough to leave the new frets as close as possible to their raw height.

    I've also used .095" wide by .045" twice, but only upon an owner's request. I do not recommend it. It looks very clumsy, and makes fingering difficult in the upper registers.

    I encourage you to go ahead with the work, and not worry about a future buyer who is insistent upon original frets.

    I'll also mention that I have a re-fret job on a Vega in progress, and another that I am about to start on an L & H style C. Both were brought to me specifically because the owners wanted me to install modern wire to make them play more comfortably.
    Yes, and what do you think about putting the 80/40 on that 13" scale? I think that's what I want.

    Sorry for the derail.

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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    I've done several 13" scale mandolins with 80/40. They played well and looked fine.

    In some cases, I have installed maple strips in the extension past the 20th fret. That gives the owner a good clear "C" if he wants it, gives an appearance somewhat similar to the extension having frets, and eliminates some of the fret interference over the sound hole without scooping the extension.
    And with the right tooling, a good repairman can remove the strips if someone wants to re-install frets in the extension later.

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  19. #11

    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    The 80/40 gauge of wire is widely used and accepted in the mandolin world. Some players still prefer the sound of of the traditional 0.050" wide wire. With a softer attack it can have a more delicate sound. If you listen carefully on headphones you can hear the difference on recordings.

    A cautionary tale: a decade back I finished an oval A and wanted the authentic old sound so I fretted it with the traditional narrow wire in standard nickel/silver. Even playing it not as much nor as hard as my other mandos, the wire developed string grooves pretty rapidly and that little wire just doesn't have much bead for leveling. Lesson learned, I refretted it in the standard 0.080" wide bead and it looks fine. The tone is little fuller to the discerning ear. I advise anyone who wants to use the narrow bead wire to put in stainless steel or at least EVO gold.
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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Roy View Post
    .................. Some players still prefer the sound of of the traditional 0.050" wide wire. With a softer attack it can have a more delicate sound. If you listen carefully on headphones you can hear the difference on recordings.

    ........... I refretted it in the standard 0.080" wide bead and it looks fine. The tone is little fuller to the discerning ear..........
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    Please, do tell how that's physically possible. Does the difference in mass between the two wire gauges impact the overtone series?
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  22. #13

    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Please, do tell how that's physically possible. Does the difference in mass between the two wire gauges impact the overtone series?
    I'm not a scientist but I can tell there is a real, if subtle, difference. Otherwise some high level musicians wouldn't specify it on a custom built instrument. I suspect it does have to do with mass, just like changing the saddle material on a tele changes the tone and substituting bone bridge pins for plastic on a flattop improves tone and sustain. Jumbo fretwire on an electric can give you a fatter tone than narrow wire, especially when played hard.

    Better yet, ask Andrew Mowery. I'm sure he can explain it better than me. I'm guessing someone payed a pretty penny for this one:
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Please, do tell how that's physically possible. Does the difference in mass between the two wire gauges impact the overtone series?
    Some half deaf old geezers lack the ability to tell any difference in the setup and sound and complain that everything is a "Whole lotta' nuthin", while others have very very good hearing and can hear very subtle differences in the entire setup.

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  26. #15
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    I suspect the difference in sound is due to how cleanly the string is stopped with a bigger fret having more contact due to the bigger radius.

  27. #16

    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by Barry Canada View Post
    I was wondering what is the average cost to refret a teen oval Gibson A model these days. I know it varies quite a bit but my Gibson is approaching refret needs!
    Hi Barry. For a local reference, it cost me $292 Cdn all in for Brian Dubbledam to do a partial refret (first 12 frets) on my Eastman in 2017. Eastmans have rather narrow fret wire that is prone to wear the way I play and if I were having it done again, I would get a full refret so it could get wider ones, which wouldn’t have matched with the non-replaced ones. That may be a consideration with you too if you still have the original bar frets and want to improve the feel.
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  29. #17
    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    Some half deaf old geezers lack the ability to tell any difference in the setup and sound and complain that everything is a "Whole lotta' nuthin", while others have very very good hearing and can hear very subtle differences in the entire setup.
    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. ‘Because I said so’ and ‘your inability’ are not data points, and so that really is a ‘whole lotta nuttin’.

    Oh wait, I’m sure the decreased mass of bar frets interacts with the earth’s magnetic field, causing a butterfly in China to stimulate an air current that has a resultant auditory disruption to the harmonic overtones as perceived by an observer with extra sensitive sound recognition.

    Yeah, that’s how it works, it’s all related.
    Last edited by Bill McCall; Aug-08-2021 at 11:19am.
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  30. #18
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Gibson did not use bar frets. Neither did Lyon & Healy use them on their carved mandolins.

    Martin used bar frets until late 1934. Vega used them on most of their cylinder back mandolins. The 2 Larson flat backs I have had on the bench also had bar frets. Some, but not all of the earlier bowl back mandolins I have seen had bar frets, no matter who made them.

    I have noticed some minor changes in tone on some of the antique mandolins that I have re-fretted with larger wire. The degree of change was generally rather small.

    Whether those changes were really due to the size of the wire, or whether they were actually due to the inherent increase in playability that results from replacing low, worn-out frets with firmly driven new frets, no one can say. Many of us find that it is easier to play well on larger modern wire.

    My observations and conclusions are based on 25 years of personal experience gained from re-fretting dozens of pre-war Gibson, Lyon & Healy, Vega, and Martin mandolins.

    Despite the desire of many modern collectors to maintain their instruments in 100% original condition, instruments with worn out frets will play and sound better when those frets have been competently replaced, no matter what the size of the wire.
    Last edited by rcc56; Aug-08-2021 at 12:14pm.

  31. #19
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    As a real life physicist who is not qualified at all, I'm guessing the difference in tone you're observing with larger frets is due to the ease of cleanly fretting on a larger fret. Finger placement is generally a little less important with larger frets to achieve a "fully fretted" note instead of one where the string is dampened by the string vibrating on and off the fret. YMMV
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    Default Re: Refretting a Gibson A

    Well, we could take an old mandolin, install a dozen different sets of frets of various sizes and alloys, build a robot to play the instrument with controlled force, measure each set of results with an oscilloscope, frequency counter, and whatever else may be available, write a computer program to analyze the data, and see what we get . . .

    But although such a project might be interesting, it would hardly be practical. And, the degree of difference in the various results might be disappointing. And then, at the very least, we would have to replace the fingerboard on the mandolin due to all the stress and wear that such an experiment would inflict upon the instrument.

    I once did a study on the effect of weight upon the tonal response of guitars and mandolins. The results were not what I expected. In a nutshell, weight did have some effect upon tone, but the effects were only tendencies, and not necessarily predictable. My final conclusion was that while weight could influence tone, other factors seemed to have a greater effect than weight.

    The bottom line is that the tone is in the wood, the quality of the construction, the condition of the instrument, and the hands of the player. Frets fall into the categories of construction quality and condition. And we also know that the choice of strings and picks can enable a player to get the most out of his instrument, but those choices are dependent upon the individual needs of each player and the individual characteristics of each instrument.
    Last edited by rcc56; Aug-08-2021 at 12:50pm.

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