Refrets Revisited

Nothing quite like a good fret job. This one's by the very well respected Michael Tuttle. Better than factory? Uhhhh, yeah.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is: “Does a refret affect the value of the guitar?” I’ve written about refrets before but I feel like it’s worth expanding a bit. I wrote about what to look for in a refret and didn’t really fully address the issue of a refret affecting the value of a vintage piece. The answer isn’t always yes and it isn’t always no. A bad refret will most certainly lower the value but the good news is that you can refret the guitar again with a good refret as long as the butcher who did the last one didn’t wreck anything. An original fret job that’s so worn you can’t play it will lower the value too and it will cost you around $400 to replace the oh, so desirable original frets if you actually want to play the thing. Here’s something to get out of your head right now: A factory fret job is going to be better than a refret. NOT. I think we can agree that we’ve all seen some less than stellar work at the Gibson plant over the years. Even the Golden Years. I’ve had 58-64 ES 335’s that have the bridge misplaced so they don’t intonate, I’ve had guitars with terrible fret height differences-although I can’t prove they came from the factory that way, I’ve seen poorly set necks, although that’s more of a 70’s phenomenon. These folks were mostly just factory workers on an assembly line. It was a great product but most of the workers can’t be described as luthiers. A 335 is, essentially, a mass produced guitar. Granted, there were some real artisans at work. The painters and the neck carvers and maybe the pickup winders to name a few. Take a look at the glue work inside your early 60’s 335 sometime. It’s a mess, usually. Globs of glue poking out everywhere.  So back to the frets. A recent fret job by a dedicated and talented luthier will be waaay better than the factory job. A hack job will likely be worse. I have a 61 right now that I play every day that I absolutely love. Yes, it had the misplaced bridge I talked about which was moved and yes, it’s a refret. And it’s a great one. I’ll put that refret up against anything Gibson did at the factory at any time. There are some guitar techs and luthiers who spend many hours on every fret job doing it right and doing it beautifully. Does it lower the value of the guitar? Well, here’s where it might: If you have 2 relatively equal guitars in terms of originality and condition and both are 100% straight, then a collector is going to go for the one with the original frets over the refret. The price won’t likely be terribly different, however. If there are other issues, then a good refret is preferable to almost every other issue there can possibly be. Would I take a refret over a non original part? Maybe, depending on the part. Would I take it over extra holes from a tuner change? Definitely. Would I take it over holes from a removed Bigsby? Again, definitely. I would also prefer a refret to any kind of crack-benign or otherwise. Finish checking is another story, however. In fact a good refret is one of the least objectionable things you can do to a guitar-especially if it needs one to play properly. So, before you buy, ask if its a refret and if it needs another. Then, if it is, take a look at the work. If it’s good, then don’t worry about it. If it isn’t, then knock off a few hundred bucks so you can get it done right. It’ll be better than factory if you get the right guy to do it.

This is my player '61. The frets are great even if it isn't quite the aesthetic equal of the one at the top. This guitar intonates better than 95% of the 335's I've owned.

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