9 Definite Signs Your Guitar Needs a Refret


classical acoustic guitar closeup

Playing the guitar is a fun activity that provides you and your listeners with enjoyable music to dance to, relax, or make memories. But sometimes, your guitar might need some repairs to keep up with your playing. So you might ask: What are the clues that your guitar needs a refret?

Here are 9 definite signs that your guitar needs a refret: 

  1. You can see dents in your frets.
  2. You can hear your fret buzzing.
  3. Your frets are no longer level with each other.
  4. Your guitar doesn’t feel the same in your hands.
  5. The frets are coming off the guitar.
  6. One of your frets is missing from your guitar entirely.
  7. There are markings on the edge of the guitar neck.
  8. Your frets are extremely tarnished.
  9. The frets have sharp edges. 

The guitar is an amazing instrument, and you should ensure that you take care of it in order to make music for many years. Your frets are an integral part of your guitar, and you might find a decline in your sound as your guitar frets near the end of their lifespan. Read on to find out 9 things to look for that are obvious signals that it is time to refret your guitar.

classical acoustic guitar closeup

1. You Can See Dents in Your Frets

Perhaps the most noticeable sign that your guitar needs to be refretted is when you see dents or grooves on the frets. Over time, the repeated playing of a guitar affects the components that make up the instrument. One of these is the frets.

 Playing the guitar repeatedly for years and years causes small but noticeable grooves to form on the frets of the guitar neck. These grooves can affect both the performance and sound of the guitar. 

You know it is time to have your guitar refretted if you can see large dents in the fret. If you catch this problem early enough, you might not have to refret your guitar. There is a relatively simple solution called crowning. You can do this at home with a small file. 

This video from The Art of Lutherie shows how you can crown your guitar frets:

However, if you ignore this problem long enough or inherit a guitar from someone who did, you will need to take other measures. 

Once your guitar fret height goes under .38 inches, many experts advise that it is no longer possible to solve the problem by crowning the guitar fret. It is officially time for you to refret your guitar. So, if you keep an eye on your fret and watch out for the divots to not get too big, you may be able to avoid refretting your guitar. 

2. You Can Hear Your Fret Buzzing

Fret buzz is one of the most frustrating phenomena in the guitar world. There is nothing worse than playing your favorite song and hearing the string make direct contact with the neck of the guitar, which causes the common problem known as fret buzz. 

playing the guitar

You are not alone if this happens to you. It occurs to guitar players at many skill levels in different situations. But it’s not a great thing to occur during a performance, indicating that you need to refret your guitar.

It can be caused by playing the guitar with too much vigor or not playing it correctly. Whatever the reason that is causing you to hear fret buzz, it is one of the most obvious signs that you need to refret a guitar. While refretting may not be the only thing that’s causing your guitar to have fret buzzing, it is most likely the culprit responsible for the irritating noise. 

So how do you recognize a fret buzzing sound? How do I know what things to look for to tell me if I need to get my guitar refretted? Understanding what fret buzzing is, is essential to know whether or not you need to get your guitar refretted. 

Here is a video from Stew-Mac on what fret buzz sounds like: 

So if you hear your fret buzzing or one of your friends or fans mentions it, then it is time to refret your guitar. Take your guitar into the shop, or do it yourself, and you will be much happier with how your musical instrument performs. Once you refret your guitar, you will love how it sounds and know what to look for in the future as a sign that you need to refret your guitar. 

3. Your Frets Are No Longer Level With Each Other

Having your frets level with each other is vital to playing your guitar correctly. You may be wondering how you can tell if your frets are level? You can determine if your frets are level in several ways, depending on your experience and your tools. Some indications that your frets are not level include:

  • The amount of time you have played your guitar. If you have owned your guitar for a long time, have never brought it into a shop, or have not looked at it yourself, then there is a fair chance that you may need to get your guitar refretted. Examine your guitar, or let an expert do it if you have been playing your guitar for years without any maintenance. You may need to get your guitar refretted.
  • You can see the strings are not the same distance from the frets. A telltale sign that you need to adjust your frets to the same level is if you can see a difference in how the string rests over each fret. You can look down the neck of your guitar and assess whether or not the strings are all the same distance from the frets. If they are not, it may be time to refret your instrument.
  • Purchase a tool to test if the frets are level. One thing you can do to check if your frets are level if you cannot see them with your own eyes is to buy a fret rocker. This stainless steel option, the StewMac Fret Rocker Tool (available on Amazon.com), is a durable and accurate tool for checking whether your frets are level.

If you notice that your frets aren’t level, or you are told by a professional or see it when using a tool that they are not level, then it is a definitive sign that it is time for you to refret your guitar. Do this as soon as possible, or the sounds coming from your musical instrument will not be up to par.  

guitar technician burnishes the edge of frets

4. Your Guitar Doesn’t Feel the Same in Your Hands

If you recently purchased your guitar or have been playing it for many years, there may be times when you are playing, and something doesn’t feel right. Musical instruments are like clothing or shoes. 

They might feel funny when you first try them on, but you tend to break them over time, and they feel much better than they initially did. However, this feeling has a shelf life, and you eventually start to wear them out. 

If you are playing guitar and it doesn’t feel right in your hands, there is a good chance that you may need to refret your guitar. The frets may feel funny for various reasons, most of which involve the wear and tear that comes with playing an instrument for many years. The frets are the most common things that may feel awkward when your guitar has experienced years of use and is wearing down.

Fret leveling solves one of the most frequently experienced problems related to knowing that you need to refret your guitar. However, it can cause some issues of its own. If you don’t do the job correctly or do not put the finishing touches on the fret leveling, it may not feel right when you are playing your guitar. 

In addition, when you fret level, the grinding down of the frets physically changes their heights, which may feel unnatural and awkward.

If you have leveled your frets and they are causing you to think that the guitar does not feel correct, then you may need to refret your guitar entirely. Putting new frets on your guitar will make it feel better and sound better. So if you hold your guitar and something feels off, this may be a sign that it is the time to refret your instrument. 

man playing his guitar

5. The Frets Are Coming off the Guitar

One of the most glaring signals you need to refret your guitar is if you notice the fret coming off. Your frets starting to come off can be frightening, but it lets you know that you need to do something about the frets on your guitar. 

You may see a small portion of the fret detached from the neck, or you could see a more startling example like a half-inch gap between the fret and the guitar, but either way, you need to consider refretting your guitar if you see this. 

Not only do frets coming off of your guitar look bad and make the notes coming out of it sound different, but they are also dangerous. You or someone around you could get cut by the fret if it starts to come off. So if you see the fret beginning to get loose, make sure you do something about it and refret your guitar. 

Numerous reasons may cause your frets to come off your guitar. The most common would be abusing the guitar or using it for a very long period. Regardless of what caused it, you know that you absolutely must refret your guitar if you see a piece of it coming off of your guitar. 

6. One of Your Frets Is Missing From Your Guitar Entirely

Similar to seeing a fret coming off your guitar if you notice one of your frets missing entirely, you know it is time to get your guitar refretted. Numerous reasons may have caused this, but it indicates that you must refret. Here are some of the most common culprits for why you are missing a fret from your guitar: 

  • You bought a used guitar. Let’s face it. We sometimes buy things second-hand without thoroughly vetting the purchase. You may buy a guitar from someone else without really inspecting it. Nothing is worse than discovering that you purchased a second-hand guitar that is missing frets, but if you find this to be the case, you know that you have to refret the guitar. 
  • You play your guitar frequently and with a lot of force. Depending on the style of music you perform and the setting that you are playing it in, your guitar may take more abuse than it can withstand. If you are smashing your guitar or just playing it hard under suspect conditions, you may encounter trouble with the fret falling off. If your fret falls off, you know it is time to bring it in for refretting. 

Regardless of why it happened, if you miss a fret or two from your guitar, you must get it refretted. Stop postponing in this case, and get the guitar looked at because it is clear it is time to get your guitar refretted. 

You will thank yourself later when you’re playing music that sounds the way it should because you will not get the same quality of playing if you are missing a fret.  

7. There Are Markings on the Edge of the Guitar Neck

Sometimes when you wear your frets down, the string will start to make contact with the guitar’s neck. The string making contact with the fret is a problem because it will slowly wear down the neck of your guitar. 

Not only does this look bad, but it can also be unsafe. If the string makes contact consistently with the neck of the guitar, it will cause wear and tear and could leave small pieces of wood that are potential hazards to your fingers. 

The markings on the edge of the neck of the guitar are a definite sign that you need to look at to identify problems. It would be best if you found out what’s causing the damage to your instrument, and a very likely culprit is that you should refret your guitar. 

Refretting the guitar should eliminate further damaging the neck of your guitar because a properly fitting fret will hold your strings in the correct place rather than having them scratch up the sides of the neck.

You may be wondering how these markings look? The marks will look discolored and similar to scratches. The neck has discolored markings caused by the chords rubbing against the wood. They are doing this instead of where they are supposed to be resting on the frets. If you see these discolored, scratch-like marks, you know it is time to get your guitar refretted.  

filing the frets of an acoustic guitar

8. Your Frets Are Extremely Tarnished

If you have frequently been playing your guitar, traveling with it, or have left it in your closet or car for an extended period, there may be some cleaning that you need to do to get it back into pristine condition. 

One area of a guitar that can get noticeably dirty over time is the frets. If you are someone who likes to show off your guitar, there may come a time when the frets are so tarnished that you feel it is time to refret your guitar.

In many cases, you can get the unappealing look of tarnished frets off with some simple tools and scrubbing. But in some extreme cases, the tarnishing may be so bad that you can scrub as hard as you can, and it doesn’t help your guitar look the way you want. 

If you can’t get the frets to look as good as you would like them to, it is time to refret your guitar. Putting brand new frets on the guitar might be the only way to get it looking brand new again. 

9. The Frets Have Sharp Edges 

Another glaring sign you need to refret your guitar is if the frets have sharp edges. While some people might call for you to file them down, there are other times when they are so bad that this is not a viable option. Because sharp edges can vary in what causes them, how severe they are, and what you can do to fix them, it is essential to take a good look at the damaged frets.

If you have very sharp edges on the edge of your fret, then you will want to get it refretted. Getting your guitar refretted is the safest option so that you do not get injured while playing the guitar. No one wants to play an instrument with components reminiscent of razor blades. So if you see dangerously sharp edges on your guitar, you know that it is time to refret your guitar. 

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

Recent Posts