All guitars, with the exception of classical guitars, have a slight radius on their fretboards. The radius gives the player a bit more comfort in playing. It also aids in the setup of the instrument. Fret wire comes in straight rods of wire. In order to install the fret wire, you must bend it in order to mirror the shape of the fretboard. That is where the guitar fret bender comes into play. Guitar fret bender is used to, you guessed it, bend fret wire. If you have ever tried to bend fret wire by hand, you know how difficult and time consuming it can be to get the perfect bend. The fret wire must not be kinked or crimped when it is being bent. A kinked piece of fret wire could lead to string buzzing or loose frets. The fret bender is a great luthier tool to help get the perfect bends.
There are plenty of guides online on how to build your own fret bender. There are many different designs, but I will discuss the legendary design by Randy Stockwell. This fret bender design consists of three wheels mounted on a piece of metal. The larger, top wheel is fitted with grooves to accept the fret tang while the smaller, bottom wheels are smooth for the fret bead to ride on. The top wheel is also attached to a handle or hand crank. When the fret wire is wedged in between the top wheel and bottom wheels, the hand crank can turn to feed the fret wire through the wheels.
The radius or degree of the bend is controlled with one of the bottom wheels. This bottom wheels is adjustable in relation with the top wheel. The closer the bottom wheel is to the top wheel, the tighter the radius of the bend. You can set the bottom wheel by loosening the thumb screw on the back of the fret bender. Once you have it set for the right angle, send the fret wire through! If your first bend is too much or not enough, you can adjust the bottom wheel again and send it back through. Basically, the fret bender works the exact same way a pipe bender does. It's just miniaturized!
This truly is a great design. It saves tons of time and gives you more actuate bends. I think every luthier or guitar repairman should have one in his bench. If you would like more information about how to use a fret bender, please see my how to bend fret wire article.