Choosing Frets

Don’t Fret

Players are greatly concerned about width and height of the frets on their instruments’ necks, and over the years, as trends have changed guitar manufacturers have made models with different kinds of frets for different styles.

From jumbo frets to the fretless wonder and many stages between, frets have been talked about, modified and even removed or ignored (fretless bass, slide guitar) to change the sound, feel and capability of guitars and guitarists.

Frets

Originally frets were wood or strings tied in place or just markers, with all of the disadvantages of inaccuracy, movement, and wear. Wooden frets wore down too quickly, so the search for a better fret began. Lutes still sometimes use pieces of gut-string tied in place, but those need frequent replacement.

Nickel silver, which is an alloy of copper and nickel and no silver at all, is the choice today but even now quality and cost varies. More nickel gives a harder and more expensive fret which lasts longer and sounds sweeter.

While low frets like on the “Gibson Fretless Wonder” can give less accurate intonation during quick playing, they are good for flowing melodies and chords. Also finger vibrato is clean and easier. Jumbo frets with a high crown are preferred by fast playing shredders as bending is easier and a note can be held without the need to actually touch the fretboard avoiding potential for interference with the wood of the neck.  Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen are examples of this style, using an axe with a scalloped fretboard where wood was scooped out between the frets. And of course there are many variations between these two extremes.

Fret Over Binding or Undercut Frets

Undercut

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this design the frets don’t begin to taper until they’re on top of the binding, which allows for a wider playing area on the frets themselves. Also with traditional binding and worn frets, sometimes strings would get caught in the space between the fret and the edge.

Fret wear and fret buzz are the most common non-electronic troubles guitar players encounter. Fret wear can be fixed by “dressing,” a process that levels and polishes the frets. Dressing is best performed by an experienced hand. If frets are too worn to be saved by dressing, a full replacement is required. Your “action” may be set too low  or perhaps your “neck relief” is too far back, so don’t blame your frets without investigation.

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