Five Things You Should Know About Frets

guitar frets
(Image credit: Future)

Have you ever given much thought to your frets? 

Frets are made in a range sizes, all of which can have a big impact on not only how your guitar plays but also how it sounds.

Here are five things you should know about frets…

1. Their shape affects playing feel

From wide and low to narrow and high – and all possible variables – each fret yields a different “touch," and in turn, inspires and encourages a different form of playing.

Wider frets (jumbo or medium-jumbo) are often preferred by heavy benders, while narrow frets are often the choice of guitarists looking for a sharp, precise feel, but there can be plenty of compromise in between.

2. Their shape also affects tone

Many players are convinced that fatter fret wire equates with fatter tone, and there could be some logic here, considering that more metal in any fixed component usually means a greater vibrational coupling between strings and guitar.

Wider frets also present somewhat blurrier, “thicker," less distinct noting than narrow frets, which can yield a more precise note and more shimmering harmonics.

3. Different fret materials also sound and feel different

Fret wire is commonly made from only two different materials: a “nickel” alloy, which actually contains approximately 18 per cent nickel-silver (also called “German silver,” itself a silver-free alloy of nickel and copper), and the less-traditional stainless steel.

The former is far more common, although the latter is easily available. Think of nickel frets as warm, round and juicy, while stainless-steel frets are clear and precise, in relative terms.

guitar frets

(Image credit: Future)

4. Fret condition is a key factor in any guitar’s performance

Frets that are dinged, rough and abrasive will feel rough and scratchy under the fingertips, and will bite against the strings when you’re bending.

Frets whose “crowns” – the top edge that meets the fretted string – have been worn down from heavy playing will impede your tone and your intonation by providing a less precise end point to determine the note.

5. Frets are a consumable, and when they’re consumed, they’ve got to be replaced

When the frets are worn down past the point of no return it’s time to get them replaced.

For guitars that are anything less than ultra-collectible, don’t be precious about your frets: if they’re heavily worn, get them replaced by a professional.

Done right, the job will breath new life into any instrument.

Guitar Player Staff

Guitar Player is the world’s most comprehensive, trusted and insightful guitar publication for passionate guitarists and active musicians of all ages. Guitar Player magazine is published 13 times a year in print and digital formats. The magazine was established in 1967 and is the world's oldest guitar magazine.

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