Guitar Frets- Does Size Matter?

The following article is from GEAR411 which is a feature of The Rock House Method web site. GEAR411 is written by Tony Pasko. Tony is all about helping you with gear and studio issues. If you are in the market for a new piece of gear, need help making a decision on what to buy, aren't sure what you need, trying to hook something up, having problems making something work or just want to pick Tonys brain a little, this is the place.

You can read more GEAR 411 articles at  http://www.rockhousemethod.com/gear411advice/gear411.aspx


Thank you for all the positive feedback. I have received many cool e-mails about the first two articles, and I’m glad to see that it has sparked so much conversation: with that said? Let’s dive right in.

Fret size is another piece in the puzzle, when you think about fretboard radius, and neck shape, what kind or size the frets are will dramatically alter the feel of the prior two.

Fret size has a great deal to do with the action of your guitar. Low frets put your fingertips right on the fingerboard with little room to squeeze the strings out of tune or to get under them for bending. Tall frets are the opposite. The width of the fret determines the amount of wear that can be expected before leveling and re-crowning is necessary. 

·        Wider frets wear longer.
·        Narrow frets wear faster.
But which one is right for me? Ask yourself these questions:

1.      Do I like the feel of my present neck?
2.      Would I like more height or less height?
3.      How far do I need to bend the strings? (whole step, 1 ½ steps etc…)
4.      If I choose a flatter fret, will the neck seem too small?
5.      If I choose a taller fret will the neck feel too big?

Now you can see how all these things are starting to tie together. Let me give you a few guitar examples of how radius, neck shape and fret size makes guitars completely different.

1.      Gibson style: “C or D” shape neck, 10” radius fretboard, and a flat wide fret
2.      Fender style: “V or C” shape neck, 7.5 to 10” radius fretboard, and a tall skinny fret
3.      Ibanez style: “Flattened C” shape neck, 12 to 15” radius fretboard, and a fret that sits between the Gibson and Fender style frets
4.      MusicMan style: “Asymmetrical” shape neck, 10 to 12” radius fretboard, and a thinner, taller fret than the Ibanez fret

These are just broad overviews of these brands, but you get the idea how the three elements can make up completely different guitars. All these guitars play and feel differently, and these elements can lend it’s self to playing certain styles of music.

Nickel/Silver -vs- Stainless Steel

You have two choices: Nickel/Silver, and Stainless steel frets. But is one better than the other? And what am
I giving up? Or gaining? 

This topic is an ongoing debate with guitar players and guitar manufacturers. On one hand Nickel/Silver wears down and requires maintenance, Stainless Steel doesn’t. On the other hand it’s been argued that Stainless Steel doesn’t sound as good as Nickel/Silver. 

I’m not going to get in the middle of this because I believe they are both right and they both have their place. I have played and owned guitars with both and they both worked great. I guess the bigger question is this: What are my needs and what is the function I need filled. 

Example: If I was on tour for the next 5 months and I needed that guitar to perform every night without fail? Then maybe I’d go for a stainless steel fret, because I have been on the road and have had my guitar go down on me, and it’s not fun. Trying to fix and repair guitars on the road when you have a tight schedule to keep with flights etc... Not saying that Nickel/Silver isn’t easy to keep up either, but I rarely had to replace frets on the road.

The other part of the debate for the guitar manufacturers is not performance of the fret, but cost. Stainless Steel fret wire is more expensive than the Nickel/Silver so they tend to discredit Stainless Steel frets because they don’t want to come off as cheap.

I’ll leave the decision up to you, but Carvin uses Stainless Steel frets, the new Wolfgang by EVH/Fender has Stainless Steel frets, and many more, so not every manufacturer is at fault here.

(What is the ratio?)

Nickel/Silver frets consist of 18% hard nickel to give long life with steel strings. The composition of the wire while called "nickel/silver", contains no silver at all. The ingredients are brass and nickel, apparently 18% nickel is sufficient to make brass look silver. 

Below is a chart I found at www.warmoth.com that illustrates the many fret shapes available. This chart can help define which fret shapes are right for you and why.

6100: This is big for the almost a scalloped feel
6105: Narrow and tall, very popular
6130: The “Medium Jumbo", found on many Gibson necks
6230: The smallest fret wire, used on older Fender necks
6150: "Jumbo", it’s about the same width as the 6130 but a bit taller

Still to come in this series we will discuss: Nut width, scale length, wood characteristics, truss rod, string gauge etc…

Thanks for listening and I look forward to your feedback, and I hope this sparks some more discussions so we all can share our opinions and expertise.

Tony J. Pasko


Dy-sphoric said...

Great article. This really does clear up the fret choice for me. Next thing now is to narrow down which guitar I want...next.

Stratoblogster said...

Thanks Tony! Your articles are well presented.

sarge1875 said...

Thanks for the comments guys :)

Thanks for the link Strat-O-Blogster