Guitar Frets

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Guitar frets could be two different things – well, not that different, but let’s see. A fret is the small wire separating the cases on the guitar. But it’s also the name for the case between two wires. The first fret is actually the first case on your guitar starting from the nut. We rarely mention the first fret as being the first metal wire, so it will help differentiate between the two meanings when you talk to someone.

In this section, I will answer some questions you might have, like:

  • Why are the frets here?
  • Can they be damaged?
  • Is there any way to replace them?
  • Does a fret fly? (ok… I don’t answer this one).

Let’s move on to the first part.

1. Some theory

Scalloped Fretboard
A “scalloped” fretboard helps you move faster while playing
Licence : Creative Commons

As mentioned before, they’re here to divide your guitar neck into several cases, which are also called frets for commodity. From fret 0 (open string) to 1 there’s only one semitone. When you press your finger on the 1st case, it shortens the string and actually plays the note from the first fret – the wire! – and not from where you have placed your finger.

The number of frets on your guitar varies as regards the type or model you own. In general, an electric or steel-stringed acoustic guitar will have between 20 and 24 frets. A classical guitar tends to have 19.

Now… What are they made of? Great question. The most common material is called nickel-silver. Even if there’s no silver in that alloy. Mostly copper (80%) and nickel (18%). A bit of zinc and other materials too.

What size is better? Well… There are two schools. Those who prefer larger frets for better intonation and their longevity. And those who fancy narrower frets for a faster fretboard, and a softer tone. Keep also in mind that larger and taller frets are easier for bends.

2. Frets issues.

It happens that your frets get worn with time. Do your strings buzz? It might come from that problem. But it could also be something else, so be sure to check your fretboard first. Dents on your frets can be the cause. Dents are fine if they’re just on the surface. But if they go too deep, go to your favorite luthier and refret your guitar.

Also, frets that are too loose will kill the intonation. But it can be easily fixed by applying the right stick glue. Be sure not to put too much of it as it might cause a balancing issue.

3. Replacement.

Frets Diagram
1 : Crown’s Width – 2 : Crown’s height
3 : Barb – 4 : Tang depth

Having your frets replaced by a luthier costs a lot of money. But it can be needed if you:

  • Have really worn frets on your guitar (dents, uneven frets, rust, etc.),
  • Have a beautiful and expensive guitar you’d like to keep,
  • Are sure that the problem comes from the fret(s) and not from something else. But don’t worry, if the problem does not come from your frets, he will certainly tell you.

To conclude, you can find a humongous source of information at this address for frets buzz and intonation problems. The rest of the website is really good as well.

8 comments

  1. I’ve played drums and been around guitar players for several years and I learned more about frets in your article than I’ve ever known before. I find the theory especially interesting.

  2. Interesting. I can’t play guitar but I was interested what a fret was. What I ended up learning is that I had no idea the neck of the instrument had to have maintenance sometime. I just thought it was an occasional string break. Good information.

    1. Hello Ronnie! Thanks for your comment. Actually, every part of the guitar may need some maintenance at some point. It could be the body, neck, guitar head, or even a small fret… Maintenance is key for someone who plays a lot and carries his guitar everywhere. But of course, for a casual player, it can be just an occasional string break.

  3. This is such a clear and thorough explanation of this piece of the guitar. I’ve been to your site before, as our 11 year old daughter is just starting a guitar interest. I’m sure we’ll be back a lot to see what other bits and pieces we can pick up from you! We really appreciate you sharing your knowledge here. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for the information. I have an old beginner guitar and occasionally try to strum something. Little ditties for the kids. I really have no clue how to play and did not know any of this until I read your article. I will be sure to be back. thanks!

    1. Hi Mask, well, a fret is a really specific part of the guitar, so I understand that people usually don’t know much about them. Thanks for your comment anyway.

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