Guitar frets are thin metal strips placed across the flat surface of an instrument’s neck, perpendicular to the strings. They are technical markers along the fretboard. Guitarists can depress the string wherever they want along the board to reduce the vibrating length of that string. They can get different notes this way as they run their fingers up and down. Go up one fret and you can create a note that higher by a semitone or half-step. This means that the 12th fret goes a full octave above the open string’s pitch. Try it yourself to hear the fascinating effects. If you find it difficult, then use a capo while you strum.
The word “fret” is sometimes used to refer to the space between the metal strips. You might hear someone refer to the first fret, second fret, and so on referring to these locations on the fretboard. It is common to see this for instructions on how to play certain songs. This usage is generally acceptable since people can convey their message just fine. However, the strict definition that guitar makers and repair technicians use is what we initially discussed. If you need to make changes to your hardware, then you must only use “fret” to refer to the metal strips to avoid confusion.
Fret Wire Material
Knowing what are guitar frets made of will help musicians appreciate their instrument more.
1. Nickel Silver
The metal used in many frets are called nickel silver even if there is no actual silver added into the alloy. In most cases, the composition is 18% nickel, 80% copper, and the rest is a combination of lead, zinc, and cadmium in tiny amounts. The high quality fret-makers use less copper for their products while adding more zinc. This is to increase hardness and boost longevity. These are more expensive but the extra money is worth it since you will have less problems despite heavy use. Those with a strong grip will love this type of fretwire.
2. Stainless Steel
It is more common to see stainless steel being used in stair railings and commercial kitchen equipment but it’s actually an incredibly versatile material that has found its way to countless applications. It is sometimes used for frets as an alternative to the tradition nickel silver alloy because of its impressive durability. Those who are tired of fret problems may ask a luthier to re-fret their guitar to install custom-made stainless steel. Just make sure that you have a lot of money because they can charge a hefty price. Stainless steel is hard to work it and it can destroy their precious tools so the higher rates are justified.
Number of Frets
Different guitar types have different amounts of frets along the neck. If you pick up a classical guitar, then you are going to see 19 frets along the board. The 12th fret is usually where the neck and the body are joined together. Although it is possible to use the upper frets, the hand position can get tricky. This is why some guitars have inwardly curving shoulders, also known as cutaways. This makes it easier to reach the higher frets for those with small hands. Having slender necks can also help with this situation.
If you are shopping for acoustic guitars with steel strings, then you might notice that the number of frets vary widely. The majority will have 20 frets but some will have quite a bit more. This provides better range for the instrument. Having a cutaway becomes more necessary as the frets increase to make the extra ones actually usable. For example, electric guitars generally have between 21 to 24 frets. The neck and the body may be joined as late as the 19th fret. Cutaways are standard in this instrument sub-class for this reason.
Common Problems with Frets
1. Fret Buzz
Metal strings are popular because of their durability and sound. Steel strings are particularly common because they can be trusted to last for a long time. They problem is that rubbing metal string against metal frets can result in visible wear and tear. You will start to see indentations on the fret’s crown where the strings are usually placed against. You will also hear the difference and that’s when the problem can no longer be ignored. Owners report a buzzing sound. Just note that many other factors can lead to fret buzz including poor manufacturing so it is best to check before pointing a finger at the fret wire itself.
Sometimes you will get mixed results when playing your guitar. One chord sounds great while another sounds off. This is called an intonation issue. It is often indicative of underlying problems that require immediate correction. Minor adjustments may be enough depending on the exact issue. If it is due to worn frets, then you may want to consider replacing them with new ones or simply having the existing ones repaired. Sometimes the frets are too high in which case the appropriate adjustments must be made. If it is something else, then troubleshooting should ensue to find out about the root cause.
Frets are composed of different parts. The domed top is called the crown while part that is embedded into the board is called the tang. To make sure that the fret stays in place, the tang usually has a barb on both sides. The crown’s exposure to the strings makes it the most vulnerable section of the frets. Dents can be repaired if the depth if these are not too deep. The technician will remove some material from the crown to smooth things uniformly. They are initially flattened, after which they are given a shallower domed shape.
If there are deep pits, then it may be better to have a re-fret instead. All of the frets are replaced by a master craftsman. This is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. A partial re-fret is less costly as only the most affected frets are replaced. Some might opt to replace the neck instead although this is only possible for bolt-on models.