guitar refret

When Does A Guitar Need A Refret? (And How To Tell)

A guitar’s frets work like teeth on a saw, and when they become too worn out, the instrument becomes nearly impossible to play.

But how long does that take?  Let’s see…

When does a guitar need a refret?

As a general rule of thumb, the guitar may need a refret when the height of the fret wire is less than .020” from the surface of the fingerboard. If the frets are lower than that you will have intonation problems. If they are higher, the frets will be sharp and could create “ fret buzz”.

This rule of thumb isn’t foolproof however. Some people have really worn guitar fretboards, but are still able to play their instrument with no buzz or intonation issues.

How To Tell If You Need A Refret

There are a number of things that you will want to look out for:

  • Signs of pitting on the frets – These are places on the frets where you will see pits worn out from the strings over time.  The frets may still be playable, but will need to be dressed if they are dished or dented.  You sometimes see a lot of this on vintage frets on a vintage guitar with original frets.
  • Worn or rounded fret crowns – The crown of the fret is the part that sits above the fingerboard. If it has become worn or rounded you will start to have intonation issues. The crown needs to be straight for proper intonation.  Check for crown fret level as well because if a fret size is smaller than an adjacent fret, it can cause string buzz.
  • Bad fret end slots – If your frets are not tight at their end slot you will have tuning issues.
  • How high are the frets – If the frets are closer than .020” from the fingerboard you will have intonation problems. If they are higher, the frets will be sharp and could create “ fret buzz”.
  • Have I seen a luthier – Have you seen a good luthier for a fret dress or other work on your guitar? If so, then this is probably not an issue.

What Problems Do Worn Frets Cause?

Worn frets can cause a number of intonation and playability issues. Worn frets will have sharp ends, which will mean the string is placed under a lot of pressure at this point. This can create a problem called “ fret buzz”, which sounds like a buzzing noise when you play the instrument. It also causes tuning issues because there isn’t enough room for the strings to vibrate properly.

Worn frets can also cause the instrument to play in tune in spots and out of tune in other spots. If this happens, it means that the strings are not acting in unison. They will vibrate at different rates and that can change the tone of the instrument significantly. If you continue to use this guitar, there is a good chance that it may not sound as good as it could.

How Much Fret Wear Is Too Much?

This is a very hard question to answer as everybody has a different idea as to what is “enough”.

However, I have come up with a rough guide that gives you an idea as to how much fret wear is too much:

When the frets are under .020” from the fingerboard: this is considered by some luthiers and music stores as “good enough”. Tuners will still tune the instrument properly. If it then begins to have fret buzz or intonation problems, you will know that the frets are worn out. When the frets are over .020” from the fingerboard: this is a little too high for a beginner to work with and may require a better luthier to fix.

How Long Do Guitar Frets Last?

This is going to depend on how often you play the guitar.  The more you play it, the faster the frets will wear out.  In general, you should be able to get at least a couple of years out of a set of frets if you play the guitar every day. If not, consider getting them replaced.

If you play your guitar for a short period of time one day and then don’t touch it for several months, the frets will probably last longer than if you played it daily.

How Much Does A Refret Cost?

Depending on the type of material you choose for the fret, it can get a little expensive for a full refret job.  For example:

  • Stainless steel frets – around $400.
  • Nickel Silver frets – around $300.
  • Level, fret crown and polish (fret dress) – around $160.

Is It Worth It To Refret A Guitar?

It may be worth it but it depends on the guitar.  Personally, if the guitar isn’t worth too much, I might just replace the entire guitar neck.

If money is no object, you can get away with having it done, but if you are on a budget, the guitar may be better off being sold for parts or converted into something other than an instrument.

How Many Times Can You Refret A Guitar?

You can refret a guitar as many times as you want. It all depends on the condition of the fretboard and how much wear there is.

The number of times that you can refret a guitar before it begins to cause problems will vary, but most luthiers say that you can do at least one or two more times before any serious work needs to be done. After that, the fretboard may have too much wear for frets to hold properly.


As always, this is my recommendation based on my experience and research. Please keep in mind that these rules of thumb are only guidelines and not hard and fast rules.

I hope that this has been helpful. Feel free to ask me any questions about them in the comments section below.

Alright, we got it covered on when does a guitar need a refret and how long do they last and how much does a refret cost . If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comment section below .

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