The topic of frets usually comes into question when you’ve worn them down, and these need to be changed. But there is a lot more to frets, and here we’ll discuss what guitar frets are, their purposes, and all the important things as a guitar player, you need to know about them.
What are Guitar Frets?
The frets on a guitar are those thin metal strips spaced at intervals along the fretboard. Over 90%+ of the frets today are T-frets with a mushroom-like cross-section, firmly embedded or glued in slots in the fretboard. The number of frets on a guitar varies from 18 to 24 – acoustic guitars have 18-21 frets, while electric guitars usually have between 21 to 24 frets.
Frets are the essential components of a guitar, and these help playability; otherwise, you would have trouble finding the notes on the guitar. The frets create a point of tension, and if a guitar has no frets, playing it can be really uncomfortable.
Way back in the day, stringed instruments had frets from various materials like animal intestines and bone, but they’ve evolved a lot, and today all frets are made from metal. Today, there are four basic types of frets based on the material they are made from:
- Nickel-Silver – a nickel-copper-zinc alloy that has no silver in it, but it is historically called so and is found on most guitars;
- Brass – a copper-zinc alloy that is used in instrument making, brass frets are usually used in some bass guitars;
- Stainless steel – an iron alloy that is very corrosion resistant and has the best longevity but is difficult to install;
- Nickel-free – a copper-tin-iron-titanium alloy that is nickel-free and is in-between Nickel-silver and stainless steel in resistance.
These come in varying sizes depending on the manufacturer and the application (guitar, bass, mandolin, etc).
Different manufacturers will use different sizes of frets on their guitars. You can find small frets on high-end guitars and jumbo frets on cheaper guitars – the cost of the guitar is not related to the size of the frets it comes with, as this depends on the guitar’s design. However, the height of the frets affects how a guitar feels and how playable it is.
Fret Crown Height
The fret crown, the part you see above the wood on the fretboard, is the main factor affecting a guitar’s playability. Guitars with tall crowns allow you to easily bend the strings without having to press too much on the fretboard and help with vibrato. However, when you have too tall frets, it can be hard to play fretted chords, as you’ll need to press too hard on the strings.
Fret Crown Width
The wider the fret crown, the more gradual the curve of the fret; thus, it is easier to play. Guitars with wider frets feel softer to play, and you can more easily slide your fingers on the fretboard. Also, you won’t have to exert too much pressure but can more comfortably produce a clear note. It is why rock and solo guitarists mainly prefer tall, wide frets.
There are three types of frets by size:
- Small – low crown and narrow width
- Medium – can be wide and low or narrow and tall (combination between small & jumbo)
- Jumbo – tall crown and wide width
Regarding size, here is Dunlop’s fret wire chart, as Dunlop is the primary fret wire manufacturer worldwide. Please note that all other fret wire manufacturers generally follow this fret wire chart:
- 6230: The smallest fret wire found on older Fender necks (.078″ x .043″).
- 6150: Vintage jumbo; wider but not as tall as 6230 (.102″ x .042″).
- 6105: Modern, narrow and tall; currently very popular (.090″ x .055″).
- 6100: Jumbo frets; the largest fret wire available (.110″ x .055″).
- 6130: Medium jumbo (.106″ x .036″).
How to Select?
Small and jumbo frets bring a vastly different feel when playing. Sometimes, you might need time to adjust when you change the frets of your guitar, for example, from small to jumbo.
The upside of small frets is that they are easier to play if you have smaller hands or are a beginner player. Also, these let you easily touch the fretboard and play fretted/barre chords more easily. Still, these are easier to wear off, and you may have to change them more often.
The upside of jumbo frets is that you have more control over the string, making it easier to bend the strings. Also, these have more material; thus, they will last longer, as the same frets can be leveled a few times before they need to be changed.
Pro Tip: The size of the frets does not significantly affect the sound, but it profoundly affects the playability of a guitar!
When to Change the Frets on Your Guitar?
Now let’s talk about the vital aspect for any guitar player: when to change the frets on your guitar? The obvious answer is that when the frets are worn down, they buzz and don’t sound properly. But often, changing your frets may not be necessary, but you can have them leveled.
We suggest you consult a professional and have them check the condition of your frets and give a professional assessment.
To wrap up
We suggest you try different guitars with different fret sizes so that you can notice the difference yourself. Also, it can help you see the type of frets you want or feel more comfortable playing. Also, don’t try to level or change your frets at home, as many things can go wrong; instead, we advise you to take your guitar to a guitar tech and get them done by a professional. If you have any issues or concerns, feel free to email us!