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Frets - What do you use, when, and why?
Old 6th September 2019
  #1
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Frets - What do you use, when, and why?

Pretty self-explanatory title.


Lets talk about frets, so we can all learn more about this mysterious subject.


For example, what's so great about stainless steel frets?

Why do some people obsess over "Jumbo" frets?

And what are the problems with stainless steel frets?

Who makes the best frets?

Who makes frets that suck?

And so forth.


Maybe we can figure out what the perfect frets should be. Maybe we have no idea. I am open to both possibilities.

I am thinking about having a guitar built, so I should probably learn about this as quickly as possible.


I NEED INFORMATION!!!!!!


Thanks,

audioforce
Old 6th September 2019
  #2
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I recently started using stainless steel 6150 frets on one of my guitars. They feel very smooth, especially when bending, and it’s a very addictive feel. If I could afford having all my other instruments refretted with ss I would.
Old 6th September 2019
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by microwave View Post
I recently started using stainless steel medium jumbo frets on one of my guitars. They feel very smooth, especially when bending, and it’s a very addictive feel. If I could afford having all my other instruments refretted with ss I would.
Someone on another board said something like "stainless steel frets have to be PLEKed to each individual guitar". Does that make sense? Others say they affect tone. Others say they wear out strings. Just wondering?
Old 6th September 2019
  #4
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Every new set of frets has to be dressed, with a plek machine or without, for the best setup. Stainless steel frets are no exception. They might wear out strings a bit faster, but on the other hand the strings don’t wear out the frets almost at all, which seems a much bigger advantage to me. As for the tone, some people say they can hear it, I can’t and personally it wouldn’t bother me - on an electric guitar. Then there’s the feel factor, which as I said is (imho) on a different level compared to nickel frets.
Old 6th September 2019
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by microwave View Post
Every new set of frets has to be dressed, with a plek machine or without, for the best setup. Stainless steel frets are no exception. They might wear out strings a bit faster, but on the other hand the strings don’t wear out the frets almost at all, which seems a much bigger advantage to me. As for the tone, some people say they can hear it, I can’t and personally it wouldn’t bother me - on an electric guitar. Then there’s the feel factor, which as I said is (imho) on a different level compared to nickel frets.
Thanks.
Old 6th September 2019
  #6
I once had an acoustic guitar that was re-fretted with brass frets, they weren't long lasting but it looked good it still lasted a good 4-5 years so not bad,

my favourite is stainless steel but I'd imagine it's a pig of a job for a guitar tech because of the hardness of the steel, which is why you don't commonly find it, however as above if money was no object I'd have all my guitars fitted with SS, it's the longest lasting material. I have always thought that titanium would be the ultimate material to use though, even better than SS but no company is bold enough to make such things!
Old 6th September 2019
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pencilextremist View Post
I once had an acoustic guitar that was re-fretted with brass frets, they weren't long lasting but it looked good it still lasted a good 4-5 years so not bad,

my favourite is stainless steel but I'd imagine it's a pig of a job for a guitar tech because of the hardness of the steel, which is why you don't commonly find it, however as above if money was no object I'd have all my guitars fitted with SS, it's the longest lasting material. I have always thought that titanium would be the ultimate material to use though, even better than SS but no company is bold enough to make such things!
Stainless is a bit of a horror to work with, especially if you have to undercut the fret tangs to fit a bound neck. Whether it's worth it is probably depends on how much use an instrument gets.

My 72 Les paul has had one refret. My 67 Rickenbacker still has the original frets. A friend just had his 67 SG re-fretted for the first time. I have another friend however, who plays almost entirely in 1st position, who has worn the first four frets on his Telecaster to the point of needing replacement in about 6 years.

Personally I find high frets very difficult because I tend to press down too hard. My first test is always to see if an open G sounds in tune when I play an instrument.
Old 6th September 2019
  #8
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I love em.
First time I used them I noticed my fingers more easily slid up and down the fretboard.
They just feel nice. They practically don’t wear at all compared to nickel and I don’t fret hard but you can still nick and wear out nickel frets with lots of use.
Its a good idea to use something in between the fretboard and strings during travel with SS and it’s the same with nickel really. Piece of cardboard or something. Just in case.
Because if you get a big nick in one (pretty unlikely) ,
as Norfolk said SS is not easy to work with.
As far as sound, I think they have bit more clink to them. Like an attack when you hammer on which is very useful for legato playing, and I can’t see it being a hindernace in any way. Otherwise I don’t think there’s any sound difference.

If you don’t like stainless steel frets you just don’t like nice things.

As far as Jumbos. I’m not a big fan but they’re on practically all guitars now.
Particularly higher up the fretboard, I like to feel the wood on my finger tips more so than just feeling like my fingers are tight rope walking between just two pieces of steel.
Jake E Lee’s Charvel actually has lower frets, like medium, higher up the fretboard for this reason.
They feel fine til you past the 12th fret or so.
Old 6th September 2019
  #9
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audioforce's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tnevz View Post
I love em.
First time I used them I noticed my fingers more easily slid up and down the fretboard.
They just feel nice. They practically don’t wear at all compared to nickel and I don’t fret hard but you can still nick and wear out nickel frets with lots of use.
Its a good idea to use something in between the fretboard and strings during travel with SS and it’s the same with nickel really. Piece of cardboard or something. Just in case.
Because if you get a big nick in one (pretty unlikely) ,
as Norfolk said SS is not easy to work with.
As far as sound, I think they have bit more clink to them. Like an attack when you hammer on which is very useful for legato playing, and I can’t see it being a hindernace in any way. Otherwise I don’t think there’s any sound difference.

If you don’t like stainless steel frets you just don’t like nice things.

As far as Jumbos. I’m not a big fan but they’re on practically all guitars now.
Particularly higher up the fretboard, I like to feel the wood on my finger tips more so than just feeling like my fingers are tight rope walking between just two pieces of steel.
Jake E Lee’s Charvel actually has lower frets, like medium, higher up the fretboard for this reason.
They feel fine til you past the 12th fret or so.
Not sure about stainless yet as far as the sound, and the fact that they seem to be a nightmare to work with. Otherwise they seem good. So I'm looking forward to more posts and opinions on all that. But I like your level of commitment.



I"m not really crazy about the Jumbo frets either. It may just be that I'm not used to them, but I think there may be more to it.
Old 6th September 2019
  #10
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I would like to try the stainless steel frets. Are there any guitars widely available that are shipping with them?



Best,

audioforce
Old 7th September 2019
  #11
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audioforce's Avatar
 

Also, since stainless steel is not exactly a new invention, I have to wonder why they are just now getting around to using it for frets, and why historically nickel was used. Anybody know?
Old 7th September 2019
  #12
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioforce View Post
[. . .] Why do some people obsess over "Jumbo" frets?

[. . .] And what are the problems with stainless steel frets?

[. . .] Maybe we can figure out what the perfect frets should be

[. . .] I am thinking about having a guitar built [. . .]
Jumbo
I would be guilty of obsessing over Jumbo frets. I want them tall and wide as this dramatically facilitates playing accuracy and lowers fatigue. . .for me, personally.

By accuracy, I mean getting precisely what I want with respect to timing [between left and right hands] and resulting sound [volume, timbre & intonation]. They make some musical notions possible for me, that I simply can't execute without them. Lowering fatigue significantly extends my ability to execute over longer sessions, but also helps reduce errors in shorter sessions.

Jumbo frets don't work for everybody though. They require a very light touch [here and there] to avoid intonation issues. And their installation requires a bit more skill [I think] than narrow frets.

I used to own a music store and did many re-fret jobs. Pretty much anything I'm going to invest in, I don't trust someone else to re-fret. And I no longer seem to have time for that kind of work, myself. So, a guitar without Jumbo frets will almost always be rejected for my own use. But there have been exceptions. . .one in particular that I am very happy with.

Stainless Steel Frets
No issue for me with the sound or playability of the material itself - the concerns are for the luthier's skill installing and cost of maintaining them. Regarding the latter, expect the wood and/or frets to shift over time - and a harder material is going to require more skill to maintain.

Perfect Frets
Imagine that all the frets were connected by rails on top and bottom [where the fretboard binding usually is]. I had this idea many years ago, but found that someone had already filed a patent on it. In such a design one could assure the alignment, relief, and other relevant properties were precisely what each player wanted. I never saw it come to market, though. And if it ever does, they should make one with jeweled sapphire fret crowns that never wear out. This section likely doesn't help you much now, but we can still dream. It will happen one day when that patent runs out. . .and competitors can come into the game.

Having a Guitar Built
Yes, cool! Talk to your luthier and find out what he/she is most comfortable with. I would be shy about pushing him/her away from what they think they do best.

It is so easy to mess up an instrument with defective fret installs.

Mostly, follow your heart and get what works for you.


Hope this helps,

Ray H.
Old 7th September 2019
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audioforce View Post
I would like to try the stainless steel frets. Are there any guitars widely available that are shipping with them?



Best,

audioforce
Kind of deducing from experience and watching the market more over the past ten years or so. On the reason for using nickel for so long, and still.

Cost of SS and the extra work required by hand is difficult, it was also cost prohibitive, perhaps just didn’t make sense at all until Plek machines came along.
Nickel and silver, obviously being more malleable/easier to crown and polish.
Scaling it up, probably just didn’t make sense to big manufacturers.
Also, the big manufacturers have got more into just pumping out guitars meanwhile the quality of most of those guitars, at least from a playability standpoint, is way above similar guitars from years ago at similar or even higher price points.
So to a big company, with a members of the board, and already tons of sales.
It probably just didn’t and still doesn’t make much sense to go up to SS.


SS is still only on higher end guitars but more companies than don’t, offer a guitar with It now.
Except fender and Gibson... And even PRS..
at least, I don’t think they’re doing SS yet. Maybe in custom shop orders??
Not sure. But other than that I don’t that, I don’t think so.
So that’s like at least a $3k order. Probably $4k when you add SS frets.
And those companies make up the majority of guitar sales in the U.S.
Meanwhile, plenty of other guitar builders/manufacturers make high end guitars with SS frets.
Higher end Japanese made Ibanez,
I think Esp and Jackson in their higher end USA guitfiddles.
Keisel offers SS.
Tom Anderson has been putting SS frets on, I think, all his guitars for a while.
Some of the new indie companies on their high end stuff, like Chapman guitars and Solar Guitars.

Notice, the majority of these companies are known for more modern guitar designs generally.

Also, for SS frets, they all generally start at $2k+
Most of these are going to be about $3k+

The most widely available guitar with stainless (to my knowledge) is a guitar model I have, from a company I’ve bragged about before.
The Suhr Modern.
It may be the first largely produced USA made guitar with Stainless frets at a legit price point that wouldn’t completely scare people away.
Which is about $2-2500.
Im pretty sure that was the thinking behind that lineup for Suhr.
And it’s been a pretty good success from what I can see.
Hopefully it’s been a financial success for them as well.
Because, Ibanez and charvel and some other companies have basically tried to copy what Suhr is doing for some of their newer models.

Price point is still kind of scary for me personally, but I do love the hell out of mine.
I bought mine used, sight unseen for about $1800.

You can also get a guitar refretted with SS. It’s about $600 or so from Third Coast last I checked.
So I mean heck. You could in theory, now that I think about it, send a guitar you already have or buy a decent guitar for around a grand and just have it refretted with SS. And it could be cheaper than pretty much any guitar off the shelf, that you can buy with stainless frets.

Edit: I mention price so much because it’s a big deal for me personally. I grew up poor and to some degree still am. Loll. Some people can get offended and think I’m gloating or whatever.
That’s definitely not my intention.

Last edited by Tnevz; 7th September 2019 at 03:53 AM..
Old 7th September 2019
  #14
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Yuri Kogan's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by audioforce View Post
I would like to try the stainless steel frets. Are there any guitars widely available that are shipping with them?



Best,

audioforce
I have a few old Parker Fly's (different versions of) which all had stainless frets. I dont hear any difference in sound. But they do last longer. I also have 2 Caparison guitars with SS frets. Same thing - they feel the same just dont need repolishing that often.
I hate tall frets - is that what you call jumbo?
Old 7th September 2019
  #15
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Yuri Kogan's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by audioforce View Post
Also, since stainless steel is not exactly a new invention, I have to wonder why they are just now getting around to using it for frets, and why historically nickel was used. Anybody know?
Nickel is much easier to work with and install. Also historically it was cheaper originally, probably
Old 7th September 2019
  #16
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I developed a nickel allergy about 12 years ago, and refretted my main players - 2 acoustics, 2 electrics, and a bass -- with SS at that time. It was expensive. I don't think the switch hurt the tone at all, might have helped, hard to say. People say SS frets eat strings, but that hasn't been my observation.

But since that time, a new hypoallergenic formulation has come along called Evo Gold. Nickel free, slightly softer than SS and less of a PITA for luthiers. Martin now has a range that uses them. They aren't all that "gold" looking, and I played a couple of those Martins at winter NAMM and loved them. I've also played a buddy's Tele with Evo's, also outstanding.

If I had to do the same thing now, I'd go with Evo over SS for sure.

FWIW, if you have a bolt-on instrument, the cheapest way to to get into either SS or EVO is to buy an aftermarket neck. Warmoth and a few of the others will install either kind of wire for only a few bucks more than their standard nickel-silver.
Old 7th September 2019
  #17
Gear Head
 

For example, what's so great about stainless steel frets?
Bends are very smooth on stainless frets. Stainless frets are harder than the strings so they do not show any appreciable wear. I personally like what they do to attack and presence.

They DO NOT wear strings out faster, this is a myth. I have mostly stainless fretted guitars, the last time I recall popping a string was in the 80s... I did not have stainless frets back then... I also only changed strings once every three or so months back then.

They do not HAVE to be PLEK’d, but man are they nice when they are!

Why do some people obsess over "Jumbo" frets?
Because this is ‘merica, and in ‘merica if it is not Jumbo then you can just keep it. That includes frets and fast food meals. In all seriousness, with stainless I go for medium frets. I do not need the extra fret material for future crown and leveling and the narrower frets from 19-24 make fretting at least a bit easier for my Jumbo hands. Also, narrower frets bend even smoother than jumbos.

And what are the problems with stainless steel frets?
Much more expensive than nickel frets. Some luthiers will not work on stainless frets. If you do not like a more pronounced attack or increased presence, you might not like stainless frets.

Who makes the best frets?
Who makes frets that suck?
I will say what you said on the double tracking thread: now you are overthinking things. Stainless is not soft like nickel.
Old 7th September 2019
  #18
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Lots of good responses! Thanks to all who are contributing.

Definitely no need to limit the discussion to what I brought up in the original post, btw.
Old 7th September 2019
  #19
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What is the numbering sytem that vendors are using for frets? It seems like I need a secret decoder ring or something.

Does it follow a pattern?
Old 7th September 2019
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CaptNasty View Post
Who makes the best frets?
Who makes frets that suck?
I will say what you said on the double tracking thread: now you are overthinking things. Stainless is not soft like nickel.
There I was just wondering if there are any vendors or companies that are known to make or use good, or bad, fretwire.
Old 7th September 2019
  #21
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Zoobiedood's Avatar
 

I absolutely love SS frets. If I could afford it, all my guitars would switch to them. They feel like glass, and will likely outlast me. Downside is the cost and the difficulty of installation (and they are hard on tools). But absolutely worth it to me.
Old 7th September 2019
  #23
I don't obsess about frets - as long as they're in decent shape whatever the guitar came with is usually good enough for me.

Usually.

The exception is very low, small frets like the old Gibson Fretless Wonders and the ones on original Ventures Mosrites. I wouldn't change the ones on an original Mosrite because they're an integral part of the overall design of the guitar, but it probably wouldn't be my first choice as a playing guitar, either. I love old Ventures Mosrites as a design, but I don't play the kind of music (instrumental surf) they were designed for.

The reason I don't like low frets is that although they're very fast (which I don't need anymore) they're also very difficult to bend on. And they usually go hand in hand with extremely low action, which I don't like much - it rattles and I don't play that light.

Jumbo frets are the opposite - very easy to bend on, work with somewhat higher action. The problem with jumbos is playing in tune if you tend to press hard.

As far as materials go, nickle silver is fine with me. Stainless would be fine, too, but I'm not going out of my way for it and don't feel a burning need for harder frets. I've played a few old guitars with brass frets and have to say that brass wears much too quickly.
Old 7th September 2019
  #24
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
I've played a few old guitars with brass frets and have to say that brass wears much too quickly.
There are some old 60's Teiscos and junk like that with chrome (I guess) plated brass frets. The chrome wears away and the brass is really soft underneath and kinda grabs roundwound strings. Really awful.
Old 7th September 2019
  #25
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PdotDdot's Avatar
I like high frets - thin or medium as I bend a lot - the jumbos have never worked for me.
Old 7th September 2019
  #26
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Hot Vibrato's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by audioforce;14188538h
Someone on another board said something like "stainless steel frets have to be PLEKed to each individual guitar". Does that make sense? Others say they affect tone. Others say they wear out strings. Just wondering?
Neither of these statements are true. I and my employees have done dozens of refrets with stainless wire. It takes more time and elbow grease to file and polish, but it polishes up smoother than nickel wire, so it wears strings less. Not more.
Old 7th September 2019
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by norfolk martin View Post
Stainless is a bit of a horror to work with, especially if you have to undercut the fret tangs to fit a bound neck.
Happens all the time in my workshop. It's time consuming and requires proper training and skills. But "a horror to work with" is an overstatment.
Old 7th September 2019
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audioforce View Post
What is the numbering sytem that vendors are using for frets? It seems like I need a secret decoder ring or something.

Does it follow a pattern?
Usually specified in thousandths of an inch. The overall height of the fret and the height and width of the bead of the fret.
Old 8th September 2019
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hot Vibrato View Post
Usually specified in thousandths of an inch. The overall height of the fret and the height and width of the bead of the fret.
Oh. Would you give an example to make sure I understand?

Thanks,

audioforce
Old 8th September 2019
  #30
Gear Head
 

I have had nickel, stainless, and Jescar EVO (the gold stuff Warmoth sells) and my favorite by far is the Jescar EVO (61GD).

It polishes up to shiny gold and it looks great with black hardware (or gold, if you like, but IMO looks "wrong' with nickel or chrome).

It STAYS slick and glassy, unlike my experience with Dunlop SS wire (which I had to sand and polish a couple times a year because it started feeling rough under the unwound strings).

And like stainless steel, it really doesn't wear - at least if you use regular nickel strings. I don't know about you, but around 600 hours of play time and my nickel frets are needing some love. I have a neck with easily 5 - 600 hours of play time on it and it doesn't even have the slightest scratches from the wound strings or even the beginnings of the typical divot under the G string at the 2nd/3rd fret. I've never done anything to it except change the strings and rub the oxidation off the frets with a little mild abrasive on a cotton ball.

YMMV, as I am the only person who apparently has any issues with stainless frets. I think they sound fine, I just found that having silver frets vs. gold wasn't worth the extra hassle they required to stay slick for me.
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