Is Fret Wear Bad?

As a guitar player, there is nothing worse than an instrument with issues that deem it unplayable. There are many things that can happen to kill your inspiration to play it. The frets on your guitar are one of those things that can turn a good experience into a very frustrating one over time.

As time goes by, your guitar frets begin to wear, dent and form divots that affect the way it performs. This can create odd noises and sustain issues. There is maintenance involved when it comes to keeping your them in good order. But is fret wear bad?

is fret wear bad?

How Much Fret Wear is Too-Much?

Once your ability to play the instrument comfortably has changed because of guitar fret issues, it’s likely too much wear.

But At what point is fret breakdown bad? Should you have them replaced or leveled? These parts are an item that get overlooked because they are so rarely considered until there are issues.

If you notice grooves in the frets or have odd buzzing, it’s a good sign that they need leveling and crowning. This is one of the easier ways to fix worn frets.

Otherwise, it could mean a large fret replacement cost if they are very bad! Let’s explore them and get to know them better. This way you will know what to look for when they need work due to wear and what it might cost to replace them.

What Causes Worn Out Frets?

Every time you press your strings down to the frets, a series of different forces are at work. First, the pressure in which you use on the string can create dents or divots over time.

This creates high and low spots on your frets that change their level. This can begin to affect tuning and intonation, not to mention create odd noises like buzz.

Then there is also the metal on metal contact of the string to the fret. This contact and any movement create friction that over time will remove material from them. As you play your guitar, these things are causing a bit of wear that eventually adds up and even create grooves or divots in frets.

Then there is the material itself. Some wear out much quicker than others. Nickel will break down much faster than stainless steel, for example. And because frets are not like strings in which we change them easily and frequently, they get overlooked.

How to Tell if Frets Need Leveling

When you begin to realize that something just isn’t right with your frets, it’s because it’s either not very comfortable or beginning to produce noise. Perhaps notes don’t ring out anymore either? Whatever it is, I’m sure you don’t like it.

First thing to do would be to take a good look at your frets. You are looking for visual indicators first. Things like:

  • Dents
  • Divots
  • Flat Spots
  • Grooves

If they look quite excessive, chances are they are so deep that when you press the strings, they go down so far that they are touching the other frets. This means that they are no longer level and on the same plane.

This produces things like buzz and premature note muting. Depending on how and where you play the fret board, perhaps only a few are worn. In some cases, you may only need to level and crown guitar frets, which can be done by a professional.

Level and Crown Guitar Frets

There is a difference between needing a replacement or a leveling and crowning. While frets do wear out, sometimes a good professional will simply level and crown them in order to bring them all down to the same plane.

Once they are all at the same height and any divots or grooves are removed, they will play like they are almost new!

This process is done using a fret leveling block and sand paper. By running the block across the frets, any high spots will be brought down until they are all the same height.

Once this process is done, each fret will need to be crowned to remove the now square tops made by the block. This is also done using a special file made for the job.

Last but not least, the newly filed frets are polished and inspected to make sure there are no imperfections. A play test is done to confirm they are like new.

How to Prevent Fret Wear

So how can we prevent them from wearing out prematurely? There are a few things that can be done to help prolong their life span. First begin by looking into your play style.

Do you press really hard on the strings? What materials are your frets and other parts? Let’s see what we can do to improve the longevity.

Excessive Pressure On The Strings

There is a point in which excessive pressure can be applied to the strings. Not only is it not necessary, but will wear your frets faster. There are many newer players who are learning the feel of the guitar. This can take quite some time to figure out.

Normally, it’s only natural to apply a great deal of downward pressure to the strings.

Over time, work on applying less pressure. Obviously, you want to make sure you are fretting the string correctly in order to get it to sound right. But learn to apply only the amount of pressure needed to get the note to sound right.

Not only will this prevent excessive wear to the guitar frets, but it will also help you become a faster player as there is less pressure to release in your hands between changes.

Have Your Guitar Maintained

If your guitar is not set up properly, it may require you to press hard on the strings. You want to make sure your guitar is in optimal shape. Issues with tuning, strings farther from the fret board than they need to be and tuning problems can also create additional wear.

We tend to then adjust our play style to a guitar that is not set up and become more aggressive in our techniques. A properly set up guitar only requires light touch, which helps keep it in good shape altogether!

How Much Fret Wear is Too Much

Keep Your Guitar Clean

Whenever you are finished playing your guitar, make sure to give the strings and fret board a good cleaning. Dirt, grime and oils from our hands all come together and create more friction.

Over time, it will not only dull our strings but create additional wear to the guitar frets. Find yourself a good and easy cleaning device like the Music Nomad String care Kit. The easier the cleaner is to use, the more likely you are to use it.

The benefit in cleaning our guitar is quite large! Not only do they clean, but they also lubricate, which helps prolong fret and string life!

If you have rusty strings, change them right away. Rust will wear your frets faster than anything else! Plus, they can hurt your fingers.

Guitar Fret Wire

If you are very worried about the frets breaking down, or are now in need of a replacement, you may consider the materials being used. Nickel strings can be used instead of steel to help lessen the wear. Because of the softer material, you will have less breakdown.

A different fret material when it’s time to change can also be considered. Stainless steel wears far less than any other material. While some players say they sound a bit different, others like them because they last much longer.

How To Tell If Frets Are Worn

So how long can you realistically expect frets to last? There are many things that need to be considered in order to get that kind of estimation when you want to fix worn frets.

  • How much do you play?
  • What material are the frets made of?
  • Do you press down harder than you need?
  • Do you keep your strings clean of dirt and grim?
  • What material are your strings made of?

As you can see, there are many variables that make this a tough question to answer. Even right down to how you store your guitar. Is the humidity in the room good for the instrument, or will the wood shrink?

Generally speaking, frets should be inspected for wear every string change. And most advanced guitarists would say that every 2 years of normal play time they should be leveled and re-crowned at the very least.

Is Fret Wear Bad?

This is one part that is a bit of a mystery to most players. But just like the brakes on your car, they are a part that break down with use. At some point, maintenance or replacement is necessary. Sometimes only a few wear out.

Sometimes all the frets on your guitar do. Getting to know a good technician or luthier that you trust can help you find proper intervals for service.

Fret Wear FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about fret wear.

What is bad fret wear?

You will realize fret wear is very bad when the notes don’t make a sound anymore on certain strings. There might also be some very bad buzzing due to a string vibrating on another fret. Deep grooves or divots can also form over time, which make the guitar almost not playable anymore.

Once you start to see imperfections on the frets or hear funny noises, it’s more than likely a sign of wear.

Do old strings wear frets faster?

If strings are old and damaged, there is a good chance that they can wear frets. If there is any dirt or grime built up on them, this can also do some fret damage.

This depends on the material of the frets, of course, as some are much harder than others. But regular string changes are always a good idea, both for your fingers and the guitar.

Photo of author

Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear.I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!