What Is A Guitar Fret? Do They Matter? 2022

There are a lot of names that are important to know. Some of them are very significant, while others are not as crucial. The fret on a guitar is one of those important parts!

Knowing all about this part can help you tremendously. It takes some practice to use them correctly and to know when they are in rough shape.

But when you begin to understand how they truly work, you will be glad to have this knowledge.

What is a guitar fret and how do you use them? Let’s find out.

What is a guitar fret

What is a Guitar Fret?

A fret on a guitar is a raised element, normally metal, that is embedded into the fingerboard. This determines the correct placement of a note on the fretboard by created sections.

By segmenting the finger board into sections using frets, we are able to play notes precisely without being flat or sharp. This makes playing the guitar much easier.

Finger board diagram

Each one of these sections, or boxes, provides enough room to properly fret chords and notes. This allows the player to produce proper sounds without being flat or sharp due to accuracy issues. If there were no frets at all, then proper finger placement would be more crucial. Chords might sound out of tune more often.

Each guitar has a scale length that allows for a certain number of frets on each neck. This provides plenty of versatility when it comes to chords or even solos.

There are a number of markers along with fretboard that help to determine their number and position. Using them as a reference when getting started can be a great help, so be sure to take advantage of them.

How Many Frets Are On A Guitar?

Standard electric guitars today will be equipped with either 21, 22 or 24 frets depending on the brand and model. Acoustic and classical models on the other hand have between 18-20 frets.

As you can see, the number ranges slightly between model types. Not only that, but even the same types of guitars vary in the number slightly. Sometimes, even the same instrument type will have a different amount of frets, with the only difference between them being the year of manufacture.

The Fender Stratocaster is one of those guitars that started with 21 initially. As time went on, the model was then made with 22. Today, with all the different Stratocaster types made by Fender, you can find them with both 21 and 22 frets

Why Some Guitars Have 21 Frets

Back when Leo Fender began making electric guitars, he had designed them to have 21 frets. This then became the standard for a number of years for Fender guitars. Some people believe that he used 21 because it was easier to assemble.

Others believe it was because it was not necessary to have anymore, and that 21 was more than anyone would ever need. And to some degree it’s true, most players don’t use the higher frets. But we don’t believe this was the reason.

Then there are others who say that he used 21 frets so that the neck pick up would be positioned in the “sweet spot” for warmer tone. And we know that the neck pickup is a crucial part of lead sounds. Leo Fender was also an engineer, And so, one would assume pickup placement was important to him.

Especially knowing the science behind string vibration and sound. Then others say, he simply ran out of neck pocket to place any more on the guitar. Whatever the reason, musicians made great music with those 21 frets! 

Some of the guitars that use 21 frets:

  • Squier by Fender Classic Vibe 60s Stratocaster
  • Fender Vintera ’60s Stratocaster
  • Fender Limited Edition Player Telecaster
  • Squier by Fender Affinity Series Telecaster

Some Guitars Have 22 Frets

Guitar Frets

The very first guitar ever created was called the Rickenbacker Frying Pan. It was designed with 22 frets and every one of them was accessible thanks to the round body shape. As time went on, the electric guitar would change quite a bit. As we mentioned above, the 21 fret guitars Fender made would eventually take on an extra fret. But why the change?

Guitars are designed for players. As artists became more advanced in technique, there was a need for the extra fret. And so this quickly became the standard. 22 of them is about as many as you can add before the neck pick up would need to be moved back towards the bridge.

This would affect the tone of the neck pickup, making it less warm sounding. But because the scale length would need to remain the same, the pickup would have to be moved to accommodate any more frets.

On a guitar like a Fender stratocaster or a telecaster, 22 was plenty and still offered players the great sound they had come to know and love. And so the 22 frets were used just fine until the 1970s.

Guitars that have 22 frets include:

  • Gibson Les Paul
  • Fender Stratocaster
  • Epiphone Coronet
  • ESP LTD EC-256

What Is The Difference Between 22 and 24 Fret Guitars?

In the 1970s, the 24 fret guitars started to make more of an appearance. Music had started to change, and players who experimented with new sounds had started to request more for notes.

Because the guitar scale length hovered between 24.75” and 25.5”, the 2 extra frets meant that the neck pickup would have to be moved towards the bridge.

The main differences between a 22 and 24 fret guitar is the pickup location and the slightly longer neck. This longer neck was necessary to accommodate the 2 extra frets, but came at the price of a slightly less warm tone from the new neck pickup position. 

The warm tone is a result of the string vibration being strongest in the middle of the scale length. This lands roughly round the 12th fret. In order to capture this warm tone, the pickup needs to be placed as close to the neck as possible.

But the longer the neck becomes, the brighter your neck pickup tone will be. This is because it has to be moved farther away from the center or strongest point of vibration. 

For some players this didn’t matter as the new brighter sound was a better fit for the type of music that these new 24 fret guitars were being used for. And it wasn’t a massive difference, at least not enough to radically change the sound. So it was a good trade-off.

Guitars That have 24 include:

  • Schecter Omen Extreme 6
  • Squier Showmaster
  • Charvel DK24
  • PRS Custom 24-08

How Many Frets on an Acoustic Guitar?

Acoustics differ greatly when it comes to the number of frets that are possible to play. An acoustic guitar body is much larger than that of an electric, and so this makes it hard to reach any that are higher up the neck. 18 to 20 frets is pretty much standard on a steel string acoustic guitar because of the body size.

While some acoustic guitars do have cutaways in the body which help reach the higher frets, this is the limit. After this the body just makes it too hard to play and so any additional are just not worth having.

A few examples of some acoustics that we know and love:

  • Taylor big baby – 20 frets
  • Gibson hummingbird – 20 frets
  • Martin SC-13E – 20 frets
  • Washburn R314KK – 18 frets
  • Taylor 214ce – 18 frets

Frets Add Precision To Notes

If you were to play a model with no frets on the fingerboard, you would need to press down on the exact spot necessary to play a guitar string note correctly. Otherwise, the note might be flat or sharp.

This can be difficult unless you really get to know the finger board of a fret-less instrument. This is possible, but takes some practice and has a rather steep learning curve.

Is playing a fret-less fingerboard less precise?

There are some advantages to playing without them. The range of sounds that are obtainable from a fret-less instrument are much greater! In fact, some eastern music is only possible thanks to this instrument.

But to most guitar players, especially in the western world, they are part of the appeal and magic of the instrument!

Frets Add Sustain

If you consider a violin or a stand-up bass which have no frets, they use a bow to play the strings. If you were to simply pluck a string on either of the two, you would notice the sound decay rather quickly. This bow is used to continually excite them and keep it vibrating.

The reason for this is that the string pinched between the wooden board and the player’s finger cause the vibration to stop early. Now, if we consider the guitar string being pressed against a hard fret rather than a soft finger, it can vibrate much longer. The allows the note to ring out until it’s inaudible.

This is sustain.

To the guitarist, sustain is something we seek diligently! It’s a key element in playing certain styles! Without it, certain melodies that we know and love would not have the same appeal.

The Feel Of a Guitar

Most players don’t consider that frets contribute to how a guitar plays and feels. There are different sizes that can either benefit your play style or hinder it.

It’s something that is overlooked when selecting a guitar.

Some are flat and low and require the string to be pressed right down in order to work properly. This can make it harder to bend as you have to press the string right down to the wooden fretboard.

Low, flat frets however feel very smooth as you move around the fingerboard.

On hard rock or metal style guitars, you might find them to be taller. They don’t require you to press as hard as they make contact with the string before you touch the fingerboard. This might also give you a bit of a scalloped feel, but does require a lighter touch.

This in turn may be better for faster playing and great for easy bends. It’s always a good idea to test out a few guitars to get an idea of what you prefer.

Every player has a preference, it’s just most of them just assume frets are all the same.

How to Use Guitar Frets

If you are new to the guitar, then learning where to press on the frets will come with time and practice. If you are pressing right on top of them, the sound will not be as clear and will normally lack sustain. When you press too far away, it will require more effort to keep it fretted properly without vibration or buzzing sounds.

You will want to make sure to press right behind the frets to use them properly. This is essentially the sweet spot, and with some practice you will recognize this by sound and feel. Learning where to press on the strings to properly fret them will need to become second nature.

Use Your Finger Tips

When using frets, it’s very important to press them down with your fingertips. If you are fretting with the pad of your finger, it may interfere with other strings. This can mute parts of chords, making them sound bad.

Sometimes you will need to use your pad or whole finger for things like barre chords. But if this is not the case, make sure to use your fingertips. This will help you get a clear sound and proper note pitch.

Proper Hand Posture

Another thing to watch for when fretting is hand posture. If you find yourself reaching with your fingers and fretting with your pads, you may need to adjust the resting placement of your hand. It’s important to make sure you don’t develop bad habit in the beginning, improper hand posture can be one of these.

So make sure to get use to fretting with your fingertips, straight up, elbow away from your body. Otherwise, it will make the playing angle too difficult to stretch your fingers and properly fret notes.

Guitar Frets Need Maintenance

Frets, like strings, break down over time. And as this begins to happen, they develop buzz, intonation issues and discomfort.

This is something that happens slowly and can be hard to diagnose if you get use to it. But once they break down, they flatten, develop indents and begin to vibrate.

So it’s always a good idea to inspect them when changing your strings. This will at least give you an indication that they are slowly deteriorating and alert you to the need for attention.

Fret wire is commonly made from nickel silver, and players who press hard may go through them quickly. Stainless steel is also an option, which is harder and smoother than nickel silver. They will last longer and should be considered if you press harder than most players.

Some people say that stainless steel frets sound different from nickel silver. So it’s best to test on a guitar equipped with them before changing over. This way, you are not putting your neck in danger by changing them too often.

Do You Need Frets on a Guitar?

While the most common types of guitars have frets, they are not completely necessary! We see many guitars in pictures, and they always have them. But as we touched on earlier in the article, there are many models that do not have any.

The fret-less guitars increase the range of sounds possible. This can create a more unique sound that is desirable in eastern music.

Here in the west, we primarily use frets as they have some advantages to the types of music we desire. They allow the player to accurately find notes much easier, allow for better amplification and add more sustain.

But for those who seek a more eastern music vibe or a warmer sound, fret-less guitars might be your instrument. But just keep in mind, they require a greater skill level.

Guitar Fret Summary

What is a guitar fret? This is a pretty important little piece of the instrument. Without it, we wouldn’t quite have the same experience as we do today.

Some of the most amazing solos and chord progressions are a result of that little fret. And while it isn’t a dynamic piece, it needs to be checked regularly for optimal results.

So test out a few guitars and see what style you like best for your music.

Now that you know a bit more about the fret, it could change your experience as a player!

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!