When getting started playing the guitar there are a lot of names that are important to know. Some of them are very important names while others are not as crucial to know. The fret on a guitar is a pretty important part! Knowing this part name and what it is, can help you tremendously. There are some many things that a fret is responsible for and most players pay no attention to them.
But when you begin to understand how they truly work and what to look for even at times of guitar maintenance, you will be glad to have this knowledge.
So what is a guitar fret? Lets find out.
Table of Contents
- What is a Guitar Fret?
- Guitar Frets Add Quick Precision To Notes
- Guitar Frets Add Sustain
- Frets Add To The Feel Of a Guitar
- Guitar Frets Wear Out Over Time
- Frets Need To Be Replaced
- Is It Hard To Replace Frets?
- How Many Frets Should a Beginner Have?
- Do You Need Frets On A Guitar?
- What Is A Fret On A Guitar?
What is a Guitar Fret?
A fret on a guitar is a raised element, normally metal, that is embedded into the fingerboard. This raised element, determines the correct placement of a note on the fret board.
By segmenting the finger board into sections using frets, we are able to play notes precisely without being flat or sharp much easier.
Guitar Frets Add Quick Precision To Notes
If you were to play a guitar with no frets on the fingerboard, you would need to press the string down on the exact spot necessary to play a note correctly. If i were to want to play a “G” note on the 6th string of the guitar, i would need to press down in the exact spot! Otherwise the note might be flat or sharp. (Check out our article on the guitar strings and their notes here.)
This can be difficult unless you really get to know the finger board of a fret-less instrument well. This is possible of course, but takes some real practice and has a rather steep learning curve.
So is playing a fret-less fingerboard less precise?
No not at all. In fact 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 part of the world, the frets are part of the appeal and magic of the instrument!
Guitar 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 the string and keep it vibrating.
The reason for this is that the string pinched between the wooden board and the players 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 longer until it is inaudible.
This is sustain.
Now to the guitarist, sustain is something we brag about! Its a key element in playing the guitar and enjoying doing it! I couldn’t imagine if the guitar didn’t have as much sustain, this wouldn’t be good at all! I mean all we have to do is pluck a string with a pick and have sustain for days!
No bow required!
Frets Add To 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.
Its 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 properly work. This can make it harder with bends as you have to press the string right down to the wooden fret board.
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 requires a lighter touch.
This in turn may be better for faster playing and great for easy bends. Its always a good idea to test out a few guitars to get an idea of what you prefer.
Every player has a preference, its just most of them just assume frets are all the same.
Guitar Frets Wear Out Over Time
Frets like strings wear out over time. And as they begin to wear out, they develop buzz, intonation issues and discomfort.
This is something that happens slowly and can’t be hard to diagnose if you get use to the worn frets. This is usually the case. But once wear sets in, they flatten, develop indents and begin to vibrate..
Luckily, frets can be replaced by a good guitar Luthier and normally doesn’t cost too much. So its always a good idea to inspect them when changing your strings. This will at least give you an indication that they are slowly wearing and alert you to the need for replacement.
Frets are commonly made from nickel silver, and players who press hard may go through them quite quickly. Stainless steel is also an option which is harder and smoother then nickel silver. They will basically prevent wear and should be considered if you press harder than most players. Some people do say that stainless steel frets sound different then nickel silver. So its always best to test on a guitar loaded with them before changing over.
Frets Need To Be Replaced
Now, while i did say that frets wear out like strings do, that doesn’t mean you should change them on your own. Most guitar players eventually learn how to replace their own strings, and i encourage that. You don’t want to have to take it in every time you break a string.
With frets however, this is a specialized job that should be left to the pros. This is because they are pressed into the fingerboard of a guitar. There are small grooves that the frets fit into and this needs to be done correctly. You don’t want to damage your guitar neck because you attempted to change them!
This is more common then you think, believe me.
There is quite a task in changing frets. Once you actually remove them and install new ones, they all have to be set to the same height. This takes time and the right tools to install on a guitar neck. So trust a good Luthier to do the job, and don’t fret about it. But do be sure to get a few quotes to know what it will cost.
Is It Hard To Replace Frets?
While a good number of things you can do to your guitar are DIY, changing frets is a tough project. It involves pulling out the old frets, installing the new ones, leveling and crowning which can all be tricky if you have never done it. This also involved knowing when a fret is worn out.
That is not to say that one could not figure this out even if you have not done the job before. But there is a level of difficulty changing frets that is above average. Most professionals spend in the range of 6 to 10 hours doing a complete fret job. This makes it is a labor intensive job. Players who have performed a fret change have admitted to now being quite happy to pay a professional to do the job. This is because it is quite involved.
If you are handy and have some experience with this type of thing then you will no doubt have no trouble changing your frets. if not then you will find it hard to replace frets. Depending on how bad the frets are however, you may simply need a level and crown job. This is much easier and something we recommend you try before having them changed.
You simply need a good precision sanding beam to level the frets and make sure they are all at the same plain. Then proceed to crown the frets with a file set. Sometimes this is all you need to give your worn frets new life!
How Many Frets Should a Beginner Have?
The standard scale length on most guitars today is 25.5 inches. This allows for an average of 22 frets on the finger board. For beginners, this is just fine as long as the guitar itself fits you comfortably. If the guitar is bulky or the neck diameter feels too large, these are things to consider. The number of frets on the guitar is largely irrelevant.
Some beginners seek short scale guitars as they are smaller and are a better fit. In these cases the number of frets is reduced. But as long as a beginner is comfortable with the guitar, even with 24 frets it’s no deal breaker!
|Guitar||Scale Length||Number of frets|
|Gibson Les Paul||24.75″||22|
|PRS Custom 24||25″||24|
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 frets. But like we touched on earlier in the article, there are many guitars that do not have frets.
The fret-less guitars increase the range of sounds possible off the fret board. 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, these instruments require a greater skill level.
What Is A Fret On A Guitar?
The fret is a pretty important little part of the guitar. 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 part of the guitar anatomy, 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 little bit more about the fret, it could change your experience as a player!
Care to learn about other parts? Check out our article on guitar part names and what they do.