What Are The Dots on a Guitar Fretboard?

Often, guitars have several dots along their necks. But what are the dots on a guitar fretboard called? Fret markers or inlays are the terms used to refer to these indicators along the guitar’s neck. 

Truth is, most players don’t know their purpose. The benefit to using these indicators can make a player faster and more accurate. As musicians, sometimes we miss the little details that can really help us become great players.

Let’s explore these dots along the guitar neck and see if they can help us up our game!

What You Need To Know About The Dots On a Guitar

What are Fret Markers For?

Having fretboard markers serves to create a kind of map for the player to navigate the neck. While the total number of frets varies (many electric guitars have somewhere between 22 and 24, while an acoustic often has fewer), the dots are placed on the same position.

This way you will always know where you are on the fretboard even if you pick up a guitar you have never seen before. 

Granted, there might be a few exceptions to this rule where a marker is missing from the commonly used 3rd position. Or, instead has a marker at the 1st (which is almost always blank), but other than these minor differences, you can be assured that the indicator patterns are standard across guitars.

If you come across a model with no fretboard markers (commonly seen on acoustic classical guitar models), you will still actually have position indicators to guide you!

Side Fret Markers

The pattern of dots is actually repeated on the side of the guitar neck. That way, you can look down while playing and see them easily. Models with fretboard dots also have this feature. It would be difficult to see the indicators while playing, and so this is a great feature to have on the side of the neck.

Why Are Fret Markers Where They Are?

With the exceptions listed above, generally they will be found at positions 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, and 24. Of course, if you have a 22 on your guitar, your final marker will be on 21 rather than 24, but the overall pattern remains the same. 

When you begin to understand the pattern and layout, the ability to play notes begins to speed up. This can really help you learn how to change chords faster as a beginner. Or, if you have been playing for a while and are looking to improve your leads, try to take advantage of these fretboard markers.

One of the biggest advantages in improving as a player is to learn the guitar fret board and notes.

Two Dots On the 12th Fret

The 12th fret features a double dot on a guitar, as opposed to the single marker found on the other positions. This is to denote the point at which the notes repeat (one octave higher). 

To explain this concept a little more clearly, recall that the typical guitar has 6 strings. Starting from low to high and in standard tuning, the open strings play the notes E, A, D, G, B, and finally E, respectively. If we start at the low E and play that string without using our fretting hand, we simply play an open E note.

Placing your finger on the first position plays the F note, and so forth. By the time you reach the 12th, you are playing an E once again. Except now, it is one octave higher than when you played it open. 

This is true for all strings. So the open A on the 5th string repeats at fret 12. Playing an A note one octave higher than playing the string open. 

The double dot thus serve to remind the player where the point on the neck is that the notes begin to repeat, and do so very quickly. Because the double dots are unique fretboard markers not found elsewhere on the neck, they are easily recognizable.

Why Is It Important To Know Where the Markers Are?

As noted above, it serves as a map. If you know that the 3rd fret features the first marker, you can quickly find it without having to think about it. Granted, it is fairly easy to count up 3 along the neck.

But it does get more cumbersome if you have to try to count where the 9th position lies, for example. But the pattern of fretboard markers helps you quickly recognize the position, so you can play more smoothly and efficiently. 

Learning the notes on the fretboard is often considering a hard task that requires studying and memorization. Without markers, it would be even harder!

They help you associate notes with individual frets and truly assist with memorization. For example, you might know that position 3 on the low E string is the G note. Swapping up a whole step to the next (5th) will land you on the A note, and so on and so forth.

guitar inlays

Types of Guitar Inlays

Not all guitar fretboard markers are dots. Although this is a commonly used marker, there are plenty of variations out there on the market. Technically, you can have any inlay style you want on your fret board.

But this will require work in order to design your own custom inlays. 

Plenty of guitar manufacturers, however, have unique marks. They still follow the pattern of placement, though, while providing a different style.

PRS, for example, is well known for having a dove pattern along their fretboards. Jackson guitars often use what is denoted as a shark fin type marker, which enhances the tough, sharp appearance of their instruments.

Gibson and Epiphone often use large blocks along their guitar necks. Some models still feature dots, but place them at different spots, such as near the top or bottom of the fret rather than the usual position in the very center. 

Some guitarists even opt for using LED dot indicators. Not only does this provide a visual experience during live performances, it also helps the player see them in the dark. You don’t have to be playing dark venues to appreciate the LED fret markers, however!

Some players use different color LEDs to distinguish between the different positions. This in itself just looks cool as they glow in the dark, although it isn’t for everyone.

There is no rule to the color or shape of fretboard markers used, and much of the choice comes down to personal tastes. Some prefer the traditional dot or block inlays, while others opt for a more aggressive shark fin or even skull pattern along their guitar’s necks. Even the absence of any inlay on the fretboard all together.

Guitars Without White Dots Or Markers

Now that you know what these dots on a guitar are used for, I’m sure in time you will see some without any at all. There are some models that do not have them for reference. These are normally traditional or classical instruments.

Traditional

The conception of the guitar began without any fretboard markers at all. Players from time past had nothing of the sort to rely on. Players would become very good without them and simply worked to memorize the positions and notes, relying on muscle memory and motor skills.

Today, classical players are normally well practiced and look at markers as a tool for beginners. Because they have the experience of playing with the fretboard memorized, the need for white dots or neck indicators is not required.

Players who are more traditional prefer to use guitars without them all together. This is to prevent becoming accustomed to relying on them.

The need to continue to rely on memory is a great challenge and will normally help us grow as players. So they tend to stay away from guitars with fret markers.

no guitar inlays

Modern Classical

While there are a few players who are in fact traditionalists, we do find some classical guitars with just a few dots. There are a number of people who are in favor of a couple of reference markers normally found on the side of the neck. 

This can help simply with a reference point and nothing more. They do not rely on the dots to assist them to find the notes, just a point of reference.

You will not normally find indicators on the front of the neck or fretboard, just the side. These acoustic guitars use positions 5 and 7 as the markers, but like I said, only as a mid-point reference.

Can you Replace Fret Markers?

The white dots on a guitar, can be replaced for those who desire a different look. If they are simply round, this modification is very possible. A large majority of inlay replacements are possible if what you already have is not your thing.

If, on the other hand, you have large or decorative guitar inlays already, this is less possible. Changing out the circles requires drilling, measuring and gluing in new ones.

Only if you’re just sticking with round dots. If, on the other hand, you want a more decorative inlay, then a professional will likely be required.

In the case of fancier guitar inlays, routing the spacing is required, and tight tolerances are a must. So while replacing or upgrading inlays is totally possible, not just anyone can do this. Not without chewing up your neck, anyway!

Guitar Fret Marker Stickers

Perhaps you do not have dots or fretboard markers on your guitar and want to take advantage of the benefits. There are marker stickers on the market that can be placed either on the finger board or side of the neck.

There are also stickers that have notes on them that can be placed at the correct position. This can help you to immediately recognize the note and fret. Many new players take advantage of these stickers and are getting great results memorizing them this way.

They are very cheap and can possibly help if you’re struggling to memorize the notes on the fretboard.

Dots on a Guitar

The dots on electric and acoustic guitars can be extremely helpful parts for all players, not just beginners. Some people use them as part of their technique, even though they have memorized the fretboard.

But if you are just getting started, take advantage of these guitar fretboard markers and make them a part of how you learn. They will help you progress much quicker if you do!

FAQs

Commonly asked questions about fret markers.

Do you need fret markers?

While the dots on a guitar are used to help a player find any position on the fretboard, they are not required. This is more helpful to beginner and intermediate players, but is not necessary to play the guitar. Classical models normally don’t have them, and guitarists learn to play without them and very well.

How do you use fret markers on a guitar?

There are a few different ways that you can use fret markers on a guitar. The most common way is to simply place them on the fretboard in order to help you visualize where your fingers need to go. This can be especially helpful when you are first starting out, or if you are trying to learn a new song.

Another way that you can use fret markers is to help you memorize the notes on the guitar. If you place a fret marker on each note, it will be easier for you to remember where each one is located. You can also use them to help you find chords easier.

Why do classical guitars not have dots?

One of the things that makes classical guitars unique is that they don’t have dots on their fingerboards. So why don’t they have dots?

Classical guitars are played in a position different from other models. When played held on your lap in a classical position, the fretboard cannot be seen.

Another reason is that this guitar style is a very old design. Purist classical players do not want the fret markers on their instruments, and so some manufacturers do not use them.

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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!