A fret is a raised element on the neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the full width of the neck. On most modern western fretted instruments, frets are metal strips inserted into the fingerboard. On some historical instruments and non-European instruments, frets are made of pieces of string tied around the neck. Frets divide the neck into fixed segments at intervals related to a musical framework. On instruments such as guitars, each fret represents one semitone in the standard western system where one octave is divided into twelve semitones. Fret is often used as a verb, meaning simply “to press down the string behind a fret.” Fretting often refers to the frets and/or their system of placement.
Unlocking the Mystery of Frets on a Guitar
Frets are the thin metal strips that are placed laterally across the fretboard of a guitar. They create specific positions for the player to press down on the strings to create different pitches. Essentially, frets are the guideposts that help you navigate the neck of the guitar.
Why are Frets Important?
Frets are important for a few reasons:
- They create a visual and mental map of the guitar neck, making it easier for beginners to know where to place their fingers.
- They provide a way to change the pitch of a stringed instrument, which is important for creating different sounds and playing different songs.
- They help to create a unique sound for each guitar, as the number and placement of frets can vary from one instrument to another.
What Do the Dots on the Fretboard Mean?
The dots on the fretboard are visual markers that help players remember where they are on the neck of the guitar. The dots are usually located at the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, fifteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth frets. On some guitars, there may be additional dots at the first, second, and twenty-first frets. These dots are usually orange or red and are a helpful guidepost for players.
How Do Frets Help You Play?
When you press down on a string between two frets, you create a specific pitch. The distance between each fret is calculated to create the correct pitch for each note. Frets essentially divide the neck of the guitar into different spaces or bars, which correspond to specific pitches. This makes it easier for players to press down on the correct space to create the desired sound.
How Do You Use Frets When Playing?
To use the frets when playing, you simply press down on the string with your finger behind the desired fret. This shortens the length of the string, which creates a higher pitch. You can then pluck or strum the string to create the desired sound. As you progress in your guitar lessons, you’ll learn how to use the frets to create different chords and melodies.
The Etymology of Fret: A Fascinating Journey Through Time
The word “fret” has been found in different languages and forms throughout history. Here are some examples:
- In ancient English, “fret” was used to refer to a gridiron or a lattice-like structure.
- In the past, “fret” was also used to describe a type of decoration that involved carving or scraping away the surface of a material to create a pattern.
- In musical instruments, “fret” began to be used to describe the raised metal strips on the fingerboard of stringed instruments, such as lutes and guitars.
- The word “fret” appears to be related to the word “fretted,” which means having raised ridges or bars.
How Did Frets Come to Be Used on Guitars?
The use of frets on guitars began to spread in the 19th century, as guitarists realized that having frets made it easier to play in tune and allowed for faster and more accurate picking.
What Is the Difference Between Fretted and Fretless Guitars?
Fretted guitars have raised metal strips on the fingerboard, while fretless guitars do not. The lack of frets on a fretless guitar means that the player must use their ear to find the correct notes, which can be more challenging but also allows for a greater degree of expression and nuance in the sound.
What Is the Highest Number of Frets on a Guitar?
The standard number of frets on a guitar is 22, but some guitars have more. The highest number of frets found on a guitar is typically 24, although some guitars have more.
What Are Some Famous Guitarists Who Use Fretless Guitars?
- Les Claypool of the band Primus is known for playing a fretless bass guitar.
- Jaco Pastorius, a jazz bassist, was also known for playing a fretless bass guitar.
What Are Some Related Terms to Frets?
- Fretboard: The part of the guitar where the frets are located.
- Fret buzz: A buzzing sound that can occur when the strings vibrate against the frets.
- Fret replacement: The process of removing and replacing worn or damaged frets on a guitar.
What Is the Difference Between an Acoustic and an Electric Guitar in Terms of Frets?
There is no difference between the frets on an acoustic and an electric guitar. The only difference is in the sound and the way the guitars are played.
What Are Some Changes to Frets Over Time?
- The materials used to make frets have changed over time. Early frets were made of expensive materials like ivory or tortoiseshell, while modern frets are typically made of metal.
- The shape and size of frets have also changed over time. Early frets were often diamond-shaped and relatively small, while modern frets are typically rectangular and larger.
- The placement of frets has also changed over time. Some guitars have a “compound radius” fingerboard, which means that the curvature of the fingerboard changes as you move up the neck. This can make it easier to play higher notes.
How the Number of Frets Affects Your Playing
The standard number of frets found on most guitars is 22, although some guitars have 21 or 24 frets. The number of frets on a guitar neck is inherently limited by the size of the guitar’s body and the length of its strings.
How the Number of Frets Affects Your Playing
The number of frets on a guitar can affect your playing in a few ways:
- The higher the number of frets, the higher the range of notes you can play.
- More frets allow for easier access to higher notes, making it easier to play solos and lead lines.
- Fewer frets can offer a warmer, more traditional sound, and may be preferred by players in certain styles of music, such as jazz or classical.
Examples of Different Fret Numbers
Here are some examples of how the number of frets can vary depending on the type of guitar:
- Acoustic guitars typically have fewer frets than electric guitars, with 19 or 20 frets being common.
- Classical guitars usually have 19 or 20 frets, with nylon strings that prevent fret buzz.
- Electric guitars, such as the Gibson Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster, usually have 22 frets, while custom guitars like the Ibanez RG can have up to 24 frets.
- Metal guitarists tend to prefer guitars with more frets, as it allows for a higher range of notes and easier picking.
- Jazz guitarists may prefer guitars with fewer frets, as it can offer a warmer, more traditional sound.
The Importance of Fret Number
The number of frets on a guitar is an important factor to consider when choosing an instrument. Depending on your playing style and the type of music you play, the number of frets can make a big difference in the sound and feel of the guitar. It’s important to choose a guitar with the utmost care, ensuring that the number of frets meets your needs and allows you to play the music you want to play.
Why Intonation is Key to Achieving Great Sound on Your Guitar
Intonation refers to the accuracy of the notes produced by the guitar when played on different frets. It is affected by the placement of the frets, the gauge of the strings, and the tension of the strings.
How to Check Intonation
To check the intonation of your guitar, you can use a tuner and play the 12th fret harmonic followed by the 12th fret note. If the note is sharp or flat, the intonation needs to be adjusted.
Why a Proper Setup is Important for Intonation
A proper setup is essential to achieving good intonation on a guitar. This includes adjusting the action, neck relief, and string height. The pickups also need to be properly placed to ensure that the sound is balanced across the entire fretboard.
How Different Playing Styles Affect Intonation
Different playing styles can affect the intonation of a guitar. For example, players who use a lot of bending and vibrato may need to compensate for the changes in tension that occur during these techniques. Additionally, players who use a lot of bass notes may need to adjust the intonation to prevent the notes from sounding muddy.
The Bottom Line
Intonation is a crucial factor in achieving great sound on your guitar. By understanding the causes of intonation problems and how to adjust them, you can ensure that your guitar is always in tune and sounding its best.
Dealing with Fret Buzz on Your Guitar
Fret buzz is an annoying problem that occurs when a string on a guitar vibrates against a fret wire, causing a buzzing sound. This buzzing can occur when a string is played open or when certain notes are fretted. It’s a pretty common problem that guitarists of all styles and levels of experience can experience.
How to Identify Fret Buzz
Fret buzz can be pretty easy to identify, as it usually sounds like a buzzing or rattling noise coming from the guitar. Here are some specific ways to identify fret buzz:
- Occurs when playing certain notes or chords
- Happens when playing open strings
- Can be felt through the guitar’s body or neck
- Isolate the offending string by playing each string individually and listen for the buzz
- Interestingly, flamenco guitarists often intentionally create fret buzz as an attribute of their playing style
When to Let a Professional Handle Fret Buzz
In some cases, fret buzz may be caused by more complex issues that require the attention of a professional guitar technician. Here are some times when you may need to let a pro handle fret buzz:
- The buzzing is occurring all over the neck, not just in specific areas
- The buzzing is extremely loud or persistent
- The guitar’s neck is partially or fully warped
- You have tried adjusting the action and other factors, but the buzzing persists
In general, a good rule of thumb is that if you are confused or unsure about how to fix fret buzz, it’s probably best to let a professional handle it.
Choosing the Right Number of Frets for Your Guitar
The number of frets you need depends on the type of music you want to play. Here are some quick guidelines to help you choose:
- If you’re a beginner or just starting, a standard guitar with 21-22 frets is a good choice.
- If you’re a solo player and love to play high notes, a guitar with 24 frets is highly recommended.
- If you’re a bass player, you can usually get away with fewer frets, as bass notes are typically lower.
- If you’re a jazz or country player, you’ll benefit from having extra frets to achieve those high notes.
Electric vs. Acoustic Guitars
The number of frets on electric and acoustic guitars can differ significantly. Electric guitars are usually designed with more frets, as they are commonly used for solo performances and require the ability to hit higher notes. Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, are typically designed with fewer frets, as they are more commonly used for rhythm playing.
Modern vs. Vintage Models
Vintage guitars typically have fewer frets than modern guitars. This is because vintage guitars were produced at a time when guitarists rarely played solos and were more focused on rhythm playing. Modern guitars, on the other hand, are designed to offer guitarists more options when it comes to playing solos and hitting higher notes.
What Are the Benefits of Having More Frets?
Having more frets offers several benefits, including:
- Easier playability: With more frets, you can play higher notes without having to move your hand up and down the neck.
- More options for producing different tones: With more frets, you can create a wider range of tones and achieve a more versatile sound.
- Close to the pickup: The higher frets are located closer to the pickup, which can produce a fat and punchy tone.
Why Do Some Guitars Have Fewer Than 24 Frets?
Not all guitars are designed to have 24 frets. Here are some reasons why:
- The body size and shape of the guitar may not allow for 24 frets to be placed comfortably.
- The neck length and scale may not be long enough to accommodate 24 frets.
- Some guitarists prefer the traditional look and feel of guitars with fewer frets.
- The placement of pickups and other hardware may impact the number of frets that can be placed on a guitar.
Playing Styles and Genres
Different playing styles and genres may also impact the number of frets a guitarist may want or need. Here are some examples:
- Acoustic guitars typically have fewer frets than electric guitars. This is because acoustic guitars are designed to produce a warmer, more tonal sound, and having fewer frets can help achieve this.
- Metal guitarists may prefer guitars with extra frets for playing high notes and solos.
- Some guitarists may find that having more frets doesn’t necessarily mean better playability or tone. It all depends on the specific guitar and the player’s preferences.
The Main Differences Between Guitars with Fewer Frets
Here are some of the main differences between guitars with fewer frets:
- Classical guitars typically have 19-20 frets.
- Standard electric guitars usually have 21-22 frets.
- Super jumbo and custom guitars may have up to 24 frets.
- Beginner and smaller guitars may have fewer frets to make playing easier for new players.
Guitar Fret Replacement: How to Replace Frets on Your Guitar
- If you notice significant wear on the frets
- If you experience buzzing or dead notes
- If you want to change the size or material of your frets
- If you want to improve the intonation of your guitar
Preparing for Fret Replacement
- Gather the necessary materials: fret wire, super glue, sandpaper, masking tape, and a fret saw
- Remove the old frets using a fret saw or a specialized fret removal tool
- Clean the fretboard and check for any damage or wear that may require additional repairs
- Measure the size of your fret slots to ensure you purchase the correct size fret wire
- Consider the type of fret wire you want to use (stainless steel, nickel, etc.) and the style of your guitar
When to Consider a Professional
- If you are not experienced with guitar repairs and fret replacement
- If your guitar requires additional repairs or routing to accommodate larger frets
- If you want to ensure the frets are installed and leveled correctly for optimal playability and intonation
Remember, replacing guitar frets can be a time-consuming and critical process, so it’s important to be prepared and take your time. If you’re not confident in your abilities, it’s always a good idea to seek the help of a professional. It may save you money and make the process easier in the long run.
So, that’s what frets are. They’re small metal strips placed on the fretboard of a guitar, creating a visual and mental map for the player to find the right place to press the string to create the desired pitch. They’re an important part of creating different sounds and playing different songs, and they’re a fascinating part of the history of stringed instruments. So, don’t be afraid to ask your guitar teacher about them the next time you’re at lesson!
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
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