Modern Gretsch Guitars

Zero Fret - Why Like or Dislike?

1

In reading the GDP Pearl Jet thread, some people are either pro or con a zero fret. I’m kind of neutral and am wondering why some people have stronger feelings.

My first Gretsch (Tennessean) has one and several others do as well, but others don’t and I actually had to go look at them all to see which ones have it and which ones don’t. I am not aware of a consciousness of it one way or the other when playing a guitar.

Do you have a preference and why? Thanks

2

Zero fret = zero difference.

I notice if a guitar has a zero fret, and just slightly prefer not to have one - but it has no impact on my buying decision, and I experience no meaningful playing or tonal difference between guitars with and without.

A zero fret (if it's properly dressed) alleviate's most of a builder's (or tech's) responsibility for knowing how to properly cut and finish a nut. Over time (unless it's stainless, and they usually aren't), the zero fret develops little notches where the strings run over it, and causes pinging when bending - and sometimes when fretting. If this wear continues and the little notches become wear grooves, the guitar will eventually fret out - especially on lower frets. Then the zero fret requires attention, possibly replacement.

A nut also has issues, particularly during the build and set-up process. Once dialed in, though, a nut degrades over time less than a zero fret. If you move up in string gauges significantly, a nut may need attention to widen the grooves. If you move down significantly, you may either need to fill the grooves in the nut and recut (which is a poor solution), or replace the nut to get narrower grooves (properly angled, sloped, and dressed). So problems there too.

It's a little easier to cut a nut for a zero-fret guitar, because the depth of the grooves doesn't have a direct effect on string height low on the neck. Their widths, angles, and slopes still need to be right, however, to prevent string pinching, string wallow, and tuning issues.

A guitar with either configuration, properly set up, works fine. As I mentioned, I can't tell any difference in tone or playability that I'd attribute to the neck-end suspension of the strings. In terms of eventual issues or difficulty of remediation, I don't know if it's six-a-one-n-halfa-dozen-of-the-other...but pretty close, I think. Cutting a nut properly is one of the things that defines a luthier or tech's skill for me - but so is replacing a fret.

So. When two approaches to the same objective have essentially equivalent performance, I go with Occam's razor and prefer the simpler solution: one piece of hardware rather than two.

I also think zero frets are kinda unattractive, since they busy up that end of the guitar for no compelling advantage.

But I wouldn't not buy a guitar I liked otherwise because it has a zero fret. I notice it - then I ignore it till I have problems.

Zero fret: zero significance. It's just that there's a boatload of reasoning behind that conclusion.

3

I like the zero fret. Why? Can't pinpoint it exactly, but they feel and play good to me. Mine must be set up correctly.

That said, I like a bone nut, and on the right guitar, I like a brass nut too. Again, mine are set up well, so no issues.

Bottom line, having or not having a zero fret, is not a deal breaker or maker when looking at buying a guitar.

Now concerning the pearl Jet thread, I would vote for having one, but I also voted for Filtertrons, which got shot down quickly. So, I'm out, but not because of the zero fret. Lol

4

I'm firmly in the "against"-camp. If you like to bend strings, zero frets invariably will develop little grooves that make the strings go "ping!!" every time you even bend slightly, and they'll eventually get worse and start messing with your guitar's tuning.

Also, I've seen plenty of more recent guitars that have a zero fret that's one size bigger fretwire than the rest of the frets, and that defies the whole purpose of a zero fret and is just silly. Much easier to set up so it kind of plays, but the whole idea is to get the "nut" (zero fret in this case) just right and low enough, which you cannot to with a zero fret that's bigger wire unless you grind it down to match the rest of the frets in height.

5

I have heard of this string bending issue before and can appreciate that sentiment. Not being much of a lead player, that hasn’t been a consideration for me.

6

Zero fret should be the same height as the rest of the frets, and as close to the nut as possible. I wish Gretsch would figure that out, but too many people don't get it and are overly fascinated with duplicating original designs...warts & all. Same for modern amps, but double.

7

I don't dislike the zero fret, what it does for me as I build furniture that we use and take care to be exact in the build, they just seem to be a shortcut to forming a precise nut with proper attention to exactness. Not sure how to express myself here? They seem like a lazy way out?

8

I think I only have one guitar with a zero-fret, my CG Club, and it's one of my favorites. I don't notice it unless I look at the neck and see it, and I don't have tuning issues with it, so I guess I haven't sufficiently worn the frets yet. I have plenty of nut-based tuning issues with my other guitars, and regularly seek professional help for that, much to the professionals' annoyance, I would bet.

9

I picked this up. It has a zero fret.(my first) It has a string guide behind the fret that acts like an inverted nut that introduces quite a bit of downward pressure. It's a cool guitar, all around. The cowboy chords and everything else ring true in a way I hadn't been accustomed to. The intonation is as spot on as can be. Great simple bridge design.( just flip it for a wound G )

10

Basically, I like zero frets. I think zero frets can avoid unnecessary fret buzzing.

Although standard nuts are OK, I run into a problem on my G400CV where I replaced the standard set with a wound G-string set. Buzzing happened. I had to build up the G-string slot to fix. Wouldn't happened with a zero fret.

Lee

11

I am neutral. I've had Gretsch guitars with and without..... At this stage in my life the zero fret would have zero influence on my purchasing decisions.

12

One thing not yet mentioned and it's in comparing the IMO, duller clarity and ring of open string notes used with fretted notes (fingerstyle playing) on a guitar with any form of plastic nut. There is a difference in the sound in this instance that is not heard with a bone nut or with a steel zero fret. With a zero fret, there can be no difference as every note played, open or fretted is essentially a fretted note as the nut's material doesn't come into play, the nut being steel, in most every case, a brass nut being the exception.

14

It’s interesting that some people have strong feelings pro or con while others are more neutral. Although in the neutral camp, I like having both options even if I don’t really notice the difference.

Another interesting point about the zero fret is that it comes on both high end models such as the 6122-1959 and lower end (thinking of my 1965 Tennessean as a lower model back then). I am not aware of its availability on Electromatics or Streamliners although mine don’t have it. My first electric guitar, a student model inexpensive solid body, also had one.

15

I'm with Walter. I don't care for the pinging when bending. In fact it's one of the factors which made the SSLVO more my guitar than a 6120 1959RI. I don't hear so much difference between fretted and open strings - maybe I should but I don't! I like to bend. The bend of the G-string at the second fret is a common one and a zero fret will quickly make itself obvious.

16

I'm in the neutral camp as well but for the GDP guitar I vote yes just because it seems like a Gretsch affiliated add on that somehow should be there. If the guitar comes without one, when available, it won't be a deal breaker, that is if I have the funds.

17

On the subject though, I'm curious. Billy and Walter say they should be the same height as the rest of the frets. Why does it seem to me, in my mind, it should be a tad taller? Common sense of engineering in my head says that the strings should be above the rest of the frets and if they're all the same height, how is this achieved? Is it neck angle?

18

Is it neck angle?

Yep. Same reason capoing at the first fret works even though the first fret is the same height as the rest.

And I'm neutral when it comes to zero frets. The traditionalist in me likes to see them on certain guitars and not on others, but I don't have a functional preference.

19

Ah, that makes sense now. The Capo explanation was perfect, thanks.

20

Indifferent. I have Gretsches of both stripes and for years and years never even thought about the zero fret until --one time, and Walter nailed it -- I had a G string that kept sticking in the zero fret and pinging when it snapped out.

A zero fret wouldn't be a deal maker or deal breaker, but for the GDP guitar (since it has been raised by Suprdave) I would say take the option that saves a few dollars on production costs!

21

I picked this up. It has a zero fret.(my first) It has a string guide behind the fret that acts like an inverted nut that introduces quite a bit of downward pressure. It's a cool guitar, all around. The cowboy chords and everything else ring true in a way I hadn't been accustomed to. The intonation is as spot on as can be. Great simple bridge design.( just flip it for a wound G )

– DanPatch

Love those Weir guitars, want the larger-body model really bad. How's his pickup, especially without volume and tone controls?

22

I think he's still tweaking it. The pickup sounds like a firebird pup, with a tiny bit of G&L MFD soapbar. It gets hairy quick. The guitar is exceptionally touch / attack sensitive. For fingerstyle it sounds quite sweet. When people ascribe piano-like characteristics to a guitar, this one is at the top of the list, IMO. I bought a nice external pot to tame it a little.

Distorted it would make a killer slide guitar.

I didn't know he made larger-bodied ones...

23

I only have one guitar with a zero fret, never had one before. So far it's no big deal, definitely not as big a deal as I thought it would be.

The nut needed replaced, and it didn't take much for the tech to put the new nut in because of the zero fret. That said, it's a newish guitar so I haven't had it long enough for grooves to get set in there.

24

Devil's Tool, weird question, but are your roots in Ohio or Pennsylvania? "Needed replaced" instead of "needed to be replaced" is a classic idiom from that region. I've never heard it from anywhere else.

25

LOL - Interesting! My father grew up in New York state, that's about as close to those states as my family was before we jumped to Texas. Not to offend any Texans, but sometimes in the south we tend to slangify other parts of native speech and typically lose some words. I don't know whether to classify it as "efficiency" or "laziness" LOL


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