The Woodshed

Fret height preference: based on style of play, grip, or?…..

1

We see comments sprinkled throughout many threads regarding fret style/height in reference to various issues but no one has asked why you like/need a certain style/height of fret so I thought I'd solicit preferences you have so we all can better understand this interesting and highly personal topic. Also related to this, are the factors of string gauge and action height and I don't know if that's a big factor for some or not really an issue for them.

In my case, I play Chet/Merle's finger/thumbstyle - thumbpick and fingernails - with extra lights on my acoustics and lights on my electrics. Those of you familiar with this style, know that your playing is a combination of utilizing both fretted notes and open strings simultaneously. The issue here for me, and I use a strong grip on the neck, is that if the fret is more than .035" high, the fretted string cannot 'hit' the fingerboard without being pulled/stretched far enough to become sharp and that creates an out of tune dissonance with a simultaneously (or plucked while the fretted string is still resonating) open string. I can certainly see where this situation isn't so much created for rhythm work strumming but is a big deal for my style. In addition to needing low as possible fret height I need a matching low action as well as I can't play properly if my fretting requires more 'time' of a higher action. By this I mean the time between when I touch a string and it gets depressed enough to be played. This 'time' is quite a bit more for a high action than it is for a low action. I'd actually be curious to try out a fretless guitar to see how that would feel. Frets would be there but just level with the fingerboard.

I'm wondering if we'll see any patterns of similarity of preferences based on playing style.

2

I seem to have a pretty light touch but can tolerate all but the smallest frets. String tension is more important to me.

3

I think I f your playing style involves a lot of string bending, hammer ons or pull offs (blues, rock), bigger frets make it easier. If you play with a REALLY light touch or don't really play that often, I suppose skinny little vintage frets would be ok, but I'd wear through them in no time - and a good refret job will cost you a few hundred bucks. How many times can you possibly level and crown frets that are already low?

4

I've grown into liking medium jumbos (fairly tall and wide). I bend quite a bit, and I find for most things, my guitars just play easier with bigger frets.

5

Dave, the following observations are linked to the desire to keep a firm sound with light strings and bigger frets. Mostly played out and about within a robust combo...

The closer you play to the fret, string deflection is reduced and the pitch stays true and for a double-bonus, buzzes evaporate like Klaatu zapped them with his laser.

As Walter says, once you start bending around and playing with velocity above a louder band (funny how everything changes when the sound levels get past a certain point, one of the first things undermined is finesse of touch), bigger frets make those fancy-pants nippy lead lines with a cleanish tone feasible, ping-free and more pleasant for player and listener alike.

Billy Zoom gave a little sage wisdom on here- avoid extremes at either end of the fret size spectrum. Stay in the Goldilocks zone.

6

I like little skinny frets, but all of my guitars have medium frets. I've never changed the frets but wouldn't buy a guitar with large frets.

The strings are 11's or 12's. I've worked pretty hard to develop as light a touch as possible on the fretting hand. I use a three finger technique on the right-hand.

I haven't worn out any frets, I did have a fret issue that needed to be polished on a Gibson, caused by a string with a kink in it. That migrated up and down the fretboard on the G-string. I recommend you experience that, very instructive.

I would be interested in vintage style nickel strings to save frets.

Oh yah, action as low as possible.

7

I like a very, very low action (1.5mm or approximately 3/64" of an inch at the twelfth fret on the sixth sixth string) with light gauge strings (.009" - .042"). I also do a substantial amount of bending. My fret of preference on a fretboard with a 12" radius (my favorite) is a rather low but wide fret.

I generally have a light touch, but intonation is very important to me and I don't want the fret so tall that if I get a bit ham-handed, the guitar is out of tune.

The frets that came on Rondo SX Furian Tele are by far my favorite of any guitar I own as they are exactly what I described. They look much taller in the picture than they actually are.

8

I find medium jumbos to be universally the best fret for all my guitars, be they electric, semi hollows, or acoustic. Great for bending, sustain and general intonation. I prefer them more rounded, but the semi flat crowns on my 335 are also great, though not quite as fast as my Tele. The ones on my CCII are essentially perfect. I use a variety of string gauges ranging from 9.5s on the Fender to 12s on my Gibson Tal Farlow and the medium jumbos handle them all perfectly. My action is medium low on all my guitars to allow for both lighter and heavier attack. To me thinner, lower frets simply don't have the connection to the strings or to your fingers to allow the guitars real tone to shine through. They're just too much of a struggle to play. Like the way a 7.5 radius neck is too round for clean bending. Just not right feel for my hands...

9

I have both kinds of frets on my Gretsches. My 6120N has fat, medium height frets and is great for rock and blues string bending while also having good sustain. But you do have to be careful with open chords near the nut (like D and E) as the G string like to go sharp if I press down too hard. (I've learned to compensate for this when I play those chords by reducing the tension on the G string with my left hand fingers).

I contrast my 6120 DSW has the vintage frets. I was originally afraid that they wouldn't take bends or sustain very well, but I can bend on them just fine, and the sustain is OK. Having said that, if the opportunity arises to refret, I'd definitely go with a wider fret. For now, it's the DSW for rockabilly and the 6120N for rock and roll.


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