Frets are something a lot of people overlook when choosing a guitar.  When we help our clients spec out their dream guitars, almost everybody forgets about fret size!   

This can easily make or break an instrument for some people.  If you’re used to large frets that make the fretboard feel scalloped because your fingers barely touch the fretboard, then vintage style frets will feel very weird to you – and vice versa.

When it comes to picking out the right frets for your guitar, there are essentially two aspects to take into account.

The first is fret material, and the second is fret size.  Let’s start with fret material…

Common Fret Material:
There are essentially three materials used for frets on solid body electric guitars.

  • Nickel:  
    This is by far the most common material used for frets.  It is worth noting that different brands use different kinds of nickel frets.  Some may be harder than others.  For example PRS has very hard nickel used for their frets, resulting in longer fret life than average.  It’s part of the reason Paul Reed Smith has chosen not to equip PRS with stainless frets.  Most nickel frets are 18% hard nickel/silver, but some brands sell nickel frets with percentages as low as 12%, like Saga.  Personally, I don’t think there are any real advantages to choosing a softer fret material
  • Stainless Steel:
    Our personal favorite.  It isn’t a must have but it does mean that your frets will almost be guaranteed to never require a refret.  Moreover, they stay very smooth, meaning bends are always easy to do on guitars with stainless frets.  Worth noting, a lot of luthiers dislike stainless steel frets because their tools get destroyed by them due to stainless frets being much harder than nickel.  Some people claim that stainless steel frets lead to strings dying quicker, but we haven’t personally had an issue with this.  Additionally, many people feel that these frets are brighter than nickel.  I honestly haven’t noticed and don’t think it’s something you should take into account when picking fret material!
  • Jescar EVO:
    Whenever you see gold colored frets, there’s a good chance that this is the material used.  These are typically harder than standard nickel frets, but softer than stainless steel.  These are made in Germany by a brand called Jescar, hence their name.  It’s worth noting that some variations of EVO are hypoallergenic, meaning if you have a nickel allergy, then refretting with Jescar EVO makes a lot of sense!  These are quite hard and difficult to put wear and tear on, plus the color never comes off.

Fret Sizes:
Picking a specific fret size can be tricky.  There are more sizes available than those listed below, but those listed below are probably what you’ve tried before.

One very important thing to note is that two luthiers building a guitar with the same size frets could end up delivering a guitar with very different actual fret sizes.  This is because a newbie will likely end up having to remove more fret material when initially installing the frets and crowning them, whereas a professional will not.  This is one of the subtle differences found on high end instruments that many overlook.  

6100: Ibanez uses a size about this big.  They are basically railroad ties.  Super easy to bend on because they make the fretboard feel almost scalloped.  You’ll find your finger rarely touches the actual wood of the fretboard if you use these frets.  

6150: This is the default for most luthiers, and widely considered jumbo.  Most strats made today use this size.  

6130:  This is used on a lot of Gibson necks.  I’m not a fan of them as they are rather low and wide.

Hopefully this guide has been somewhat enlightening for you.  Don’t forget to read our other articles or check out our guitars we’re selling.

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