Yesterday, we talked about how to make your strings last longer. We didn’t really touch on fret material due to the fact that it’s something you can’t really change easily. This detail on your guitar is a factor that can make a huge difference in your string life, among other things.

Today we’re going to be doing a quick rundown on the differences between nickel and stainless steel frets!

Nickel Frets – What to Know

Nickel silver alloy has been the most common material used in guitar (and other stringed instruments) frets for a really long time. It’s a tried and true material that conforms to the fretboard well and rejects skin oils. Due to it’s ability to reject oil, it resists tarnish and generally lasts a long time.

It’s important to note that not all nickel frets are the exact same and that there’s no actual silver in nickel-silver alloy frets. Due to high content of zinc added in the alloy, Jescar NS formula frets are, in my opinion, some of the best nickel frets on the market. Another example of this would be that PRS uses extremely hard nickel frets on their instruments (such as this beautiful Custom 24), which are on par with a lot of stainless steel frets out there.

(If you’re amazed by science, go read our article on Alnico vs Ceramic Magnets and learn how different alloys in pickups can affect sound!)

Generally speaking, nickel frets are going to work perfectly for most players. They offer plenty of durability and, for some people, have lasted them generations. Unfortunately, fret wear to is unavoidable to an extent. Every time you press your strings down, the metal-on-metal contact causes the frets to lose shape due to friction. The longevity of your frets before noticeable wear occurs is going to be affected by how often you play, as well as how hard you press down on your strings.

The absolute worst thing for your frets is a capo. As a capo clamps onto the fretboard, the strings are smashed down into the frets a lot harder than your hands can do. This causes your frets to flatten and dent a lot faster than it would if you never used a capo.

There are definitely things you can do to help extend the life of your nickel frets:

  • Occasionally polish your frets. Although nickel doesn’t rust, it still oxidizes from the sweat and oil in your hands and can become discolored and almost green if you don’t clean them.
  • Use nickel strings. When two metals rub together, the softer metal scratches. (Take a dang geology class will ya!?) Although some players enjoy the bright sound they offer, stainless steel strings are going to wear your frets down so much faster than nickel strings do.
  • For the love of god, please don’t leave your capo on your guitar when you are not using it. Also, if you want to use a capo, a great investment is a tension adjustable capo so that it’s not just smashed down onto the fretboard as hard as possible.

Stainless Steel Frets – What to Know

For players who like to press down hard or play for multiple hours every day, stainless steel is a viable option for longer lasting frets.

Stainless steel frets are well known for their corrosion resistance and extra long-lasting alloy. It’s an assumption that they almost never wear, which is somewhat true. When paired with nickel strings, the stainless steel frets take very little damage and wear from the friction due to the alloy being much stronger than the string alloy. On the other hand, when paired with stainless steel strings, the frets will wear just as quickly as nickel frets paired with nickel strings.

(Luckily, most guitarists these days are using nickel strings.)

There have been whisperings that SS frets offer a much brighter sound than nickel frets, probably due to the fact that SS strings are much brighter than nickel strings. In my personal experience, this is a very little difference. When plugged into an amp, especially one with high levels of distortion, I have seen almost no difference in tone. (Although, maybe there would be a little more of a difference on an acoustic guitar, but I’ve not played a SS fretted acoustic.)

One of the nicest things about SS frets is how smooth they feel. Bending your strings over them feels like absolute butter. I will mention however, that a really high quality fret job with nickel frets can yield similar results.

There are some cons to SS frets though. Being such a dense and heavy metal, they tend to be destructive!!

If you take your guitar to someone to get a refret, or any fretwork, chances are you are going to get majorly upcharged for SS frets. They have a tendency to destroy tools, such as fret cutters, quite quickly. Although paying a bunch for a fret job sucks when using stainless steel, paying for multiple fret jobs on nickel frets might be even worse…

Some claim that SS frets tend to wear down their strings faster than their nickel counterparts. This is probably due to the softer metal on the strings being rubbed off by SS frets. I tend to change all of my strings every 2 weeks so this isn’t a big concern for me, but it may be for someone who doesn’t want to be inconvenienced by constantly changing strings.

Although SS frets generally outlast nickel frets in most cases, there are definitely some upsides to going with nickel frets as well!

So there you have it! I hope this article was helpful. I can’t really tell you which one is right for you. The time we live in offers players many options when deciding on a new guitar. The best thing I can say is to decide what’s important in an instrument to you, and to go out and play some guitars with these different features to get a feel for them!

If you want to read more, we have another article on frets that covers a more broad approach to different kind of frets.

We hope you enjoyed this article! If you did, make sure to check out more, because we upload new reviews, technical articles, lessons, and more daily!

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This article was written by Zac Buras, our editor located in Louisiana.

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