Fret

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The neck of a guitar showing the nut (in the background, coloured white) and first four metal frets Frets, guitar neck, C-major chord.jpg
The neck of a guitar showing the nut (in the background, coloured white) and first four metal frets

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.

The neck is the part of certain string instruments that projects from the main body and is the base of the fingerboard, where the fingers are placed to stop the strings at different pitches. Guitars, banjos, ukuleles, lutes, the violin family, and the mandolin family are examples of instruments which have necks. Necks are also an integral part of certain woodwind instruments, like for instance the saxophone.

Western culture Heritage of norms, customs, belief and political systems, and artifacts and technologies associated with Europe (both indigenous and foreign origin)

Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is a term used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems and specific artifacts and technologies that have some origin or association with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are European. The development of western culture has been strongly influenced by Christianity.

Metal element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat

A metal is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, shows a lustrous appearance, and conducts electricity and heat relatively well. Metals are typically malleable or ductile. A metal may be a chemical element such as iron, or an alloy such as stainless steel.

Contents

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, in which 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.

Music form of art using sound

Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping; there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments. The word derives from Greek μουσική . See glossary of musical terminology.

Guitar fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the finger(s)/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.

Semitone musical interval

A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically. It is defined as the interval between two adjacent notes in a 12-tone scale. For example, C is adjacent to C; the interval between them is a semitone.

Explanation

Pressing the string against the fret reduces the vibrating length of the string to that between the bridge and the next fret between the fretting finger and the bridge. This is damped if the string were stopped with the soft fingertip on a fretless fingerboard.

Bridge (instrument) device for supporting the strings on a stringed instrument

A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument—typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin—which transfers the sound to the surrounding air. Depending on the instrument, the bridge may be made of carved wood, metal or other materials. The bridge supports the strings and holds them over the body of the instrument under tension.

Frets make it much easier for a player to achieve an acceptable standard of intonation, since the frets determine the positions for the correct notes. Furthermore, a fretted fingerboard makes it easier to play chords accurately.

Intonation, in music, is a musician's realization of pitch accuracy, or the pitch accuracy of a musical instrument. Intonation may be flat, sharp, or both, successively or simultaneously.

Chord (music) harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches consisting of three or more notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously.

A disadvantage of frets is that they restrict pitches to the temperament defined by the fret positions. A player may still influence intonation, however, by pulling the string to the side to increase string tension and raise the pitch. This technique (commonly called 'bending') is often used by electric guitarists of all genres, and is an important part of sitar playing. On instruments with frets that are thicker off the fingerboard, string tension and pitch vary with finger pressure behind the fret. Sometimes a player can pull the string toward the bridge or nut, thus lowering or raising the string tension and pitch. However, except for instruments that accommodate extensive string pulling, like the sitar, much less influence on intonation is possible than on unfretted instruments.

Musical tuning umbrella term for the act of tuning an instrument and a system of pitches

In music, there are two common meanings for tuning:

Guitarist person who plays the guitar

A guitarist is a person who plays the guitar. Guitarists may play a variety of guitar family instruments such as classical guitars, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and bass guitars. Some guitarists accompany themselves on the guitar by singing or playing the harmonica.

Sitar plucked stringed instrument used in Hindustani classical music

The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument, originating from the Indian subcontinent, used in Hindustani classical music. The instrument flourished under the Mughals, and it is named after a Persian instrument called the setar. The sitar flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries and arrived at its present form in 18th-century India. It derives its distinctive timbre and resonance from sympathetic strings, bridge design, a long hollow neck and a gourd-shaped resonance chamber. In appearance, the sitar is similar to the tanpura, except that it has frets.

Since the intonation of most modern western fretted instruments is equal tempered, the ratio of the distances of two consecutive frets to the bridge is , or approximately 1.059463. Theoretically, the twelfth fret should divide the string in two exact halves. To compensate for the increase in string tension when the string is pressed against the frets, the bridge position is adjusted slightly so the 12th fret plays exactly in tune.

Ratio relationship between two numbers of the same kind

In mathematics, a ratio is a relationship between two numbers indicating how many times the first number contains the second. For example, if a bowl of fruit contains eight oranges and six lemons, then the ratio of oranges to lemons is eight to six. Similarly, the ratio of lemons to oranges is 6:8 and the ratio of oranges to the total amount of fruit is 8:14.

Frets tied on to the neck of a saz; note microtonal frets between semitones. Saz frets.jpg
Frets tied on to the neck of a saz; note microtonal frets between semitones.

Many instruments' frets are not spaced according to the semitones of equal temperament, including the Appalachian dulcimer (with frets in a diatonic scale), the Turkish Saz (with frets spaced according to the Makam system of Turkish folk music), the Arabic Buzuq (with frets spaced according to the Arabic maqam system), and the Persian setar and tar (with frets spaced according to the Persian Dastgah system), and the Turkish tanbur (with as many as 5 frets per semitone, to cover all of the commas of the Turkish Makam system).

Variations

Fan frets (also fanned frets, slanted frets), or multi-scale: while frets are generally perpendicular to the instrument's neck centerline and parallel to each other, on a "fanned" fretboard, the frets are angled (spread like a fan) with only one center fret perpendicular to the neck’s centerline. This gives the lower-pitched strings more length and the higher strings shorter length (comparable to a piano or a harp where heavier strings have different lengths). The idea is to give more accurate tuning and deeper bass. Some think that fanned frets might be more ergonomic. Fanned frets first appeared on the 16th century Orpharion, a variant of the cittern, tuned like a lute. John Starrett revived the idea in the late seventies on his innovative instrument, the Starrboard. Rickenbacker employed a slanted fret, but it was not multi scale, or fanned. Novax Guitars among others offers such guitars today. The appearance of angled frets on these modern instruments belies the antiquity of this technique.

Scalloped fretboard: Scalloping involves removing some of the wood between some or all of the fret. This is intended to allow a lighter touch for more precise fingering, while easing bends or vibratos (since there's no contact between the fingertips and the wooden surface of the fingerboard). It has some popularity with musicians playing heavy metal music, although the concept can also be seen in ancient instruments such as the sitar Scalloped fretboards have not found widespread popularity because tonally accurate play requires a much lighter fretting hand than most guitarists can achieve, and often significantly heavier strings as well.

Fat frets: on older guitars (especially the Fender Stratocaster), frets were typically made out of thin wire, and some electric guitar players replaced that with thicker wire, for "fat frets" or "jumbo frets". Fat frets make bending easier, and they change the feel of the guitar. As well, large frets, offering more metal, remain playable much longer than thin frets. A side effect of a thicker fret is a less precise note, since the string is held over a wider surface, causing a slight inaccuracy of pitch, which increases in significance as frets wear. [1]

Semi-fretted instruments

It is also possible to find semi-fretted instruments; examples include the Malagasy kabosy and the Afghan Rubab. Semi-fretted versions of guitars and other fretted string instruments, however, are usually one-off, custom adaptations made for players who want to combine elements of both types of sound. One arrangement is for the frets to extend only part of the way along the neck so that the higher notes can be played with the smooth expression possible with a fretless fingerboard. Another approach is the use of frets that extend only partway across the fretboard so that some courses of strings are fretted and others fretless, for example Ryszard Latecki's Latar.

Fret intonation

Instruments with straight frets like guitars require a special compensation on the saddle and nut. Every time a string is fretted it is also stretched, and as it stretches the string rises in pitch, making all fretted tones sound sharp. When the saddle is positioned properly, however, the fretted tones all sound sharp to the same degree as long as the distances between the frets are correct. With the right nut compensation, the pitch of the unfretted string can be raised by the same amount. As a result, when the tension of the strings is lowered, the pitches of all notes, both fretted and unfretted, becomes correct.

Fret wear

On instruments equipped with steel strings, such as folk guitars and electric guitars, frets are eventually bound to wear down as the strings cut grooves into them. When this happens, the instrument may need refretting (the frets are removed and replaced) or, in less severe cases, "fret dressing" (the frets are leveled, polished, and possibly recrowned). Often, a few fret dressings can be performed on a guitar before it requires complete refretting.

Tied gut frets, used on instruments such as the lute or viol, wear quickly, and must be replaced regularly.

Fret buzz

Fret buzz is one of the many undesirable phenomena that can occur on a guitar or similar stringed instrument. Fret buzz occurs when the vibrating part of one or more strings physically strikes the frets that are higher than the fretted note (or open note). This causes a "buzzing" sound on the guitar that can range from a small annoyance, to severe enough to dampen the note and greatly reduce sustain. Sometimes, fret buzz can be so minimal that there is only a small change in the tone (timbre) of the note, without any noticeable buzzing. Fret buzz can be caused by different things: [2]

Fret buzz is evident in some famous recordings; an example is "Friends" by Led Zeppelin (although this example is undoubtedly caused by alternate open tunings that reduce string tension). In some songs, such as "My Last Serenade" by Killswitch Engage, the guitars are tuned to Dropped C and the low tension of the strings are used to create fret buzz by the bass player in order to create a dirty sound.

Fret Repair

Fret repair is a common job performed by luthiers and guitar technicians, though it is often necessary for all fretted instruments. There are many factors that can contribute to fret damage including regular wear, mishandling of the instrument, and humidity.

A fret leveling file Fret leveling file.jpg
A fret leveling file

Fret Leveling

Regular fret wear causes a flat spot on the previously round top of the fret. This can result in buzzing, poor intonation, and difficult playing. Unless the damage is severe or the fret has become too short, the issue can often be resolved without replacing the frets. Generally, frets shorter than .030 inches do not have enough material remaining and are often replaced instead of repaired. [3]

Fret leveling is a process that sets all frets to a uniform height, which ensures minimal fret buzz even at low action. Before leveling can occur, the neck of the instrument is checked for straightness by placing a straightedge along the neck. Leveling frets while the neck is curved results in uneven frets once the neck is corrected. On modern guitars and electric basses, necks are straightened by adjusting the truss rod. Loosening the truss rod corrects a neck with backbow, while tightening will correct a neck with upbow.

Before performing any fret work, the fingerboard and body of the instrument are covered with low tack tape to prevent any damage from files and other tools. Leveling is achieved by running a leveling file or leveling bar lengthwise up and down the neck. This process takes .002 to .005 inches of material off the frets, bringing them to a uniform height while creating flat tops on the frets. [3]

A triangular crowning file Triangular crowning file.jpg
A triangular crowning file

Fret Crowning

The flat tops on the frets that result from the leveling process are removed to achieve good intonation and comfortable playing. A crowning file is used to remove material from the sides of the fret, creating a round shape to reduce the area of contact between the strings and the fret. The most common types of crowning files are triangular or concave. The very top of the fret is left untouched leaving a small flat strip along the fret. [4] This creates the ideal fret shape, while leaving the top of the fret intact and keeping all of the frets at the same height.

Fret Dressing

Leveling and crowning leaves the frets marred and rough. Sandpaper is used to remove the marks and smooth the frets. Different grades of sandpaper are used for the smoothing process, starting with low grade sandpaper between 220 and 400 grit, moving up sequentially to higher grade sandpaper between 600 and 1000 grit. Once the frets are smooth, they are polished with an abrasive pad. Grade 0000 steel wool is also commonly used for polishing but leaves tiny metal fibers that are magnetically attracted to guitar pickups. [5]

Exposed Frets Ends

Dry weather and low humidity causes the wood in many instrument necks to shrink and contract. [6] Because the metal frets in the instrument do not shrink, the ends of these frets will protrude on each side of the neck. To avoid uncomfortable playing these ends are filed flush to the neck. The file is tilted between 20 and 40 degrees to match the bevel of the frets. Filing is stopped just before contacting the wood or finish of the instrument. Once the frets are flush with the neck and beveled they are smoothed and dressed to avoid any sharp edges. To prevent exposed fret ends and other common issues, the ideal humidity for most instruments is between 40% and 50% humidity. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Bass guitar Electric bass instrument

The bass guitar is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric guitar, except with a longer neck and scale length, and four to six strings or courses.

Classical guitar acoustic wooden guitar with wide neck, strings made of nylon

The classical guitar is a member of the guitar family used in classical music. An acoustic wooden string instrument with strings made of gut or nylon, it is a precursor of the acoustic and electric guitars which use metal strings. The name guitar comes from Persian language, in which Tar means string. Tar is also the name of an Iranian instrument that could be the primary form of guitar. Classical guitars are derived from the Spanish vihuela and gittern in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which later evolved into the seventeenth and eighteenth century Baroque guitar and later the modern classical guitar in the mid nineteenth century.

Zither class of musical stringed instruments

Zither is a class of stringed instruments.

The fingerboard is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

Appalachian dulcimer fretted string instrument of the zither family

The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the zither family, typically with three or four strings, originally played in the Appalachian region of the United States. The body extends the length of the fingerboard, and its fretting is generally diatonic.

Quarter tone Musical interval

A quarter tone is a pitch halfway between the usual notes of a chromatic scale or an interval about half as wide as a semitone, which itself is half a whole tone.

Fretless guitar Type of guitar

A fretless guitar is a guitar with a fingerboard without frets, typically a standard instrument that has had the frets removed, though some custom-built and commercial fretless guitars are occasionally made.

Jazz bass Russia

Jazz bass is the use of the double bass or bass guitar to improvise accompaniment ("comping") basslines and solos in a jazz or jazz fusion style. Players began using the double bass in jazz in the 1890s to supply the low-pitched walking basslines that outlined the chord progressions of the songs. From the 1920s and 1930s Swing and big band era, through 1940s Bebop and 1950s Hard Bop, to the 1960s-era "free jazz" movement, the resonant, woody sound of the double bass anchored everything from small jazz combos to large jazz big bands.

A multi-scale fingerboard is an instrument fretboard which incorporates multiple scale lengths. The scale length is the vibrating length of the strings.

Guitar tunings

Guitar tunings assign pitches to the open strings of guitars, including acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and classical guitars. Tunings are described by the particular pitches denoted by notes in Western music. By convention, the notes are ordered from lowest-pitched string to highest-pitched.

Nut (string instrument) part of a stringed instrument

A nut, on a stringed musical instrument, is a small piece of hard material that supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock or scroll. The nut marks one end of the vibrating length of each open string, sets the spacing of the strings across the neck, and usually holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard. Along with the bridge, the nut defines the vibrating lengths of the open strings.

The truss rod is part of a guitar or other fretted, stringed-instruments that stabilizes the lengthwise forward curvature, of the neck. Usually it is a steel bar or rod that runs inside the neck, beneath the fingerboard. Some are non-adjustable, but most modern truss rods have a nut at one or both ends that adjusts its tension. The first truss rod patent was applied for by Thaddeus McHugh, an employee of the Gibson company, in 1921, though the idea of a "truss rod" appears in patents as early as 1908.

Finger vibrato is vibrato produced on a string instrument by cyclic hand movements. Despite the name, normally the entire hand moves, and sometimes the entire upper arm. It can also refer to vibrato on some woodwind instruments, achieved by lowering one or more fingers over one of the uncovered holes in a trill-like manner. This flattens the note periodically creating the vibrato.

The action of a string instrument that is plucked, strummed, or bowed by hand is the distance between the fingerboard and the string. In keyboard instruments, the action is the mechanism that translates the motion of the keys into the creation of sound.

The Ceterone (Italian), was an enlarged cetera, believed to be similar to the chitarrone as a development of the chitarra and lute to enhance the bass capabilities of these instruments.

Zero fret fret placed at the headstock end of the neck of a string instrument

A zero fret is a fret placed at the headstock end of the neck of a banjo, guitar, mandolin, or bass guitar. It serves one of the functions of a nut: holding the strings the correct distance above the other frets on the instrument's fretboard. A separate nut is still required to establish the correct string spacing when a zero fret is used.

The Fender American Deluxe Series was a line of electric guitars and basses introduced by Fender in 1998 and discontinued in 2016. It was upgraded in 2004 and 2010 before being replaced by the American Elite series in 2016.

References

  1. Hunter, Dave (February 2014). "What's the Big Deal About Jumbo Frets?". Guitar Player .
  2. "Buzz Diagnosis".
  3. 1 2 Coleman, Eric. Erlewine, Dan. Fret Work Step-By-Step, Stewart MacDonald, Second Edition, 2010.
  4. http://www.guitarrepairbench.com/electric-guitar-repairs/fret_dress.html, Conrad, Shaun. How To Dress An Electric Guitar, www.guitarrepairbench.com, 2015. April 18 2017.
  5. http://www.liutaiomottola.com/construction/FretDressing.htm, Mottola, Liutaio. Dressing the Frets in a Fretted Stringed Musical Instrument, www.liutaiomottola.com, 2015. April 22 2017.
  6. http://www.stewmac.com/How-To/Online_Resources/Learn_About_Guitar_and_Instrument_Fretting_and_Fretw/Fixing_fret_ends_that_stick_out_in_dry_weather.html, Coleman, Eric. Fixing Fret Ends That Stick Out in Dry Weather, "Trade Secrets!". Issue 13 (January 18 2007), www.stewmac.com. April 22 2017.
  7. https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/20662-guitar-shop-101-how-to-file-sharp-fret-ends, LeVan John. How To File Sharp Fret Ends, "Guitar Shop 101". Page 2 (April 25 2014), www.premierguitar.com. April 22 2017.