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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 (the twelfth root of two), or approximately 1.059463. [1] 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.

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. [2]

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: [3]

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 is 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.

See also

Related Research Articles

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 modern acoustic and electric guitars, both of which use metal strings. 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.

Electric guitar Electrical string instrument

An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound can be shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities, often making it quite different than an acoustic guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and rock guitar playing.

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 fingers/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.

In music, a glissando is a glide from one pitch to another. It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, "to glide". In some contexts, it is distinguished from the continuous portamento. Some colloquial equivalents are slide, sweep, bend, smear, rip, lip, plop, or falling hail.

Zither Class of stringed musical 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.

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. Fretless bass guitars are readily available, with most major guitar manufacturers producing fretless models. The forerunner to fretless guitars like the Hawaiian Guitar is the traditional 3000 year old Indian Chitravina, aka Gotuvadyam, popularised globally by Chitravina N Ravikiran

Jazz bass musical technique; use of the double bass or bass guitar to improvise accompaniment ("comping") basslines and solos in a jazz or jazz fusion style

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.

Multi-scale fingerboard

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

Russian guitar musical instrument

The Russian guitar (sometimes referred to as a "Gypsy guitar") is an acoustic seven-string guitar that was developed in Russia toward the end of the 18th century: it shares most of its organological features with the Spanish guitar, although some historians insist on English guitar ascendancy. It is known in Russian as the semistrunnaya gitara (семиструнная гитара), or affectionately as the semistrunka (семиструнка), which translates to "seven-stringer". These guitars are most commonly tuned to an open G chord as follows: D2 G2 B2 D3 G3 B3 D4. In classical literature, the lowest string (D) occasionally is tuned down to the C.

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.

An extended-range bass is an electric bass guitar with a wider frequency range than a standard-tuned four-string bass guitar.

The truss rod is component of a guitar or other 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.

In music, intonation is the pitch accuracy of a musician or musical instrument. Intonation may be flat, sharp, or both, successively or simultaneously.

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 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.

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.

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.

References

  1. Mottola, R.M. (1 January 2020). Mottola's Cyclopedic Dictionary of Lutherie Terms. LiutaioMottola.com. p. 2. ISBN   978-1-7341256-0-3.
  2. Hunter, Dave (February 2014). "What's the Big Deal About Jumbo Frets?". Guitar Player .
  3. "Buzz Diagnosis". Archived from the original on 2011-01-08. Retrieved 2011-01-22.