Yes, guitar frets do wear out. In fact, it's quite common.
As a guitarist, you should be able to identify fret damage and determine what options you have for dealing with it. Of course, the obvious question is whether you'll be able to repair your frets, or if you'll have to replace them. That's why we've listed 6 ways to prevent fret wear, so you can keep playing your guitar longer!
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Despite the fact that fretwire is frequently referred to as “nickel silver,” it doesn't actually contain silver. Fretwire is usually made up of 18% nickel, 80% copper, and trace amounts of zinc, lead, and cadmium. The zinc content of great fretwire is higher than the copper content. Jescar, one of the top brands, includes 62% copper, 18% nickel, and 20% zinc. It lasts much longer than standard fretwire because it is tougher. Stainless steel is another option. Stainless steel is incredibly difficult to work with, but it lasts far longer than standard fretwire. Tempered steel concerns come with a hefty price tag, but they are a great long-term solution.
In essence, the condition of your frets affects how well your guitar plays. When you press your strings against the frets, the contact alters the state of the frets, causing them to wear down. This metal-against-metal contact can cause string clatter and inflection issues in the long run.
Frets get worn out over time with natural usage of the guitar. Since strings come in different thicknesses, frets wear unevenly, which can affect the instrument's playability. When you dress the frets, you smooth and round them out again to make them even. It's possible to dress frets on your own with a couple of instruments. If you own a valuable instrument, though, you're in a great position to delegate this complex task to a professional. Here's a video by Taylor guitarist Andy Powers that describes the effect of fret wear.
So if you're worried about fret wear it's important to determine what's causing it. Is it because of the way you play? Are your strings too thick or too thin? Or are you using a bad guitar?
The more you play, the more your guitar will wear. As a result, your guitar can experience more fret wear than someone else's guitar with less playing time. In other words, if you play guitar every day, you're going to see more fret wear over time than someone who only plays once a week.
This might not be the case for everyone, but playing the guitar for long hours frequently is more likely to wear down the frets. The durability of guitar frets depends on a number of factors such as playing style, environment (temperature, humidity), composition of fretwire, and level of maintenance. Some can last decades, while others last only a few years.
For example, it depends on how you play and how much you bend your notes. If you like to bend similar notes frequently, those frets will wear out faster. Larger frets will likely last longer since they can be treated more easily, but they will also wear out faster because the fretboard absorbs less energy.
Other factors like temperature and humidity can also affect the longevity of guitar frets. It's recommended that you store your instrument in a cool, dry place, especially if you play it outside. If your guitar has a hardwood body, it's important to keep the wood away from direct sunlight. A humid environment could cause your frets to swell up.
Use care when pressing down on individual strings (e.g., by bending). This can cause unnecessary wear and tear of those strings, which will eventually lead to increased friction between those same parts of the string and the fretboard. This can also cause more pressure on those same parts of both instruments, causing even more damage over time.
If you play the guitar with a fast pick attack, you will wear out the frets more quickly. Try playing slowly, with a lighter touch. You'll make the frets last longer. If you tend to play with a heavy pick attack, you can apply fret dressing to help prevent damage to your frets. However, if you play with a light pick attack, you shouldn't fret dress. Instead, play with the correct technique and your frets will last longer.
But of course, remember to have fun when you play! Don't fret too much about fret wear – it'll only hamper your ability to grow as a guitarist.
It's a fact that we enjoy playing capo'd music. If you're like most guitar players, you probably use capos all the time. It makes sense for your guitar to be set up with a capo. But sadly, capos aren't good for your frets. In fact, they can speed up fret wear.
As the capo presses down on the strings, it compresses them into the frets. As a result, grooves and pits get created, which can later cause string buzzing. This 5-minute video will help you understand when you should use a capo.
We suggest using a capo with adjustable pressure to avoid unnecessary “capo-caused” fret damage. If you use an adjustable tension capo, you can compress the device with just enough force to prevent string clatter while reducing further fret wear.
Another great aspect of using a capo with adjustable pressure is that it will aid in avoiding tuning troubles as compared to a nonadjustable capo. If your capo doesn't have a pressure change, replace it with one that does. This will help you save a lot of money on fretwork.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of guitar strings. There are many sizes, materials, winding patterns, and so forth. The best thing you can do is buy a variety of strings and see which ones you like. The biggest disadvantage of this method is that you either need to change strings frequently or have multiple guitars. In terms of fretting chords or bowing strings, lighter gauge strings are easier to play. However, because they are thin, they break more easily. They're also notorious for not having as much loudness or support as thick strings.
Heavier gauge strings are a little harder to play and necessitate greater hand and finger strength. Plus, they speed up fret wear because the thick strings tend to dig into the frets. As a result, they are not always a good choice for newcomers. Here's a short video that compares several guitar strings:
When you play your guitar, does it start to create strange humming noises? When you hit a string, do a few notes on your fretboard gag and go quiet? Do you notice scratches in the frets where the string makes contact when you press down on them? Do a couple of notes appear to be out of tune?
If any of these problems seem natural to you, you might be a candidate for a fret dress, which is the most popular method of leveling out and reshaping the frets on a guitar so that they are the same height and shape as far as feasible across the fretboard.
A well-played guitar will develop frame marks in the frets over time. This is due to the fact that the metal used to construct guitar strings is a tougher material than the metal used to make frets.
Humidity may also cause the fretboard wood to expand and contract with time and during periodic shifts, potentially pushing frets up and out of the areas where they are located.
As an illustration, fretboard wood expands about 2% when it gets wet. This can cause terrible string buzzing and make your playing uncomfortable. Fret dressing and leveling can help soothe all these problems.
You can try doing it yourself, but we recommend taking it to a professional to avoid damaging an expensive instrument. Here's a quick video that shows you the fret dressing procedure:
If you've ever tried to play chords or arpeggios on a fretboard that has been damaged, you know how difficult it can be. In the past, if you wanted to get a partial re-fret done, you had to pay for a full re-fret. That's no longer the case. You can now have professionals do it for a fraction of the cost.
The process is fairly straightforward, but requires some preparation beforehand. The most important thing to remember is that the fretboard needs to be in good condition before you begin.
In a partial re-fret, the luthier will examine the fretboard for the most damaged frets (which are usually the ones you use most), and replace those with new ones. After that, they'll sand and dress all the frets for a proper, level fretboard.
If you want a guitar that lasts for years and years, you should look into having a full re-fret done. This is the process that involves replacing the entire fretboard. It's one of the most expensive repairs a luthier can do, but it's also one of the most important. A well-done re-fret will improve the longevity of your guitar.
The process involves removing the old fretboard and installing a new one. The old fretboard is removed in one piece and then the new one is installed in its place. A complete re-fret costs anywhere from $250 to $500 or more. It's worth the money because a well-done re-fret will make your guitar last longer than a guitar that has been poorly repaired.
Positively, it will also make your guitar play better. You can choose stainless steel frets or other hard alloys as they can last decades without breaking a sweat. Some say it even improves their playing!
This video shows you how a full re-fret is done:
Preventing fret wear starts with regular guitar care and maintenance. Here are some industry-standard tips to help you take care of your beautiful instrument.
The most important thing you can do to keep your guitar frets clean and in good condition is to lead the way yourself. It's your responsibility to keep the frets clean. If you don't, they'll eventually get dirty and become an eyesore.
The first step is to inspect your guitar regularly. Check the frets daily if you can, but at least once a week. Take a look at the fretboard, looking for scratches and scuffs. Look at the frets in close proximity to the bridge, the nut, and the saddle. Also, look for any areas where there may be corrosion.
You can use a microfiber cloth and some fluid cleaning oil to clean the frets regularly. This can enhance your fret life by several years!
It's easy to become obsessive about it, especially if you have a guitar that's been around for a while. Just be sure to keep your guitar clean and well maintained, and you'll be good to go. But don't overdo it.
Too much cleaning can worsen fret wear and eventually damage the frets. So, just be sure to clean your guitar every couple of days, and try not to let the frets get dirty.
If you opt to use a cleaner, here is a suggestion: Do not splatter or squirt it directly onto your guitar. Apply a small amount to the fabric and work the material softly in a round motion in small areas on the guitar's surfaces, then wipe off and buff with a delicate, dry cloth.
Working in portions along these lines is a good idea. Avoid getting finish or cleaner on the rough wood of the scaffold, the edges of the pickguard, and joints where the neck connects to the guitar's body. You don't want it to affect the woodwork negatively.
I hope you found this article to be useful in learning how to prevent guitar fret wear. Remember, fret wear is inevitable. Don't stress yourself over it. Every guitarist has a different fret mileage. But you can certainly extend their life with simple precautions, and improve your playing skills too!
So, I wish you the best of luck in your guitar playing, and I hope you continue to have fun with your instrument!