Last Updated on May 21, 2023 by Teemu Suomala
Author: Tyler Connaghan
Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.
Expertise: music industry, producing, acoustic & electric guitars, songwriting
Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies, Music Industry
Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala
Playing guitar since 2009. Mainly focused on electric guitars, although jamming with acoustics too. Has played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years. That’s why he started this blog in January 2020 and started sharing his experience. Has produced content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
If you’re a guitarist moving up into the realm of advanced playing, you may have started to become more aware of the technical specifications delivered by manufacturers. There are certain specs you probably didn’t pay much attention to when you purchased your first guitar, such as the type of pickups or the tuning pegs.
Even so, one thing many intermediate to advanced guitarists don’t pay attention to is their fret wire size.
You’d be surprised as to how much of an impact the fret wire size can have on playability and tone.
In this guide, we’re going to look at what fret wires are and what makes them so important when it comes to optimizing your guitar.
What is A Fret Wire? – Anatomy of A Fret
Before we dive in and start looking at fret wire sizes, let’s answer the important question,
Just what is a fret wire?
Back in the day, string instruments were made with string pieces tied around the neck at particular points to provide an indication of note positions, aiding the player in fingering the proper notes.
Eventually, metal wires came into play and were inserted onto the fretboard to replace the strings. This unique development enhanced the overall tone of guitars and prevented intonation loss that came from marker strings moving.
Most guitars have anywhere from 20 to 24 frets, depending on the manufacturer and the type of guitar (electric vs. acoustic).
The fret wires that lie in between these frets are often produced using one of two popular metal alloys — German Silver and stainless steel. German Silver might be the most popular choice for fret wires, though ironically enough, it doesn’t contain any silver in the slightest. Rather, it is made out of a blend of nickel/copper and steel.
All frets found on a guitar will be manufactured using the same process. You get one-half of the fret wire that is exposed and one that is buried. On the buried half of the fret wire, you get what is called the tang, or the primary fret support. The protruding pieces found on the ends of fret wires are called barbs, and these are there to secure the fret to the board.
You’ll know when a fret wire has been installed properly, as the only thing visible will be the rounded crown sitting above the fretboard’s surface.
Why Fret Size Matters?
Fret Size and Tone
There are many players who argue the larger the frets, the larger the tone. While this might sound like an ultra-simplistic correlation, it’s true in a way.
Think about it this way — with greater metal mass, you get a slight vibrational coupling enhancement between the wood and the string, giving you a more vibrant and powerful tone (when all other variables are the same, of course).
One of the major downsides of having larger frets is that you may have less clarity. The point of contact between the fret and the string widens slightly, impacting how accurately you’re able to play each note.
Fret Size and Playability
When you consider how important frets are in even producing a sound, it’s clear that they can also impact playability.
You’re fingers are always in contact with them when you’re playing, so it’s no wonder they play such a significant role. There are a few things we need to consider when looking at playability and fret size, and those include fret height and fret width.
In terms of fret height, when you’re playing with taller frets, you get less contact between the fretboard and your fingers, meaning you don’t need as much pressure to play notes clearly. Certain playing techniques, such as tapping and bending, become much easier.
Now, with that said, if you have a heavier playing style, you might apply a bit too much pressure on your strings when playing with taller frets, which can lead you to play sharp. If you play with lighter gauge strings, the probability of pushing your strings sharp is even higher.
Moreover, if you’ve ever tried to play slide on a guitar with tall frets, it can be quite difficult. You have to slide over more metal, which can feel a bit weird.
In the same way, greater fret width may provide an easier sliding experience, thanks to the fact that you have less of an acute angle between the fret crown’s top and the fretboard. With a reduced angle, you feel less of the fret wire underneath your fingertips, making maneuvering about the fretboard much easier.
I really like the playing experience on wide frets, as I find that it helps with sustain and bending as well.
One of the main issues with wide frets is that when they wear down over time, they can cause issues with your guitar’s intonation. The point of contact between the fret and string moves ever so slightly closer to the bridge, pulling certain notes sharp.
Fret Size and Intonation
Fret wires can impact the intonation on your guitar in a few ways.
For starters, when fret wires are crafted with softer metals, the frets will wear down much more easily the more and more you play. Over time, the less fret material you have, the harder you will need to press down to produce a clear note. Doing this again and again for quite some time can affect the intonation, especially because the frets may unevenly wear.
Now, unless you’re dealing with a really extreme case, fret wires will take a long time to wear out to the threshold where intonation becomes an issue, especially if you’re using highly durable stainless steel frets.
Beyond wearing down over time, there are a few different ways in which the fret wire can impact intonation.
In fact, your fret height plays a pretty significant role, The taller the fret, the less pressure you’ll need to play a clear note. If you’re someone who often finds yourself playing pretty high up on the neck and bending the strings a lot.
As you can imagine, taller frets will also usually last longer, thanks to additional material. The one major intonation disadvantage here is that if you’re a heavy-handed player, you might feel the need to naturally bend too hard until it’s sharp.
Guitar Fret Sizes
What Different Fret Sizes Are Called?
Extra Jumbo and Jumbo Frets
Extra Jumbo is the largest of the bunch, just over .110”. These are some of the best frets for experienced guitarists who have total control over their playing. Even so, they are incredibly accurate, providing a good foundation for bending. The same thing goes with their little brother, jumbo frets.
Medium Jumbo Frets (Medium Frets)
If jumbo frets are too big for you, you can take it a step down with medium jumbo frets. These are pretty common, and you’ll find these on just about any Gibson model you pick up. However, on some older guitars, you’ll also find vintage jumbo fret wires, which are slightly larger than medium jumbo. In terms of playability, some players suggest these aren’t ideal.
Coming down a bit further, we have narrow/tall fret wires, which are equally as popular as medium jumbo frets. If you’re a beginner, these offer excellent playability, thanks to the fact that you don’t need much finger pressure to get clear notes.
At the very bottom of the size list, we have small frets, which you’ll pretty much only find on vintage axes. While these have pretty solid playability, I’d recommend them more for slide players, thanks to the added maneuverability.
Guitar Fret Sizes Table
|Small Frets||.043” high and .078” wide|
|Modern narrow/tall||.055” high and .090” wide|
|Vintage Jumbo||.042” high and .102” wide|
|Medium Jumbo (Medium)||.036” high and .106” wide|
|Jumbo||.055” high and .110” wide|
|Extra Jumbo||.059” high and .118” wide|
How to Choose The Right Fret Size?
Now, you might be thinking, how in the world do I compact this information and find the right fret size for my playing style?
In the end, the fret size you choose will be totally preferential. I don’t believe that there’s a standard fret size that necessarily enhances tone or playability in all guitarists.
- With that said, I’ve found that most blues guitarists I know prefer playing with larger frets, as string bends are critical in blues. So, if you play blues often, you might consider optimizing your guitar to better facilitate bends to make your playing smoother and more effortless.
- In the same way, if you’re someone that likes to play with more force and apply heavier pressure with your fretting hand, larger frets might benefit you. However, if you’re a softer player but still want to take advantage of jumbo fret benefits, go for something in-between, such as medium jumbo frets.
- It might also be worth noting that larger frets also often have longer lifespans, and even though they take a long time to wear down, the thought of having to refret your guitar sooner than later might be motivation enough to go with larger frets.
Are All Guitar Frets The Same Size?
No, there are plenty of different guitar fret sizes. However, some of the most popular include Jumbo, Medium Jumbo, Vintage Jumbo, Narrow/Tall, and Small.
Are Electric and Acoustic Guitar Frets The Same-Sized?
Some people believe that all electric guitars have small frets compared to acoustics, though that’s actually not true.
This is because fret size is determined by the position of the frets and the scale length. Some electric guitars have larger frets, though one of the reasons guitarists perceive them as smaller is the longer scale lengths electrics typically have. When the frets move closer to the guitar’s body, they have to get smaller to accommodate the length of the fretboard and relative pitches.
What Fret Size is Easiest to Play?
For beginners, I highly recommend small to medium-sized frets, as they are much easier to barre and play chords smoothly.
What is The Standard Guitar Fret Size?
Most modern guitars come with narrow/tall frets or 6105 fret wire. This fret width is 55” high and 90” wide.
Are Tall Frets Easier to Play?
Frets that are taller require a bit less finger pressure to produce clear notes, making certain techniques much easier, such as tapping and bending. This is because these frets provide a bit less contact with the fretboard.
What Size Frets are Best for Tapping?
If you’re a metal or rock guitarist that enjoys playing fast and tapping, I highly recommend going with wider frets. You’ll find many guitarists playing in the .100” to .110” range, as these frets also provide ample sustain.
What Size Frets Are Best for Small Hands?
Medium jumbo or narrow/tall frets are solid for players with small hands, though I don’t recommend worrying too much about fret sizes. Instead, focus on the size and shape of the neck, the fretboard radius, and action. Check out our guides for the best electric guitars for small hands and the best acoustic guitars for small hands.
When Should You Refret A Guitar?
If you want to ensure optimal tone and playability, I recommend re-fretting your guitar whenever it shows significant wear, such as deep grooves.
Not only do these nasty little marks impact the appearance of your guitar, but they can also impact how your guitar sounds and how it feels underneath your fingertips. The more and more your frets wear out, the more you’ll likely struggle with intonation issues or buzzing. In severe case, you can get repeated notes on the same string.
Conclusion on Guitar Fret Wire Sizes
The fret wire size you ultimately choose is completely preferential. As a beginner, I wouldn’t stress too much about it. However, if you find that your guitar is holding you back in any way compared to other guitars you’ve played, it may be something to consider.
On the other hand, depending on the age of your guitar, the frets might simply be worn and need to be re-fretted.
When all is said and done, if you’re someone who likes to really feel the fretboard while you’re playing or you’re a big slide player, I recommend looking for shorter frets. On the other hand, if you’re someone who often plays with large bends or solos high up on the fretboard, taller frets might do you better.
Hopefully this guide helped you out. If you have any questions, just leave a comment down below, we are here for you.
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