Guitar Fret Wire - Types and Sizes

The position of the fret on the fingerboard indicate the location of the next note, as a result, their positioning and the shape of their crown are crucial for good intonation.

fret wire shapeGuitars may require refretting for many reasons, the most obvious being to replace worn frets or change their size.

However, refretting is also necessary when correcting neck issues that require planeing of the fingerboard.

Fret Wire Specs

Fret Size

Fret Material

Vintage instruments sometimes used a fret wire which is uniform in size (flat instead of mushroom shaped.)
These are known as bar frets.

Choosing The Right Fret For Your Guitar

There are many choices available when it comes to fret size. Most players however will develop a preference for size depending on their style. Fret wire can be measured when the size is unknown.

Tall Frets

Taller frets (higher than say .045) are often favored by string benders. Their height make it easy to push the string when bending. They also produce a clear note without allot of pressure. The downside is, hard fretters tend to bend the string sharp.

Short Frets

You either love these or hate them I think. They have a barely there feel to them. Think fretless wonder. The string really drags against the board when bending.

Skinny Frets

Fret crown widths below .080 is what I would call a skinny fret. These are often seen on vintage guitars, banjos and mandolins. These are good on intonation, but can wear more easily.

Wide Frets

Wide fret wire of .100-.110 is most often used on electric guitars and basses. These generally wear slower than skinny frets. Excessive wear on wide frets can throw intonation off.

Common Fret Problems

Wear


Strings wear grooves in the fret's
crown.

Most players can easily spot the grooves worn in frets by string contact. As grooves grow deeper, buzzing may occur because the string now sits lower and contacts the next, higher (less worn) fret.

But wear is not always seen as small grooves. Heavy string benders will also notice that the once round fret crown has flattened which can alter the string's contact point and effect intonation.

Worn frets can be leveled and dressed only if sufficient fret height remains to permit filing.

Sharp fret ends

When the edges of frets suddenly become sharp (no recent fret work) it is usually an indication that the fingerboard has lost moisture and shrunk.

When humidity levels drop the fingerboard can shrink enough to leave the edge of the frets now slightly extended. A fret dressing can smooth the sharp edges but the instrument should also be properly humidified to prevent other damage.

Frets are too high

Some new instruments come with fret wire measuring .055-.060 high. Higher frets are not for everyone, especially those with a firm fretting technique which is likely to cause notes to go sharp.

Frets can be filed to reduce their overall height and re-crowned. View my article on fret leveling for details.

Frets are too low

frets that are nearly flush with the fingerboard
Speaking of fretless wonders...wow!

Not all wear appears as grooves in the fret. Many times the wear is evident by the lack of roundness to the crown.

String bending acts like a file continually filing away at the crown of the fret.

In an attempt to correct fret height inconsistence, frets can also be filed too low when a less experienced craftsmen is attempting to level the frets.

Loose / Lifted Fret

The fret's tang can loose it's grip on the fingerboard and spring loose which causes it to stand proud of the surrounding frets. When this happens, the note prior to the lifted fret will normally buzz against this high fret.

gap between loose fret end and fingerboard edge
Loose fret ends often catch
the treble E string when bending.

Loose frets can be secured and leveled when height permits. If many are spotted refretting is usually necessary to address the cause of the problem.

Gaps Under Frets

On guitars with bound fingerboards, shrinking of the binding can produce a gap large enough to catch the treble E string when pulling it over the edge. If only a few our present I will fill the gap to eliminate the problem. If the binding shrinkage has introduced gaps at every fret, the board should be re-radiused to eliminate all gaps and re-fretted.

See Also: Replacing Frets

Common Fret Wire Sizes

Fret wire is available in numerous sizes, here are a few of the most popular.

You may notice some wires have identical fret crown height and width but vary in fret tang size to allow for various fretboard slot size/wear.

Dunlop

Fret Wire # (w) width -- (t)height

6000 .118w -- .058t
6100 .110w -- .055t
6105 .090w -- .055t
6130 .106w -- .036t
6140 .106w -- .039t
6150 .102w -- .042t
6155 .103w -- .046t
6160 .106w -- .039t
6190 .084w -- .039t
6200 .079w -- .043t
6210 .079w -- .043t
6220 .079w -- .043t
6230 .078w -- .043t
6240 .080w -- .037t
6250 .075w -- .030t
6260 .079w -- .039t
6290 .078w -- .040t

Stew Mac

Fret Wire # (w) width -- (t)height

141 .095w -- .045t
146 .106w -- .036t
147 .078w -- .041t
148 .085w -- .041t
149 .103w -- .046t
150 .110w -- .055t
154 .100w -- .050t
155 .080w -- .050t

view fret work photos

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