When you’re buying a guitar, you might hear people say things like “medium jumbo” or “jumbo” frets. And you might well be wondering what they are and do they make a difference?
Fret wire is an important element in the construction of the neck. It can affect how the guitar plays and may even influence your technique. Therefore, guitar fret wire sizes are a very important consideration.
Need a re-fret?
Knowing about the wire size for frets is also going to be important if you are thinking about having a re-fret. What you decide on will have a big impact on your guitar.
And there are also one or two other things to consider. What materials? The profile of the wire? I will come back to those a bit later. First, let’s just cover some basics.
What are Fret Wires?
There is more in fret wire than some might imagine. They are a bit like ships. Just as much below the waterline as above, and there is as much fret out of sight in the fingerboard as there is in view.
Some people refer to the gaps in between the wires as frets. This isn’t strictly accurate, although I can understand why they do that. Sometimes in tab notation, that is how they are referred to.
The frets are the strips of metal that run across the fingerboard. And the number of frets on a guitar can vary depending on what kind of guitar you have.
How Many Frets
Typically an acoustic guitar will have about twenty frets. Whereas an electric guitar, courtesy of a generous cutaway, can have up to twenty-four (or more for silly guitars!). A Bass guitar, long or short scale, will also have about twenty frets. Let’s take a minute to identify the parts of the fret wire so that we are clear about what we are talking about.
The Design of the Fret Wire
The part of the fret that is visible on the fingerboard is known as the head or the bead. The area on the top of the head we call the crown.
Below the head is a post, or as it is known, the Tang, which is what sits in the groove in the fingerboard. The Tang has studs, or barbs, on its sides to grip the fingerboard and hold the fret in position.
The groove in the fingerboard is a set width size, and the head or crown of the fret covers the entire width. It will also slightly overhang the edges of the fingerboard.
The Profile of the Fret
There are quite a wide variety of guitar fret profiles that are available. These can be classified as the following.
- Small to Large.
- Low to High.
- Narrow or Wide.
Each profile will affect the way the guitar plays and its feel.
What Are They Made From?
They are made from what is commonly known as “German silver.” That’s also a bit of a misnomer as there is not any pure silver in the manufacture at all. The wire is made from 18 percent nickel alloy.
At one time, they were made from Brass which was always a little bit vulnerable in terms of wear. But even with nickel silver, there can be variations in hardness and various other metallurgical variances. This can alter the performance and feel of the fret in some cases. These days you will see new alloys that are used to improve performance and wear.
The frets need to be cut into very precisely measured pieces according to the width of the neck of the guitar. Again, depending on what guitar you are playing, this can vary, in some cases greatly.
Once cut to size, they are inserted into the pre-cut grooves in the fingerboard. The barbs on the Tang and a little glue that is applied hold them firmly in position.
When you hear guitar players speaking about fret sizes, they are not talking about depth or the length of the Tang. They are referring to the width and the length of the crown.
It is a simple operation. However, you will need a micrometer or a set of calipers as the margins of the sizes are quite small.
- Width is how wide the head is.
- Height is how far the crown sits above the fingerboard.
- Tang is different as there is no formal set measurement applied by all manufacturers.
The Tang can vary, in that some advertise the thickness of the Tang while others its length. If you are changing guitar frets, pay attention to the snugness of the fit. It needs to be tight enough to be secure, but too tight a fit can cause problems with the fingerboard. Furthermore, the most important measurement is height.
Does the Size Affect Intonation?
The answer to that is, not really. Fret size has more of an impact on how the guitar will play. Of course, if the frets affect your technique, then it could be argued that might affect your intonation. But that should only be on rare occasions.
Are Taller Frets Better?
When I first started playing guitar, I thought that the lower the fret, the better. But once I understood my own playing style and what I was looking for, I always preferred higher frets. That applies to both acoustic and electric guitars.
Some will prefer lower frets. They certainly don’t feel like speed bumps have been attached to your fingerboard. It is a personal thing. You will need less pressure to get a good sound if they are a bit higher. And they are likely to last longer.
A Closer Look At Some Fret Wire Sizes
There is a range of guitar fret wire sizes, but let’s take a look at the most common fret sizes.
0.078-inch wide by 0.043-inch Tall.
This is about the smallest you will find. Found often on pre-CBS Fenders and built to fit the old round radius fingerboard.
0.090-inch wide by 0.055-inch tall.
These could be described as the updated version of the 6230. Quite a thin size but taller than the 6230, which makes them great for beginners. A popular choice because they are easy to play.
0.102-inch wide by 0.042-inch tall.
These are sometimes known as the “vintage jumbo” fret. Wider and shorter than most, they are not so popular. Can be a little awkward to get used to.
0.106-inch wide by 0.036-inch tall.
These are commonly known as “medium jumbo” frets. This is a size you can expect to find on the later Gibson guitars. It would be a good idea to check these frets out before you buy a guitar. They can be very different from the ones you would find on a Fender Telecaster, for example. On the plus side, they offer good sustain and make the strings easy to bend if that is your style.
Things to Consider
I can’t tell you what choice you should make when selecting fret sizes. There are plenty of variables, and it will depend on your style of playing. And, of course, what feels right for you.
If you like to feel the fingerboard, then shorter frets like the 6230 and 6130 could be the best option. Or, for extra sustain and bend, you will need the medium-jumbo frets. But what is the really important aspect? What is right for you? Try a few, and you can make your mind up.
If you are looking to re-fret your guitar, here are some options.
Are You Giddy for Guitars?
We can help you satisfy all your guitar-related needs. Have a look at our handy guides on Different Types of Guitars You Should Know, Everything You Need to Know About Guitar Sizes, How To Practice Guitar Chords, Professional Guitar Setup, and How to Learn Guitar for Beginners for more useful information.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $300, the Best Jazz Guitars, the Best Acoustic Guitar Strings, the Best Clip-On Guitar Tuners, the Best Electric Guitar For Beginners, the Best Guitar Tool Kits, and the Best Classical Guitars you can buy in 2023.
Guitar Fret Wire Sizes – Final Thoughts
Don’t overlook how important the right fret size is; it can make a real difference. They fulfill an important function and are one of the main contact points for the strings of your guitar. They have a vital impact on the sound your guitar produces. So, don’t neglect their significance.
Until next time, let your music play.