You may look in a shop window and think to yourself that one guitar looks different from another. Apart from the obvious differences, the neck might be longer on one than on the others.
Even if it’s longer, does it have the same number of frets? So, you might well then ask yourself the question: how many frets on a guitar?
- A Neck With Metal Strips
- So What Exactly Are They?
- Why On The Guitar?
- Total Accuracy
- What Do We Mean By The Number Of Frets?
- Does The Number Of Frets Matter?
- How Many Frets on a Guitar?
- Does The Number Of Frets Matter?
- Notes That You Can Reach
- The Effect On The Pickup At The Neck
- A Final Thought
- Interested in the Guitar?
- How Many Frets on a Guitar – Conclusion
A Neck With Metal Strips
You will have noticed that guitars, unlike some instruments, have raised strips made of metal along and across the fretboard. This is interesting because there are plenty of instruments that have necks that don’t have them.
The Violin, and the Viola, the Cello, or Double Bass, all have unfretted fingerboards. You can even find some guitars, especially bass guitars, that don’t have any frets at all.
So What Exactly Are They?
They are simply just thin metal bars that are raised above the fingerboard to act as a marker for notes. And that is all they are there for.
They can have an impact on how the guitar plays, of course. And there can be quite a difference in how many frets some guitars have. We will look at that as we go along. But they are there just as markers.
Why On The Guitar?
Interesting question. A well-tuned guitar can produce some lovely tones. As beautiful as a Violin or Cello? Probably not. Does that have something to do with frets? Well, yes, actually it does. So why do you not find frets on a Violin, a Cello, or the other instruments I mentioned?
I am not going to dwell on this, but essentially there are three reasons.
- Intonation – Violins are designed not to have set intonations. Giving them frets would deny them that. Techniques like “glissando” would be impossible.
- Interference – Frets would interfere with the delicate vibrations these instruments have to make.
- Playing the Higher Notes – Towards the neck, the frets need to get closer together. On a short neck, they would be impossible to play.
There is then the need for total accuracy when playing these instruments. Being off where you should be on the fingerboard is a disaster. Do you need the same “blind” accuracy with a fretted guitar? Of course not. You can immediately see where your fingers need to go.
If we didn’t have frets, it might be fair to say that a good deal of our rock, pop, country, jazz, and everything else might not exist. The purpose of guitar frets is markers. And they are valuable too.
I once went from playing a fretted Fender Precision to a fretless. No problem, I thought I knew where my fingers were supposed to go. Oh dear, at least I thought I knew where they were supposed to go. It took me a long time to get used to that.
What Do We Mean By The Number Of Frets?
By the number of frets on a guitar, we are referring to the number that can be counted. We count them between the nut at the top by the headstock and the end of the fingerboard. By the end, we mean the full length of the fingerboard.
As we will see, this number can vary greatly depending on the style and the model of guitar. You will usually find that today’s guitars will usually have somewhere around 22-24 frets. There are exceptions, of course. Acoustic guitars will be less and some electric guitars more.
Back in the 1800s, guitars only had 14 frets. We can see then that there are no set rules that decide how many there should be. It will vary, and we shall look at that.
Does The Number Of Frets Matter?
It can make a difference depending on certain things. If you play in certain styles of rock, access to the very high notes can be important. But, that also applies to other genres like Jazz players, who often also prefer a higher number of frets.
But, the most common number of frets on a guitar is 22-24 frets, and probably across the board, the most popular. With that range, you can play most things which makes them also the most versatile. So, let’s take a look at how many frets different types of guitars can have.
How Many Frets on a Guitar?
The Classical Guitar Style
The number of frets on standard acoustic guitars is usually less than on the electric version. On a Classical type instrument, this is usually only about 12 easily playable frets to the edge of the body of the guitar.
There will usually be about 19 in total. With no cutaway, though, they are very difficult to play.
Dreadnought And Other Acoustic Guitars
These steel-string guitars usually have a few more frets than their Classical cousins. There will usually be between 12 and 14 from nut to the edge of the body that are playable. There will be a further six to eight frets that are located between the body and the soundhole.
When describing instruments, you will sometimes hear a guitarist talk of a ‘12’ or ‘14’ fret guitar. This is about the number of frets between the body and the nut.
Some steel-string acoustic guitars do not fit this example. Parlor guitars, for instance, are smaller and will have fewer frets, as will ¾ size starter guitars.
The number of frets that an acoustic can have is determined by the body shape. As soon as you reach the body, it makes it harder to play any higher, especially playing chords.
You can buy cutaway guitars that appear to make the higher frets available. It is true you might get an extra few, but you can still be hindered by the body.
Here again, you will get some differences in sizes. That is mainly due to the demands of some genres and, therefore, the needs of the guitarist. Most electric guitars have between 21 and 24 frets, all of them playable courtesy of body shape and cutaways.
The body will usually connect to the neck at around the 16th or 17th fret and does not impinge upon the hand too much when trying to play higher. Some examples of popular guitars today and their fret numbers are:
- Fender Telecaster and Fender Stratocaster – 21 or 22, depending on the model.
- Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul – 22 frets.
- Gibson and Epiphone 335 – 22 frets.
- PRS Custom – 24 frets.
Those are some of the guitars that will cover playing in most genres. But then you will get guitars especially made for those that need to get higher up the fretboard for ear-splitting solos. Examples of those guitars are:
- Ibanez RG550 – 30 frets.
- Washburn EC36 – 36 frets.
Does The Number Of Frets Matter?
You can see that it can do. There are two important effects. One we have discussed, the other I shall mention next.
Notes That You Can Reach
We have already mentioned this aspect. In rock music, solos will often go over the 12th fret. Think about your favorite solos. How many go that far up the fingerboard at some point. Probably most of them.
Notes you can reach are not so much of a problem for classical and steel-string acoustics. But here is something we haven’t considered yet.
The Effect On The Pickup At The Neck
For those electric guitars with a pickup at the end of the fingerboard, the neck position, there could be a problem. Adding extra frets will inevitably move the pick-up toward the bridge end. This will affect the tone.
Because of the extra tension on the strings at the bridge, the sound will become sharper. Not something you necessarily want from a pick-up at the neck, which should be slightly mellow.
A Final Thought
You may sometimes see on the description of a guitar the expression “scale length.” This has nothing to do with the number of frets. The scale length is a measurement from the bridge to the nut, the number of frets we have already discussed.
Let’s take a look at some of the options available with different numbers of frets.
- Carlo Robelli CR941N Full Size Classical Acoustic Guitar a classical guitar with 19 frets, 12 playable.
- Taylor BBT Walnut is a Dreadnought size acoustic with 14 playable frets and 20 in total.
- Fender American Professional II Stratocaster with 22 frets, all playable.
- ESP LTD EC-256 Electric Guitar a Les Paul shape with 24 frets.
Interested in the Guitar?
We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Parlor Acoustic Guitars, the Best Low Action Acoustic Guitar, the Best Guitars For Small Hands, the Best Electric Guitar For Beginners, and the Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners you can buy in 2023.
Also, have a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Hollow And Semi-Hollow Guitars, the Best Left-Handed Acoustic Guitars, the Best Resonator Guitar, the Best Jazz Guitars, the Best Blues Guitars, and the Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars Under $200 currently on the market.
How Many Frets on a Guitar – Conclusion
Nothing is standard. Now you can see that guitars will have between 19 and 24 frets depending on what model and style you have. But you can get up to 36 frets on one or two models. There is no standard number. Guitars are built with the number of frets that best suit their purpose.
Until next time, let your music play.