The importance of guitar fretboard

Guitar fretboard is an essential element in this musical instrument and allow you to play singles notes and the chords that, as you know, are composed by multiple notes played together.

The fretboard is situated in the anterior side of guitar neck: it starts under the guitar bass, where the nut is located (nut has the function to keep the strings lifted and tensed) and it ends at the guitar hole beginning, on the soundboard.

Guitar strings, suspended between the nut and the bridge, vibrate above the fretboard and the instrumental sound features depend on their height.

If well tuned up, every string will produce a specific note. If you press the string on a single fret you will shorten its oscillation frequency and a different note can be listened.

Every fret produces a pitch change of the note: it adds a semitone to the previous one or to the free string sound in the case of the first fret.

The classic guitar fretboard is made up of 19 frets, while in the acoustic guitar you find 20 frets; it means you can play at least 120 different notes on 6 octaves with 6 strings.

The classic guitar has a flat fretboard, while the acoustic guitar fretboard is curved and it produces different sound features depending on the radius value.

Materials of the guitar fretboard

Guitar fretboard is usually made up in wood and the most common varieties you can find are ebony and rosewood: they are aesthetically pleasing and very durable. But there are other wood types used in luthery.

Their hardness is very important because of the continuous rubbing due to the fingers movements and to the strings vibrations.

Frets are made up of metallic material and they are placed in the fretboard according to the 18 rule: this method determines their distance from each other.

The most common frets varieties are: Nickel/Silver, composed of nickel plated brass that gives them the silver color tone; Stainless Steel, more resistant to rubbing but not immune to corrosion, and Gold, they take the gold color tone from brass and they are very durable but hard to shape.

A greater fret hardness corresponds to a better brilliant sound.

Frets features

Frets have to be perfectly placed and aligned on guitar fretboard and they don’t have to protrude from the neck, they must necessarily have the same fretboard radius.

You can buy already cut frets, in rolls to cut in the desired size or in strips to shape.

There are also many heights: to better choose this you have to know that taller frets help to sound better because you need to make less pressure on the strings to touch the fret. With lower frets you can avoid to be out of tune, but bending will be difficult to perform. Usually, taller frets have a longer life.

A fret cross section reminds a mushroom: it has a dented base, that will be fixed on the fretboard, and a head, the crown, that emerges and will help you to play the notes.

The standard to classify guitar frets are the Dunlop product codes, adopted by the majority of the producers.

The most common models are: 6230, the smaller; 6130 or medium jumbo, small and large; 6150 or jumbo, as large as the medium jumbo but taller; 6105, tall and slim; 6100, large and tall.

There is a particular fretboard model, the scalloped, with a curved fretboard where the space between guitar frets is enhanced to increase their height.

The choice of a particular kind of frets depends on the guitarist artistic tastes and on his tactile and stylistic preferences: you have to choose a model or an height that allows you to perform better and to reach your ideal sound.

Manteinance, cleaning and refretting

The importance of guitar fretboard
Maintaining clean your own guitar and keeping it in good conditions is essential to save its aesthetic and acoustic qualities.

The musical instrument is the ideal extension of the guitarist’s mind: it allows him to express himself and an emotional bond grows between a good musician and his guitar.

Refretting is an operation to perform to verify that all frets have the same height to not interfere with strings vibration: time and usage often consume irregularly guitar frets.

Sometimes it happens, even in the guitars you just bought, frets are not perfectly aligned.

Refretting can be done working only on the different frets height, reducing the height of the keyboard, replacing only the ruined frets or even replacing them all.

For these delicate maintenance operations you have to be very experienced and in some cases it is best to rely on a lutist: refretting is not easy.

The advice is to ask for help to the lutist for instruments that have an economic and a sentimental value; if the guitar is not of the highest quality and you think to be able to do it by yourself, you have to necessarily be careful.

First, you have to remove the strings and then you have to replace them. It makes not sense to restore the neck and then use worn strings!

Then you have to loosen the truss-rod and you can start to gently remove the old frets. You should then level the fretboard with a thin abrasive paper and after this operation you must first clean it up and then you have to deal the fretboard with furniture oil.

Now you have to insert new frets on the neck and then you must level them laterally. You must now set the truss-rod and you have to smooth all frets to give them the same height, paying attention to respect radius value if you have an acoustic guitar.

To finish you have to polish up guitar frets with polish and duraglit, avoiding to ruin the fretboard. Now you can mount on the strings.

You will understand that refretting is a long and delicate operation, ask for help to an expert lutist is not a bad idea!

[Photo credits: Gurkaranbhatti, Roadside Guitars]