Understanding Electric Guitar Fret Sizes
“The problem is choice…”
Guitars have come a long way since their embryonic beginnings. Like everything else these days, when it comes to guitar options there are just so many choices at our disposal. Electric guitar fret sizes are no exception.
In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves’ Neo states that “the problem is choice.” In the big wide world of guitar choices however I would argue that the problem is not the abundance of choice – the problem is that the English language lacks the ability to describe many highly subjective guitar attributes such as tone and feel well enough for them to be accurately communicated to another sentient being.
That said, in this article I am going to give a brief overview of the three most commonly referred-to fret sizes, and provide a suggestion as to what is most likely to give you the best result for your playing style and physical attributes.
A sweeping generalisation
The best place to start is to understand the fundamentals of how different fret types/shapes can affect your playing.
What is ‘Vintage’? Technically speaking, something of vintage is either old or paying homage to a design of yesteryear. Vintage frets are those that resemble those used on early Fenders, for example. They are both shorter and narrower when compared to modern designs. A good example of this would be Dunlop’s 6230 model, which is 1.1mm tall x 2.0mm wide.
Quite plainly, jumbo frets are big – both tall and wide. Jumbo frets can be found on many modern guitars, especially those designed as shred or soloist-style designs. Dunlop’s 6000 model fits the bill here, measuring up at 1.5mm x 3.0mm.
Rounding out the big 3 fret types are medium frets, which – you guessed it – fall right in between the vintage and jumbo designs. Medium frets are ubiquitous, found on the vast majority of rock’n’roll-oriented modern guitars. A good example of a Dunlop medium model would be the 6105 at 1.4mm x 2.3mm
How fret types affect your playing
Now that we’ve covered the tin tacks of fret types, let’s talk about how having taller or wider frets affect your playing.
Generally speaking, wider frets will give you the ability to glide more effortlessly along the fretboard, owing to the fact that there’s more fret material and less fretboard to navigate. Narrower frets conversely increase the amount of wood under your fingers, which increases the friction as you move around the fretboard.
Taller frets again reduce the instance of the strings contacting the board, whereas shorter frets again will increase drag as the strings will bottom out on the board much more easily.
One point well worth mentioning here is that using taller frets requires a light fretting-hand technique – as muscling down onto the board when using jumbos increases the likelihood of stretching the string out of intonation. On the other hand, if you have a light technique, switching back to vintages may have you reaching for the protein power to build up your strength.
W.I.I.F.M. (What’s In It For Me)?
Now on to the recommendations.
If you’re a player who likes to play a lot of chord-driven music, you’ll appreciate frets that are on the smaller size – so a vintage fret could be your ticket.
If you like to play fast riff-driven or blistering solo passages, the lack of fretboard drag in a jumbo design may mean that the biggest are indeed best for you.
However… if you want a fretboard capable of doing a good job of both of these things, then the many-trick-pony medium fretwire could strike a great balance.
What’s your favourite fretwire and why? Be part of the discussion and leave a comment below.