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What is a Fret on the Guitar?

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What is a Fret on the Guitar?
guitar fret marker
Frets are strips made from metal (generally an alloy of nickel and brass) which are embedded along a guitar's fretboard. By depressing a string against the guitar fretboard behind a fret, the vibrating length of that string changes, and a specific note results.

Although, strictly speaking, the fret is the metal strip itself, the location on the fretboard between the previous fret and the fret in question is referred to being part of that fret. For example, the position on the fretboard between the nut and the first metal fret is referred to as the "first fret". The area on the fretboard between the first and second frets is called the "second fret". Moving up the fretboard one fret raises the pitch of the resulting note by a "half-step" or semitone. The note at the 12th fret of a guitar represents one full octave above the pitch of the open string. The 12th fret divides the "scale length" (the distance between the nut to the bridge) exactly in half.

Depending on the type of guitar, and to a lesser degree the model, a guitar will have a different number of total frets:

The standard classical guitar is constructed with 19 frets. The neck of the guitar meets the body at the 12th fret. Guitarists attempting to play the upper frets beyond the 12th fret on a classical guitar will need to adjust their picking hand position.

Steel-stringed acoustic guitars tend to have more variation in the number of frets. Many steel-stringed instruments have 20 frets (for example the Martin D-28 or Gibson Hummingbird), but it is not uncommon to see guitars with more. To allow for easier access to these upper frets, some acoustic guitars feature a "cutaway" - an indentation in the body of the instrument beside the neck.

Electric guitars have the most variation in numbers of frets. Typical electric guitars have anywhere from 21 to 24 frets. Some examples:

  • Fender Telecaster - traditionally had 21 frets, but began offering 22-fret necks in the 1980s.
  • Fender Stratocaster - traditionally had 21 frets, but began offering 22-fret necks in the 1980s.
  • Gibson Les Paul - 22 frets, joining the body at the 16th fret.
  • Gibson SG - 22 frets, joining the body at the 19th fret.

Fret Buzz

On guitars with steel strings, frets experience a certain amount of wear and tear on a regular basis, and are eventually bound to wear down. When this begins to happen, frets will begin to "buzz". Fret buzzing is a problem that plagues many guitars due to poor manufacturing or set-up. Although fret buzz can also be caused by significant problems, in many cases, simple adjustments like raising string action can make these problems go away. The Frets.com website has put together The Big Buzz List, a comprehensive list of the specific problems that cause fret buzz, and offers suggestions on how to correct it. Although the list is geared towards acoustic guitars, virtually all of the same conditions occur in electric guitars.

Intonation

If you've ever played a G chord that sounded fine, only to play an E chord which sounds out of tune, you've experienced an intonation problem with a guitar. Intonation problems can sometimes be a symptom of very serious problems with a guitar, but often can be corrected with a minor adjustment. Although intonation is not necessarily caused by problems with frets, worn frets, or frets which are too high are often the culprit. The Wikihow.com site offers advice on how to set your guitar's intonation in eight steps.

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