Paul H. Jacobson, Luthier

Custom Hand-crafted Guitars

Fret Sizes & Metals

Classical guitars, because of their nylon strings, have some unique requirements for frets.  The same frets that will work perfectly well for, say, steel string acoustics will not do well on a classical guitar.  The primary reason for this is the elasticity of nylon.  With frets of a given height, it's much easier to press a classical guitar string farther toward the fingerboard than it is for a steel string.  If fret crowns are too low, the finger fretting the string may reach the fingerboard surface and be stopped from pressing further before enough string-to-fret-crown pressure has been applied to prevent buzzing.  In short, classical guitar frets need to be somewhat higher than steel string frets.

A recent development in fretwire is stainless steel.  Stainless fretwire is ca 50% harder than nickel-silver and will probably last as long as the life of a classical guitar, which wears out frets much more slowly than a steel string guitar.   Stainless frets entail an added-cost charge because the fretwire is very stiff and hard: this requires custom bending of each individual fret to precisely fit the shape of the fingerboard to make sure they do not come loose later; the fretwire itself also wears out cutting and shaping tools much faster than nickel-silver.

Should you get nickel-silver or stainless frets?  I'd say if your guitar is a steel string, go stainless.  With a classical guitar, the argument is much less compelling.  My experience has been that nickel-silver frets on a classical guitar typically need fret re-dressing every 5-7 years for players who use their instruments for an hour or more daily.  One re-dressing is likely all that the such frets will endure; a second re-dressing may make some of the crowns so low that  the guitar's playability will be affected.  By the time the guitar has gone through one fret re-dressing and then later needs refretting, it's likely the fingerboard configuration will benefit from some tweaking anyway.

I offer several different fret options on my guitars

  • Low: Crown 043"H x .080W.  Available in stainless steel only.
  • Medium: Crown .050"H x .080"W.  Available in nickel-silver only.
  • High: Crown .055"H x .090"W.  Available in nickel-silver or stainless steel.

Low frets are best for steel string guitars, and only in stainless steel.  I use these frets only for refretting steel string guitars; I do not offer them on my classical guitars because they are too low, viz. for frets 5-12.

Medium frets offer a very good playing feel for most classical guitarists.  These frets can be re-dressed one time to remove worn places and still retain enough height for a classical guitar.  You can expect at least a decade of use from these frets before refretting is needed.

High frets are sometimes preferred by guitarists who concertize professionally and/or whose playing style gets very vigorous.  The additional fret height allows the fretting finger to push harder on the string before reaching the fingerboard surface.  On the other hand, some guitarists accustomed to normal frets may find the Highest frets somewhat awkward.  I would recommend that you try a guitar with such frets before specifying them.