Frets are the gold wires that run across a fingerboard. Fret wire varies in size, according to what the guitar designer specified. Furthermore, a guitarist may like one size over another, and has frets custom installed by a luthier. A luthier is a maker and repairman of guitars. Changing the fret size changes a guitar's action, or playability.
Fret Sizes Defined
According to luthier Paul Hostetter, frets are sized according to the crown width and crown height. The crown is the visible part of the fret. The width is how wide the fret is. The height is how high the fret stands from the fingerboard. All guitars have different width and height requirements, according to what the designer specified.
Wide frets, also called jumbo, were used on many Gibson guitars from the 1950s onward, and as of 2011, on many rock guitars. This fret has a very tall height. A tall fret requires less finger pressure on the part of the guitarist. Finger pressure is called "action" or the action of a guitar. A low fretted guitar has heavy action, and a high fretted guitar has light action. The action is a personal preference of the guitarist, and a luthier can install frets to control the action.
Medium frets are installed in many Martin and Fender guitars. Some Gibsons use medium as well. These frets provide a heavier action, but increase note sustain. Noted luthier Dan Erlewine uses frets with a width of .092 inches, with a height of .048 inches.
Narrow fret wire is used on early acoustic guitars made before World War II, dulcimers and banjos. This is a vintage fret wire. The action of a low narrow fret is very heavy. The guitarist will have to grip fairly tight to get the note to ring out true. For this reason, narrow frets are not often used on many modern guitars.
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