TECH TIPS: Guitar Fret Sizes Explained

In this edition of TECH TIPS we will discuss the difference in fret sizes and terminology.

While guitar shopping, either outside in the real world or inside in the virtual one, you will often run across mention of the size of a guitar's frets––“jumbo frets” or “medium jumbo frets” and so forth.

What's the difference? Why have different fret sizes?

First, let's get our terminology down. When we say "frets," we're talking about the thin wire strips spaced at very precise intervals along the entire length of the fingerboard; not the spaces in between the thin wire strips where your fingers actually go when you're pressing down on (or "fretting") the strings.

Frets are cut from fret wire (Fig. 1), which is manufactured in lengthy rolls and is usually made of nickel silver, an alloy that, naturally, doesn't actually contain any silver. Anatomically, frets consist of a rounded "crown" (or "bead") atop a thinner "tang" with barbs on either side as seen in cross-section (Fig. 2). Individual frets are snipped to match the width of a guitar's neck and hammered (lovingly tapped, more accurately) into slots pre-cut into the fingerboard. The crown runs the width of the slot; the tang runs a bit shorter than the width of the slot. The barbs on either side of the tang help hold the fret in place in the slot, although glue is often used, too.

We just explained fret anatomy because when we talk about fret sizes, we're talking only about the width and height of the crown.

The main fret wire maker, California-based Dunlop Manufacturing Inc., produces five main fret sizes (Fig. 3). Listed by part number, name (where applicable), crown width and crown height, they are, from smallest to largest:

  • 6230: The smallest fret wire found on older Fender necks (.078" x .043").
  • 6150: Vintage jumbo. Much wider but not as tall as 6230 (.102" x .042").
  • 6105: Modern narrow and tall; currently very popular (.090" x .055").
  • 6100: Jumbo. The largest fret wire available (.110" x .055").
  • 6130: Medium jumbo (.106" x .036").

Which size you like is purely a matter of preference, although it can affect your playing style. If you like your fingers to actually touch the fingerboard when fretting the strings, frets that aren't very tall like the 6130, 6150 or 6230 are for you. On the other hand, jumbo 6100 fret wire can provide easier playability with better sustain, tone and bending because you don't have to press as hard to fret the strings, but your fingers probably won't even touch the fingerboard, which could take some getting used to if you're accustomed to smaller frets.

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