Friday, 22 July 2011

Stainless Steel Fretwire

I get often asked 'what's the difference between normal frets and stainless steel?'.
I first used stainless steel fretwire in '08 when a customer requested it and now offer it as an option when re-fretting.
 For most players new frets will last decades but some can get through them in a couple of years.
The subject came up again recently when asked to re-fret a couple of Maton guitars by Sydney based guitarist Gavin Locke
Gavin wears frets out at an alarming rate - he plays for hours every day and it certainly takes its toll on his instruments.

This is his main guitar, the one pictured on his website. It's been re-fretted before at least once and there's a lot of wear again.
 He'd heard about stainless steel frets and wanted my opinion on them.

Most quality fretwire is called 18% nickel silver (it consists of 62% copper, 18% nickel and 20% zinc). This is standard in most guitars except for the cheapest. It comes in a variety of sizes and profiles to suit every player and playing style.

  Stainless steel is harder, a lot harder. It doesn't come in such a large choice of sizes but enough to please most players.
The advantage of stainless is it lasts longer. How long exactly I can't say - I haven't seen any worn out yet. But going by how hard it is to cut I'd say it will out last 'normal' fret wire a few times over. I'm hoping Gavin with his playing regimen will destruction test it for me.
The disadvantages are mainly for the luthier. It is harder to work with. Difficult to cut, time consuming to file, harder to seat, very wearing on both tools and hands.
A lot of luthiers don't like it and I can understand why. I charge more for a stainless steel re-fret to make up for the extra time and tool wear.

The big controversy is with the sound. Intuitively you would expect a harder material to sound harsh and metalic and there is plenty written on forums to back this up. I haven't found this to be the case. I ask every player to report back their feelings on it (it's their opinion that counts) and everyone has liked it. Gavin was delighted and somewhat disbelieving that his guitar sounder the same.
So for me it's a big thumbs up for stainless steel frets.