2

I've been playing a cheap guitar for maybe an hour every day for the past two years. At first I was very happy with the way it played, the frets were perfectly level and I was able to set it up exactly to my liking. But lately I've been having trouble with string buzz and a general sense that the guitar had somehow deteriorated. After inspecting it more thoroughly, I've noticed that there is serious fret wear; the top of some frets is completely flat under the highest three strings, and others are worn into a wave shape.

Part of this is undoubtedly the result of my playing style. I'm a beginner, and probably pressing down on the strings harder than necessary. Also, because of my background as a keyboard player, I'm particularly enjoying the expressive possibilities of bends, slides and vibrato.

I was wondering whether this amount of fret wear is the sign of particularly low quality frets. How much fret wear would you expect after 700 hours of play on e.g. a Squier, a Mexican Fender and a higher-end model (without stainless steel frets)? Even though mine is a cheap guitar, I really like it, and I was considering having the frets recrowned, but if they are too low a quality, it may make more sense to have them replaced by higher quality frets.

3
  • 1
    Hi there, whats your guitar in question? I can answer but to write a full answer I want to include information specific to your guitar!
    – OwenM
    Mar 3 at 15:40
  • @OwenM It's a Squier stratocaster from the Affinity series, with a maple fretboard with 9.5 inch radius and "medium jumbo" frets, made in Indonesia.
    – New User
    Mar 3 at 16:48
  • 1
    Fret wire comes in different hardness. This sounds like the soft kind, which is not preferred for steel string guitars, but not unheard of. It is actually not really a matter of price of the material, but of the installation. Softer metal is simply easier to machine and easier to fit into the fret board. The good news is then, it's also easier to rework. How much wear are we talking? Maybe use some calipers to measure the height of barely used frets and compare to the reduced height of the worn frets.
    – cherub
    Mar 3 at 18:02
2

Thanks for the guitar info!

The amount of wear in that time does sound on the excessive side... Realistically I would expect many many years before a refret is necessary, but as you mention there are contributing factors..

If you have a PARTICULARLY heavy way of playing, with a LOT of bends and vibrato then that will speed up wear, but not horrendously so.

If you have been using stainless steel guitar strings, then they will be harder than the frets and can speed up wear.

It's possible though not particularly likely that there was a bad batch of metal.

The frets are most likely nickel silver, which is a very hard material all in all. All frets will wear eventually but even my current daily use electric bass is 12 years old now and the frets are more or less fine, still, I gave them a re-crown once and thats it. Even though an expensive guitar will have theoretically better frets it'll be more or less the same alloy, more or less the same toughness (ie, tough). It's hard to predict an hour rating but my guess for frets on any new guitar would be 'a lot', and if stainless steel 'a hell of a lot'.

A refret is a long and slightly arduos job that will probably cost more than the guitar. If you like it of course, then you may judge it as worth doing, I did that with my banger classical parlour acoustic just because it had some story that I wanted to preserve! In that case then I would PROBABLY just get nickel silver back on it, there is the option of going to harder stainless steel but thats a pig to work with and costs more money. And arguably, if it was caused by technique and you wore nickel silver in 700 hours then you'd probably still manage to get through stainless steel eventually too! For me, stainless steel is overkill unless it's a particularly special guitar. Some luthiers don't like working with it as it's so hard and tough on tools etc, others say it's fine! For me personally, my cutters find it hard enough to get through nickel silver cleanly, but I should probably just get a better tool if I was doing refrets more often!

Edit - theres also evo, another copper alloy which is about halfway between nickel silver and stainless in hardness. And actually a whole lot of other alloys, all roughly some kind of white brass or gold brass, if you start going down the 'what frets to use hole' you can go in circles for hours! For me the standard ones labelled 18% nickel silver are fine in all but special cases.

I think more likely, if you have had it from new, is that you got a bad batch of frets, but a fret level and crown is a much easier job than a refret so I may tentatively advise trying that first. Even if it DOES wear again in a couple of years you've got your monies worth out of THOSE frets, confirmed that it's going to keep on wearing and then you can make a choice to stick with that guitar and refret, or move on.

This also gives you chance to look at your technique a bit, see if you are using excessive force and really scraping the string against the frets!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.