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Given the many advantages of using a zero fret on a guitar (as cited in this excellent answer Advantages of a zero fret) and given that with a zero fret it is easier to play chords that call for strings to be fretted at the first fret (F Maj Barre) - why is it so very rare to see a guitar with a zero fret?

What are the disadvantages to the use of a zero fret?

Why is it that even among the most expensive guitars such as Martin, Taylor, or Gibson - a zero fret is quite rare?

  • Leo was indeed quite the genius when it came to guitars. Many of his innovations have survived the years unaltered. Many guitar makers since - being unable to improve have simply copied! So my question could have been - if a zero fret is such a great idea, why didn't Leo think of it? Or if he did, why did he decide not to use it? – Rockin Cowboy Jul 5 '17 at 17:42
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To make it safe against buzz, the string has to run across the zero fret with a bit of pressure. This makes the strings move across the fret with some stickiness so they follow the tuning machine more hesitatingly. In effect, you get some of the downsides from most tremolo bars with regard to tuning stability.

In addition, frets get indentations from playing eventually even though the strings are mostly static with regard to non-zero frets. The zero fret, however, is still in contact with the strings while tuning so it gets more of a filing action and can develop creases which are in turn bad for string life.

So it's "your mileage may vary" terrain.

2

I installed a zero fret on my Fender a few months back. It smoothed out the tuning (no more 'jump' due to friction at the nut) and dropped the action at the nut to the perfect height. Perhaps it just runs counter to tradition?

EDIT: I bought a new Seagull Rustic Mini-Jumbo 2 days ago. The action was quite high, so I cut down the saddle and installed a zeroth fret yesterday. I saved the original nut and used an old nut with slightly wider string spacing. The action is now super low at the first fret.

Zeroth Fret Up Close

  • I would expect that if you "added" a zero fret and left the nut in the same position, you would alter the scale length. That would not be a problem if you had an adjustable saddle, but on an acoustic guitar with a fixed saddle position, seems adding a zero fret between the nut and saddle would throw off the intonation. – Rockin Cowboy Jun 15 '18 at 17:05
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    @RockinCowboy When replacing a traditional nut with a zero fret, the new nut is cut narrower than the nut it is replacing; the new nut and the zero-fret then together occupy the same space that the original nut occupied. This leaves the scale length unchanged. I believe that is what we are seeing in this image. – Wayne Conrad Jul 31 '18 at 14:14
  • @WayneConrad I can see how what you describe might leave the scale length unaltered but it appears to me that if you positioned the fret at the position once occupied by the original edge of the nut, it would be resting on the headstock and not in a slot cut into the fingerboard like all of the normal frets. To prevent movement would you cut a slot in the headstock at the base of the zero fret? Or would it have little tangs coming out of the side that adjoins the end of the fingerboard so that it could be tapped into the end of the fretboard sideways? – Rockin Cowboy Jul 31 '18 at 21:23
  • @RockinCowboy Here is the zero fret I'm familiar with (I had it installed on one of my instruments): goldtonemusicgroup.com/zeroglide . I think the picture on the right (showing the "Offset Tang") might better explain what I was trying to say. – Wayne Conrad Jul 31 '18 at 22:27
  • @WayneConrad Are you happy with the zeroglide? Would you put it on another guitar? What is the main benefit that you see if any. Thanks for your feedback. – Rockin Cowboy Aug 1 '18 at 23:04
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A zero fret overcomes the problems of poorly cut nuts and provides excellent intonation. It's cheaper for manufacturers to skip the zero fret so that's what they tend to do.

0

This is just a guess, but perhaps not utilizing a zero fret is mostly habit/tradition as much as anything. Slightly earlier fretted instruments used gut string tied around the neck as frets which had to be replaced pretty often. A plain nut would be better all around in that case. Then metal and metal work was probably expensive as well. By the time all that changed luthiers and musicians were probably just set in their ways. High end guitars are still a lot like they were 150 years ago. Even the most popular electrics are designs from the middle of the last century.

0

my 50s Hofner senator has a zero nut which has prompted me to fit them on all my guitars. Most "nut only" guitars the slots are not deep enough making fretting at "1" more difficult than it needs to be. Plus to my sorrow attempts to deepen the slots often end going too far.

If manufactures can level all the other frets they can do so with a zero fret for little (if any) extra cost, the nut should only space the strings not set the height.

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I have read many times that a zero fret for a guitar is a less expensive neck to manufacture.

I have only witnessed a zero fret on inexpensive guitars.

For whatever that is worth.

  • 1
    I've only seen it on expensive guitars. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 14 '17 at 4:58
  • Its an extra step, how could it be cheaper ? Probably thats why I also have only seen it on high end models. – bigbadmouse Jun 15 '18 at 8:09
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    @bigbadmouse It takes less labor to cut the nut for a zero fret: The nut slots need to be cut for string separation only: The depth of the cut does not matter. Presumably, installing/leveling the zero fret + cutting the less picky nut slots takes less labor (or less skilled labor) than properly cutting a traditional nut. Or so I've read. – Wayne Conrad Jul 31 '18 at 14:16
  • could one not simply mould the nut correctly at the point of manufacture ? To cut each individually seems a bit unnecessary – bigbadmouse Aug 1 '18 at 7:40
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the zero fret gets a ton of corrosion and wear starting right away - intonation would immediately start to fall off (a tiny discrepancy starting out) but in no way would it be as consistently static as a variable in tuning, tone or playability as a bone/metal/stone nut. I would also have concerns about lateral string movement which causes plinking noises as it slides over the imperfections of zero fret, that could ruin a recording easily, and worst case strings jumping out of their rut (it will happen). lastly, zero nuts would need replacement as a prerequisite to setting up your guitar's intonation correctly once it has some wear on it, it would throw off the action.

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    One of my guitars, which is from the 70s, and has been used for well over a thousand gigs, let alone rehearsals, etc, hasn't an ounce of corrosion, let alone a ton. What rut to jump out of? And how can it wear? There's less movement at that fret than any other! Perfect intonation (why would I keep using it otherwise) so it would be interesting if you could produce evidence to back up your otherwise spurious answer. – Tim Jul 14 '17 at 17:38

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