Why Do Guitars Have Frets? Answered!

Why Do Guitars Have Frets? Answered! | integraudio.com

One of the primary parts of a guitar is the fret, which plays an important role in a guitar’s sound.

The guitar frets are responsible for delivering the different notes on a guitar. It serves as a map for guitar players to plot notes and chords in a song. These frets, which are a kind of steel wires, line up along the board from the nut toward the bridge.

While frets are just a part of the neck, they are essential to the guitar’s functionality.

Why Do Guitars Have Frets?

Guitar frets are used to create different precise notes. As you go up the neck of any fretted instrument, you will notice that the pitch increases by half a semitone whenever you press a particular string between each fret. Frets work as tension points that guide a guitar player on where to press a specific note.

Frets also guide you on the action or the distance between the strings and the fretboard. The lower the action is, the easier to play the guitar, but it may also cause unnecessary fret buzzes. 

Can You Play Guitars Without Frets?

You can play guitars without frets, opening up new sound possibilities. For one, because there are no frets that set the half semitone increments, you can access notes with increments smaller than half. Tone-wise, fretless guitars have this tone you can’t easily replicate on a fretted guitar.

Many associates the tone you get with fretless guitars with eastern music. Sometimes, a fretless guitar will sound like a violin at some point, especially when playing fast. If you love playing drone notes, a fretless guitar will allow you to take a different approach to play these notes.

If you’re looking to replicate this tone, the closest you can get would be playing slide guitar.

Now a fretless guitar is more challenging to play than a fretted one. It entails ear training to approximate the right notes. One small mistake in finger positioning will change the overall sound and pitch. But once you master it, you’ll be able to unlock the potential of playing fretless.

Bass guitars also benefit from defretting, just like a guitar. It’s actually a more popular option than fretless guitars and is a popular choice for those trying to emulate an upright bass. Fretless basses also tend to sound like fretted bass with a chorus pedal due to the slight detuning from the lack of frets.

Does Fret Placement Matter on guitars?

Where frets are placed on a fretboard matters a lot, as having the wrong fret placement can make you miss a few notes on certain parts of the fretboard or cause some notes to go sharp or flat when they shouldn’t be.

Fret placement is also essential because the distance between each fret changes as you go up the fretboard. Spacing the frets equally will allow you to cover a whole octave with respect to the scale length of a stringed instrument.

What Is The Scale Length?

Scale length is the distance from the nut, or where the strings rest below the headstock, to the saddles of a guitar or other stringed instrument. The scale length determines the fret spacing on the fretboard and even the tunings you can do with an instrument.

For many guitar and bass players, the scale length is a consideration when choosing a new guitar. Some prefer short or medium-scale instruments, while so prefer a certain scale length that allows for 24 frets. It also determines the playability, including the fret spacing on the fretboard.

Scale length also determines the tension of a string. This holds, especially for guitars that are tuned lower. The tension on a six-string strat differs from that on a seven-string guitar.

Can You Remove The Frets On Guitars?

Converting your guitar to a defretted instrument can be done with the help of a soldering iron and fret pliers. The tools here are particular since you want to protect the fretboard wood. The soldering iron is for heating the frets and softening the glue, and the fret pliers allow you to pull the frets safely.

When removing the frets, you must be careful here as you don’t want to damage the fretboard. You wouldn’t want to pull off excess fibers from the wood, which will entail additional repair. On top of that, it is also easier to intonate guitars with frets.

If you’ve decided to remove the frets on your guitar, take it to a luthier for the best results.

How Do Frets Affect The Intonation Of Guitars?

Frets don’t affect intonation that much. However, having frets make intonation easy since the 12th fret is often the reference in adjusting the pitch. The distance from the nut to the 12th fret should be roughly the same as from the 12th fret to the saddles of your guitar.

The note on the 12th fret should be the same as when the string is strum unfretted. You need to intonate your guitar if the note is sharp or flat.

How do you intonate a guitar?

A guitar is intonated by moving the saddles front or back, depending if the note on the 12th string is sharp or flat.

  • If the note is flat on the 12th fret, move the string’s saddle closer to the neck.
  • If the note is sharp, move the saddle away from the neck.
  • Note that adjusting the saddles should be done in tiny increments. Around a quarter turn on the screw that secures the saddles should be enough.
  • After moving the saddle, retune the guitar and check if the 12th fret has the same pitch as the open string.

Why do some guitars have slanted frets?

Guitars have slanted frets to get a more precise intonation across all the strings. These frets often called fanned frets, are slanted and spaced in such a way that they create multiple scale lengths. That’s why guitars with fanned frets are called multi-scale guitars.

Fanned frets manufacturers believe that using fanned frets can make intonation easier. And because the nut is at an angle and the bridge saddles are staggered, there is less tension on the treble strings, making bends easier. On the bass side, there’s a little more tension on these strings, which makes them ideal for down-tuning and thicker string gauges.

For its disadvantages, multi-scale guitars tend to cost more and take time to get used to playing particular chords.

Does the type of frets on guitars matter?

Frets come in different metallic materials, with stainless steel being one of the popular options. While nickel is the default material in many mass-produced guitars, stainless steel has also risen, considering the low maintenance, albeit the price is higher, considering the installation cost.

Aside from fret material, another factor to consider is the size of the frets. Fret size contributes to the comfort and effort you put into playing the guitar. Blues players tend to gravitate towards jumbo sizes with the volume and ease of doing pulls. Fast players, like metal players, prefer smaller sizes due to the low action and less effort they need to play notes. 


While a guitar or bass will still work fine without frets, it makes playing much more straightforward with them on the neck. They will always serve as your map in plotting your notes for your songs and as a guide in maintaining your guitar.

That said, frets will always be a regular thing on guitars, as they aid beginners and even experts in guitar in playing the best tunes. 

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