realsmoky
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Join date: Sep 2013
839 IQ
#1
I am certain that everybody of you sometimes thought of an alternative fret material for a guitar or a bass.

Does anybody have or did anybody of you play a guitar with frets that aren't made from metal?

I know that there are guitars with stainless steel frets, but that's still metal. On old instruments, there were gut frets that were tied to the neck, but they wear out really fast.

An idea I have seen on the Internet were ceramic frets, but people say that the strings would wear out fast.

Is there any kind of wood that is extremely hard, so that it could be used for frets? Does anybody have an idea if there exists some kind of durable yet soft rubber material that could be used for frets?
dudester410
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Join date: Aug 2007
657 IQ
#2
I never considered it, could be interesting. Why do you want to? Wood sounds as if it'll wear away quickly, if not done properly. Ceramic could wear it faster, but then again, how much does the steel (or..brass? idk what my frets are made of lol) wear the strings out and how could that be improved with a newer material. Anyone ever tried something else?
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CorduroyEW
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Join date: Nov 2004
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#3
I would think that ceramic would be better than metal in terms of wear and tear because it is a low friction material. The issue I see with ceramic frets would be how do you attach them and how to you level, shape, and crown them after they are attached? They would be really hard to get just right but if you did get them just right that would be awesome

I don't see wood as a reasonable option because it's going to tear them up when you bend strings and I can't imagine it would be very smooth.

I could see bone, particularly camel bone, as being something that could be used for frets. Camel bone is nearly as hard as ivory and polishes up to be very smooth and would chip away in chunks like wood would.
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realsmoky
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#5
Anybody thinks that bamboo frets would be durable and useful?
CorduroyEW
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#6
Quote by realsmoky
Anybody thinks that bamboo frets would be durable and useful?


nope
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sashki
Join date: Feb 2005
6,579 IQ
#8
In ancient times (1985), there was the Bond Electraglide guitar, which had a stepped aluminium fretboard. I suppose you could make something like this out of a hard synthetic material, but that would be more difficult than installing regular frets.
realsmoky
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#9
Quote by Explorerbuilder
Again, think about this... how are yo going to MAKE frets? You cant make frets by yourself.

I won't.


Somebody else will make them.


___

DAMN I like the Bond guitar! Looks so sexy! The sliding up the neck would be epic, though I hope that sliding down the neck wouldn't hurt!
Last edited by realsmoky at Jun 2, 2014,
Explorerbuilder
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Join date: Aug 2010
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#10
Quote by realsmoky
I won't.


Somebody else will make them.


___

DAMN I like the Bond guitar! Looks so sexy! The sliding up the neck would be epic, though I hope that sliding down the neck wouldn't hurt!

Like who? You also have to think about how they will stay in the fretboard. Frets have barbs on the tang to keep them in. You wont be able to do that on wood.
There is really no point into putting this much thought into this. Steel is superior, just leave it at that.
dspellman
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Join date: Jan 2012
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#11
There's someone out there who's been building crystal frets.
Fricksion
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Join date: May 2013
43 IQ
#12
Crystal, ceramic, wood, they're hard to imagine lasting long on guitars. It actually depends on how you would play the guitar, hardcore or lullaby. My sister tried brass on her guitar, but that's still metal. Plastic would most likely wear out similar to most woods, but I haven't tried acrylic yet. If you really don't want metal on your fretboard, make it fretless. You'd have to be more precise in fretting, but if it's what you want then it's what you get.
Fricksion
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#13
Oh yeah, hmm, CorduroyEW does have a good idea, try bone, but that may get costy. Applying it alone is hard enough, but what about a bone fret? Like, 100% bone fretboard with bone frets sticking out. Might make your wallet rip into two. If you're going with wood, then you should, similar to the bone, make it 100% solid wood with extreme polyurethane, and it should be a really hard wood [no woods come into mind right now, sorry], but still that may be stupid.

Seeing and playing a guitar is enough, and honestly, I think there are quite a few who think about non-metal or alternative fret metals, since metal ones work perfectly.
dspellman
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#14
Quote by Explorerbuilder
People always want to try to find some new unthought of idea. Why try to find something that might work when there is already something superior? Nothing can beat stainless steel frets. Just stick with metal frets. Plus, you arnt going to be able to "make" frets anyway.


"People always want to try to find some new unthought of idea" because without those people you wouldn't have a flush toilet, a cell phone, food, clothing or a computer to make those statements on.

People "made" frets long before there was production by some manufacturing plant you know. That's what you get for ditching History.

How do you attach frets without tang barbs? Take a close look at a sitar some day.
They're already using frets with no tangs at all -- they're simply being glued on. And the glue holds just fine, thank you.

Oh, and I was right. Crystal frets. And I think they're glued on, too. Quartz. Showed up about three years ago at NAMM. "I played some Glasstones guitars at NAMM and they were incredible - hugely noticeable improvements in harmonics, sustain, controllable feedback and note volume from string to string. http://www.glasstonesllc.com/ Every point that the string touches - bridge saddles, frets, fretboard- is a highly-tempered glass material. They feel a bit weird to play at first but you get used to it pretty quickly. I can't recommend them highly enough, at least for the adventurous. There will always be traditionalists who won't dig it."

dspellman
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#16
One more. New materials are showing up all the time. One that will be pretty common is synthetic sapphire, already on the iPhone 5S and scheduled to be the screen material for the iPhone 6. It's being used in part because it's necessary to do fingerprint ID and partly because it's tough as hell. Its properties could probably be used to eliminate strings altogether, with all bending and vibrato done on the frets themselves. That would render scale and intonation immaterial, remove bridges and nuts from the equation and eliminate the need for pickups, headstocks and tonewoods.
sytharnia1560
I hate sanding
Join date: Sep 2007
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#18
Quote by sashki
In ancient times (1985), there was the Bond Electraglide guitar, which had a stepped aluminium fretboard. I suppose you could make something like this out of a hard synthetic material, but that would be more difficult than installing regular frets.


don't no how this would feel but it looks super cool
CorduroyEW
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Join date: Nov 2004
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#19
@ explorerbuilder, Not all metal frets use barbs, some are glued in with epoxy. The reason frets have barbs at all is because most types of glue won't adhere to metal. If you use a porus material like wood or bone, you could use typical glue to attach the frets.

The reason metal is popular is because it is easy to bend. Things like wood, bone, ivory, stone, ceramic and glass don't bend well (or at all for some) and that makes it much more difficult to put on a fretboard.

Metal isn't used because it is the best, it is used because it is easy to work with. That is also why nickel frets are much more common than stainless. Stainless frets are harder to install so they simply don't get used as much.
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Rusty_Chisel
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#20
""People always want to try to find some new unthought of idea" because without those people you wouldn't have a flush toilet, a cell phone, food, clothing or a computer to make those statements on.

People "made" frets long before there was production by some manufacturing plant you know. That's what you get for ditching History. "


Your examples are of people trying to improve on an existing concept. The OP is asking for alternative materials just to be alternative. If there is something that OP is trying to improve upon, then identifying desirable properties would be the first step.

Look at Floyd Rose and how he created his bridge. He was a jewelry maker that identified the issues with the existing bridge at the time and had the requisite skills to make a bridge and refine it. He didn't just try to come up with something just for the sake of it.

OP also listed a soft rubbery material as a fret which I think would kill sustain.
Explorerbuilder
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Join date: Aug 2010
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#21
Quote by Rusty_Chisel
""People always want to try to find some new unthought of idea" because without those people you wouldn't have a flush toilet, a cell phone, food, clothing or a computer to make those statements on.

People "made" frets long before there was production by some manufacturing plant you know. That's what you get for ditching History. "


Your examples are of people trying to improve on an existing concept. The OP is asking for alternative materials just to be alternative. If there is something that OP is trying to improve upon, then identifying desirable properties would be the first step.

Look at Floyd Rose and how he created his bridge. He was a jewelry maker that identified the issues with the existing bridge at the time and had the requisite skills to make a bridge and refine it. He didn't just try to come up with something just for the sake of it.

OP also listed a soft rubbery material as a fret which I think would kill sustain.

Well what needs to be improved regarding steel frets? The are the hardest, smoothest material available. You cant ask for more than that. I just dont see a single need to try to improve the best.
von Layzonfon
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#22
Quote by Explorerbuilder
Well what needs to be improved regarding steel frets? The are the hardest, smoothest material available. You cant ask for more than that. I just dont see a single need to try to improve the best.
Actually, they're not the hardest, smoothest material availble; titanium is harder and smoother, and ceramic and glass have also been cited as having desirable properties as a fret. But, as with all things in engineering, you inevitably reach a compromise which is the best possible fit all around. Titanium is harder than steel but is expensive and difficult to work. Ceramic and glass are far too brittle for a common fret application - although I'm sure an artizan could manage to use either as a one off. Rubber probably could work but would very likely kill sustain and put an end to bending notes.

So yes, steel frets are certainly the "best" solution for the majority of applications which is why they are so universally used.

But again, I think OP was just asking for speculations on possible alternatives as an interesting exercise. And yes, it will likely be difficult and almost certainly inferior, but sometimes it's fun to do things just for the hell of it. And you might actually end up learning something in the process.
dspellman
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#24
Quote by von Layzonfon
Ceramic and glass are far too brittle for a common fret application - although I'm sure an artizan could manage to use either as a one off.

So yes, steel frets are certainly the "best" solution for the majority of applications which is why they are so universally used.


I think it's also a case of steel frets being dirt cheap to produce.

Ceramic, quartz and glass, by the way, have versions that are a LOT tougher than the "far too brittle" dismissal suggests. And with these materials being used in tens of millions of products (phones and tablets come to mind, as well as newer developments for aerospace and deep sea work), they're getting tougher all the time.
von Layzonfon
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#25
Quote by dspellman
I think it's also a case of steel frets being dirt cheap to produce.

Ceramic, quartz and glass, by the way, have versions that are a LOT tougher than the "far too brittle" dismissal suggests. And with these materials being used in tens of millions of products (phones and tablets come to mind, as well as newer developments for aerospace and deep sea work), they're getting tougher all the time.
Of course. I only really had in mind the stuff that a potter or glass-blower might produce.
Arby911
Finding the Pattern
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#27
Quote by von Layzonfon
Actually, they're not the hardest, smoothest material availble; titanium is harder and smoother, and ceramic and glass have also been cited as having desirable properties as a fret. But, as with all things in engineering, you inevitably reach a compromise which is the best possible fit all around. Titanium is harder than steel but is expensive and difficult to work. Ceramic and glass are far too brittle for a common fret application - although I'm sure an artizan could manage to use either as a one off. Rubber probably could work but would very likely kill sustain and put an end to bending notes.

So yes, steel frets are certainly the "best" solution for the majority of applications which is why they are so universally used.

But again, I think OP was just asking for speculations on possible alternatives as an interesting exercise. And yes, it will likely be difficult and almost certainly inferior, but sometimes it's fun to do things just for the hell of it. And you might actually end up learning something in the process.


Titanium is decidedly not 'harder' than steel, especially since 'steel' encompasses such a vast range of products.

Nor is ceramic necessarily too brittle.

If cost wasn't an issue, I'd suggest Tungsten Carbide or Titanium Carbide. I'm not sure you could for all practical purposes ever wear out a set of fretwires made of either of those...
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Charles Darwin
von Layzonfon
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#28
God, who'd have thought there would be so much millage in this?

If you're going to bring all the alloys into it then it is equally incorrect to say that titanium is not harder than steel as some of the alloys of titanium (which is more likely to be used than pure titanium) are harder than some alloys of steel.
realsmoky
Registered User
Join date: Sep 2013
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#29
Well, I sure as hell didn't think this would get this much feedback!


While I actually opened this with bass in mind ( I want to get a different sound from slap bass ) but let's talk about classical guitar! I am sure that nylon strings wouldn't wear the frets too much, so do you think that a 100% wood neck would be nice ?
Arby911
Finding the Pattern
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#30
Quote by von Layzonfon
God, who'd have thought there would be so much millage in this?

If you're going to bring all the alloys into it then it is equally incorrect to say that titanium is not harder than steel as some of the alloys of titanium (which is more likely to be used than pure titanium) are harder than some alloys of steel.


Hate to shock you but every steel is an alloy, it is in fact part of the definition of "steel".

Titanium, not so much, since it's an element.

The point remains.
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Charles Darwin