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Different types of frets

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Boldaz-Lepton, Aug 10, 2004.

  1. Hi guys...

    I would like to know the difference between Jumbo, Medium Jumbo, Small (?), Banjo and Mandolin frets (and any other kind there might be that I`m not aware of)

    I was also wondering about the implications of the different types of frets both soundwise and in terms of playability.

    The search feature didn`t help much... :meh:

  2. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    They're all different shapes and sizes. Mandolin has the woodiest tone and almost no fret noise whereas Jumbo frets have lots of fret noise.
    Mandolin frets wear down very easily and without careful playing will have fret buzz.
    Jumbo frets will last the longest. usually they are uncomfortable to slide on, but require little pressure on the strings to make a note without fret buzz. Jumbo or Medium Jumbo would probably best for slapping as slapping requires strong frets to handle slapping abuse.
  3. so I guess most basses come with medum jumbo frets then.

    Would it be safe to say that jumbo frets are better for heavy music and smaller frets, like mandolinfrets, are better suited for jazz and those types of things????
  4. I believe these are called "styles".
  5. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Excellent question. I'm researching this issue too. I've been working with some luthiers to try to develop a design for an instrument with the "lowest possible action" (for tapping and other purposes). Turns out the frets are a big part of that equation (or so the luthiers say, who are generally much wiser than I). As Ozzyman says, the fret noise enters into the equation, as well as the robustness of the fret against wear and tear (not necessarily "abuse", just ordinary playing). The pointier frets tend to wear more quickly, but tend to be more "precise" in terms of the action. And the action, in turn, would depend on "many" factors, not just the fret style. Currently the focus of my interest has shifted to considering various possible "materials" for making frets more robust. I'm being told that given my propensity for slapping, the smaller more angular fret styles might only last a couple of years before they'd need to be replaced. Definitely will continue to watch this thread, input in this area is very helpful.
  6. I love super low action. I play with a light-medium touch and don`t slap all that much. I´m also attracted to the "woody" quality that small frets are supposed to bring out. I guess that fretboard woods can become much more of a determining factor in terms of tone if mandolin frets are being used, right?

    About the fretwear issue: two years seem like very little time to have the bass refretted, so that´s kind of a turnoff, but if the tone and playability are worth it I`m all for it!!!!
  7. rusty


    Mar 29, 2004
    Hmm.... that's odd. From what's been told to me and what I've read up, mandolin frets last a super long time, especially if you have a light touch. In fact, any kind of fret would last for a super long time if you had a light touch.
    There was almost no fret wear at all on my bass of 8 years when I sold it off :D

    About the tone - apparently using mandolin frets doesn't give a "woodier" tone although it would seem logical to come to that conclusion. I have not been able to do any A/B tests on this, so don't take my word for it :)

    I too am interested in finding out what others have to say about this...
  8. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    mmm... tungsten frets... lol
    (for those of you who don't know what tungsten is: It's a super corrosive resistant metal used in military armor piercing projectiles.)

    I wonder if fret material will become a factor in bass making to get that "just right" sound.
  9. 6-3-2


    Sep 20, 2003
    Who knows, but I would be interested in seeing material experiments. What if you made such a hard material though, it teared up the strings? There must some give right? I have seen tungsten bridge saddles so maybe that isn't an issue, and supposedly Tungsten is the hardest metal known to man, probably not counting those crazy alloys though.
  10. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    My Bass has Banjo Frets on it. They are noticably smaller. When I slide on it, you can barely feel them under your fingers and they add a nice quality to the sound. They are deffinantly more "woody" in tone as well. Think of them as somewhere between small and mandolin frets.

    I personally really enjoy the smaller frets. Might also make intonation better as well, allthough I have not tested that theory.

    Also, to comment on the above, Tungsten is also very dense and heavy. I imagine all tungsten hardware might equate to a difference in weight and balance in the neck. Might be a good idea on lighter basses than on heavier ones. They use Tungsten in darts a lot too to give them the weight.
  11. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Warwicks have had "bell brass" (silver + bronze alloy AFAIK) frets for quite some time now. Sounds different than the other basses, but that also might be because of the woods, the construction, the finish, p-ups, ...
  12. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    i've noticed how warwicks frets looked kinda yellowish to me. I like warwicks sound alot maybe it's the frets.
    If a tungsetn bridge saddle doesn't effect the basses sound then the frets shouldn't either.
  13. 6-3-2


    Sep 20, 2003
    No tungsten saddles do change the sound. That's why they are used, not sure how but they do.
  14. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Makers like Warmoth and a few smaller builders have started offering stainless steel frets as an option--those would certainly stand up to heavy playing, but I've never tried them. I could tell the difference with the Warwick bell brass frets. The contact between the string and the fret just felt a little different, somehow, and I didn't really care for them.

  15. I hate it when Warwick frets get all tarnished and although I like Warwicks in general they just seem to be very high maintenance (sp?).

    Biulders should experiment more with different types of frets and offer them as an option, especially if they affect the tone.

    People in general don´t seem to care all that much for the kind of frets on their basses, but are always concerned about nut material. The nut only works when playing open strings and harmonics, but frets are being used constanly...
  16. 8_finger

    8_finger Supporting Member

    Jun 1, 2002
    Silver Spring, MD
    There is a noticeable difference between Warwick's bell-brass frets and regular frets. I've had Foretress One 5 on which local luthier changed frets from bell-brass to (I think) Dunlop medium jumbo - bell brass wasn't aquireable at the time. Before bass was more punchy with more low & high end, after the change bass sounded brighter and lost a bit of punch in the sound.
  17. r379


    Jul 28, 2004
    Dallas, Texas
    If bridges made of heavier, more dense material give a brighter tone and greater sustain, wouldn't the same hold true for fret material?
  18. Scott French

    Scott French Dude

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    Warwick bell brass fretwire is about 10x time more expensive than common nickel alloys and is harder to work with. That is probably a big reason more builders don't use it. (I've used it before and liked it. I have enough for another 1 or 2 instruments.) Other than stainless steal which is just starting to become more available there are not a lot of options to standard nickel fretwire. There aren't many companies MAKING fretwire so the options just aren't there for people to experiment with.

    I'm interested in checking out that gold colored fretwire warmoth is offering as an option now. Or maybe some platinum to match my 22s.
  19. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    [engineering tangent]

    "Nickel silver" (also called "German Silver") as used for frets is actually a brass. (Brasses are alloys of copper with zinc, and sometimes other metals.) Standard nickel silvers are 53-67% copper, 17-29% zinc, 11-20% nickel, and trace amounts of other metals. There are also leaded nickel silvers that contain 1% lead.

    Scott, where did you get the "bell brass" frets from? Are they the yellow brass Dunlops, and were they described as being "the same alloy as Warwick uses?" I am surprised that they are so expensive.

    In searching for info on "bell brass," all I have been able to find are are references to two bronzes that are used for casting bells. One is a tin bronze (Cu 80, Sn 19) and one is a silicon bronze (Cu 94, Mn 1-2, Si 3-5 plus traces), but neither of these are specified for extrusion, which is how frets are made. In fact, anything used to make a bell of any size would be casting material, which is generally not what would be used for extrusion - which calls the Warwick nomenclature into question.

    Tungten AFAIK is too strong to be extruded. If you wanted a tungsten fret, you'd have to machine it, which would be tough and very expensive. Plus you'd need some very hard files for crowning.

    Fret materials, like all thing, are a compromise. They generally need to be hard enough to stand up to wear from the strings, but not so hard that they can't be produced economically, and worked as necessary.

    [/engineering tangent]

    BTW Scott, I like your body designs, especially the SF-1 bass:
  20. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    Do you think any of you could convince a luthier to make some experimental frets?

    Maybe a bass with different fret material as you go down or up the neck. (one material for first fret, different stuff for 2nd, etc.) It could always get swapped out later.