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What size fret wire would you use as the zero-fret on a fretless?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jon Clegg, Sep 10, 2019.


  1. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    I found the thread on zero-fret height on a fretted bass, and the consensus from people I trust was to go with 0.010" higher than the rest of the frets. So would I simply use a fret height of 0.010" on a fretless?
     
    Zooberwerx likes this.
  2. SteveCS

    SteveCS

    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I'll start with a caveat. Everything below is written from a player's perpective, not a luthier's, so all IMHO and YMMV.

    The height sounds about right. This is the nut of my fretless StingRay. The string is 0.100", and you can see that the slot holds the string at about 1/10th of the string thickness from the board...
    20180104_201144.
    That said, the A, D and G sttings get progressively closer, so YMMV on the zero-fret idea. I dont recall ever seeing a fretless bass with a zero fret. As a player wanting reliability and long-term stability in my basses, I would be a little leary about running out of fret material if going that small, and I wouldn't want to be the guy crowning it as it might end up just being an unspported tang, at which point it might, now or later, just dissapear down the slot under string pressure! Maybe mandolin fret wire? The very smallest I've heard of is 0.028", so you will still be removing over 60% to get to 0.010". I would be concerned for longevity due to the thinning and weakening of the seat...
     
    Jon Clegg and Zooberwerx like this.
  3. Slidlow

    Slidlow Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
    I'm not sure why use a metal zero fret on a Fretless? I would think it would cause more of a difference in tone from open string to fretted? On my ebony fingerboard Fretless I use ebony for the nut similar to upright fashion.
     
    MDBass, Wisebass, dkelley and 5 others like this.
  4. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    Probably mandolin frets are the way to go; I know Bruce uses them on his scroll basses and he uses a zero-fret on the fretless models as well.
     
  5. Paulabass

    Paulabass

    Sep 18, 2017
    A mando fret, well dressed down. I don't think there is commercial fret wire low enough that you won't have significant stock to remove. It won't be difficult, but remember you can't ADD stock if you go to low.
     
  6. rudy4444

    rudy4444

    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    You're going to need something to hold the string side to side alignment so I've never felt anything was necessary beyond cutting the slots so you can slide a business card between the string and the top of the board. If it wears down several years from now it's easy to replace. Bottom line... Works fine / lasts a long time.
     
    dkelley likes this.
  7. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    Number one reason I'm going with a zero fret is that the client wants a zero fret. Yes I'll be using a nut as well to hold alignment. Think I'll just mimic Bruce Johnson with the mandolin frets and call it a day.
     
  8. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    By the way thanks for that close-up.
     
    SteveCS likes this.
  9. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Well, actually, I use a trimmed down zero fret only on my restorations of vintage Ampeg fretless models. Because that's what Ampeg did. I use a small size fretwire and file it down to 0.010" height above the fingerboard surface.

    On all of my new fretless Scroll Basses, I use an ebony "zero block". It's a small block of ebony at the end of the fingerboard, with a slight ramp shape. The edge is 0.010" above the fingerboard surface. Then there's an aluminum string spacer/nut behind it. I've used that design on all my basses for 20+ years.

    IMG_2861B.

    IMG_1356B.

    IMG_1357B.
     
  10. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    Ahhh... thanks for the reply, Bruce!
     
  11. moonshinegtrs

    moonshinegtrs Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 28, 2009
    White Bluff,Tn.
    Owner: Moonshine Custom Guitars
    Just above the fret (finger)board... .010" sounds close...

    Moonshine :bassist:
     
  12. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I did some experimenting a while back, and I found 0.010" to be just right for the height of a fretless zero block. It's all about how hard it is to push the string down at that first position. Higher than 0.010" and it's too stiff; stiffer feeling than the 2nd and 3rd positions. Lower than 0.010" and it's too light; you can barely feel it. That feels odd. 0.010" feels just right on all the strings.

    It's the same thing on fretted basses; I trim the zero fret to 0.010" above the other frets. It's all about the feel of the first position.
     
    JRA and wraub like this.
  13. ShortyGetLow

    ShortyGetLow

    Aug 6, 2019
    I am planning a fretless conversion on a headless bass with a zero fret.

    I was planning to slot the zero fret.

    Does anyone think that this is a bad idea?
     
  14. cnltb

    cnltb

    May 28, 2005
    I would not have a zero fret on a bass but would have a well cut nut.
     
  15. Slidlow

    Slidlow Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
    I hear you, customer wants. Doesn't mean it's the best. Here is ebony nut with ebony fingerboard.
    IMG_5707.JPG
    P.S. Ebony neck also.
     
  16. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    That should work fine. You still need some kind of a nut behind it to hold the string spacing, and you have to make sure that the slots in the nut are lower than the slots in the zero fret, so that there is enough down-force of the string on the zero fret.

    Here's an easy way to get the slots in the zero fret to the right depth: Find a little square of 0.010" thick aluminum or brass. Curve it to fit the fingerboard radius, and tape it down in the fingerboard just in front of the zero fret. Work the slotting file through the nut slot, filing the notches in the zero fret until the file just scratches the aluminum. There's your 0.010" height.
     
    Deep Cat, Inara and ShortyGetLow like this.
  17. ShortyGetLow

    ShortyGetLow

    Aug 6, 2019
    The spacing seems to be held by the headpiece (double ball end strings) there is no slippage with the current uncut zero fret.

    I was pondering filing the entire fret to 0.01" vs cutting slots vs replacing the fret with the correct height. Slotting seems like the least labor intensive.

    I do very much like the look of a rosewood or ebony "nut" to replace the zero fret. I even think I have a maple veneer that could be put to the task. there is enough room behind the zero for a 3mm or so strip.

    I could fill the fret slot, as I'm planning with all the others, and make it look purdy...

    Wheels are turning....
     
  18. SteveCS

    SteveCS

    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    IMHO, yes, because it will move the end-of-scale datum towards the bridge, by up to half the width of the fret, as you cut into the cross-section. Also, depending on the initial height of the fret, there may not be enough fret material to create sufficient slot depth to securely retain the string. For slotting, the taller the fret the better, but that will increase the effect described in my first point if the taller fret wire is also wider, which it probably will be.
    If the nut datum moves back as described, the saddle will need to move forwards to intonate at the octave 'fret' line, which will throw all the other lines off - after all it's a conversion so there will be lines left in the fingerboard.
    Of course we are talking about sub-mm discrepancies that in practical terms will probably have minimal effect on the end user, but from a precision engineering perspective such a compromise would play against my (slightly OCD?) sensibilities. As always, YMMV.
     
    ShortyGetLow likes this.
  19. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    I am me
    Not that I thinks it's a bad idea, I think it may be extra unwarranted work.
    You are going to have to cut a nut any way, so why double up your efforts with a nut and a Zero fret.

    Also, getting the string action at the right height at the nut on a fretless is key to it's performance. It's a little easier to cut a nut to the right height.

    Thirdly, if you cut your zero fret too low, it's more difficult to replace that a nut
     
    ShortyGetLow likes this.
  20. ShortyGetLow

    ShortyGetLow

    Aug 6, 2019
    Thanks to Jon for allowing my thread hijack!

    I'll slot just behind the zero fret groove and make a nut then!

    I do have maple handy, so a maple nut it will be.

    I still need slot filler material for the rosewood board, but I think I'll just use black polystyrene.
     
    Beej likes this.

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