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What's Harder: Nickel or Brass Frets

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Mar 21, 2013.


  1. German Warwicks have brass frets, while their Rockbass counterparts have nickel frets. Which one would have the harder frets?

    Thanks,

    Matt
     
  2. testing1two

    testing1two Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
    Nickel-Silver is harder than bell brass
    EVO is harder than nickel-silver
    Stainless Steel is harder than all of the above.

    99% of instruments have nickel silver frets.
     
  3. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    As far as I know, both Warwick and Rockbass (and most other manufacturers) use 18% Nickel-Silver fretwire. Nickel-Silver is an alloy of brass, which is hardened by adding nickel. There's no silver in it! It's the classic industry standard for fretwire. But Warwick calls theirs Bell Brass and Rockbass calls theirs Nickel. It's a cultural thing, I guess. Nobody uses actual brass or actual nickel fretwire. So, your answer is that they are using the same thing, but calling it different names.

    Like testing1two says, EVO and Stainless Steel fretwire are both harder and more durable than Nickel-Silver. They are starting to catch on with the manufacturers. In a few years, I think you'll see more production instruments with stainless fretwire. I switched over to stainless wire on all of the basses I build a few years ago, and I really like it.
     
  4. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Just be aware that SS and EVO are harder on the strings. And that they are more expensive to maintain (dress, re-crown, etc.) There are even some luthiers and techs that won't handle any repair work on SS frets. I resist working on them - they are really hard on my tools and take a lot more time to work on than nickel silver frets. I'm not saying "don't go there", just be aware that you may find some servicing issues.
     
  5. testing1two

    testing1two Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
  6. Huh, well you learn something new everyday. I thought they were brass too, and I thought the Rockbass nickel frets if anything would be harder.
     
  7. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    It's funny, because I keep hearing that all around, but my own experience with stainless fretwire is almost the opposite. I switched to using stainless wire (from Jescar) several years ago, and I've found that it takes me somewhat less labor to install and dress out a neck in stainless, as compared to the classic nickel-silver wire. It files and polishes up very nicely. That's the main reason why the labor is reduced. It doesn't scratch deeply like nickel-silver, so there's less time spent polishing out scratches.

    I haven't seen any noticeable wear or damage on my files or stones. The stainless alloy that they use for fretwire is fairly soft, in the steels range. It files and cuts about like 1018 mild steel.

    The only tool that needs to be upgraded for stainless wire is the clippers. You'll wear out your hand trying to cut it with normal nippers or diagonal cutters. I picked up a set of the Starrett compound action nippers on ebay, and they cut the stainless wire easily.
     
  8. TheBass

    TheBass

    Jul 2, 2004
    Earth
    With all the advantages of stainless steel I wonder why there are just so few basses with stainless steel frets. I mean it's not some exotic new material which noone has any experience with.
     
  9. bakerbass

    bakerbass

    Apr 9, 2012
    I had my electric guitar refretted with Gold Evo fretwire a couple of years ago after playing it for ten years from new, on Dunlop jumbo frets.

    All I can say about the Evo wire, is that it is outstanding. It is still shiny and crowned with no visible wear.

    I'll have no hesitation in having this put on my bass when the time comes.

    I haven't found that it is hard on strings either.
     
  10. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Your experience seems to be quite different from mine. I makes me wonder if there are different grades of SS fretwire that I am unaware of. What I have encountered so far is stuff that is more difficult to dress and crown. I will have to look into that.
     
  11. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Some of the first stainless wire that was available about 10-15 years ago was quite hard, and did damage some files. I think most of the bad experiences come from that time. The stainless wire that I get from Jescar now is quite nice to work with.

    Rolling it and clipping takes a little more horsepower. It's more springy than nickel-silver, so you need to roll it to a smaller radius, because it springs back partway. The extra hardness and springyness has the benefit that it doesn't tend to deform or get flat spots when you hammer or press it in. So, you end up doing less leveling.

    I level the stainless frets with an Arkansas oilstone, with a dab of mineral oil on the surface of the oilstone. It cuts fast and leaves a nearly polished surface. I crown them with the edge of a fine waterstone. The waterstone is softer than the oilstone, and it quickly wears a rounded groove in the stone, which does a beautiful job crowning. The ends of the frets are trimmed and shaped with fine steel files, ending up with a #4 Swiss. Then I polish the frets with Stew-Mac's little rubberized abrasive wheels in a flex-shaft tool. I only use the coarser pink wheels; the finer wheels don't seem to make the stainless any shinier. That's it. It's fewer steps than I used to go through with nickel-silver.

    I don't know if there's any good data yet on the durability of the Jescar stainless wire. I haven't heard any reports of any noticeable wear yet on them from my customers. They aren't infinite life, but my guess is that they will have 3-4 times the life of nickel-silver frets. For most basses, that will be a human bassist's life time.
     
  12. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Thanks for this Bruce. I believe my experiences have all been with the harder wire.
     
  13. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    alpha-music.com
    Another fan of ss in general and jescar wire in particular. It is harder to work than the soft stuff, but not inordinately so. I have it in all my electrics.

    As for it wearing strings more, i don't buy that for a second. Done right, it's dramatically more frictionless than n-s frets, and it stays that way.
     

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