why use a zero fret ?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Blues Daddy, Sep 2, 2020.


  1. equill

    equill

    Nov 25, 2010
    Madrid
    I don't see anything wrong with using CNC manufactoring - it enables consistent production at a much more affordable price. Welcome to the industrial revolution where you, too, can afford lace, and people no longer go blind making it by candle-light.
    So there are manufacturers that will sell you "better instruments" at a price you can afford. How is that anything but a good thing?
    If it doesn't make any difference to the end result, what virtue is there in making the job harder for yourself than it needs to be?

    As a trivial analogy, I learned to touch-type in 1987, on one of those newfangled electric typewriters. One of the things we were taught was how to centre a line, by counting the number of characters in it and then calculating the offset.
    Some years later, I was harangued by somebody else who'd learned to do this, who was quite upset about these newfangled word-processors doing it automatically for us. There was no craftsmanship involved, and the skill we'd learned was now useless.
    I smiled and nodded. Our customers didn't care how much work we put into it; they just noticed when the text was off-centre.


    Disclaimer: I do have the scratch, and I do have a couple of boutique instruments, as well as some clearly CNC-made ones that cost a fraction of the price. I don't disdain either side.
    What I paid for in the boutique instruments was higher quality and attention to detail, and getting exactly what I wanted, instead of settling for "close enough" from the production-line versions. I didn't ask, and don't really care, how much of their construction was automated and how much was done by hand. At that price, I expect luthiers to use whichever approach gets the best result.
     
    Haroldo, DiscoRiceJ and MovinTarget like this.
  2. MovinTarget

    MovinTarget Supporting Member

    Jan 30, 2018
    Maryland, USA

    Let me elaborate... I feel like the innovation driving mass production tends to skew towards cost cutting. Absolutely nothing wrong with that other than more often than not, that innovation is geared less towards inspiration and more towards "checking the boxes" to ensure the instrument will sell.

    I don't think we are far off from a time when online ordering will be closer to not only ordering from a menu, but interacting in the planned creation, like going to Chipotle where you not only pick your ingredients, but their quantity and utilization. That's where it may be more exciting for me. I could pick a body style, neck profile (and if I want a Zero Fret, to stay on topic here... ;) )... But also customize the colors, pickup configuration (AND PLACEMENT) and the wiring/electronics based on the hardware selected.

    Basically, a boutique bass GUI front end that feeds machines to build it to personal specs. I don't think we're far off, but at the same time I loathe the idea that it could effectively put a lot of luthiers out of business.
     
    DiscoRiceJ likes this.
  3. Some years ago the string grooves on the nut on my 73 Jazz were very worn. I took it to the local guitar tech who had worked on it before, and he suggested fitting a brass nut.
    It sounded the same when it came back.
     
    MovinTarget likes this.
  4. Rabidhamster

    Rabidhamster

    Jan 15, 2014
    The downside of a zero fret is when it wears it cost more to replace, and it’s different than what people are used to do they don’t like it
     
    DiscoRiceJ likes this.
  5. MovinTarget

    MovinTarget Supporting Member

    Jan 30, 2018
    Maryland, USA
    I've seen recommendations to use a SS fret for this reason... It will hold up to more wear.
     
  6. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Bruce laid out all of the logical answers that anyone might need on the first page of the thread, but the sad truth is that if Leo Fender had used a zero fret, 99% of the world would claim that is the only acceptable way to do it....
     
  7. equill

    equill

    Nov 25, 2010
    Madrid
    I get where you're going, but "checking the boxes" to ensure it will sell is just plain good business; if you're making something that won't sell, you're out of business (in both senses of that phrase) and into art.
    Innovation that helps close the gap between what you make and what people will buy, is a good thing. It reduces the gap between what people wanted, and what they actually bought, and reduces the number of things you made that nobody bought.

    Trying to get customers en masse to accept and embrace design innovation, and to actually ask for something tailored to their personal preferences... that's the other side of the problem, and probably the harder part to solve. Seriously, lots of people actually want the validation of buying the exact same thing that lots of other people have bought. I don't really get it, either, but it's a thing, and it's a real drag on companies trying to do something cool and new, and especially the ones who want to get into mass customisation.

    Just ask Harley Davidson about their foray into electric motorbikes, on the subject of customers responding to serious innovation :wince:

    If you figure out how to get people past that whole conformity thing and into thinking and imagining for themselves, do please let me know. I'll be all over that. I suspect it'll involve radical changes to the education system, but that's a whole other

    About that online ordering thing that you'd like to see. Erm... it's already here :)
    It's a natural progression from Toyota's work on mass-customisation from back in (IIRC) the '80s.

    If you're talking about going even further than that, well, that's where the boutique makers come in, and where the prices go up as the economy of scale goes away. The more interaction with the customer that's involved, the more it costs to make the thing. This is a subject dear to my employer's heart, as we try to reduce the need for our customers to actually talk to a human.
    However, the likes of Kiesel aren't going to stop where they are now; they'll keep going... as they find ways to automate it efficiently enough. And we're back to where this exchange kicked off :)

    As for the part about putting luthiers out of business... not entirely, but certainly their market's shrinking.


    Sorry, apparently you prodded me right where I've been doing some thinking lately :)
     
    MovinTarget likes this.
  8. MovinTarget

    MovinTarget Supporting Member

    Jan 30, 2018
    Maryland, USA
    I'm good at prodding lol

    I meant complete control of the creation via automation. You want multiscale 32" to 37" on a 6 string bass with 19mm spacing and Strat-like single coils with a 5 way switch, push-pull parallel/series (on positions 2&4), with the pickups all at different angles? You want to add one of a variety of aftermarket preamps and locate the battery box face up behind the bridge for access? You want the finish to be 14 different hand-selected colors swirled in a certain pattern? Or a picture screened on to the body that extends onto the fretboard?

    Sure, if you put in the time, you can effectively map out every detail and would used plus finish combinations, ad nauseum and it will all be handled by machines after the order is submitted...

    Most shops like Kiesel will offer online options only up to a point for each model, I'm thinking we'll get to a point where apart from licensing considerations, the sky is the limit for designing.

    My point about innovation is that, the impetus for innovation from a mass production perspective has more to do with making money than making music, so while there is nothing wrong with it, to the individual user, it may not be inspiring so much as "safe".

    The fringe luthiers that make basses that are as much art as they are instruments will have a niche until there is a point where Joe Bassist can articulate his ideal bass concept via a GUI which can be interpreted into a series of machine operations at a fraction of the cost. Sure the Ken Smiths and Co. will still do fine for the most part, but most likely once we reach this point, there will be shrinkage in the industry.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2020
    equill likes this.
  9. squarepeg

    squarepeg

    Dec 21, 2010
    Slovenia
    Gretsch used a zero fret on their high-end guitars from 1959 until 1981, and recently started using them again for their Chet Atkins models.
     
    MovinTarget likes this.
  10. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    All of this heated argument about innovation vs tradition and what is appropriate for the market of an instrument that didn't even exist until 1950....

    Some of you guys would fit in great over on the maestronet forums where they get all worked up over Stradivari vs Guarneri....:thumbsup:
     
    MovinTarget and Beej like this.
  11. Keith Guitars

    Keith Guitars Commercial User

    Aug 25, 2004
    Woodstock, NY
    Builder: Martin Keith Guitars
    FWIW, I build with a zero fret and have done so for 20 years.
    I have made, completely or partially, upwards of 1000 instruments, all of which had zero frets except the fretless basses.

    The choice to use the zero fret was not in any way motivated by "efficiency", or "cost-cutting".
    It's just a better detail IMO, for all the reasons already described in this thread (better action/intonation, even tone across fretted/open strings).

    I can change a worn zero fret in about 5 minutes without the need for lacquer touchup.
    I don't know anyone who can replace a nut that quickly or cheaply.

    Yes - it happens to be a bit faster in setup, since the nut slot depth is not as critical.
    But to suggest, or believe, that this small convenience is any part of the motivation for the kinds of high end builders that use them
    (MTD, Elrick, Veillette, Sandberg, etc.) is just silly, and possibly a bit insulting.
    To reverse the question - if it were such an easy way to cut a corner, why wouldn't every budget bass have one?

    Don't fear the zero fret. It's a nice detail.
    I just can't understand why anyone would choose not to buy an instrument because of such a minor detail.

    Cheers,
    Martin
     
  12. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Martin summed it up very well, above. The choice of using a zero fret or not isn't really about cost. Those of us who use them do because they have a few technical advantages. They are small advantages, which most players won't notice or appreciate, but we builders want to put them in because....that's what we do. We add hundreds of tiny details to our instruments, trying to make them as best we can.

    We really don't know why Leo chose to go with a straight nut on all of his instruments. I assume it was because he was trying to save every penny he could in mass production. So, almost everyone copied Leo, and the vast majority of basses made today have standard nuts. And most of the people who are arguing against zero frets today mostly don't like them because they aren't like Fender!

    On my Scroll Basses, I have a particular problem of having to bend the strings down through a sharp angle into the pegbox. I use a large aluminum string spacer/nut with curved grooves for the strings to slide in. It's a complicated part to make, and it would have been even more fussy if I had used it to set the string height. So, I added an extra 3/8" to the length of the neck and put in a stainless zero fret. In this case, the zero fret saved me a lot of extra fitting work.

    IMG_7148B.jpg

    IMG_7156B.jpg
     
    Runnerman, Joshua, rwkeating and 5 others like this.
  13. Means2nEnd

    Means2nEnd Supporting Member

    I do not like them in what they do or the added business at the end of the neck. I do not want my open string to sound like a fretted string that's taking away part of my pallet of tones. To me when I am playing the point of an open string rather than somewhere else on the neck is to exaggerate or emphasize a note. A correctly cut brass nut on a bass is a beautiful thing and sounds great just in my opinion. I have several clients with Smiths and Alembics and in all the hours of discussions on building new custom instruments on about their own they never complained of fretted strings sounding different than open but hey maybe it's a huge problem somewhere I just haven't ran into yet.
     
  14. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Oh, yeah, a brass or aluminum nut will sound almost exactly the same as a zero fret. I don't think anyone has claimed that a zero fret makes open notes sound more like fretted notes than a metal nut.

    But, it will make a difference compared to a bone or plastic nut. It's all about the hardness of the material that the string is resting on as a fulcrum.

    This is another one of these little engineering details that some of us builders add to our basses because.....that's what we do. We're always looking for small improvements that we can add, even if our customers don't ask for them. Even if some of our customers don't hear the difference. I can hear the difference. I build race cars, not show cars. Function over beauty.
     
    Beej, rwkeating, Joshua and 2 others like this.
  15. I don't know about the cost/time factor in mass production, but in a more hands on situation I doubt there's any time saving in using a zero fret. Over almost 40 years of building, repairing and fiddling with guitars and basses I've used both methods, cutting an accurate nut probably takes no longer than cutting a nut as a string guide and installing a zero fret. (Though I haven't timed it.) The only part of cutting a nut and cutting a nut as a string guide that varies is getting the depth of each cut exact, which if you're used to cutting nuts, probably takes about the same time as cutting an extra fret slot, fitting the fret, leveling and dressing the fret and polishing the fret....
     
    equill, DiscoRiceJ and MovinTarget like this.
  16. I had a friend that had a few basses, a Microfret and a Bartell fretless. I traded some work and he offered me my pick, and I chose the Bartell, as I was more interested on playing fretless.

    Now I kind of wish that I had a closer look at the Microfret; at the time it appeared to be not much more than a curiosity. Unfortunately, he's passed away since.
     
    MovinTarget likes this.
  17. JIO

    JIO Connery... Sean Connery Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    The Mission SF/CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    As has been mentioned by Bruce Johnson (post #5) and Mike Tobias/MTD (post #25), two journeyman luthiers who know of which they speak - it started as a cost-cutting move by (primarily) Japanese guitars/basses in the guitar boom '60s, but proved to have qualities and advantages above and beyond cost-cutting over time. I listen to experience and trust those who have intimate knowledge of the nuances related to guitars as Bruce and Mike have.
     
    MovinTarget and equill like this.
  18. JIO

    JIO Connery... Sean Connery Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    The Mission SF/CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    Then there's Philip Kubicki who did both on the same fb.

    upload_2020-9-7_21-57-51.jpeg
     
    MovinTarget and Beej like this.
  19. MovinTarget

    MovinTarget Supporting Member

    Jan 30, 2018
    Maryland, USA
    Agree completely. And I would certainly trust either of them to do it *well*.

    I just think its like brussel sprouts. Some poor souls first had these as kids... boiled, with no seasoning and developed a strong dislike, and they will never know how good brussel sprouts can be when they are prepared "correctly"... They'll never give them a chance.

    Or, perhaps more commonly, they played a terrible bass that happened to have a zero fret and it was the only physically identifiable part of the bass that they could notice was different, therefore, even if it was the *best* part of the bass, it got the blame since they couldn't explain it otherwise.

    Or, they just don't like 'em ;)
     
    equill and JIO like this.
  20. equill

    equill

    Nov 25, 2010
    Madrid
    That's certainly me with sprouts. Tried 'em again just a couple of years ago, and they're still made of "nope" as far as I'm concerned, so I'm good with that analogy :)
     
    MovinTarget likes this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

     
    Jul 25, 2021

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.