When we think about guitar maintenance, we tend to focus on strings, tuning pegs, bridges, and similar small parts that might get damaged quickly. We don’t often think about the wear and tear our frets go through; they look like they’ll be there forever, so we rarely ask how long they will last. But in reality, they can get worn after some time, and you might have to replace them.
Electric guitar frets can last anywhere from a few years to a few decades. Fret longevity depends on your playing style, the type of frets, the strings you use, and how well the guitar was made. Minding your technique and investing in fret maintenance will extend their life.
In this article, I’ll go over the factors that influence the longevity of your frets and what you might expect from them. This will allow you to plan the maintenance accordingly and help you choose a guitar with the right kind of frets.
Do Different Frets Wear Faster?
Different frets will wear out faster, depending on the material used. Brass frets wear out very quickly, while stainless steel frets last the longest. However, harder frets will wear out the strings faster, which is a factor you must also consider.
How long your frets last largely depends on the material they’re made of. Unsurprisingly, a harder material will last longer than a soft one. Let’s take a look at the materials used for frets and how long you can expect them to last.
Brass Frets Wear Out Relatively Quickly
Brass frets are not particularly common nowadays. You can only find them on classical guitars with nylon strings and budget guitars made abroad. Brass is relatively soft and thus wears out quickly, so it’s not a suitable material for electric guitars. If your guitar happens to have brass frets, you’ll probably have to refret it after a few years.
Nickel Silver Frets Last for Years
These frets are the most common in the industry, and you’ll find them on electric guitars, as well as bass and acoustic guitars. These frets will last quite a long time, so you won’t have to refret your guitar in years, especially if your playing style is not aggressive.
Stainless Steel Frets Are the Most Durable
Stainless steel is the most durable material for guitar frets. It will last a long time and adds a nice bright touch to the guitar’s tone. These frets can be made from pure stainless steel or a combination of stainless steel, nickel, or silver.
The downside of these frets is that they wear out strings very quickly, so you’ll need thicker strings, and you’ll have to restring your guitar more often with these frets.
Jescar EVO Frets Flaunt Longevity and High Sound Quality
These frets are made from a copper and titanium alloy, which allows them to be rather sturdy but not too hard on the strings. Best of all, it produces high-quality sound when playing.
This fret material is not that common, but it is usually a big plus on a guitar, and frets made from it will have decent longevity.
What Affects the Lifespan of Guitar Frets?
How long your guitar frets will last depends on several factors, all of which may shorten the lifespan of your frets. These factors include playing technique, humidity, sweat, and the strings used.
Let’s examine these factors and see how they’ll affect your frets.
Playing Technique Affects Fret Longevity
Apart from the material your frets are made of, how you play your guitar is the most important factor in deciding how long your frets will last. There are some techniques in particular that impact your frets more than others:
- Bending: When you merely press a string, you’re applying pressure on only one part of the fret. But when you bend, you’re applying the same amount of pressure on the whole fret, slowly shaving off the material and degrading the frets.
- Sliding: Using a slide will also put additional pressure on your frets and wear them out much faster. If your guitar playing includes a lot of sliding, you can expect your frets to wear out faster.
- Using a capo: When you put a capo on your guitar, you’re exerting quite a lot of pressure on the frets. Leaving the capo on often and for long periods will drastically shorten the frets’ life.
- Pressing the strings hard: As we’ve noticed, the more pressure you exert on the frets, the more they’ll degrade. If you press the strings very hard, you’ll exert more pressure on them, so you might want to loosen your hand a bit if you want your frets to last longer.
High or Low Humidity Levels Affect Frets
Humidity can often be a problem for the whole guitar, which includes frets. This can primarily be a problem because the neck of the guitar might shrink a bit in low humidity, causing the frets to poke out, making the guitar quite uncomfortable to play.
Additionally, high humidity might cause corrosion, which must always be avoided.
Sweat Corrodes Frets Over Time
The sweat from your hands and fingers can cause the frets to corrode over time. Even if you don’t have noticeably sweaty hands, residue from your fingertips is bound to make its way to the frets.
You should always thoroughly wipe down your guitar after playing and make sure that it is completely dry before you put it back in your bag.
String Hardness Impacts Fret Longevity
Strings made from a harder material than the frets will cause more wear than softer strings. Likewise, thicker strings will also cause more damage than thinner strings. It would be best to go for strings that are not much harder than the frets. If possible, choose strings that are no thicker than necessary.
When Should You Change the Frets?
You should change your frets when you see indents on them. Other signs that you should change your frets are changed pitch, shorter sustain, and strings buzzing. The more signs you notice, the more urgent it is to change the frets.
Let’s examine these signs so you know what to do and when.
Indents Signify Worn Frets
Over time, wear and tear will create indents in the frets. Not all frets will develop these at the same rate, of course, so you don’t have to refret the whole guitar if there are only a few damaged frets. Instead, change those frets that show signs of damage to ensure that your guitar still sounds great and is comfortable enough to play smoothly.
Buzzing Strings Are a Sign of Fret Disfunction
When a fret is worn out, it is not tall enough to make contact with the string when you press it. This will cause buzzing; if you notice an unpleasant buzzing sound when you play, it might signal that something is wrong with your frets.
You have to examine this carefully, though, because different problems can also cause buzzing. For example, it can also be a sign that your action needs to be adjusted, so you have to be sure that you hear the buzzing because of the frets.
Shorter Sustain Is Common With Worn Frets
This is another problem that happens when the frets are not tall enough. Insufficient pressure on the fret when you press the string will make the sustain much shorter than it should be. If you notice that your sustain is unsatisfactory, examine the frets and change them if needed.
Changed Pitch May Signify Worn Frets
Worn-out frets can cause the pitch to change. One telltale sign of this is that two nearby frets produce extremely similar sounds rather than differing in pitch evenly. This is a clear indication that the frets need to be changed before your guitar can sound as intended.
Your guitar frets can last for a few decades, provided that they’re made from proper material and that you’re not too aggressive with your playing. At the minimum, they should last up to four or five years.
You should refret your guitar when you notice a poorer performance because of the frets. There is no timeline for this, so it’s best to listen carefully and examine your guitar when you notice something unusual.