stainless steel frets on an acoustic?

Discussion in 'Acoustic Instruments' started by Rockinrob86, Apr 17, 2008.

  1. Rockinrob86

    Rockinrob86 Supporting Member

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    Just wondering what this would be like. It is a martin HD-28 and I wore out the first 7 frets. The guitar is 2 years old, so I just wanted to find out if SS frets would be a good idea, or would they change the tone too much or at all. I haven't really heard of people using them on acoustics too much.
     
  2. devilrob1979

    devilrob1979 Member

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    CA uses them and those guitars sound pretty good. I think a lot of the SS hate is a little overdone and perpetuated by people who make money doing refrets.
     
  3. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    I can't let the conspiracy theory slide, that manufacturers use materials with an intentionally limited life span so they can make money on replacement and repair. That one goes right up there with the staged moon landing theory. There are plenty of reason's why stainless has only very recently become widely available, and conspiracy to make money off of refrets is not one of them.

    To the initial question, I wouldn't be too concerned with tonal changes. I've never found stainless to make a terribly noticeable difference in tone. If it did brighten it up a little, there's usually plenty of room for that on a D-28 anyway. If you didn't like it, you could always switch back to a plastic saddle (you know, cause everyone just hates how the tone brightens up when you switch from a soft plastic to hard bone saddle ;) ).

    It's worth considering though, that fret wear is not the only reason an instrument may need a fret dress. On a guitar like a D-28 you can expect to need frets dressed out at the extension over 5-10 years as the neck settles on it's way to a reset. Usually this need can correlate with dressing needed from wear anyway, but may need to be dressed whether there is wear or not. The added installation and dressing cost of stainless could outweigh the savings in wear dressings in some cases. If you're going through frets in 2 years though, I'm guessing it may be worth it to go stainless. Another option would be the EVO wire. It rates about HV5-230 on the Vickers hardness scale, vs the nickel used by Martin at HV5-200 and stainless at HV5-300. It looks pretty cool too.
     
  4. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    refrets are too much ******* work to go cooking up schemes to trick folks into getting them more often than they should (at least for me anyway).

    i would venture to say that of the folks who just play their fine acoustic at home, or for those who record extensively with said fine acoustic, some small subset of them might hear a difference with stainless frets, and some small subset of those people might not like the sound.

    for everyone else, especially those who make a living gigging with their guitar several nights a week and can't afford to be without it, i think it would be folly not to put SS frets on it.

    as to david's point, i wonder if it would make sense to put stainless frets on up to the neck/body joint, switching to regular wire on the fretboard tongue, just to make future neck-settling incurred leveling easier.
     
  5. devilrob1979

    devilrob1979 Member

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    I was kidding about the refret thing but it's funny that it was taken so seriously. Stainless frets are hell on tools and generally eat them up at twice the rate of nickel silver. That, along with the generally conservative attitude of us backwards guitarists is the driving force behind nickel silver's supremacy. Most established guitar builders don't deal in refrets anyway. For there to be a conspiracy it would have to involve local guitar store techs giving residuals to builders which is absolutely ridiculous. I thought somebody would yell at me about that but it didn't happen.
     
  6. fullerplast

    fullerplast Senior Member

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    I think the almost total lack of any acoustic builders, large or small, boutique or high volume, using stainless steel frets should tell you something. If tone were not an issue, you'd see more SS on acoustics IMHO. I seriously doubt they are banking on refret money....:rolleyes:

    As for wear, SS would be a huge advantage on an acoustic, as they often suffer the dreaded deep grooves in the lower frets from hard playing and heavy strings.

    Wear vs tone is the issue. How lucky do you feel about being one of the few to try it on a Martin?:D
     
  7. Rockinrob86

    Rockinrob86 Supporting Member

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    I actually took it in to get regular ones put on it, but when I talked to him on the phone, it sounded like he said "ss frets" I am a bit of a tone snob (I can tell the difference with a lightweight tailpiece on my les paul, rs guitarworks potentiometers, paper foil and oil caps, etc.), but I also gig alot, and the only guitar I play at home is my Martin, or my new larrivvee. Also this Martin is known to be a Tone Machine, as it sounds better than any other HD-28 I've put it up against. To me the tone was perfect before it started buzzing like a sitar, and I couldnt play around the buzz anymore. I want the best sound for solo acoustic stuff, but I also dont want to be a hard headed vintage snub kind of guy. No problems with Innovation here! I just like things like small frets, medium action, heavy strings, 7.25 radius on fenders. I like to fight with my guitars.
     
  8. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    Thanks Devilrob - reading back I can see the sarcasm, but it's just so tough to get the tone of voice over the internet. I'm sure you won't be surprised though, that there are people who really believe it's all a conspiracy! :rolleyes:

    And Rockinrob - I wouldn't be too terribly concerned with tonal changes. I did a stainless refret on a Mastertone not long ago for a very discriminating player - the kind of person who can probably hear changes in barometric pressure... Though there probably was a small change, it took intention to really hear it, and if it's that slight on a tight-head decked out banjo I don't think you have much to worry about on a guitar. The change in feel was a more notable difference to get accustomed to than tone, though in the end it was very well received. I just replaced a fingerboard on a 1908 Gibson F-2 as well using stainless frets, and there was certainly no negative impact there - a positive change if anything at all I would say.

    My hesitations for stainless on acoustic is more of a cost and practical issue, as it's more common for frets needing to be dressed for reasons other than wear - not so much an issue on neck styles like Taylor's with the reinforced extension, but something to consider on a Martin. Still, if you're wearing through them in 2 years, I think stainless would work to your benefit.
     
  9. Rockinrob86

    Rockinrob86 Supporting Member

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    So this ended up working out well. He did put SS frets on it, along with a new bone saddle to fix some action issues, and it sounds like my old guitar but better (it doesnt buzz anymore!!!). I don't really notice any differences with the guitar. It still has a very strong bass, powerful mids, and just enough highs. There is still the wonderful overdrive that it had before, and now I can slam it with my thumb without the annoying buzzing. It still sounds like Neil Young's Martins, which is what I'm after.
     
  10. Pietro

    Pietro 2-Voice Guitar Junkie and All-Around Awesome Guy

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    Not really a pure "acoustic" per se, but I have SS frets on my Anderson Crowdster and LOVE them...
     
  11. Gary Ladd

    Gary Ladd Member

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    I have SS frets on my Emerald Opus X10 and it's my numero uno acoustic!

    Definately not a tradition, but the piano-esque tone and unbelievable sustain has inspired me in ways no acoustic has...

    YMMV ;)
     
  12. Crash-VR

    Crash-VR Supporting Member

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    I love stainless! Nothing feels better for those long drawn out vibrato's!
     
  13. majorbanjo

    majorbanjo Member

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    Got stainless on my Leo Posch.....anyone that says they can tell the difference in tone are crazy......
     
  14. Stadler Guitars

    Stadler Guitars Member

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    I worked for Gibson for a couple of years making mandolins. One night while working late the GM Charlie Darrington came out into the shop with a Loar signed mandolin nicknamed "Scratchy" and refretted it with stainless wire. You would have to have been deaf to not hear the difference. I talked to him about it a few weeks later (he had been playing the mando constantly) and he mentioned not really liking it. He was thinking about using stainless on all of the better Gibsons and had some custom stainless wire rolled, which is what was used on Scratchy. It never got used. It didn't sound good and was murder on tools.
     
  15. jackaroo

    jackaroo Member

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    Ping, ping, ping!
     
  16. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    Thread resurrection, back from the dead, Eh?

    There are lots of things in the course of a refret that can affect a change, not the least of which is the seating of the frets in the slots. As to the material, I've done a good number of partial refrets with stainless, and never found anyone who could hear a difference when you moved from stainless to nickel. I'd be curious if Charlie could have heard the difference if the same refret and setup procedure were done with nickel wire (correlation or causation?), or if he had played the instrument without any knowledge of the type of fret wire.

    Lot's of flaws in non-blind, uncontrolled comparisons like that, and plenty of room for someone's hearing to be affected by their expectations. I find expectations and pre-dispositions often to be at least as influential in what people hear, if not more so. I have a pretty darned good of ears for distinguishing subtle differences, as do many of the clients I've done stainless fret work for, and my experience differs quite significantly from those who claim to hear significant differences.

    I wonder why this specific thread was chosen to bring back up, rather than the other hundreds of other arguments on this topic still probably active in the forum.
     
  17. royd

    royd Member

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    I have my Lowden scheduled for a refret in two weeks. I'm going with SS. I'm not anticipating any more changes than from any other refret
     
  18. Stadler Guitars

    Stadler Guitars Member

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    The expectation in this case was the development of a superior product.

    The Gibson's OAI division was in regular contact with the best artists around. These pros play all the time and need regular fretwork, and wouldn't it be great if they could have a fret that would last far longer? They (bluegrassers) are also uncompromising when it comes to tone.

    I've seen players hear things I could not, but even I could hear stainless steel's unfavorable effect on a mandolin. I have no doubt it works very well on modern electric guitars with their own voice (which is discussed ad nauseam in other threads), but this thread is about acoustics.

    I simply responded to this thread because I have pertinent experience and had no idea of a history of debate over stainless vs. nickel. Claiming that stainless and nickel exhibit no tonal differences or that one is universally superior to the other is like making the same claim in comparing solid-state and valve based amplifiers. I'm a degree short of being that obtuse.
     
  19. Rockinrob86

    Rockinrob86 Supporting Member

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    But what mr. Collins was saying was that there were many variables in the experience you referred to.

    There were:
    New Frets
    New frets of a different material
    new strings
    possible different techniques of installing frets
    possible different glues on frets
    new setup
    time lapse
    expectations either good or bad
    The effects of changing something that had been settled for how many years?
    Instrument shock
    any other work that was done on the mandolin in question

    The instrument could have very well sounded different, but all of the things listed have an affect on tone.


    As for the martin in question (I am the OP)

    At almost two years since I had this guitar partially refretted, it has been a great decision.

    Only the first 7 frets were refretted, and there is no discernable difference at that 7th to 8th fret change or at any of the frets higher up than that. The EQ properties of the guitar where unchanged.

    I have no wear on the cowboy chord positions at all (which had become almost laughably pitted in the 4 years I owned and abused the guitar in question). After the fret job, I have played the thing probably as much as the previous 4 years combined and the setup is still great. My leads are not buzzy and the guitar is a joy to play.

    Also, btw, I am glad to see this thread back. For some reason I have a high history of either completely ignored threads or being the guy that ends all conversation on threads, so it feels good to have contributed something that lasts~!
     
  20. pennylink

    pennylink Member

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    It would be interesting to know (for me at least) what tonal difference is heard by those who can tell the difference between nickle/silver and SS frets.
     

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